Beyond the “Isms”

By Olaf Stapledon

M.A., Ph.D.



THIS little book is not what the publishers expected, nor even what the author intended. It was to have been a plain study of the mental and moral disorder of our civilization, and this up to a point it is; but I have produced a much more personal statement than I had planned. For when I had begun to write the book a conviction which had long been growing in my mind suddenly became much clearer and more insistent. This conviction is rooted less in my reading about the contemporary world than in my experience of personal contacts and social situations. Consequently the book lacks documentation, and is much less a treatise than a confession of faith about man's nature and the way of living that is proper to him. I make no apology for embarking on so great a theme in so small a space. This is a subject which in our time is peculiarly urgent; and the nerve of it can be exposed more effectively in a short book than in a tome.

"Faith" is perhaps the wrong word to apply to an attitude which combines bland assurance about fundamental values with an almost complete agnosticism about the universe at large. My conviction is really not a faith for a certainty, the one cherished and enheartening certainty of a mind that is resolutely sceptical.

I cannot claim originality for this book. Such novelty as it has lies in the fact that it attempts to restate the essence of an ancient and indeed perennial truth, stripped of an wishful and irrelevant fantasies, and embodies it in modern terms.

To-day in war-time, and afterwards when an attempt must be made to found a happier Britain and a happier world, some clear principle is needed for purging all the "isms" and synthesizing whatever is valuable in them for our guidance. Materialism and spiritism, individualism, and collectivism, are the two dimensions for the shaping of that principle. Liberalism, socialism, communism, and even Nazism, are sketches which express in greater or lesser degree some aspect of it. This book is a perhaps rash attempt to figure out in terms of my own experience the central features of the coming idea.

My thanks are due to L. H. Myers for encouragement and disagreement, Evelyn Gibson helped me with stimulating criticism. Agnes Stapledon I thank once more for being both my critic and my wife.


I. Our Three Troubles

II. How It All Happened

III. Analysis of Human Living.

IV. Scepticism

V. The Upshot

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