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   Chapter 15 THE HOPE OF THE PRESENT SITUATION

The War and Unity By Various Characters: 12606

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I fear that a large portion of this lecture has been taken up with the past. But even so rough and brief a review as I have attempted is a necessary prelude to a just estimate, both of our present position and of our future prospects. It is often supposed, indeed, that the study of history predisposes a man's mind to a conservative view. He studies the slow development of institutions, or the gradual influence of movements, and the trend of his thought works round to the very antipodes of anything that is revolutionary or catastrophic. But there is another side to the matter. The study of history may so expose the injustices of the past and their intrenchments that the student reaches the conclusion that nothing but an earthquake-an earthquake in men's ideas at the very least-can avail to set things right; that the best thing that could happen would be an explosion so terrible as to make it possible to break completely with the past, and start anew on firmer principles and better ways. After all, as a great Cambridge scholar once said, "History is the best cordial for drooping spirits." For if on the one hand it exposes the selfishnesses of men, on the other it displays an exhibition of those Divine-human forces of justice and sacrifice and good will which in the long run cannot be denied, and which encourage the brightest hopes for the age which is upon us.

The fact is, we are in the midst of precisely such an explosion as I have indicated. The immeasurable privilege has been given to us of being alive at a time when, most literally, an epoch is being made. Contemporary observers of events are not always the best judges of their significance, yet we shall hardly be mistaken if we assert that without doubt we stand at one of the turning points of the world's long story, that the phrase used of another epoch-making moment is true of this one, "Old things are passing away, all things are becoming new." For history is presenting us in these days with a clean slate, and to the men of this generation is given the opportunity for making a fresh start such as in the centuries gone by has often been sought, but seldom found. We are called to the serious and strenuous task of freeing our minds from old preconceptions-and the hold they have over us, even at a moment like this when the world is being shaken, is amazing-the task of reaching a new point of view from which to see our social problems, and of not being disobedient to the heavenly vision wheresoever it may lead us.

That vision is Fellowship, and it is not new. Though the war is, in the sense which I have suggested, a terrific explosion which in the midst of ruin and chaos brings with it supreme opportunities, it is equally true to say that it forms no more than a ghastly parenthesis in the process of fellowship both between nations and classes which had already begun to make great strides.

"The sense of social responsibility has been so deepened in our civilisation that it is almost impossible that one nation should attempt to conquer and subdue another after the manner of the ancient world."

These words sound rather ironical. They come from the last edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica. They were written about seven years ago in perfect good faith, as a sober estimate of the forces of fellowship which could be then discerned. Save for the ideals and ambitions of the central Empires of Europe they were perfectly true. What the war has done in regard to this fellowship is to expose in their hideous nakedness the dangers which threaten it, and to which in pre-war days we were far too blind, but also to unveil that strong passion for neighbourliness which lies deep in the hearts of men, and an almost fierce determination to give it truer expression in the age which is ahead.

You will naturally ask what effect the war is likely to have on this problem of class distinction. How far will it hinder or enhance the social unity for which we seek?

We must of course beware of being unduly optimistic. The fact that millions of our men are seeing with their own eyes the results which can be achieved by naked force will not be without its effect on their attitude when they return to their homes. If force is so necessary and so successful on the field of battle why not equally so in the industrial field? If nations find it necessary to face each other with daggers drawn, it may be that classes will have to do the same.

Personally I doubt whether this argument is likely to carry much weight. It is much more likely in my view that our men will be filled with so deep a hatred of everything that even remotely savours of battle, that a great tide of reaction against mere force will set in, and a great impetus be given to those higher and more spiritual motor-powers which during the war we have put out of court.

On the other hand it is easy to cherish a rather shallow hope as to the continuation in the future of that unity of classes which obtains in the trenches. Surely, it is argued, men who have stood together at the danger point and gone over the top together at the moment of assault will never be other than brothers in the more peaceful pursuits which will follow. Yet it is not easy to foretell what will happen when the tremendous restraint of military service is withdrawn, when Britain no longer has her back to the wall, and when the overwhelming loyalty which leaps forth at the hour of crisis falls back into its normal quiescence, like the New Zealand geyser when its momentary eruption is over. Any hopefulness which we may cherish for the future must rest on firmer foundations than these.

Such a foundation, I believe, has come to light, and I must say a few words about it as I close.

Broadly speaking it is this. The war has taught us that it is possible to live a national family life, in which private interests are subordinated in the main to the service of the State; and further that this new social organisation of the nation has called forth an unprecedented capacity in tens of thousands both of men and women, not merely for self-denying service, but for the utmost heights of heroism even unto death.

Men have vaguely cherished this ideal of national life before the war, but now it has been translated into concr

ete fact, and the nation can never forget the deep sense of corporate efficiency, even of corporate joy, which has ensued from this obliteration of the old class distinctions, this amalgamation of all and sundry in a common service. The fact is that a new class distinction has in a measure taken the place of the old, a distinction which has nothing to do with blood or with money, but solely with service. The nation is graded, not in degrees of social importance but in degrees of capacity for service. The only superiority is one of sacrifice. And each grade takes its hat off to the other on the equal standing ground of an all pervading patriotism. The only social competition is not in getting but in giving. National advantage takes the place of personal profit, and there is a sense of neighbourliness such as Britain has not experienced for many a long day, possibly for many a long century.

The supreme problem before us, I take it, is how to conserve this relationship and carry it over from the day of war to the day of peace. To do it will call for just that same spirit of sacrifice and service which is its own most predominant characteristic.

For one thing we must be quite definitely prepared in every section of society for a new way of life. From the economic point of view this will mean that the rich will be less rich, and the poor will be enabled to lead a larger life. Already the wealthy classes have been learning to live a simple life, and to substitute the service of the country for their own personal enjoyment. A serious call will come to them to continue in that state of life when the war is over. In some degree at least the pressure of the financial burden which the nation will have to bear will compel them to do so.

To the workers too in the same way the call will come to a new and more worthy way of life. I am thinking now of the workers at home who have been earning unprecedented wages, and thereby in many cases are already assaying a larger life. They will be reluctant to give this up, but only a gradual redistribution of wealth can make it permanent. It is not of course merely or mainly a matter of wages. The only real enlargement of life is spiritual. It is an affair of the mind and the soul.

The more we bring a true education within reach of the workers the more will there arise that sense of real kinship which only equality of education can adequately guarantee.

And speaking at Cambridge one cannot refrain from remarking that the University itself will have to submit to a considerable re-adjustment of its life if it is to be a pioneer in this intellectual comradeship of which I speak. A University may be a nursery of class distinction. In some measure it certainly has been so in the past. The opportunity is now before it to lead the way in establishing the only kind of equality which is really worth having.

Then too there are obvious steps which can be taken without delay in a new organisation of industry.

I am not one of those who think that the industrial problem can be solved in five minutes or even in five years. None the less it should not be impossible in wise ways to give the workers a true share of responsibility, particularly in matters which concern the conditions of their work and the remuneration of their labour.

If the sense of being driven by a taskmaster, whether it be the foreman of the shop, or the manager of the works, could give place to a truer co-operation in the management, and a larger measure of responsibility for the worker, we should be well on the road to eliminating one of the most persistent causes of just that kind of class distinction which we want to abolish. The more men work together in a real comradeship, the more mere social distinctions fade into the background. Is this not written on every page of the chronicles of this war?

But the supreme factor in the situation, without which no mere adjustment of organisation will prevail, is that new outlook on life which can only be described as a subordination of private advantage to the service of the country.

It is this alone which can really abolish the almost eternal class distinctions which we have traced throughout our survey, the distinction between the "haves" and the "have nots." For, as this spirit grows, the "have nots" tend to disappear, and the "haves" look upon what they have not as a selfish possession for their own enjoyment, but as a means of service for the common weal. Property, that which is most proper to a man, is seen to be precisely that contribution which he is capable of making to the welfare of his fellows.

The crux, the very core of the whole problem, is to find some means by which this new outlook can be produced, and a new motive by which men can be constrained to turn the vision into fact.

Here will come in that power which, as I pointed out, has sometimes been so potent and sometimes so impotent, but which, if it is allowed its proper scope, can never fail. I mean of course religion.

If men can be brought to see that this new outlook with its corresponding re-adjustment of social life is not merely a project of reformers but the plan of the Most High God, the deliberate intention of the supreme Spirit-force of the universe, the Scheme that was taught by the Prince of men, then indeed we may hope that the class distinction of which He spoke will at last be adopted: "Whosoever will be great among you, shall be your minister: and whosoever of you will be the chiefest, shall be servant of all. For even the Son of Man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many[30]."

FOOTNOTES:

[19] Encycl. Brit. xi. 604.

[20] Macaulay's History of England (Longman's, 1885), pp. 38, 39, 40.

[21] The Town Labourer, p. 205.

[22] Ibid., p. 212.

[23] G. K. Chesterton, Short History of England, p. 98.

[24] Stubbs' Lectures on Early English History, pp. 18, 19.

[25] Benjamin Kidd, Encycl. Brit. vol. xxv. p. 329.

[26] Lucian quoted by Harnack, Mission and expansion of Christianity, vol. I. p. 149.

[27] Ibid.

[28] Lactantius quoted by Harnack, Ibid. p. 168.

[29] History of England (Longman's, 1885), vol. I. p. 25.

[30] St Mark x. 43-45.

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UNITY BETWEEN CLASSES

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