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THIS is the first of three installments which will present—in abridged form—what purports to be a summary and critique of the life-work of one William Burroughs Steele. Steele (according to the opening chapter of Mr. Wells's manuscript) was an American business man who retired after the War to a villa near Bandol, devoted himself to a comprehensive study of mankind and its aspirations and follies, and produced a huge treatise called The Anatomy of Frustration. When the supposititious Steele died—of heart-failure induced by an overdose of aspirin, which may have been suicidal in intent or accidental—he had published ten volumes and several further volumes were in various stages of preparation. This mammoth treatise had been begun by Steele, it appears, as a sort of modern counterpart of Burton's The Anatomy of Melancholy. But Steele was not convinced, as was Burton, that the world's madness was hopeless. Rather he was convinced that it was trying desperately to be sane; and he set himself to diagnose the malady which brings mankind to frustration, and to show how this malady must be attacked. Mr. Wells explains that he himself has decided to publish an account of Steele's little-known treatise "in general terms and for the general public." Then he plunges into the account.—The Editors.
WILLIAM BURROUGHS STEELE, in his ambition to create a companion piece to The Anatomy of Melancholy, went so far in his imitation as to sketch out a schedule of frustrations closely similar to Burton's classification of the varieties and remedies of madness and melancholia. He was never altogether satisfied with these schedules he made; he was altering, adding to, rearranging them to the end of his life. There are several folders full of these revisions and there exists a copy of his first volume, black with corrections and plump with inserted pages, from which ultimately we may be able to reprint this, the opening, most labored, and least satisfactory of all his volumes. He was dissatisfied even with its title, Frustration through Confusions in Thought, but he never changed it.
"Before we can deal with frustrations," he begins boldly in his Chapter I, "we must ask what it is that is frustrated. What is the end at which life thrusts? What is this Will in things that is always striving and never getting there?
"What is wanted? What do we want?
"As individuals? As communities? As a species?"
This is a brave opening of the inquiry, it subpoenas practically all religious and philosophical statements of the nature of being, and puts Steele in the role of a sort of one-man Royal Commission of inquiry into the significance of the universe, as it has been understood and stated hitherto. His examination of his witnesses is encyclopaedic. They profess to tell us "Why" and "What for." Let us, he says, get all the precision we can. He takes creed after creed, religious cults one after another, barbaric usages and maxims, systems of philosophy from Heraclitus and Lucretius to Nietzsche and Schopenhauer—the mention of these names as cardinal is his own—and of each he makes the same hard and elementary inquiries.
First: What is assumed? What does this start from? For instance, he points out that among other assumptions of Islam, God the Father-Creator is assumed, defined to a certain extent and, for the rest, indicated.
This preliminary inquiry into assumptions is very characteristic of Steele's method. It has the simplicity of a very original intelligence. Upon what implicit beliefs was the mind floating, he asks, before it began to state this or that positively? His courage and industry in assembling this collection of "points of departure" and in attempting a digest of it must have been enormous. He tried, not very successfully, to train several assistants to help him. But the clear sharp slash of his mind was part of himself and he could convey it only very partially to others. He slashed anatomically; the other fellows hacked. His analysis is at once so good and so unsatisfactory that it sets the sympathetic reader agog to organize a means of doing it over again better.
His firm belief that men have no right to a thousand contrasted faiths and creeds and that the multitudinousness of people in these matters is merely due to bad education, mental and moral indolence, slovenliness of statement, and the failure to clinch issues, is in itself an inspiration. He has no tolerance for loose-mindedness. Men have brains that are closely similar, he argues, they are moved in a similar way to these fundamental questionings, their inhibitions are of similar kinds; it is just laziness and untidiness, "mooning and wambling," that makes an "account rendered" of what people believe so like a museum after a riot. "They abstract to different degrees, they use differently conceived sets of symbols, they start in at different points, they fog and fumble here or there, but that is no excuse for never tidying up the mess." And this amazing man really started attempting to tidy up the mess of fundamental thought throughout the ages! And there are times ever and again and here and there when he really seems to smite lanes of lucidity through that jungle.
He makes a classification of religions and philosophies according to what he calls their "depth of assumption." The simple savage sets his gods and spirits on an unquestioned land and sea and sky. He assumes also a system of purposes and motives like his own. That, says Steele, is "assumption at the surface of life." At a slightly profounder level someone makes the daring assumption that these things also have not been here always, sky, land, and all the rest of it, man and his motives; dogmatizes that they had a beginning, and so invents a Creator. The Creator begins by being an Old Man like Father and expands very slowly toward abstraction. Presently the assumption, the plausible, rash and fatal assumption, is made that things present a dual system, spirit and matter; and presently, pursuant to that assumption, the Creator is disembodied. He becomes the Great Spirit and soon He is no more to be put back into any sort of body than the fisherman's djinn could be packed back into his jar. One must resort to the hocus-pocus of an incarnation to do that, and from that assumed embodiment He is always breaking out again. A divine mind and will which are consecutive in time in their action presently follow the divine body to the limbo of lost things. So assumptions go deeper and deeper below superficialities and become more and more abstract.
Steele's exploration of all these superimposed systems of apprehension, summarized with a certain pithy precision and compared relentlessly, is like a man with a small, very bright electric torch exploring vast caverns beneath the foundations of the many edifices of Belief on which our race lives. They are not separate excavations, he insists. They connect, do these sustaining vaults, like the catacombs of Paris. The deeper one goes, the plainer it is that they all rest on elementary psychological necessities or upon natural fallacies closely associated with and arising out of these necessities. Differences of creed are seen to be differences of phraseology and mental idiom. The more penetrating their psychological analysis, the less men will trouble whether it is "Jehovah, Jove, or Lord" or Creative Necessity or simply Necessity that encloses and carries them on.
What is the end to which life drives? What is the purpose of being? We do not know, probably we can never know fully and comprehensively. But the thing of real practical moment is this: that while on the whole we don't know, yet, nevertheless, to a certain limited extent we do. The exciting, the exalting, idea in our minds is that there are very considerable possibilities of knowing better and more precisely, and of bringing together into more effective co-operation a great multitude of aims in life that are at present, merely through lack of lucidity, divergent and conflicting.
Here Steele develops his essential thesis, and most of the rest of this big volume, Frustration through Confusion in Thought, is a copious and searching attack upon the needless personifications, dramatizations, false classifications, tautologies, and mixed metaphors that at present, he holds, waste an enormous proportion of our mental energy. Much more agreement is possible among men upon this question of ends than is generally supposed.
Abruptly in the middle sections of this first volume, Steele passes from his wide survey of religions and philosophies into an heroic attempt to cover them by a common statement.
Let me try to summarize here, as compactly and clearly as possible, the way in which he sets about this task. All living substance, he presumes, is aggressive. In that it differs from the inorganic. It has within itself an urge to live more, to increase, extend, prolong itself. Even when it rejects, avoids, escapes, it runs away only that it may fight again another day. And as consciousness appears in the ascendant scale of life, it "appears associated with a process of inhibition and of the organization of impulse, which conduces to the prolongation and extension of the individual."
Steele is very insistent upon this idea that originally and generally speaking, consciousness is preoccupied with individual self-preservation. Only in the case of many birds and mammals and a few reptiles and fishes does any conscious solicitude and devotion to offspring or species appear. To provide for the continuation of the species through mechanism or by affording passionate sensuous gratification was Nature's easier path, and generally she took it. Passionate intellectual gratification was a harder thing to build into the primitive self-seeking organism. So the lustful individual is unconscious that he serves the species in his gratification. The normal individual animal is conscious of the urge to live only so far as that concerns its own self.
Now this was all very well, it worked throughout the evolution of animal forms upon this planet until the mental structure developed so much intelligence and foresight as to look beyond to-morrow. Then trouble began. This, Steele thinks, has occurred only in the case of the human brain. And it has been only very gradually realized by that brain that the more powerful its headlights of intelligence are the plainer it is that this conscious individual life on which its solicitudes center drives past the culminations of its powers to enfeeblement and death. Man alone of all animals looks beyond the lures of nature and becomes aware of death waiting for him at the end. All religions, all philosophies of conduct, stripped down to their bare essentials, express the consequent impulse to escape this inherent final frustration.
And when you come to clear up the fog you find, says Steele, that the real attempt life is making in all these conscious processes, is an attempt to raise and extend the originally quite narrow and finite self-consciousness so as to lift it over this primary frustration, to enable it to turn at last upon the king of terrors and say:
"O death, where is thy sting?
O grave, where is thy victory?"
Bodily immortality, immortality of the soul, the oversoul, the overman, the superman, the mind of the species, Nirvana, return to the bosom of god, undying fame, progress, service, loyalties, are all expressions at various angles and levels of the same essential resolve—not to live so as to die. Almost all of these death-evasive systems, since they are primarily escapes from self-concentration, imply co-operations. Something outside the individual life cycle is brought in, with which the individual motives can be blended and identified. It is a reaching out to greater entities, if you will, or an attempt to annex fresh territories and establish reserves of imagination and purpose and satisfaction beyond the reach of personal death. But as long as these reachings out after immortality remain various in their imaginative and intellectual quality, some antique, some modern, some epic, some lyric, some gross and some fine, vague or delicately definite, prosaic or poetic, their mutual contradictions so work out in conduct that we are all at sixes and sevens. In the increasing light of modern psychology, he asks, is it not possible to reduce an enormous proportion of these divergences to a common denominator?
Steele concluded his first book with a classification and scrutiny of what he calls "immortalities": the various systems of mental escape from a brooding preoccupation with death to which people in our present world are found to be clinging.
He distinguishes two main classes of immortality, as immortality has been imagined. There are the immortalities that merely extend the individual self in time, extend even the bodily self, retaining all its definiteness, all its idiosyncrasies for ever; and the immortalities that merge the individual in some greater entity, real or imaginary, which is not subject to the personal cycle of birth, growth, maturity, decay, and death.
The first of these two classes is the cruder and earlier. The naïve imagination of the child, the savage, or the simpleton cannot get far beyond its current state of mind. When Mrs. Bloggs sits in her back pew and hears the blessed hope of immortality coming from the pulpit, it is Mrs. Bloggs herself, body and soul, thirty-five, a little faded, kindly, and tending to put on weight, who is to live, she understands, eternal in the heavens. Dressed rather differently perhaps, more in the bridesmaid style, but otherwise the same. Going on and yet staying put, for ever and ever and ever.
It is outside the scope of these simpler minds, Steele remarks, to reflect that an individual life is a cycle and not a static state. It is an incessant movement from a birth to a death and a dispersal. Its pace may vary but the movement never ceases altogether and its direction is constant. It is not to be arrested; it is not to be reversed. Its end is as essential to it as its beginning. Where there is no "What next?" there is no life. We pass from state to state, forgetting something and taking in something at every stage. The old man is not the same thing as his boyhood's self or his adolescent self; he is a continuation of that. He has lost powers and gained them.
By insisting upon this idea that the individual is a succession of phases and can never remain in any single phase or be represented by any single phase, that he or she evolves and decays continually, that either the whole cycle must persist or none of it can persist, Steele gradually crumbles down all imaginable conceptions of personal immortality. In a crowning section he sweeps together, in all their vagueness and sentimentality and imaginative poverty, a multitude of descriptions of the future life—from the Semitic Paradise and a variety of ancient religious writings and visions to the strange inventions of our modern mediums. It is wonderful how poor in the way of objectives and activities is the content of these future lives. Their appeal to the imagination is extraordinarily feeble. We can indulge in reveries about living at the North Pole or in Mexico or Arabia, but who in reverie has ever lived the future life? The imagination falls for sheer lack of nourishment. These personal immortalities, he concludes, are premature and quite futile efforts to satisfy this craving to escape individual death. And they are all inherently unsound, they are fallacious fantasies, bankrupt propositions.
"One is not dealing here with something that can be considered a matter of opinion. One is dealing with a confusion of thought that dissolves to nothing under a lucid scrutiny."
But the case, he insists, is very different with his second class of immortalities. He calls these "merger-immortalities." There one deals with psychological possibilities. If one calls immortality the soul then, he suggests, it is true that a man may save his soul by losing it. The breaking down of the physical and mental isolation of the self-seeking individual is in accordance with the practices of nature. We see this in all the offspring-cherishing creatures and still more so in the family-forming and social animals. They think nothing of self-sacrifice for the herd or for their young. Even in the lowliest types of men there are great systems of personal abandon. There are love loyalties, family loyalties, group loyalties, tribal loyalties. Steele goes on in his sweeping way to dedare that all morality, all religious theory, amounts psychologically to this: that it is a systemization of the relationship between the self-seeking ego and these outer less egoistic motivations, so that interests far transcending mere individual survival take over the will and consciousness and direct them to ends that go far beyond the limits of the individual life. In these respects man can go off at a tangent from the cycle of the individual life, and that tangent may be produced indefinitely.
So far as a human being transfers his will and hope to those tangential ends, he may, says Steele, escape ultimate frustration. If he can really believe in a deity who lives for ever, or in a nation or an interest—scientific research for instance, or intellectual progress or what not—which may go on indefinitely, and in so far as he can identify himself with it, he reduces death to secondary importance in his scheme of things. He has found deliverance from "the body of this death."
Steele's examination of the religions that seem to promise the common man an endless personal immortality is very acute and searching. The crude promise seems to be made to, and is certainly believed to be made by, the common believer in such religions as Islam and Christianity, but directly one passes from what one may call the street form of the faith, qualifications and ambiguities creep in. Steele cites St. Paul's Epistle to the Corinthians. (XV) as a typical instance of this disposition to whittle away the crude primary promise. "All flesh is not the same flesh...There are also celestial bodies and bodies terrestrial, but the glory of the celestial is one and the glory of the terrestrial is another...So also is the resurrection of the dead...There is a natural body and there is a spiritual body...Now this I say, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the Kingdom of God, neither doth corruption inherit incorruption."
Plainly there had been mental troubles at Corinth and Paul, troubled perhaps himself, deals with them with extreme caution and extremely little confidence.
And having shown that the only completely reasonable way in which the individual can escape from the conclusive frustration of death is by merger into some greater being, Steele goes on to a survey and tabulation of the main sorts of these "merger immortalities." They are of all shapes and sizes, simplicities, complexities, inadequacies, and satisfactoriness. They vary with the critical capacity and imaginative powers of the individual. He shows that there is no essential difference between the devotion of patriotism and a religious devotion, that every sort of disinterested preoccupation is a form of escape from the frustration terror, the terror of being left lonely before the advance of inevitable fate. Socialism and especially its exaggeration, communism, stand on a footing of entire psychological equivalence to religion. "Service" is an almost empty phrase with the same intention. The sweated worker, the humiliated Christian, the unsuccessful business man can get away from inferiority and defeat and live triumphant again in his sentiment or his faith.
So the rational way for the intelligent man, assailed and beleaguered by assured individual frustration, is to set himself to discover the comple test form of "merger immortality" available for him and to shape and subordinate his conduct to that.
Is the statement of a best merger-immortality possible? Steele asks, with the answer "Yes" plainly in his mind. He would never, I think, have begun the Anatomy of Frustration if that had not been in his mind. Are all the mystic gods and all the great causes and loyalties only different and imperfect formulae for some more comprehensive flux of effort and desire into which they can all be melted?
Yes, says Steele. He believes himself that there is no truly rational objective, no sound and sure merger immortality, enduring and practicable and satisfying, for any intelligent human being except a thorough-going self-identification with the human will and intelligence considered as a synthesis of the will-drives and the mental-drives of the entire species. He rarely writes it Humanity; he writes it Life; but he admits that outside the human range consciousness of, much less participation in, anything of the sort is negligible.
He evokes this Life Being of his with such a strength of conviction, he holds it so firmly, that it is difficult to keep in mind how modern and experimental is this general statement of his. Without the biological and psychological thought of the past third of a century it could not have been made.
The only way of escape from ultimate frustration for every living intelligence, the only way that opens a vista that can remain an open vista, lies now through this formula: "I am Life"—or what is practically the same thing: "I am Man."
But this is not a new faith and conception of conduct that replaces outworn and discredited faiths. "A new faith now and thus, and everything wrong before," would be altogether contrary to Steele's line of thought. Nearly everything was right or in the right direction before, but insufficient and prematurely conclusive. He unrolls a vast panorama of all the gods and divine chiefs, the mystical interpretations, the causes and devotions, the churches and organizations, the patrias and gangs, the family honor and the caste duty to which the imagination of man in his fight against the dark flood of loneliness has dung. Steele examines them without impatience. Minds at every stage of development, in every age, have been driven to these types of resort by the same psychological need. From that point of view they are the same thing. The seeking tentacle grips this or that, but it is the same tentacle.
And even if the gods are found to be incredible, if they fail the votary in the hour of need, if the dogmas lead to mutual destruction and the devotions become a trap for fruitless self-immolation, that does not end the quest; the demand remains. A multitude of solutions that do not go far enough, nor wide enough, that betray their own unsoundness, is no demonstration of the impossibility of any solution. Put your explored God in a museum or your illusions in the discard; you will be driven to try again. And so, taking an indication from this source and a phrase from that, Steele, through a sort of reductio ad absurdum of all preceding finalities, emerges with his own modern solution, which is, to put it simply, self-identification with the whole of life.
That means, in conduct, that behavior is shaped so that its main conception is the co-operative rendering and development of experience, and the progressive development in the whole race of a co-ordinated will to continue and expand. This gives very dear and definite conceptions of what is right or wrong in the social, economic, and political organizations which hold us together. And it gives equally clear indications of what is permissible or unjustifiable in personal behavior. It takes world peace and social justice in its stride; it makes world peace kinetic, a clearance for action, and sod al justice a scheme not of rights but opportunities.
In expounding this, which he offers as the Iatest and best of all statements of immortality, Steele reminds one not a little of Paul on Mars Hill: "Whom therefore ye ignorantly worship, him declare I unto you." There is the same confident striving for an immense simplification. I suppose every man who has ever sat down to tell his religion to others has something of the same feeling, that at last he is out of the estuary marshes and channels and making for the sought-for open sea.
"And now," says Steele, "we can really open up this subject of man's frustration. For with the broad tablelands of our common human opportunity, widespread and inviting before us, seen plainly, stated clearly, why do we not go on to them, why are we not hurrying toward them, why are we not in fact already there? Why does our species—which is I—which is you—still live in division and confusion? Is this now no more than a temporary state of disorganization, the old confusions still going on, because of the extreme newness of the new ideas, or is the fog a permanent condition of human life? Shall we be for ever a medley of individuals striving to escape from a frustration that will at last dose in upon us all?"
For Steele at least the answer was No. He insists that he as Man is the unending Beginner. That a full and happy phase of living as individuals and as a species is now within our reach—at hand. What delays us? What hampers us? These become the master questions in life now, and the Anatomy of Frustration the supreme study for mankind.
Steele sets himself to present in considerable detail the possible world community toward which life is thrusting now, the sort of All in which the individual is to live. Just as in his big first volume he made a very respectable attempt to get all the gods and philosophies of mankind into one great boiling, so in his third volume he gets together a very impressive mass of Utopias, revolutionary plans, reconstruction plans, social criticisms, and does what he can to make an extract that shall be the quintessence of the desire behind all this discontent, all this hope and scheming for change. He rejects what he calls "mere envy and vindictiveness systems," mere reversals of conditions by which the mighty are to be laid low and the humble and meek exalted, and he concentrates on substantial proposals. His purpose is to find what is wanting positively, what is wanted positively.
He makes a shrewd criticism of Utopias generally. They do not, he points out, investigate what is desired by men; they assume—often very rashly—what is desired by men, they leave that unstated and implicit, and merely set about showing us ingenious ways by which these un-formulated ends are to be attained.
But if we read between the lines we can, nevertheless, bring out from the implicit to the explicit in this mélange of projects and dreams, the real ends which are "commonly acceptable to the human imagination." That is as much unanimity as he feels is possible for any human beings, and it is as much as he requires. Impulses purely personal and anti-social, will always, he admits, be flaring out in human conduct. That does not matter so far as a general statement of purpose goes. If such impulses can be kept to individual limitations and prevented from running over into contagion and social complication, they will by their very diversity and discordance neutralize one another. When he says what is "generally desired" by men, he means no more than this, "what most men, most of the time, if the thing is put to them, will agree should be achieved and which they will even profess themselves willing to assist in achieving."
From this he goes on to find the most general formula for the common desire.
Freedom, Steele begins, if you use the word broadly, is the primary desire of living things. Almost all that they desire either individually or in common, can be expressed as a freedom, as an escape from a limitation. When they want peace it is really freedom from the intense preoccupation and danger of war. When they want plenty it is freedom from the irksomeness of want and toil. When they obey, it is to relieve themselves of the immediate penalties of compulsion. When they dance or drill or sing or shout in unison, it is to free themselves from the lonely conspicuousness of initiative, the essential agoraphobia. "Men will only willingly place themselves under the disciplines of organized effort in order to remain, in some nearer and more essential respect, free." This is a fundamental paradox in the structure of human communities. We consent to a common social order in order to preserve our freedoms, just as on the wider basis of religious conduct we dissolve ourselves into merger-immortalities in order to save our souls alive.
We can now go a step farther in our examination of the general desire of mankind.
Man desires peace upon his planet. He desires release from the perpetual anxiety of impending violence, compulsion, conscription, discipline, effort, destruction, waste, and death, which the organization of his affairs into war-making societies and states involves. And he lives now in a world in which peace and a general release from these obsessions could plainly be attained and secured by the practical fusion of the foreign offices of quite a few "Great Powers" in the world. Every main line and structure of a World Pax has been thought out and projected. There is no other method of peace. The plans for an eternal world peace have been convincingly sketched in outline by a score of thinkers and writers. The deepening horror of the alternatives to such a settlement, the horror of air-warfare, gas warfare, the habitual practice of treacheries and cruelties, social disorganization, economic dislocation, social and biological degringolade has been made plain to the general imagination. Peace ballots and suchlike canvassing of the popular mind show an explicit realization of the situation.
For all that, we prepare steadily for war and drift toward war. Yet there is the desire. There is the broad conception of a method for its satisfaction. Why is it frustrated?
There can be no other answer than that, for all its wide distribution, that desire for peace is too weak, too discontinuous, and too unto-ordinated for the adverse impulses.
Moreover, man desires plenty, which again has become now—whatever the conditions of economic life may have been in the past—a reasonable and feasible desire. He desires release from preoccupation with sordid needs, anxieties, and uncongenial toil. There is the completest justification for that desire. The thing could be arranged. Whatever may have been the case in the past, it is now a commonplace that "men starve in the midst of potential plenty." And they go on starving! We have had the possibility of economic abundance and the necessity of a World Pax plainly before us for two whole generations at least, and we have scarcely budged a step toward their realization in spite of that worldwide desire.
And having reiterated these commonplaces of our time, Steele opens out what is destined to become the ruling thought of most of the rest of the Anatomy. It is that motives are things of deeper origin than intellectual convictions and that the real will of Homo sapiens is still largely unaffected by his conscious and formulated wishes. His intentions are one thing, his behavior quite another. The world's expressed desire, its conscious desire, is such and such; the total complex of human impulses is quite another system, darker, deeper, and profoundly more real.
These desires for world unity and sane economics are conscious and intellectual desires, he says, and they scarcely penetrate at all into that more primitive and substantial mental mass which is the true reservoir of motives and impulses. It is only in its conscious Iucid region that the mind of man has yet apprehended his new conditions. The unspoken is far more potent than the spoken. Our religions, our philosophies, our creeds and faiths and loyalties, float unsubstantially upon these inarticulate and potent realities of our lives. The latter affect and confuse and frustrate the former. They split them up; they misdirect and misapply them; they sterilize them. The reciprocal action of the former has still to be made effective.
Unless that can be done complete frustration lies before mankind...
THIS is the second of three installments in which we present (in somewhat abridged form) Mr. Wells's latest work. It is built on a curious plan, for it purports to be a summary and critique of a ten-volume treatise called The Anatomy of Frustration, by one William Burroughs Steele. In the first installment, which we published last month, Mr. Wells outlined the early part of Steele's argument somewhat as follows: All religions, all human aspirations, are efforts to defeat death, to achieve immortality—either personal survival after death (which Steele declares to be a primitive form for the aspiration to take) or "merger-immortality": identification of ourselves with something which can endure. Of all the numerous forms of "merger-immortality" (identification of ourselves with our family, or community, or caste, or country, or fellow-religionists, or fellow-proletarians, or what not) the best form, declares Steele, is identification of ourselves with all humanity. Other religions and creeds are partial, incomplete; they clash with one another and thus often lead to bitterness, war, frustration; this one alone opens "a vista that can remain an open vista." Now in this second installment Mr. Wells carries on his critical summary of the argument of Steele's imaginary treatise, discussing the inadequacy of the codes by which men now live their emotional lives, and showing how Steele calls for a New Beginning.—The Editors.
AS we proceed, it becomes evident that the Anatomy of Frustration is mainly a study of the struggle of those ideas which, however much they may be distorted or disguised, are the gist of all our religious, social, and political desires—(1) self-merger in a world order, (2) participation in an unending research and adventure, and (3) the attainment of a personal, shared, and re-echoed happiness—against frustration by that dark undertow of unformulated or disguised impulses which still supplies a great part, and possibly the greater part, of the directive force of human conduct.
So the next phase in the Anatomy of Frustration is a political, economic, and social psycho-analysis both of the individual and of the specific man (overman) of which the individual is a specimen and part. It is a correlation of one's declared purpose with one's real behavior, and of our collective protestations with our community activities.
There is nothing partisan or doctrinaire in Steele's use of the generalizations of psycho-analysis. He follows no "master," he belongs to no "school." He draws upon Freud or Adler or Jung as it suits him, and he finds no necessity to adjudicate precisely upon their differences. He treats their terminology not as an exact scientific vocabulary, but as an accumulation of penetrating and inspiring metaphors which illuminate rather than define. The psycho-analysts have opened our eyes to the artificiality of our rationalized conceptions of ourselves and our social relations; and that, for Steele, is the supreme importance of psycho-analysts.
In accordance with his endorsement of the generalizations of psycho-analysis, Steele delivers his attack upon frustration along two different lines and at two different levels. One is an intellectual attack, a close examination, a scrutiny, of the relations between our rational conscious scheme of intentions and the unlit drives of behavior of which we are only now becoming clearly aware. And the second part of Steele's attack consists in practical applications of the ideas exposed and clarified by this intellectual attack.
The essential purpose of all law, all discipline, all training, he says, is the enthronement of a clear general purpose above a subjugated and directed subconsciousness. The objective of education is the control of dividing, contradictory, and dissipating impulses.
Incidentally, Steele devotes some passages of unrestrained contempt to what he calls the "natural virtue" schools of such educational "progressives" as Neill and his associates. Education, Steele dogmatizes, is a mental readjustment; it is essentially a release from instinctive inhibitions and a restraint upon instinctive impulses.
"I live in an age," says Steele, "when my assertion that morality is the dominating frame within which behavior must be constrained will not be very acceptable. The present is a phase of greatly relaxed conduct, people have probably never 'let themselves go' to such an extent as they do to-day; there are people who exalt such spontaneity almost to the level of a principle of action. The reader may be more or less infected by such suggestions and so loth to agree that the way out from the confused frustrations and intensifying dangers of the present lies through the imposition of a moral system and of laws controlling conduct more detailed and penetrating than any that have been observed before."
Yet we are not without evidence that the prevalent impatience with discipline is tempered in many instances by a craving for stringent rules. There is agoraphobia in the normal make-up; men can be afraid of their own freedom. The adhesions that constitute the beginnings and essential vitality of such organizations as the Communist party, the Fascists, and the Nazis manifest a spontaneous recoil from chaotic living. The instinctive desire for freedom in the normal human being is balanced against a real desire, which may even become a passionate desire, for consistent collectively effective living. This craving for consistency, however, is plainly a less primitive and universal urgency than the instinct for freedom. Regulations may come and go in human affairs, but insubordination and rebellion go on forever.
Then, illustrating his case by a voluminous array of instances, Steele indulges in one of these paradoxical arguments which are so characteristic of his thought. The present enfeeblement of authoritative moral injunctions, he declares, is due to our increasingly urgent need for them. Outworn codes do not work, makeshifts will not work, and we are impatient with their futile restraints. Confronted with conditions that are continually increasing in complexity and scope, we find the systems of morality and justice that were good enough in the cruder past no help to us at all. It is not that we have abandoned morality but that morality, as it has been understood hitherto, has broken down under us. It is not sound enough nor extensive enough. It has not developed with our need for it.
This is something that cannot be too loudly and frequently asserted. Among the multitudes of peoples who are "going lax" in the modern community there are numbers of others who are trying, often quite desperately and violently, to get back to some real or imagined ancient virtue. They "lunge backward" at morality. "Duty and Discipline" movements, Fascisms, and so forth are saturated with this impulse toward a convulsive revivalism. They are harsh because they are intensely urgent. The strain of artificial effort, the fear of not "holding it," release deep founts of cruelty. These discipline and obedience movements are misguided and hysterically harsh, but there they are. They are natural responses to an imperfectly apprehended necessity.
Steele compares these reactionary moral movements to people who are taking to the boats from a sinking liner and then, terrified by the roughness of the seas about them, fight to go back to the doomed yet comforting hull they have voyaged in so long. Every age of enforced change has these phases of moral panic, and he cites a score of authorities from Tacitus onward, to show the parallelisms of the Roman breakdown.
From such scholarly exercises Steele turns to make a vehement onslaught on the "barbaric" moralities of the past and in particular on the Ten Commandments. As a moral basis, he declares, these last are fantastically inadequate. The respect with which they were treated by the teachers of our youth has warped our judgment about them. We see them transfigured by the pyrotechnics of Sinai. We dare not see how limited and silly they are. As a basis for a working modern morality these stone tablets, relics of the Stone Age, are "about as much good as a nursery rhyme or any other folk-lore fossil."
As a beginning for righteous economic behavior, for example, "Thou shalt not steal," he declares, is hardly more helpful than "Simple Simon met a pieman, going to the fair." The latter jingle indeed does "put a certain debatable stress upon the importance of a cash guarantee before delivery."
Steele makes a jumble of posers to illustrate the difficulties of a modern man anxious to do well, anxious to play his part as a helpful cog-wheel in the human ensemble, faced by the solemn insufficiencies of our open lattice of laws and sentiments and moral "imperatives." What do the Ten Commandments tell a man about doing good work for low rates or selling specious bad work on a rising market? May he speculate in staple supplies? May he corner necessities? What have the Ten Commandments to say about veracity in salesmanship—about revealing unsuspected defects to an unwary buyer? Have they a word of reproach or approval for the miser?
Is a voter right to consider his private interests at the polling booth? What is a man's whole duty to his children? Must he pay taxes to an upstart government? When is he justified, or is he ever justified, in resisting the law? Is a life spent mainly in sport better or worse than one spent in scientific research? What are we to do about passive resistance to warfare—or about passive resisters? And so he goes on in a sweeping survey of the endless "open questions" of our time.
What good, cries Steele, in a sort of refrain after each "open question," are your old Ten Commandments for that?
Modern conduct now is hardly more than unsystematized casuistry; much is pure wantonness without an attempt at excuse. You may supplement the vast inadequacies of your code with pious sentiments, nice formless sentiments, "things of the spirit," that will not have the ghost of a chance against the subconscious drives they will attempt to control. "Do unto others as you would they should do unto you," he quotes, and asks: "What sort of form may that not take in the actions of a man untrained in veracity and self-criticism? It assumes you have the immense imaginative power needed to reverse your role. And in an unjust situation what you do to a man and what he would like you to do to him may both be thoroughly wrong."
How can our modern world escape frustration, he asks, when great masses of people think they can shape a satisfactory scheme of conduct on such antiquated, patched-up, and entirely insufficient standards? It is like hoping to carry a torrent of motor traffic along a mountain mule track. But how can we have anything much better than our present collection of antiques and makeshifts until we sit down and work out the conception of the duties and reciprocities of a social organization with at least as much thoroughness as that with which the parts and purposes of an engine or an industrial plant are worked out? Or to choose perhaps a better simile, how can we know whether a part of a living body is functioning properly or needs treatment and correction until we have something like an idea of the general physiological process?
From which survey of our moral confusion and distress, our inability to impose any systematic direction of conduct upon the impulses from the subconscious that drive us, Steele presently emerges in his own fashion, with the explanation that all this is inevitable in a state of social readjustment like the present. The old order of a patchwork of states and communities dissolves all about us—their morality dissolving with them—and until the new world-order becomes plain before us, we must, whether we like it or not, flounder for want of a moral code in a wasteful and dangerous miscellany of motives. Humanity is in labor and will be worse before it is better. A modernized moral code and a world social organization are reciprocal and you cannot have one without the other.
One of Steele's most frequent words, used always in a condemnatory sense, in his discussion of human relationships, is "piecemeal." We are always, he says, trying to detach questions from complicating issues and work them out. We make them manageable and calculable by making them over-simple. That may be helpful at times, provided we do not mistake a convenient step in thought for a final and practical conclusion. No doubt there was a certain justification for the classical mathematical problem about the logs and the elephant's task, in which the solver was permitted to "neglect the weight of the elephant," but no practical end was possible until the weight of the elephant was brought in. In our social and political discussions there are neglected elephants everywhere. We are all in a state of "flustered dogmatism" because of the unacknowledged presence of these exasperating animals.
Steele is very emphatic that we cannot discuss money without a general theory of property, that we cannot discuss property without a general theory of economic organization, that we cannot discuss economic organization without a general political and social ideal, and that we cannot have a general political and social ideal without a comprehensive conception of human ecology.
To-day we as a species are thoroughly at cross purposes, mainly because we will not go back to fundamentals but will persist in beginning anywhere in the air at our own sweet will and so doom ourselves to disagreement. That is why so much of our discussion about money, for example, in spite of our realization of its urgency and importance, seems so infinitely wearisome, futile, and silly, and why most of it is saturated with an almost Marxian bad temper and bad manners.
"I assume the world community," says Steele, "subject to gcneral ecological laws. I cannot discuss money and property in relation to any more restricted community. I have massed my reasons for doing that and I cannot see why so many people who deal with finance and economics generally evade and ignore this necessary foundation assumption. Everybody you trade with or plunder or pay tribute to or even set barriers against is, if only as a pressure from outside, in your economic community, and has to be brought into your scheme. It is a pedantic imbecility to ignore that."
You cannot have a property-money system by itself—leading a life of its own—any more than you can have a heart and circulation Ieading a life of its own. You cannot begin at the City or the Treasury or the ghetto and its practices as primary. The circulatory system depends upon all the other organs in the animal to which it belongs and upon the scale and extent of the entire creature. The circulatory system of a crayfish is quite different from that of an oyster or that of a man. The property-money system of an isolated island or a hidden kingdom can have only the remotest resemblances to that of a wide-trading world empire. The property-money system of a state striving to realize communist formulae is necessarily different fundamentally from that of an autocracy or an individualistic democracy. The whole of the parts belong together and are one.
He goes on to a further exposure of this current vice of "habitual piecemeal thinking."
It is, he declares—and proves it by a vast chapter of quotations—one of the strangest things in the history of Socialism that for the better part of a hundred years socialists have advocated the most drastic alterations and limitations of the conventions of property and have refused persistently to face the complications of their problem, due, first, to the role of money and monetary manipulation in abstracting and liquidating ownership and bilking the worker through the varying value of his pay, and, second, to the impossibility of expropriating private individuals or modifying the current tradition and methods of production and distribution without a concurrent development of a new type and a new morality of administration.
Socialism, says Steele, never produced a trustworthy coin for the worker or a "competent receiver" for expropriated capital. The nearest approach to a new money that the Socialist movement ever made in its long hundred years of mentally evasive incubation was the Labor Notes of Robert Owen—after which it dropped the subject altogether—and the nearest thing to an administrative organization it ever evolved was the Communist Party. This was essentially a revolutionary organization, a conspiracy, secretive and quasi-criminal. It was more so, Steele thinks, than it need have been. It was an organization quite unfitted for the candid control of a great modernized community, and to this day the government of the Russian republics, in spite of the lingering hope and enthusiasm of their first release, is dark and conspiratorial in its character because of the complete inadequacy of the positive conceptions of Marxism, and because of the consequent drift toward disingenuous intrigue and the stagnation of a political oligarchy.
Why did Socialism never round off and complete its proposals? Why did it leave these things to go wrong? It began with a real magnificence. It started with the bravest intimations of a new world order; it was the inspiring idea, the creative hope of a century. Hundreds of thousands of lively minds made incalculable sacrifices, toiled and risked death in the hope of bringing about Socialism, until at last that long parturition culminated in the birth of this obdurate Eastern monster without eyes or ears. Why did it happen like that? asks Steele. Why did Socialism persist in incompleteness and end in an abortion?
The answer, Steele thinks, lies partly in the exigencies of militant propaganda. Socialism went into action from its beginning; it was put forward as a complete project long before it had had any chance of maturing. It was rushed into a premature offensive by impatient and shortsighted men. This necessitated vulgarization and simplification; complexities had to be ignored and difficulties denied. It had to be made easy for the beginner. It had to be made plausible. It had to produce catchwords and slogans. It had to lock up its brains in its campaign. "You stop thinking," Steele throws out, "when you begin the hunt for disciples." And after a time these strategic suppressions, these deliberate avoidances, became sacred, became orthodox.
The impatience of the careerist mingled with the impatience of the wholesale proselytizer in this early fixation of Socialism. Energetic men to whom the normal channels of ambition were denied wanted to cut a figure in a new revolutionary drive. They perceived the attractiveness of the suggestions of the Socialist formulae, and they wanted to exploit that attractiveness with an uncomplicated directness. There were to be no poor and no one at a disadvantage. What more need be said in an age of universal suffrage? To qualify or criticize was enfeeblement of effect, sabotage, downright treachery. It would mean having to wait and reconsider instead of getting on.
The long chapter which Steele calls "The Quintessence of Socialist Biography" is a quiet lake of pure vitriol. He never lapses into invective; he prefers juxtaposition to comment. He takes life after life, personality after personality, restricting himself largely to quotations from the spoken words of the poor galaxy of premature "leaders" that Socialism has evoked, or to the dreadful naked succession of facts in their careers. He dips them into his tranquil acid and they come out shrivelled and black. He has something like kindliness for Robert Owen and a slightly ironical approval for John Stuart Mill. A very honest man, he says, and then adds, almost as if he were thinking aloud, "if he had been a hen he would have laid a small very good egg, very carefully and precisely, about once a year." He is amused by the Decorator-Socialists, "Morris and Co.," slighting to civil service Socialists, and gay with the "antic-socialists." The nearest approach to a Socialist hero, the man who wilts least in the solvents of his scrutiny, curiously enough, is Friedrich Engels. But Engels benefits by having Karl Marx as his foil. It is a moral rather than an intellectual rehabilitation. To Marx, Steele is merciless; but then, after a few brief years of delusion, a whole world which overrated Marx is now finding him out—the essential snobbishness of his hatred of the bourgeoisie, the pretentious crudity of his social psychology, the hocus-pocus of his "dialectic," and the phantasmal nature of his "proletariat."
For the reader familiar with English politics, Steele's survey of the rise and decline of British Socialism makes interesting if uncomfortable reading. It is a pitiless scrutiny of mental shirking and secondary motives, and it loses nothing of its effectiveness because of the apparent charity of Steele's deliberate style. He devotes particular attention to Ramsay Macdonald, because his life spans the whole story of political socialism from dawn to twilight. He is made the demonstration rabbit to show how a great hope may be frustrated. He is stewed gently in the eulogies of the loyal and devoted Mary Agnes Hamilton, blended carefully with quotations from his later speeches; he is stewed without ebullition and he is stewed to very dismal rags.
"Let anyone who is without sin among you cast the first stone," quotes Steele abruptly. "I am not throwing stones at these straying pioneers to the Socialist utopia. What is the good of throwing stones at them? Nothing can ever bring them back. They are lost men. I am just picking up a few stones and turning them over in my hand—not casting them at all. They are not missiles; they are paving stones. I note, because I am obliged to note, the surface of that slanting road down which Socialism stumbled to its present frustrations..."
It is no good to pretend, as the Communists did, that you have only to clear away one "system," the Thing that Is—the Capitalist System or what you will—in order to find another and better one ready-made underneath. That is just "the damnable inheritance of Rousseauism."
There is nothing underneath any social structure but a site. Every social order is a complex of artificial arrangements sustained by voluntary or forced agreement.
Every principal part in the world machine must be designed. The property-money system must play in with the system of production, with the educational system, with the organization for the extension of science, with the transport organization, with the biological controls. These must all be proportionate one to another, interacting with one another and modifiable in relation to one another. They must be correlated by "conditioned conventions." And all such structural conventions have to be supported by moral training and legal restraints.
Socially serviceable finance, for instance, is no more instinctive in the natural man than aviation. He has to learn to live financially, to "play the game" in this field. He has to learn, and he has to see that by law and rule his fellows also learn, to play that game. By nature he is something of a bully and a rebel; he has to learn to be a restrained critic of and collaborator in education and government. His disposition is to be an indolent parasite, with an occasional impulse to do unwanted work at the wrong time; childish unhelpfulness clings to him as he grows up, he will be disposed to cheat, he will be disposed to shirk at the slightest intimation of restriction; he has to learn his general economic duty and be broken in to his special role in productive work and cooperation. He has to observe not Ten Commandments but ten score, and to adjust his code consistently to a complex of new occasions.
So far the human mind has never planned with that much thoroughness nor learned to that extent; and that, says Steele, driving it home, is what is the matter with us all.
From his study of those hand specimens of human insufficiency, the Socialist Ieaders, Steele leaps forward to vast generalizations.
I can indicate here only the cardinal points of this planetary excursion. With a certain plausibility he asserts that the three or four centuries up to and including the career of Alexander the Great saw an expansion of human possibilities and human ideas as great as anything that has happened in the past hundred years. It was an advance beyond all precedents. It was like light and people coming into a darkened room. Thought broke frontiers; writing and money, however small their effect at first, became definite international forces; systematic history, progressive knowledge, political scheming began. Buddhism was the first universal religion, finding receptive minds everywhere. The idea of human unity under one ruler or under one God or under one cyclic scheme took shape. Then it was that the coming world community was conceived.
There has never been a generation in the world since in which somewhere men were not carrying on toward that end, adding something to the project, pressing along some new line of hope. He gives separate chapters of shrewd sketchiness to several of these futile storms of creative urgency. He follows modernist ideas in his estimate of the roles of St. Paul, Mithraism and Egyptian religiosity, in the frustration of the universality of Jesus.
Finally he arraigns one of the most debatable texts in the New Testament. "I would like," he says, "to know about the man who wrote in that text about `rendering unto Caesar the things that are Caesar's and unto God the things that are God's.' He must have been a nice politic soul and very anxious to see Christianity getting on in the world. He would have worn a court suit with the rest of the Labor members if he had lived eighteen hundred years later. A Jesus who could dodge away from his own Kingdom of Heaven like that would never have died on the cross." For indeed in that Kingdom of Heaven he proclaimed God was all, and Caesar and his coins as subject to righteousness as Dives or Lazarus.
Then Steele turns to the frustration of democratic revolution in America and France. Here again were two associated phases when the endlessly thwarted and endless hopefulness of men broke out and yielded much generous living, much fraternity, and honest social rectification before it faded out again in face of the uncharted immensity of its task. It had not taken the septic possibilities of property and money into its calculations—among other omissions. It was more "piecemeal" even than its successor, Socialism.
"The Moscow Frustration," as Steele tells of it, is a study in the deterioration of yet another blazing star of hope. The soul of Bolshevism was suffocated mainly by its own protective police and by strategic intolerance. The Bolshevik leaders were so preoccupied, so unprepared, and overworked that they could not scrutinize their police. They had to trust somewhere; and they had the urgent man's fear of an open, delaying wrangle. Suppression grew rank under their feet. They would rather keep on the wrong course than risk the loss of élan involved in a halt for consultation. They did not realize the danger from within; the secret slackening and deterioration when the bracing inhibitions of criticism are withheld.
All this part of Steele's work is very incomplete. These chapters are mere schemes for studies in modern history. Apparently he intended to call in help to fill in his outline of human disappointments. If he had been a multimillionaire he would, I think, have endowed scores of special chairs in the science of history. As distinguished from mere factual arrangements, it is indeed a new science. I think he is inclined to be over-critical of Russia, just as he is too harsh with poor old Marx because of some subtle strain of disappointment in this direction. He is angry at their inadequacy and imperfection—because in some respects they come near being right. They made his sensitiveness to frustration most acute.
The point Steele stresses in all these cases of a fresh start is that essentially they failed through incompleteness, and through that intolerance and incapacity for modification and assimilation which arise out of impatience.
Steele is so far forgetful of his own urgency for simplification and lucidity that he nowhere gives a synopsis of the Next Beginning which is to synthesize all the creative social conceptions that mankind has so far accumulated. But to the attentive readers of his voluminous Anatomy the shape of his intentions is perfectly plain. I am trying to make a bare statement of it here, to make Steele as clear as I can to those who do not know his Anatomy.
Here of course there is no panacea, no final dogmatic Plan. It is the attempt of one man to envisage the present complex of creative desire and impulse in the world, and the present possibilities of realizations. It is a report upon current initiatives rather than a plan. It is a clarifying summary, not an innovation.
And first it is to be noted how plainly now the political unification of mankind frames the Next Beginning. The two Beginnings that preceded our own time, democratic republicanism, the last but one, and Socialism, the last, did indeed both glance at internationalism, but in an "idealistic" and subconsciously hopeless manner. They then sat down to the promotion of "national" revolutions. It needed propaganda by radio, the hum of the airplane, and the fear of gas warfare to teach even progressive thought that the world has now, in plain fact and law and intention, to be made one. The Next Beginning must be inevitably a world scheme. It must be a scheme for the production and distribution of all staple requirements throughout the whole earth. It must be a planetary economic plan with a universal theory of property and payment. It must involve one common monetary method because in an organized economic life there can be no general individual freedom without the method of cash payments, for these alone can liberate men from the slavery of payment in kind.
It must provide a system of world directorates for these common interests and it must insure that these directorates work in an atmosphere of adequate criticism, and are in some way, direct or indirect, made responsible for their conduct to the general intelligence. This basal material organization must be explained to and understood by the whole world; an understanding of the social life of the species must be the main objective of a universal education, and the service and protection of the world commonweal, the primary form of moral training. This primary unity must determine also the hygienic and biological organization of the world. Religious life must conform, on its social side, to the requirements of this world-civilization.
That, I think, states the essential form of the Next Beginning as Steele conceived it. World-civilization is its objective. But since human affairs are not at present cast in this form, it is necessary to supplement the statement and elaboration of the concept of a world-commonweal with a complex, studied theory of revolution. All the intricate balances, thrusts, and conflicts of our present fragmentary organization of life furnish and encumber the world arena in which the Next Beginning has to manifest itself, and they have to be dealt with intricately and variously in the struggle toward a synthesis.
Steele puts himself into violent contrast with Communist or Fascist or Christian in his vigorous repudiation of the idea that any single organization can undertake such a fusion and reconstruction. The frustrated initiatives of the past have begun, he says, as "teachings," as cut and dried statements of objective. And by the sheer inflexibility of this style of beginning their frustration also began from the start. But every day the Next Beginning will admit it has learned something, and qualify, extend, and write into its creed. It will grow and change as a living being changes, remaining always itself. It will always be the Next Beginning making way for the Next Beginning. It will deliver its attack not in a phalanx but in an unending series of waves—as science does.
Modern science has been so profoundly and permanently revolutionary because it set about its work with no revolutionary intentions whatever; and the Next Beginning, unlike any of its predecessors, must be saturated with the spirit of science. "World menders" have all belittled science hitherto because it had none of that vehemence they mistake for vigor. Now they learn better. Bulls may charge with their eyes shut, but not men. Freedom of statement, freedom of discussion throughout the world, is of as much importance to humanity as food or clothing. Advance easily—in open order. If ever any restraint whatever is put upon babble, clamor, and incitement in the new world, it must be done in order that voices may be heard, not that voices may be silenced.
He is very insistent in his sixth book that the organization of world unity involves the evocation of world controls, differing both in structure and function from any existing government. This is one of his dominating ideas. He will not hear of a Parliament of Mankind or a World President or anything of the sort. It is, he says, "the easy preliminary pitfall" for the mind which first seeks to picture a world commonweal, to conceive it as a large-scale replica of existing state governments.
Existing governments, he explains, have been evolved as militant directorates concerned primarily with the aggressive and defensive application of force. But in a world-pax the employment of force will be largely a reserve resource of the general police, and the main functions to be discharged by world-wide directive organizations will be economic, financial, and informative. These conceivably can arise through federal agreements among existing governments. The old governments did not originally concern themselves with economic, monetary, or biological interests, and when they handle them, they handle them clumsily and contentiously, with a bias toward their subordination to militant policy. They are not built for the job, and manifestly a world combination of them must be even less fitted for the job. They must be prepared to delegate their authority to a federal council of a different kind, an ad hoc organization for the new job. It is not necessary to abolish existing governments, therefore, unless they are directly resistant to world organization. They are beside the mark. Their world function will be to sanction. They will fade into functionless traditions as a new non-militant type of federal world organization takes their place and supersedes their significance.
The role of the subject of any government who wishes to forward and participate in the Next Beginning is not, therefore, to attempt to destroy his own or any other government, with the idea of substituting a raw new one, larger and similar, but to do his utmost to render it amenable to the development of an economic-financial-educational federation of the world. If a particular government has to be destroyed forcibly in that process, and some may have to be destroyed forcibly, so much the worse. It will be an unfortunate necessity and it will leave a scar. World civilization is not antagonistic to existing governments except, and in so far as, and while, they are antagonistic to an organized world economy. But in so far as that antagonism is marked and deliberate, loyalty to world civilization and its progressive organization must override any formal political loyalty. Governments which control or suppress research, discussion, or truthful non-malignant propaganda are plainly governments in insurrection against that world civilization which is already demanding the loyalty of every rational man.
Advancing behind the propaganda of these framework ideas, Steele sees the Next Beginning taking the form of a multitude of political and organizing movements for the establishment of a number of world-wide or almost world-wide directorates and controls. These movements may go on almost independently, linked only by their planetary range. In spite of all contemporary appearances to the contrary, Steele believed that it is not merely possible but urgent that in the various fields of health, money, and credit, in the production and distribution of staple commodities, in transport, and particularly air transport, in standard of life, and police, cosmopolitan controls should come into existence. The stars in their courses fight against particularism in these matters.
This peculiar and on the whole refreshing assurance of Steele's that there is only one right way of thinking about most of our contemporary problems, not only makes him write of this idea of his, of unification through the creation of a group of ad hoc federal directorates, as though it was the only possible idea for a properly informed clear-headed man, but also it makes him write in the same strain of assurance about the broad principles of economic organization. He is incapable of believing that there are men who can reasonably oppose the general propositions of collectivism, unless a subconscious craving for their personal profit, or some deep-rooted malice, blinds them to the logic of the case.
Private property with its flux, money, works as a contrivance for the adjustment of individual motives to the commonweal, whatever its origins. Steele cannot imagine that proposition questioned; and he rides on from that to a shrewd analysis of the different types and classes of private property, both those that have to be recognized and protected in a modern state, and the broader sorts that can work efficiently only when they are vested in a "competent receiver" operating in the collective interest. He jeers at "absolute socialism." He says that men and women who can sit down to a serious discussion of "socialism versus individualism" are fit only for institutional treatment. Socialism is always a matter of degree. Progress toward Socialism can be only progress in the organization of the competent receiver and in the exacter definition of private property.
His determination to discuss money only as a part of his general theory of property is implacable. He would set very definite limits to the use of money. Only for very definite kinds of property should there be "free sale." For food, clothing, adornment, transportation, and shelter, Steele would allow practically "free purchase"; almost every other kind of acquisition from a pet dog to a mountain valley he would make conditional on a more or less completely defined "proper use." By a reorganization of distribution and a development of public stock-keeping—a colossal extension of the post office, so to speak—he would squeeze deliberate acquisition for resale, passive non-manufacturing ownership for monetary profit, that is, out of the category of permissible things. Appparently he wanted to tariff and control all distributors from the shipowner to the barrow man. He is very hostile to what he calls profit by "interception"—meaning very much what the Bolsheviks, in their age of virtue, used to mean by "speculation."
The establishment of "a lucid science and statement" of property-money is as integral to the Next Beginning as the establishment of a lucid conception of a world commonweal. The realization of that science and that conception, the conversion of that knowledge and that idea into material and living reality is "the general business of mankind." What other general business can there be? It is the formal aspect of new religion, the modern Islam.
To this you must give yourself, because there is no other right thing, to which you can give yourself. And give yourself you must if you are to escape mortality.
TO readers who have not seen the preceding articles we must explain that Mr. Wells is presenting here what purports to be a summary and critique of the many-volumed life work of an imaginary writer named William Burroughs Steele. In the first article he showed how Steele summed up all religions, all human ideals and aspirations, as efforts to defeat death by identifying oneself with a cause greater and more lasting than oneself; and how Steele arrived at the conclusion that identification of oneself with all humanity was the only complete and, therefore, completely satisfactory form for such an effort to take. To identify oneself with all humanity means inevitably to strive for world peace and for abundance for all men. In the second article Mr. Wells summarized Steele's argument that all other creeds and causes—including socialism and communism—are partial and piecemeal, and therefore unsatisfactory. In the present (and final) article Mr. Wells—again summarizing the imaginary Steele—shows why we have made a botch to date of our efforts for world peace and abundance, and discusses the major educational changes which Steele believed to be imperative.—The Editors.
IN comparison with some of his earlier volumes, Steele's treatment of the problem of World Peace seems remarkably close-knit. His peculiar aversion from negative terms, his flair for negatives disguised as positives, is very much in evidence. It is manifest he does not like the ambiguity of the word Peace for that reason. It is too easily interpreted as the absence of war; he harps upon the idea that Peace must be a forceful substitute for war.
The gist of his argument is that World Peace is something entirely less natural than contention. It requires no effort for a man nowadays to remain a tax-paying obedient citizen of a modern combatant state. He finds himself there. The masses drift to war, individually unwilling but collectively feeble. When they find themselves in the war rapids it is too late to resist. Modern war, so far as the masses go, is not strong action; it is weakness. It is like the screaming and kicking of a person for whom the forces of life are too much and who falls into a fit of epilepsy. Peace must be imposed upon a weakly warring world. A World Pax must be a conquest, not an abdication.
Steele deals very briefly with the vast complex of anti-war movements that passed across the mental surface of the world in the period after 1914. They were particularly prevalent in the English-speaking and Scandinavian communities. "They just said they wanted no more war; they said it by the hundred thousand, they said it by the million, they passed resolutions, irresolute resolutions, they printed tons of books and pamphlets, and they did no more about it." And then he settles down to a long and penetrating analysis of the League of Nations experiment.
The League of Nations, Steele asserts, was brought to futility by bad analogies. Slovenly and inadequate thinking, he declares, is one day a matter of the study and the newspaper office, and the next a spreading virus of human disaster. The last thing human beings will learn is that it is impossible to get good results from a bad arrangement of ideas. The men who conceived the League of Nations had old-fashioned legalist and not modern biological minds; they floated on conventions and were incapable of penetrating to realities. And so the League of Nations to which great numbers of people looked for saving veracities never produced anything better than evasive formulae.
For decades two bad analogies paralyzed the human will for unity. The first of these was the false analogy which paralleled states with human individuals. The personification of states played a large part in human frustration in the early twentieth century. Small states were given such characters as "brave and little" and in the political interplay their "rights" were maintained exactly as the "rights" of small individuals were maintained against bigger or more powerful associates. But in reality a small state of five million inhabitants is exactly one-twentieth as important as a great state of one hundred billions. It is not an individual at all.
The League of Nations organization is based on this false analogy. It does not simply ignore, it contradicts the reality that the whole earth belongs now to all mankind and cannot be treated any longer in a multitude of separate unequal parcels. We cannot tolerate that small communities of people should squat on this or that region of natural resources, claim sovereignty over it, and drive a bargain with the rest of the world, any more than we can tolerate the private ownership of land and natural resources. But the League of Nations recognizes, intensifies, and does its utmost to preserve the conventions of nationalism and the emotions of patriotism. The primary objective for those who desire a world-order is the replacement of patriotic obsessions by the idea of cosmopolitan duty. Until producers think in terms of world production and distribution in terms of world transport, until the organization and restraint of force is thought of as one simple world-wide scheme, there cannot be any organic unity in a World Pax. It will continue to be like one of those long carnival dragons, in which a number of men, on their separate legs, walk under a cloth with a cardboard head.
The second bad analogy contributing to the political futility of the times is the assumption that the political organization of the contemporary combatant state can be paralleled and imitated in any world organization. This fallacy is Steele's bête noire. Here I find him running into what is very much Lenin's line of thought about the "State." The State, so far as it is the organization of power in the world, will tend to disappear. As Steele sees it, a great economic directorate, a great research, informative and educational system, a hygienic directorate, all three working upon a common scientific conception of the common interest, will co-operate in the co-ordination of human activities, and so the control and application of force will be less and less necessary. The existing state organizations are primarily force organizations. They will "fade out" as the world federal organizations work more and more efficiently. The combative, litigious, and bargaining activities of men will diminish as their productive and creative activities develop.
It is through their failure to grasp this essential change in the structure of the community that people evolve visions of a World President, World Senates, and World Assemblies engaging in debates upon "policies" and playing the ancient game of parties and sections upon a mightier scale. But it is almost impossible to imagine any such single political government arising except through the practical conquest of existing states; it would be a super-state imposed by one or more of them upon the rest. But the organized world community must arise by the essentially different and ultimately far less difficult process of federal delegation.
Nine-tenths even of our most passionate peacemakers have no rational idea and will not grasp the need for a clear rational idea, of the way to peace. "You cannot make peace," writes Steele, "by mooing like cows at passing soldiers. Making perpetual peace is a huge, heavy, complex, distressful piece of mental engineering."
The mental trouble which frustrates the disposition toward World Peace is not, Steele points out, merely one of logical fallacies. Beneath in the subconscious there are deep and powerful antagonisms to the pacification of the world. The story of Man is the story of an excessively pugnacious ape being slowly tamed. Man is a suspicious and fearful creature and easily aroused to fight what he distrusts and fears. In the face of every new necessity he struggles with an irrational antagonism to novelty. Treaties, laws, and every limitation of his freedom to act spasmodically move him toward a sort of claustrophobia. The thought of being tied up drives him frantic. And there is considerable justification for this distrust of his. We are treacherous to one another, and our fabric of social order rests on profoundly untrustworthy supports. We are afraid of one another—and with reason. This fearing, snapping animal is being made into a civilized creature slowly enough by the measure of an individual life, but with incredible rapidity by the biological scale of time.
The tension of the effort to lift up the whole mind and will "above the plane of instinctive personal mortality, to a rationalized immortal universalism of creation," is immense. This is why there is so much snarling, bickering, and suspicion among those who are setting themselves sincerely to shape their general conduct in the form of human service. The wider you stretch your moral energy the thinner it becomes. The intolerance and general bad manners of the Communists are proverbial. The lives of most strenuous, honest, wide-thinking men arc shot with a snarling jealousy. The naïve disciple is puzzled and misled by these almost inevitable ignobilities on the part of his prophets and exemplars.
On the other hand, those who have abandoned or never made any attempt to suppress the combative forms of patriotism, xenophobia, and racial self-righteousness, who are guided, therefore, and protected on every hand by recognized conventions, may escape these stresses. Thackeray's Colonel Newcome is an immortal revelation of the moral charmingness and richness that accompany such fundamental stupidity. The ultimate result of these conventional conformities is futility and disaster, but meanwhile they sustain a lot of consistent emotional living and extract a dignified, if sentimental, simplicity from the incoherent imperatives and loyalties of their unanalyzed purposes.
Finally Steele takes up the still very large moiety of human beings who definitely like war, know they like war, want it and seek it. They are people of "coarse excitability." They experience an agreeable thrill in bristling up to a challenge. Their blood quickens as conflict approaches them. The sense of militant assertion is very pleasant to them. A child with a drum can be seen working itself up to a mood of this sort. Everyone has a certain fear of war or any sort of combat; but in recruits and soldiers going into battle one can see plainly that they are screwing themselves up to the fight as many people screw themselves up to swim in cold water—because they feel that it is good for them and because there is an unprecedented intensity of reaction in it that they feel they will presently like. They are convinced they will regret it if they shirk. This orgiastic aspect of warfare appeals to nearly all of us, and until we learn to live as strenuously and dangerously in times of peace it will continue to attract. People do not like the risk of being killed in battle but still less do they like stagnant living. There are urgencies in them more powerful than fear.
Pacifism will continue to be frustrated until there comes such a dream of peace as will stir men like a trumpet. The human imagination throughout the world has to be so educated that war will be seen as a dreary diversion of energy from excitements more splendid and satisfying. War is not what it was, and mankind does not understand this yet. Its triumphs have evaporated; its heroisms disappear. It is a perversion, a slacker's resort, clumsy, violent, and fruitless, humanity's self-abuse. The terrible hero-warrior of old-world imagination becomes a dangerous and dirty sadist with a gas mask on his face and poison in his fist. When that is seen dearly, then and then only will the peace of the world be secure.
I find something at once heroic and faintly absurd in the big volume in which Steele attempts to develop a summary, complete enough to allow us to make directive conclusions, out of the vast mass of human thinking, theorizing, and experimenting about what he calls "Property-Money Conventions."
One thing I find particularly good and clear in this valiant effort—at times it is like a single cow trying to turn a thousand haystacks and a continent of grassland into milk—is Steele's rejection of all legalistic and historical accounts of money. However it came about, money is now part of the mechanism which deflects individual desire and effort into the economic service of the community. He says in one place, "There never was nor is a Social Contract, and yet it is quite the best form in which to deal with endless relationships. And equally there never was nor is a systematic social-economic machine, and yet we have in effect a social-economic machine, and we can bring all our laws and arrangements about ownership, production, and distribution to the test of its operative efficiency."
The only natural things underlying the mechanism of property are greed and respect for our fellows. On these a vast intricate fluctuating system of conventions has been built, entirely artificial and entirely amenable to modification. And in his titanically conceived ninth volume Steele attempts to get together and bring into comparison every usage and every idea about ownership, accounting, and monetary symbols that can be found in operation or under consideration in the world.
As I turn over these pages, I realize with astonishment what immense wildernesses for inquiry and primary scientific examination about social economic science remain still practically untouched. In the whole world there are only a few score of almost isolated workers nibbling at this encyclopaedic, this cosmic investigation. And so it was inevitable that this volume nine, for all its copiousness and Steele's magnificent efforts to achieve a sort of digest, should at times become a mere prospectus of questions, an agenda for non-existent literature, a series of tadpole chapter headings, heads with mere motive tails.
"Irresponsible Ownership, Responsible Ownership—responsible to whom?" is one of these. This reopens his indictment of Socialism on the one hand, and on the other leads to a sketchy but suggestive assembly and classification of all the different kinds of things that can in any way be owned. It is a classified inventory of human resources. He considers substances; he considers matter in motion such as rivers; he considers territorial control; he considers substances in a position to yield energy. He considers things that "excite and gratify." Naturally he wanders into some thorny and trackless regions, gets lost, and jumps back to start afresh. He tries to take up his material successively from three different directions of approach. He defines the nature of each sort of property and explains how that nature conditions its use. Then he sorts out his economic material according to the use of each sort of property, its function, that is to say, in the totality of human activities. And finally he discusses the necessary constitution of the "owning will," individual or collective—the merchant adventurers, joint stock company, public department, or what not that must direct and operate—if the possible function of any natural material or natural force is to be fully realized.
Certain tendencies that have been emerging throughout Steele's previous volumes become much plainer to himself and to his readers in this ninth bale. Someone has written of Steele as a "sample modern mind" trying to make head and tail of the contemporary drive in things. Steele would have said that it was the duty of every living brain to make the same attempt that he was making. It is an impossibly intricate task for an isolated mind, but it is not at all an impossibly intricate task if there is an organization of minds. If many with a certain community of spirit attempt it they must fall into co-operation and all the possibilities will alter. A guideless man or a man pestered by false and interested guides might easily be lost in the streets of London or the byways of Europe, but not a man with good maps and time tables. Competent economic charting is a primary need for civilization, and the increase in individual power due to competent charting seems incalculably great.
Steele knows quite clearly that his survey of property-money is about as useful a guide for behavior as those pathetic maps of the world which existed before the sixteenth century would have been as guides for world planning. But the general lay-out of his Survey is interesting. His threefold method of approach produces what are practically three parallel surveys.
The first is a sketch of economic geography. He ranges all over the world and probes as far into the crust as he can. "This," he says in effect, "is the human estate. Why do we make so poor a use of it? Here are resources undeveloped. Here are resources wasted. Why?" He leaves his answer open, but the open ends often point in very definite directions.
The second survey is taken from the consumer's end. Here are needs and appetites going unsatisfied. Why? He makes big vague gestures toward an estimate for a world properly clothed, fed, and sheltered. It is not his fault that his estimates are mere wild guesses. There is no absolute reason why such estimates should not be precise. A standard of life, given a quantitative knowledge of what is at present mere speculation, could be defined.
The third limb of his survey arises out of the former two. It is really the project of an immense essay on—to use his own phrase—"Ownership, Wages, and Other Claims." It is a demand for a science upon which law and morality in relation to property and money can be rebuilt. This science would be essentially a branch of psychology, and he invades one stormy region of controversy after another with an unfaltering temerity. I think perhaps the most interesting thing for the general reader will be what he calls his Three Theses. They run as follows:
First: that whatever the origins of the ideas and practices of ownership may be, ownership is now made, protected, and enforced by the laws of society; and there is no reason whatever except the collective welfare why any sort of ownership or any particular ownership should be enforced or permitted. This is plainly the sole basis for all modern law affecting property throughout the world.
Second: that whatever the distribution of sovereignties may have been in the past, All Mankind is now the ultimate owner of the natural resources of the planet, earth, sky, and sea; and that, failing for the present a complete general direction for the exploitation of these resources—which general direction will in time arrive not by any usurpation of power but by the natural development of scientific imperatives—all current sovereignties and ownerships must be regarded as provisional, and those who have them must be regarded as caretakers of treasure-trove and navigators of derelicts, all responsible to a final accounting. The criterion by which all the conditions of their ownership must be valued is the extent to which these conditions fall in with and exploit the primitive human impulses so as to subserve the human commonweal.
Property is the quid pro quo by which the man of spirit surrenders to collective living and it is the common guarantee against intolerable usurpation. Men without sovereignty, ownership, or freedom—or the pride that comes with these things—are incurably careless with the goods of this world and spiritless in production. For that reason property must continue to exist. But property must be "kinetic." It must never "congeal." Modern property in land or any sort of natural resources can be at most only a "stimulating responsible leasehold."
Third: "money exists to pay wages." Steele argues that the whole economic machine is essentially a process of work; that it can be presented as a spectacle of work; that the worker's instinct to render unrewarded services is practically negligible and that it is money that "works the worker." Payment in kind means servitude, but payment in money is liberty of choice. The expectation of security and of satisfactions upholds the worker through the less interesting parts of his task and justifies the parts that are interesting. Work done justifies not only immediate pay, but pensions, retirement pay, Ieisure, and independence. The whole monetary system is to be judged by the test whether the money put into the hands of the worker on payday satisfies his expectations and keeps its promises. The money system has to be worked out to a final simplicity in which you will draw your pay as you earn it, keep it by you, bother no more about it, and be sure it will neither lose nor gain in "purchasing power" until you spend it.
This ultimate simplification of money so that a note or coin means the same thing all over the world is, Steele asserts, the plain objective of every constructive economist. Anything but a world currency becomes an anachronism. And from this third and last thesis he launches out into another big volume of concentrated encyclopaedism, a sketch of the history of trading, accounting, and money from their beginnings up to now. He tries to find the social advantages of each new development and then, under each new development, he makes a section devoted to what he calls its "corruptions."
This, I think, is a novel and useful way of attacking the problems of economic life as a series of inaccurate processes liable not only to willful but to unintentional abuse. Steele discusses usury and interest entirely from the point of view of whether they are biologically advantageous. They are the profits of uncertainty; they dwindle in a world of quantitative knowledge. They are clumsy expedients for getting leave to produce or for tiding over unforeseen phases of consumption in a tangled and restricted state of affairs. In the clearer-headed world ahead they will have practically disappeared.
He is particularly intent upon the way in which the "arithmetical unrestrictedness" of money lent itself to the development of debt. Before money a man could pledge only his actual possessions; with the onset of money he could incur liabilities far beyond anything he possessed. Steele accumulates a mass of data about speculative operations.
He believes that monetary manipulation has become increasingly vexatious in trade policy and foreign policy. It has interwoven with the felted corruptions of tariffs and trade restrictions. Steele calls all this the perversion of money, but then he hits out the remark, "Money is a born pervert. We have to cure a congenital disease here." The more men know of monetary complications the easier is it to reap personal advantages, and the more disingenuous becomes the attitude of the expert. The less men know the less able they are to deal with the business. This monetary science is "a corrupting science," says Steele, and its practitioners should "work with rubber gloves." The conflict of expertise with disinterestedness is the paradox of scientific finance.
In some parts of this ninth volume Steele becomes almost as pessimistic as Burton. Burton thought Man was mad for ever more; Steele comes very near admitting that Man is incurably a shortsighted, cheating, self-frustrated fool.
There is a cheat in every shadow, fraud lurks in every inexplicit word in an agreement. The paint on our new institutions is dirty before it is dry. We cannot ignore this tendency to fester in every human convention and arrangement. In detail and continually, the infections, the new dodge, the fresh interceptions have to be diagnosed and dealt with. But this is a reason for strenuous effort and not for despair. The complications are multitudinous but not more multitudinous than the business of the world; the corruptions are intricate but not beyond the compass of the human mind. Economic life can be simplified only if it is "drenched in light and kept incandescent with good intentions."
And its simplification to real efficiency must be a complicated incessant business of adjustment. "Revolution" is no final remedy for economic frustration except in so far as it may clear away some very close-knit system of abuses. Revolution means a new beginning, with new naïve principles, all void of immunity and ready to be corrupted. It carries with it a strategic necessity, usually exaggerated, for the suppression of criticism as opposition. The inquiring visitor can trace the development of a whole system of new corruptions in Russia, terrorism, wangling, exploitation of mass sentimentality, unscrupulously defensive privilege, beneath the dark cloak of doctrinaire intolerance.
Escape from economic frustration depends upon a mighty intellectual effort, argues Steele. It will have to be an effort as extensive as a world war and far more prolonged. Upon the organization and co-ordination of thousands of students and men of experience, discussing and publishing freely, helping and stimulating one another, depends the possibility of an advance into enduring plenty. And at present there is nothing in the wide world to represent the vital science needed but a few scattered professors and specialists working with negligible resources and the disconnectedness of amateurs.
Are we to despair because of the unprecedented greatness and complexity of the work to be done?
Take hope from the story of flying, says Steele. For two thousand years and more men dreamed of flying and sought to fly. But for a wearisome sequence of centuries they never got a step forward. Now one man constructed his machine and jumped and flopped and now another; the general wisdom remained quite sure that flying was forever denied to man.
Then in scarcely a dozen years the problem of flying was solved. By whom? You do not know, for the simple reason that it was done by a multitude of men working in correlation. So and so flew quite early and so and so and so and so; but hundreds of contemporary brains had contributed even to the earliest machine that rose from the ground. It was not an inventor but a science that took men into the air.
In economic science there is still nothing but doctrinaires. In his library, Steele says, he has several thousand books of monetary and general economic theory. It is rare that any of these writers refer to one another; still rarer to find the slightest attempt to understand, respond, or summarize. It is less like science than the gabble of geese on a common. "Three thousand years of isolated dreamers and still no man could fly a yard. A few years of free co-operation, of correlated, well-reported experiments and free discussion, and Man could fly round his world. So likewise will it be with the attainment of world plenty," writes Steele, and ties up his economic bale with these words, quite hopefully pointing our hopes for material welfare to the busy skies.
Steele's tenth book deals with the current disorder of our education. Here again we catch him at his old trick of making highly controversial statements as though they were obvious truths. His belief that what Steele thinks to-day the world will think to-morrow never fails him.
In its normal sense education is "what adults tell, reveal, or betray to the next generation." It is the necessary completion of man as a social animal. He cannot exist without it. There is no abstract uneducated man. Even a jungle wolf-boy is educated to a view and way of life—by wolves.
Normally hitherto when men had no perspectives in time and conceived of their institutions as permanent, education has been retrospective and conservative. The young received the wisdom of their fathers and were told exactly what was expected of them. Then they were "grown up" and ceased all further learning. The existing educational methods of the world were evolved in that spirit, and schools and colleges are to this day conducted mainly to put hack the new generation where its parents began.
It is quite a new way of looking at the aim of education to consider it not as an exposition of institutions but of objectives. Instead of teaching youth where it stands, you have to show it whither it may be going. You have to train it not for conformity but for a permanent revolution. And the teacher must go with it—adult no longer, a learner still, pupil-teacher at the best.
Education expands enormously in scope and importance as we face about toward our incessantly progressive future. It ceases to be the mere framing of adolescence. We are all adolescents nowadays and the only finished adults are the dead, interred or uninterred. The citizen of the new world must be kept informed throughout his life. Education becomes an all-life affair. It ceases to be final in its form. It ceases to have "classics." It would as soon return to creeds and catechisms. It broadens out to embrace research and fresh thought—all research and all fresh thought however recondite. "I cannot find any point," says Steele, "at which I can draw the line between research however specialized and poetic expression however precious, and the general educational process of mankind." The highest springs and the remotest creeks are all in touch with the ocean. The education of youth now should be not a completion but an introduction, or, to put it in another way, modernity prolongs adolescence and mental adaptation to the last active phase of a lifetime. "Finishing School for Young Ladies," "Graduation," and university "Final Schools" jar almost equally on Steele's ear.
And having thus expanded Education and turned it round so that we all find ourselves back at school again, Steele sets about another of his loose experimental surveys and commentaries, this time of all the existing schools, colleges, churches, theaters, shows, lecture halls, conferences, books, periodicals, propagandas by which mankind is continually educating, re-educating, and mis-educating itself. It almost goes without saying that he finds the totality altogether inadequate and unsuited to the present needs and opportunities of our race.
"Does one teacher in a hundred ever ask himself what he imagines he is doing to the learner and the world?"
This educational survey becomes for a time an onslaught on dons and teachers. In every generation the more vivid young go out to the activities of general life, to business, politics, adventure. But the good timid boys and girls who have clambered obediently from prize to scholarship, learning all that is respectable and nothing that is new, sit enthroned as teachers in the classrooms and cloisters, trying not to hear the world go by outside.
They teach about the past, but they never learn to connect it with the vulgar intimidating present. There is a gap of decades between them and now. They learn Ianguages with a meticulous precision but never how to use them with vigor. The deader the language, the better it is for teaching and examination purposes. They stylize mathematics to complete inutility. They chant or mumble or sentimentalize or do a reverent hush, do anything but talk straight, when the growing soul wants to know what life is for, what its passions are for. The Ancient Books, which we none of us believe in any more, are read sententiously. "Controversial matters"—that is to say every living reality that will flush the cheek and brighten the eye with mental excitement—are excluded from these institutions for damping off the young.
"We are frustrated by original sin, by fear, pugnacity, cupidity, dishonesty," writes Steele, his pen almost crying aloud, "but most of all we are frustrated by this damned flattening flatness of our schools. If youth did not naturally dislike its tutors and teachers and react against them, there would be little hope for any Next Beginning." But most of that revolt against the teacher spends itself in futile lawlessness, and it is a mere remnant of vigorous and persistent minds that carries on the effort of racial adjustment in the new generation. And so on da capo.
Steele has little to say about kindergarten and physical development, training of eye and hand and mental exercise. He seems to consider that that sort of thing can be done well, is being done well in many schools, could be done well in all; and it does not concern him immediately. It is only as the imagination develops in boyhood, girlhood, and early adolescence that the inefficiency of contemporary education becomes patent. "Nothing is more amazing," he writes, "than the charm, the alert intelligence, the fearless freedom, the cared-for mind and body of the ordinary modern child of six or seven, and the slouching mental futility of the ordinary youth in the later teens."
What have they had fed to them to be mentally so ill-grown? Steele made several scrapbooks of extracts and cuttings of schoolmasters' utterances and well-authenticated speeches made to schoolboys and schoolgirls, of books supposed to be "good" for the young, gems of history teaching, school library lists, cases of censorship, disciplinary cases. From the age of twelve or thirteen onward modern education rots and fades out; it is invaded by antiquated pedantries, suppressions and palpable bunk. The ranks of the youthful advance are broken. In nearly every country in the world to-day, the young people between the ages of fifteen and twenty are as a whole a demoralized and aimless crowd.
Anyone who wants to make the best of it, says Steele, may argue that this is slack water between two tides. But in truth, though the ebb is manifest, there is no sign of any rising spirit. The prospect before the younger boys and girls is just as flat and uninspiring. And until we can raise a great wind of Educational Revivalism things will stay as they are.
It is amusing to read Steele as he tries to be broadminded and patient and confident in the necessity of progress, while all the time he is fretting against his facts. His was an energetic and urgent nature and up to his very last utterance, which I shall give in its place, he was praying in vain for the unshaken deliberation of a true scientific man, so that he should work "without haste and without delay." The situation is like trench warfare, he says, and the clue to victory is how and where to pierce the enemy front. He has no hope of penetrating our line of ordinary schools and colleges. Everything in them makes for routine and conservation. There is much more hope for a mental thrust through journalism, through preaching and lecturing, through the provision of reading for the baffled and inquiring adolescent, through a great variety of progressive books.
To break through in these ways is to outflank school and college and to prepare a later attack upon them from a more advantageous angle. Literature, science, political propaganda must all contribute to the pressure that will ultimately make over education from its present traditionalism to a creatively revolutionary equipment of the young. In the end that may mean the disappearance of the very forms of contemporary education, of schoolrooms, lecture halls, and almost every process that is considered to be teaching to-day. All that system derives from the technical training of mediaeval priests and monks. That is why there is so much "verbal" memory work in it, why it glorifies "scholarship," its flower, and why it is so cursed with examinations.
In all this the hope is plainly father to the thought. In passage after passage Steele's dismay at the unteachableness of schoolmasters and the rigidities of the scholastic organization—the strait waistcoat of the school, he calls it—breaks through. The new education needs a new sort of teacher altogether. But Steele has left very few notes to indicate what that new sort of teacher will be. I am inclined to think he would have a sort of medical-psychologist acting as joint supervisor with the parents over the children's development. He would arrange for elementary teaching which would be done in nursery schools very much as it is done to-day. After that, by eleven or twelve say, there would be a distribution of children according to their aptitudes. Thereafter very largely they would "learn by doing." Adolescent education would be somewhat in the nature of apprenticeship.
Steele becomes much more detailed and manifestly surer of himself when be comes to what he calls the "informative side" of education. Instead of something that is being done most desperately wrong, he is considering something that is not being done at all; he has a clear field, and his aggressive buoyancy comes against no proved discouragement. He attaches extraordinary importance to the production of a "World Encyclopaedia." It seems to him that it is the most urgent need of our time. The main intellectual task of education is to put before the expanding mind everything that is clearly known about the nature of the world in which it finds itself, every significant thing in the problems it has to face, the essential issues under consideration, the direction of collective effort. Every mind in the world needs the framework of this common inheritance of knowledge, and the means of filling in whatever parts of the framework most concern it. Every mind needs to be posted in any essential extensions of knowledge or changes in general ideas.
To meet these ends he projects a sort of human memory, a central brain, an organization for the accumulation, concentration, sifting out, digestion, and rendering of knowledge; it is every museum, library, scientific society, poet and thinker and active intelligence brought into correlation. It is a synthesis of summaries. It is the New Atlantis on a twentieth-century instead of an Elizabethan scale.
He demands "scores of millions of pounds" for this central Encyclopaedia, "expenditure on the scale of war preparation," and the participation of hundreds of thousands of workers. And from this ever-living and growing and clarifying central and fundamental Encyclopaedia there must be a continual production and renewal up to date of outlines and condensations of its purport and content. These are to be used for college and secondary study and for general reference, and from these again a series of introductions and primers are to be made. So we shaII get at last for our whole world community a "common basis of knowledge and general ideas" upon which an infinite variety of special interests can flourish harmoniously together.
In the glow of this project Steele manages to forget altogether the parade of donnish and scholastic drearies, the barricades of schoolbooks, texts, examinations with which he has dealt so faithfully. "And so with its accounts rendered and its knowledge and aims clearly stated," he writes, "the human community may at last dare to Iook its children in the face and give them, before they set themselves in good earnest to play their part in it, some chance of knowing what it thinks it is about."
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