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   Chapter 11 A

The Free Press By Hilaire Belloc Characters: 10823

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:05

The motive of Propaganda (which began to work much the earliest of the three) concerned Religions, and also certain racial enthusiasms or political doctrines which, by their sincerity and readiness for sacrifice, had half the force of Religions.

Men found that the great papers (in their final phase) refused to talk about anything really important in Religion. They dared do nothing but repeat very discreetly the vaguest ethical platitudes. They hardly dared do even that. They took for granted a sort of invertebrate common opinion. They consented to be slightly coloured by the dominating religion of the country in which each paper happened to be printed-and there was an end of it.

Great bodies of men who cared intensely for a definite creed found that expression for it was lacking, even if this creed (as in France) were that of a very large majority in the State. The "organs of opinion" professed a genteel ignorance of that idea which was most widespread, most intense, and most formative. Nor could it be otherwise with a Capitalist enterprise whose directing motive was not conversion or even expression, but mere gain. There was nothing to distinguish a large daily paper owned by a Jew from one owned by an Agnostic or a Catholic. Necessity of expression compelled the creation of a Free Press in connection with this one motive of religion.

Men came across very little of this in England, because England was for long virtually homogeneous in religion, and that religion was not enthusiastic during the years in which the Free Press arose. But such a Free Press in defence of religion (the pioneer of all the Free Press) arose in Ireland and in France and elsewhere. It had at first no quarrel with the big official Capitalist Press. It took for granted the anodyne and meaningless remarks on Religion which appeared in the sawdust in the Official Press, but it asserted the necessity of specially emphasizing its particular point of view in its own columns: for religion affects all life.

This same motive of Propaganda later launched other papers in defence of enthusiasms other than strictly religious enthusiasms, and the most important of these was the enthusiasm for Collectivism-Socialism.

A generation ago and more, great numbers of men were persuaded that a solution for the whole complex of social injustice was to be found in what they called "nationalizing the means of production, distribution, and exchange." That is, of course, in plain English, putting land, houses, and machinery, and stores of food and clothing into the hands of the politicians for control in use and for distribution in consumption.

This creed was held with passionate conviction by men of the highest ability in every country of Europe; and a Socialist Press began to arise, which was everywhere free, and soon in active opposition to the Official Press. Again (of a religious temper in their segregation, conviction and enthusiasm) there began to appear (when the oppressor was mild), the small papers defending the rights of oppressed nationalities.

Religion, then, and cognate enthusiasms were the first breeders of the Free Press.

It is exceedingly important to recognize this, because it has stamped the whole movement with a particular character to which I shall later refer when I come to its disabilities.

The motive of Propaganda, I repeat, was not at first conscious of anything iniquitous in the great Press or Official Press side by side with which it existed. Veuillot, in founding his splendidly fighting newspaper, which had so prodigious an effect in France, felt no particular animosity against the "Debats," for instance; his particular Catholic enthusiasm recognized itself as exceptional, and was content to accept the humble or, at any rate, inferior position, which admitted eccentricity connotes. "Later," these founders of the Free Press seemed to say, "we may convert the mass to our views, but, for the moment, we are admittedly a clique: an exceptional body with the penalties attaching to such." They said this although the whole life of France is at least as Catholic as the life of Great Britain is Plutocratic, or the life of Switzerland Democratic. And they said it because they arose after the Capitalist press (neutral in religion as in every vital thing) had captured the whole field.

The first Propagandists, then, did not stand up to the Official Press as equals. They crept in as inferiors, or rather as open ex-centrics. For Victorian England and Third Empire France falsely proclaimed the "representative" quality of the Official Press.

To the honour of the Socialist movement the Socialist Free Press was the first to stand up as an equal against the giants.

I remember how in my boyhood I was shocked and a little dazed to see references in Socialist sheets such as "Justice" to papers like the "Daily Telegraph," or the "Times," with the epithet "Capitalist" put after them in brackets. I thought, then, it was the giving of an abnormal epithet to a normal thing; but I now know that these small Socialist free papers were talking the plainest common sense when they specifically emphasized as Capitalist the falsehoods and suppressions of their great contemporaries. From the Socialist point of view the leading fact about the insincerity of the great official papers is that this insincerity is Capitalist; just as from a Cath

olic point of view the leading fact about it was, and is, that it is anti-Catholic.

Though, however, certain of the Socialist Free Papers thus boldly took up a standpoint of moral equality with the others, their attitude was exceptional. Most editors or owners of, most writers upon, the Free Press, in its first beginnings, took the then almost universal point of view that the great papers were innocuous enough and fairly represented general opinion, and were, therefore, not things to be specifically combated.

The great Dailies were thought grey; not wicked-only general and vague. The Free Press in its beginnings did not attack as an enemy. It only timidly claimed to be heard. It regarded itself as a "speciality." It was humble. And there went with it a mass of ex-centric stuff.

If one passes in review all the Free Press journals which owed their existence in England and France alone to this motive of Propaganda, one finds many "side shows," as it were, beside the main motives of local or race patriotism, Religion, or Socialist conviction. You have, for instance, up and down Europe, the very powerful and exceedingly well-written anti-Semitic papers, of which Drumont's "Libre Parole" was long the chief. You have the Single-tax papers. You have the Teetotal papers-and, really, it is a wonder that you have not yet also had the Iconoclasts and the Diabolists producing papers. The Rationalist and the Atheist propaganda I reckon among the religious.

We may take it, then, that Propaganda was, in order of time, the first motive of the Free Press and the first cause of its production.

Now from this fact arises a consideration of great importance to our subject. This Propagandist origin of the Free Press stamped it from its outset with a character it still bears, and will continue to bear, until it has had that effect in correcting, and, perhaps, destroying, the Official Press, to which I shall later turn.

I mean that the Free Press has had stamped upon it the character of disparate particularism.

Wherever I go, my first object, if I wish to find out the truth, is to get hold of the Free Press in France as in England, and even in America. But I know that wherever I get hold of such an organ it will be very strongly coloured with the opinion, or even fanaticism, of some minority. The Free Press, as a whole, if you add it all up and cancel out one exaggerated statement against another, does give you a true view of the state of society in which you live. The Official Press to-day gives you an absurdly false one everywhere. What a caricature-and what a base, empty caricature-of England or France or Italy you get in the "Times," or the "Manchester Guardian," the "Matin," or the "Tribune"! No one of them is in any sense general-or really national.

The Free Press gives you the truth; but only in disjointed sections, for it is disparate and it is particularist: it is marked with isolation-and it is so marked because its origin lay in various and most diverse propaganda: because it came later than the official Press of Capitalism, and was, in its origins, but a reaction against it.


The second motive, that of indignation against falsehood, came to work much later than the motive of propaganda.

Men gradually came to notice that one thing after another of great public interest, sometimes of vital public interest, was deliberately suppressed in the principal great official papers, and that positive falsehoods were increasingly suggested, or stated.

There was more than this. For long the owner of a newspaper had for the most part been content to regard it as a revenue-producing thing. The editor was supreme in matters of culture and opinion. True, the editor, being revocable and poor, could not pretend to full political power. But it was a sort of dual arrangement which yet modified the power of the vulgar owner.

I myself remember that state of affairs: the editor who was a gentleman and dined out, the proprietor who was a lord and nervous when he met a gentleman. It changed in the nineties of the last century or the late eighties. It had disappeared by the 1900's.

The editor became (and now is) a mere mouthpiece of the proprietor. Editors succeed each other rapidly. Of great papers to-day the editor's name of the moment is hardly known-but not a Cabinet Minister that could not pass an examination in the life, vices, vulnerability, fortune, investments and favours of the owner. The change was rapidly admitted. It came quickly but thoroughly. At last-like most rapid developments-it exceeded itself.

Men owning the chief newspapers could be heard boasting of their power in public, as an admitted thing; and as this power was recognized, and as it grew with time and experiment, it bred a reaction.

Why should this or that vulgarian (men began to say) exercise (and boast of!) the power to keep the people ignorant upon matters vital to us all? To distort, to lie? The sheer necessity of getting certain truths told, which these powerful but hidden fellows refused to tell, was a force working at high potential and almost compelling the production of Free Papers side by side with the big Official ones. That is why you nearly always find the Free Press directed by men of intelligence and cultivation-of exceptional intelligence and cultivation. And that is where it contrasts most with its opponents.

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