THIS war really is teaching us, slowly, painfully, surely. All over the world people who have seldom given a thought to public affairs are waking. It is a bewildered sort of waking, and there is a danger that they will not find their bearings properly. The majority, of course, are still asleep. They are merely disturbed, restless. They are having bad dreams. But quite a big minority are actually waking, and that is what matters. For they are rousing the others. The" whole human dormitory is vaguely astir, and more and more people are shaking off their dreams and jumping to the realization that the house is on fire. .
If you go round talking to troops, as I have done, you will come across these people. You will find them in infantry regiments, in the artillery, in searchlight batteries, in the R.A.M.C., and above all in the Air Force. No doubt there are many of them in the Navy too. And of course they are in the Civil Defence Services and among munition workers. They are everywhere; but particularly among the young skilled men. These hold the future in their hands. These are the men who count, not only for military defence but afterwards, when it comes to making a new world. My impression is that most of these lads realize vaguely that big changes are needed; but they are despondent about the prospects, because they fear that sinister forces will scotch every effort. They know what happened after the last war. Also they mostly have only a sketchy notion of the proper aims of government and social organization. A sketchy notion, but one that is right so far as it goes. They see clearly enough that governments ought to foster the lives of ordinary people, but their notion of what ordinary people might make of their lives, and what sort of lives governments ought to help them to lead, is often very muddled.
In this little book I want to face up to this great question about the right sort of individual life and the consequent right aims of government. I want to bring together, if I can, my own special knowledge of the theoretical side of the problem and the things that I seem to have learnt from those young men, bored with army life and army red tape and stupidity, but patiently doing their jobs; cynical about public affairs, but ripening for a great gesture some day; cynical about themselves and each other, but often surprisingly loyal to each other as persons; badly warped by the pressure of army conditions or the life they lived before they joined up, but fundamentally sound, fundamentally the stuff for a decent world, if only they could have a decent chance.
Many of these young men are really beginning to see in a vague way that the distress of the modern world has three main roots; and that, correspondingly, three big changes must somehow be won out of this war, if it is not to prove utterly disastrous. They may not say so, in so many words; but the three big changes are already looming up in their minds. If we do not press forward well on the way to success in these three respects, there will certainly be more wars and a steady rot in human affairs. All the three things are in their special manners equally important. It is useless to tackle one of them without the other two, though one of them is logically the most fundamental.
Briefly these are the three. (1) We have somehow to make the beginnings of a real world-wide political organisation with effective authority over the national states. (2) We have to make the beginnings of a decent social order in each state, so that every child that is born may have the possibility of living as fully and humanly as he has it in him to live. (3) We have to form a precise and compelling idea of what the fully human kind of living involves, so that we may be roused to pursue with passion the right way of individual life and the right goal of social policy. In fact we have to face up afresh to an ancient question, which has recently become very unfashionable, heartily ridiculed, and hopelessly misconceived, namely the question of right and wrong.
This book is concerned with the third problem, which is in a way the fundamental one. But the three are dependent on one another. No one of our problems can be solved without the other two. You cannot have international unity without social unity and a new spirit in individual life. You cannot have social unity without international harmony and a new spirit in individual life. You cannot have the new spirit without international and social change. It is necessary to emphasize the interdependence of our three great tasks because so many people overlook it. Some put their faith wholly in founding an international order, some in social revolution, some in a widespread "change of heart ". I wish to make it quite clear at the outset that, though this book is concerned solely with the need for a widespread change of heart I do not for a moment suppose either that nothing else is needed or that this change can be brought about without at the same time tackling the other two problems.
Perhaps the best way of beginning to appreciate the change of heart that we need, is to contemplate the difference between the collapse of France under Nazi attack and the truly epoch-making resistance of Russia. The French collapsed because their leaders let them down, because they were not made to feel themselves to be instruments of a great cause. Contrast Russia. The world's greatest social experiment had been in progress for over twenty years. For the first time' a society had been consciously planned and constructed with the deliberate aim of producing the greatest possible well-being for all its members, not merely for a privileged minority. No doubt the new order had many faults.. Enemies of the regime were treated ruthlessly. Civil liberties were not secured. But the new Russia was on the whole a triumphant expression of a new and great idea. To-day, the Russian people are fighting a titanic battle against an efficient, well-equipped, and ruthless enemy. All the world is amazed at their resistance. All the world is beginning to realize that there must be something of supreme value and something immensely tough in the new Russian society. Otherwise such heroism could not be displayed in its defence. No doubt, the Russians are fighting for self-preservation; but so were the French. The difference is that the Russians are fighting for something which to them is sacred, something which hosts of them do actually value more than life itself. At a later stage of this book I shall have occasion to criticize the fundamental values of Communism; but here at the outset I had better say that, whatever the faults of Communist doctrine, I salute with heart-felt respect the feeling, the quickened and disciplined feeling, the generous passion for true community, which inspired the Russian Revolution and now inspires the Russian resistance to attack. This is by far the most glorious and most hopeful thing in the modern world.
The British too have withstood violent attacks. Their motives have been mixed. Some fought for empire, some for national economic privileges, some for national self-preservation, some for individual freedom, some for the distinctively English vision of that ideal of true community which inspires the Russians. Perhaps before these words are in print our turn will have come again. Perhaps we shall have to withstand the greatest attack of all. If so, we shall win through only if we can become more single-mindedly, more whole-heartedly, more clear-sightedly aware of the thing that is supremely worth living for and dying for; the thing which the Russians have felt so sincerely, though they have not, I shall argue, grasped the deeper implications of their own generous passion.
In this little book I shall sketch as briefly and clearly as I can the idea, or the germ of the idea, which alone can inspire us and guide us, not only during the agony of war, but during the momentous and creative period which must follow. In the practical expression of this idea the British and the Russians have much to teach one another. Each of these great peoples has grasped one aspect of the idea. What each has learnt is complementary to the truth discovered by the other. Each falls short in that respect in which the other excels. Superficially, but with essential truth, we may say that the British stand for the importance of individuality, the Russians for community. The harmonizing of their two ideals is to be achieved only by gaining a much deeper insight into the significance of each. In search of this insight we must go far afield from politics.
Beyond the "Isms" Contents