1908 Wallas on politics
The Greek thinkers started modern civilisation because they insisted that the trading populations of their walled cities should force themselves to think out an answer to the question, what kind of life is good. ‘The origin of the city-state,’ says Aristotle, ‘is that it enables us to live; its justification is that it enables us to live well.’
The assumption that men are automatically guided by ‘enlightened self-interest’ has been discredited by the facts of the war and the peace, the success of an anti-parliamentary and anti-intellectualist revolution in Russia, the British election of 1918, the French election of 1919, the confusion of politics in America, the breakdown of political machinery in Central Europe, and the general unhappiness which has resulted from four years of the most intense and heroic effort that the human race has ever made.
There is no longer much danger that we shall assume that man always and automatically thinks of ends and calculates means. The danger is that we may be too tired or too hopeless to undertake the conscious effort by which alone we can think of ends and calculate means.
The great mechanical inventions of the nineteenth century have given us an opportunity of choosing for ourselves our way of living such as men have never had before. Up to our own time the vast majority of mankind have had enough to do to keep themselves alive, and to satisfy the blind instinct which impels them to hand on life to another generation.
Industrial civilisation had given the growing and working generation a certain amount of leisure, and education enough to conceive of a choice in the use of that leisure; but had offered them no guidance in making their choice.
Within each nation, industrial organisation may cease to be a confused and wasteful struggle of interests, if it is consciously related to a chosen way of life for which it offers to every worker the material means. International relations may cease to consist of a constant plotting of evil by each nation for its neighbours, if ever the youth of all nations know that French, and British, and Germans, and Russians, and Chinese, and Americans, are taking a conscious part in the great adventure of discovering ways of living open to all, and which all can believe to be good.
Any examination of human nature in politics must begin with an attempt to overcome that ‘intellectualism’ which results both from the traditions of political science and from the mental habits of ordinary men.
Political impulses are not mere intellectual inferences from calculations of means and ends; but tendencies prior to, though modified by, the thought and experience of individual human beings. This may be seen if we watch the action in politics of such impulses as personal affection, fear, ridicule, the desire of property, etc.
Political acts and impulses are the result of the contact between human nature and its environment. During the period studied by the politician, human nature remained unchanged, but political environment has changed with ever-increasing rapidity.
Those facts of our environment which stimulate impulse and action reach us through our senses, and are selected from the mass of our sensations and memories by our instinctive or acquired knowledge of their significance. In politics the things recognised are, for the most part, made by man himself, and our knowledge of their significance is not instinctive but acquired.
Recognition tends to attach itself to symbols, which take the place of more complex sensations and memories. Some of the most difficult problems in politics result from the relation between the conscious use in reasoning of the symbols called words, and their more or less automatic and unconscious effect in stimulating emotion and action. A political symbol whose significance has once been established by association, may go through a psychological development of its own, apart from the history of the facts which were originally symbolised by it.
It is difficult to distinguish sharply between rational and non-rational inferences in the stream of mental experience, but it is clear that many of the half-conscious processes by which men form their political opinions are non-rational. We can generally trust non-rational inferences in ordinary life because they do not give rise to conscious opinions until they have been strengthened by a large number of undesigned coincidences. But conjurers and others who study our non-rational mental processes can so play upon them as to make us form absurd beliefs. The empirical art of politics consists largely in the creation of opinion by the deliberate exploitation of subconscious non-rational inference. The process of inference may go on beyond the point desired by the politician who started it, and is as likely to take place in the mind of a passive newspaper-reader as among the members of the most excited crowd.
But men can and do reason, though reasoning is only one of their mental processes. The rules for valid reasoning laid down by the Greeks were intended primarily for use in politics, but in politics reasoning has in fact proved to be more difficult and less successful than in the physical sciences. The chief cause of this is to be found in the character of its material. We have to select or create entities to reason about, just as we select or create entities to stimulate our impulses and non-rational inferences. In the physical sciences these selected entities are of two types, either concrete things made exactly alike, or abstracted qualities in respect of which things otherwise unlike can be exactly compared. In politics, entities of the first type cannot be created, and political philosophers have constantly sought for some simple entity of the second type, some fact or quality, which may serve as an exact ‘standard’ for political calculation. This search has hitherto been unsuccessful, and the analogy of the biological sciences suggests that politicians are most likely to acquire the power of valid reasoning when they, like doctors, avoid the over-simplification of their material, and aim at using in their reasoning as many facts as possible about the human type, its individual variations, and its environment.
Biologists have shown that large numbers of facts as to individual variations within any type can be remembered if they are arranged as continuous curves rather than as uniform rules or arbitrary exceptions. On the other hand, any attempt to arrange the facts of environment with the same approach to continuity as is possible with the facts of human nature is likely to result in error. The study of history cannot be assimilated to that of biology.
What is wanted in the enlightenment of a keystone is the fully conscious formulation and acceptance of those methods of making choices which will not have to be unlearned. WLL
If, however, a conscious moral purpose is to be strong enough to overcome, as a political force, the advancing art of political exploitation, the conception of control from within must be formed into an ideal entity which, like ‘Science,’ can appeal to popular imagination, and be spread by an organised system of education. The difficulties in this are great (owing in part to our ignorance of the varied reactions of self-consciousness on instinct), but a wide extension of the idea of causation is not inconsistent with an increased intensity of moral passion.
We must express clearly what we intend our officials to do, and to consider how far our present modes of appointment, and especially our present methods of organising official work, provide the most effective means for carrying out that intention. In the old city-states, where the area of government corresponded to the actual range of human vision and memory, a kind of local emotion could be developed which is now impossible in a ‘delocalised’ population. The solidarity of a modern state must therefore depend on facts not of observation but of imagination.
Can we, however, acquire a political emotion based, not upon a belief in the likeness of individual human beings, but upon the recognition of their unlikeness? Biologists tell us that the improvement of any one race will come most effectively from the conscious co-operation, and not from the blind conflict of individuals; and it may be found that the improvement of the whole species will also come rather from a conscious world-purpose based upon a recognition of the value of racial as well as individual variety, than from mere fighting.
In politics, as in football, the tactics which prevail are not those which the makers of the rules intended, but those by which the players find that they can win, and men feel vaguely that the expedients by which their party is most likely to win may turn out not to be those by which a State is best governed.
Popular election, it is said, may work fairly well as long as those questions are not raised which cause the holders of wealth and industrial power to make full use of their opportunities. But if the rich people in any modern state thought it worth their while, in order to secure a tariff, or legalise a trust, or oppose a confiscatory tax, to subscribe a third of their income to a political fund, no Corrupt Practices Act yet invented would prevent them from spending it. If they did so, there is so much skill to be bought, and the art of using skill for the production of emotion and opinion has so advanced, that the whole condition of political contests would be changed for the future. No existing party, unless it enormously increased its own fund or discovered some other new source of political strength, would have any chance of permanent success.
The choice-maker must, consciously or unconsciously, form a conception of human nature, and the less conscious he is of his conception the more likely he is to be dominated by it. If he has had wide personal experience of political life his unconscious assumptions may be helpful; if he has not they are certain to be misleading. In the other sciences which deal with human actions, this division between the study of the thing done and the study of the being who does it is not found.
Whoever sets himself to base his political thinking on a re-examination of the working of human nature, must begin by trying to overcome his own tendency to exaggerate the intellectuality of mankind. We are apt to assume that every human action is the result of an intellectual process, by which a man first thinks of some end which he desires, and then calculates the means by which that end can be attained. Even when an act is preceded by a calculation of ends and means, it is not the inevitable result of that calculation. Even when we know what a man thinks it his interest to do, we do not know for certain what he will do.
OD has an evolutionary history of its own earlier than the history of those intellectual processes by which it is often directed and modified. Our inherited organisation inclines us to re-act in certain ways to certain stimuli because such reactions have been useful in the past in preserving our species. Some of the reactions are what we call specifically ‘instincts,’ that is to say, impulses towards definite acts or series of acts, independent of any conscious anticipation of their probable effects. Those instincts are sometimes unconscious and involuntary; and sometimes, in the case of ourselves and apparently of other higher animals, they are conscious and voluntary. But the connection between means and ends which they exhibit is the result not of any contrivance by the actor, but of the survival, in the past, of the ‘fittest’ of many varying tendencies to act. Indeed the instinct persists when it is obviously useless, as in the case of a dog who turns round to flatten the grass before lying down on a carpet; and even when it is known to be dangerous, as when a man recovering from typhoid hungers for solid food.
We generally think of ‘instinct’ as consisting of a number of such separate tendencies, each towards some distinct act or series of acts. But there is no reason to suppose that the whole body of inherited impulse even among non-human animals has ever been divisible in that way. The evolutionary history of impulse must have been very complicated. An impulse which survived because it produced one result may have persisted with modifications because it produced another result; and side by side with impulses towards specific acts we can detect in all animals vague and generalised tendencies, often overlapping and contradictory, like curiosity and shyness, sympathy and cruelty, imitation and restless activity.
The pre-rational character of many of our impulses is, however, disguised by the fact that during the lifetime of each individual they are increasingly modified by memory and habit and thought. Even the non-human animals are able to adapt and modify their inherited impulses either by imitation or by habits founded on individual experience.
Many of the directly inherited impulses, again, appear both in man and other animals at a certain point in the growth of the individual, and then, if they are checked, die away, or, if they are unchecked, form habits; and impulses, which were originally strong and useful, may no longer help in preserving life, and may, like the whale’s legs or our teeth and hair, be weakened by biological degeneration. Such temporary or weakened impulses are especially liable to be transferred to new objects, or to be modified by experience and thought.
But the politician thinks about men in large communities, and it is in the forecasting of the action of large communities that the intellectualist fallacy is most misleading. The results of experience and thought are often confined to individuals or small groups, and when they differ may cancel each other as political forces. The original human impulses are, with personal variations, common to the whole race, and increase in their importance with an increase in the number of those influenced by them.
This greater immediate facility of the emotions set up by artistic presentment, as compared with those resulting from concrete observation has, however, to be studied in its relation to another fact—that impulses vary, in their driving force and in the depth of the nervous disturbance which they cause, in proportion, not to their importance in our present life, but to the point at which they appeared in our evolutionary past. We are quite unable to resist the impulse of mere vascular and nervous reaction, the watering of the mouth, the jerk of the limb, the closing of the eye which we share with some of the simplest vertebrates. We can only with difficulty resist the instincts of sex and food, of anger and fear, which we share with the higher animals. It is, on the other hand, difficult for us to obey consistently the impulses which attend on the mental images formed by inference and association.
At the theatre, because pure emotion is facile, three-quarters of the audience may cry, but because second-hand emotion is shallow, very few of them will be unable to sleep when they get home, or will even lose their appetite for a late supper.
Both those facts are of first-rate political importance in those great modern communities in which all the events which stimulate political action reach the voters through newspapers. The emotional appeal of journalism, even more than that of the stage, is facile because it is pure, and transitory because it is second-hand. Battles and famines, murders and the evidence of inquiries into destitution, all are presented by the journalist in literary form, with a careful selection of ‘telling’ detail. Their effect is therefore produced at once, in the half-hour that follows the middle-class breakfast, or in the longer interval on the Sunday morning when the workman reads his weekly paper. But when the paper has been read the emotional effect fades rapidly away.
Throughout the contest the candidate is made aware, at every point, of the enormously greater solidity for most men of the work-a-day world which they see for themselves, as compared with the world of inference and secondary ideas which they see through the newspapers.
However often he assures himself that the great realities are on his side, and that the busy people round him are concerned only with fleeting appearances, yet the feeling constantly recurs to him that it is he himself who is living in a world of shadows.
Another fact, closely connected with our intolerance of repeated emotional adjustment, is the desire for privacy, sufficiently marked to approach the character of a specific instinct, and balanced by a corresponding and opposing dread of loneliness. Our ancestors in the ages during which our present nervous system became fixed, lived, apparently, in loosely organised family groups, associated for certain occasional purposes, into larger, but still more loosely organised, tribal groups. No one slept alone, for the more or less monogamic family assembled nightly in a cave or ‘lean-to’ shelter. The hunt for food which filled the day was carried on, one supposes, neither in complete solitude nor in constant intercourse. Even if the female were left at home with the young, the male exchanged some dozen times a day rough greetings with acquaintances, or joined in a common task.
Man’s impulses and thoughts and acts result from the relation between his nature and the environment into which he is born. The nervous disgust I described arises from a constantly repeated mental and emotional adjustment to inharmonious surroundings. The biologist looks on human nature itself as changing, but to him the period of a few thousands or tens of thousands of years which constitute the past of politics is quite insignificant.
The nature with which man is born is looked on by the politician as fixed, while the environment into which man is born is rapidly and indefinitely changing. It is not to changes in our nature, but to changes in our environment only—using the word to include the traditions and expedients which we acquire after birth as well as our material surroundings—that all our political development from the tribal organisation of the Stone Ages to the modern nation has apparently been due.
The world consists of things which constantly and arbitrarily vary their appearance, nothing is ever like anything else, or like itself for more than a moment at a time, living beings as at present constituted must think or drift like seaweed among the waves.
When the symbol by which our impulse is stimulated is actual language, it is still more difficult not to confuse acquired emotional association with the full process of logical inference. Because one of the effects of those sounds and signs which we call language is to stimulate in us a process of deliberate logical thought we tend to ignore all their other effects. Nothing is easier than to make a description of the logical use of language, the breaking up by abstraction of a bundle of sensations—one’s memory. Shared by other such bundles of sensations, the giving to that quality a name, and the use of the name to enable us to repeat the process of abstraction. When we are consciously trying to reason correctly by the use of language all this does occur, just as it would occur if we had not evolved the use of voice-language at all, and were attempting to construct a valid logic of colours and models and pictures. But any text-book of psychology will explain why it errs, both by excess and defect, if taken as a description of that which actually happens when language is used for the purpose of stimulating us to action.
If we turn to politics for instances of the same fact, we again discover how much harder it is there to resist the habit of giving intellectual explanations of emotional experiences. For most men the central political entity is their country.
It is this last relation between words and things which makes the central difficulty of thought about politics. The words are so rigid, so easily personified, so associated with affection and prejudice; the things symbolised by the words are so unstable. The moralist or the teacher deals, as a Greek would say, for the most part, with ‘natural,’ the politician always with ‘conventional’ species.
Party leaders again have always to remember that the organisation which they control is an entity with an existence in the memory and emotions of the electors, independent of their own opinions and actions. This does not mean that party leaders cannot be sincere. As individuals they can indeed only preserve their political life by being in constant readiness to lose it.
What is there about Socialism is which influences so many lives? He might answer himself with a definition which could be clumsily translated as ‘a movement towards greater social equality, depending for its force upon three main factors, the growing political power of the working classes, the growing social sympathy of many members of all classes, and the belief, based on the growing authority of scientific method, that social arrangements can be transformed by means of conscious and deliberate contrivance.’ He would see men trying to forward this movement by proposals as to taxation, wages, and regulative or collective administration; some of which proposals would prove to be successfully adapted to the facts of human existence and some would in the end be abandoned, either because no nation could be persuaded to try them or because when tried they failed. But he would also see that this definition of a many-sided and ever-varying movement drawn by abstraction from innumerable socialistic proposals and desires is not a description of ‘Socialism’ as it exists for the greater number of its supporters.
‘Change of opinion,’ wrote Gladstone in 1868, ‘in those to whose judgment the public looks more or less to assist its own, is an evil to the country, although a much smaller evil than their persistence in a course which they know to be wrong. It is not always to be blamed. But it is always to be watched with vigilance; always to be challenged and put upon its trial.”
It is very hard to arrive at a clear definition of reasoning. Anyone who watches the working of his own mind will find that it is by no means easy to trace these sharp distinctions between various mental states, which seem so obvious when they are set out in little books on psychology. The mind of man is like a harp, all of whose strings throb together; so that emotion, impulse, inference, and the special kind of inference called reasoning, are often simultaneous and intermingled aspects of a single mental experience.
This is especially true in moments of action and excitement; but when we are sitting in passive contemplation we would often find it hard to say whether our successive states of consciousness are best described as emotions or inferences. And when our thought clearly belongs to the type of inference it is often hard to say whether its steps are controlled by so definite a purpose of discovering truth that we are entitled to call it reasoning.
Even when we think with effort and with a definite purpose, we do not always draw inferences or form beliefs of any kind. If we forget a name we say the alphabet over to ourselves and pause at each letter to see if the name we want will be suggested to us. When we receive bad news we strive to realise it by allowing successive mental associations to arise of themselves, and waiting to discover what the news will mean for us.
Most of the actual inferences which we draw during any day belong, indeed, to a much humbler type of thought than do some of the higher forms of non-inferential association. Many of our inferences, like the quasi-instinctive impulses which they accompany and modify, take place when we are making no conscious effort at all. In such a purely instinctive action as leaping backwards from a falling stone, the impulse to leap and the inference that there is danger, are simply two names for a single automatic and unconscious process. We can speak of instinctive inference as well as of instinctive impulse; we draw, for instance, by an instinctive mental process, inferences as to the distance and solidity of objects from the movements of our eye-muscles in focussing, and from the difference between the images on our two retinas. We are unaware of the method by which we arrive at these inferences, and even when we know that the double photograph in the stereoscope is flat, or that the conjurer has placed two converging sheets of looking-glass beneath his table, we can only say that the photograph ‘looks’ solid, or that we ‘seem’ to see right under the table.
The whole process of inference, rational or non-rational, is indeed built up from the primary fact that one mental state may call up another, either because the two have been associated together in the history of the individual, or because a connection between the two has proved useful in the history of the race. If a man and his dog stroll together down the street they turn to the right hand or the left, hesitate or hurry in crossing the road, recognise and act upon the bicycle bell and the cabman’s shout, by using the same process of inference to guide the same group of impulses. Their inferences are for the most part effortless, though sometimes they will both be seen to pause until they have settled some point by wordless deliberation. It is only when a decision has to be taken affecting the more distant purposes of his life that the man enters on a region of definitely rational thought where the dog cannot follow him, in which he uses words, and is more or less conscious of his own logical methods.
But the weakness of inference by automatic association as an instrument of thought consists in the fact that either of a pair of associated ideas may call up the other without reference to their logical connection. The effect calls up the cause as freely as the cause calls up the effect.
The political importance of all this consists in the fact that most of the political opinions of most men are the result, not of reasoning tested by experience, but of unconscious or half-conscious inference fixed by habit. It is indeed mainly in the formation of tracks of thought that habit shows its power in politics. In our other activities habit is largely a matter of muscular adaptation, but the bodily movements of politics occur so seldom that nothing like a habit can be set up by them. One may see a respectable voter, whose political opinions have been smoothed and polished by the mental habits of thirty years, fumbling over the act of marking and folding his ballot paper like a child with its first copybook.
Some men even seem to reverence most those of their opinions whose origin has least to do with deliberate reasoning. When Mr. Barrie’s Bowie Haggart said: ‘I am of opeenion that the works of Burns is of an immoral tendency. I have not read them myself, but such is my opeenion,’ he was comparing the merely rational conclusion which might have resulted from a reading of Burns’s works with the conviction about them which he found ready-made in his mind, and which was the more sacred to him and more intimately his own, because he did not know how it was produced.
Opinion thus unconsciously formed is a fairly safe guide in the affairs of our daily life. The material world does not often go out of its way to deceive us, and our final convictions are the resultant of many hundreds of independent fleeting inferences, of which the valid are more numerous and more likely to survive than the fallacious. But even in our personal affairs our memory is apt to fade, and we can often remember the association between two ideas, while forgetting the cause which created that association. When the connection is remembered in a telling phrase, and when its origin has never been consciously noticed, we may find ourselves with a really vivid belief for which we could, if cross-examined, give no account whatever.
In all this again the same rule holds as in the production of impulse. Things that are nearer sense, nearer to our more ancient evolutionary past, produce a readier inference as well as a more compelling impulse. When a new candidate on his first appearance smiles at his constituents exactly as if he were an old friend, not only does he appeal, as I said in an earlier chapter, to an ancient and immediate instinct of human affection, but he produces at the same time a shadowy belief that he is an old friend; and his agent may even imply this, provided that he says nothing definite enough to arouse critical and rational attention. By the end of the meeting one can safely go as far as to call for three cheers for ‘good old Jones.
The orator’s knowledge of the way in which force is given to non-logical inference and his willingness to use that knowledge.
But man is fortunately not wholly dependent in his political thinking upon those forms of inference by immediate association which come so easily to him, and which he shares with the higher brutes. The whole progress of human civilisation beyond its earliest stages has been made possible by the invention of methods of thought which enable us to interpret and forecast the working of nature more successfully than we could if we merely followed the line of least resistance in the use of our minds. These methods, however, when applied in politics, still represent a difficult and uncertain art rather than a science producing its effects with mechanical accuracy.
The universe which presents itself to our reason is the same as that which presents itself to our feelings and impulses—an unending stream of sensations and memories, every one of which is different from every other, and before which, unless we can select and recognise and simplify, we must stand helpless and unable either to act or think. Man has therefore to create entities that shall be the material of his reasoning, just as he creates entities to be the objects of his emotions and the stimulus of his instinctive inferences.
Exact reasoning requires exact comparison, and in the desert or the forest there were few things which our ancestors could compare exactly. The heavenly bodies seem, indeed, to have been the first objects of consciously exact reasoning, because they were so distant that nothing could be known of them except position and movement, and their position and movement could be exactly compared from night to night.
In the same way the foundation of the terrestrial sciences came from two discoveries, first, that it was possible to abstract single qualities, such as position and movement, in all things however unlike, from the other qualities of those things and to compare them exactly; and secondly, that it was possible artificially to create actual uniformities for the purpose of comparison, to make, that is to say, out of unlike things, things so like that valid inferences could be drawn as to their behaviour under like circumstances.
This second power over his material the Establishment can never possess. It can never create an artificial uniformity in man. It cannot, after twenty generations of education or breeding render even two human beings sufficiently like each other for him to prophesy with any approach to certainty that they will behave alike under like circumstances.
The distinction between the mind of a legislator as expressed in enacted law, and the individual instance to which the law is applied.
We must gather as many relevant and measurable facts about human nature as possible and make all of them serviceable in choice-making reasoning. We must adopt the method of the biologist, who tries to discover how many common qualities can be observed and measured in a group of related beings, rather than that of the physicist, who constructs a science out of a single quality common to the whole material world.
The facts when collected must, because they are many, can be arranged under three main heads: descriptive facts as to the human type; quantitative facts as to inherited variations from that type observed either in individuals or groups of individuals; and facts, both quantitative and descriptive, as to the environment into which men are born, and the observed effect of that environment upon their actions and impulses. POSIWID
He is told that these are selected from the other facts of human nature in order that he may think clearly on the hypothesis of there being no others. What the others may be he is left to discover for himself; but he is likely to assume that they cannot be the subject of effective scientific thought.
On this point, however, most writers on political science seem to suggest that after they have described human nature as if all men were in all respects equal to the average man, and have warned their readers of the inexactness of their description, they can do no more. All knowledge of individual variations must be left to individual experience.
The third and last division under which knowledge of man can be arranged for the purposes of political study consists of the facts of man’s environment, and of the effect of environment upon his character and actions. It is the extreme instability and uncertainty of this element which constitutes the special difficulty of choice-making. The human type and the quantitative distribution of its variations are for the chooser practically permanent. Man’s environment changes with ever-increasing rapidity.
National habits used to change slowly in the past, because new methods of life were seldom invented and only gradually introduced, and because the means of communicating ideas between man and man or nation and nation were extremely imperfect; so that a true statement about a national habit might, and probably would, remain true for centuries. But now an invention which may produce profound changes in social or industrial life is as likely to be taken up with enthusiasm in some country on the other side of the globe as in the place of its origin.
These personifications and uniformities, in their turn, tempt us to employ in our political thinking that method of a priori deduction from large and untried generalisations against which natural science from the days of Bacon has always protested.
In politics the most important of these special questions of conduct is concerned with the relation between the process by which the politician forms his own opinions and purposes, and that by which he influences the opinions and purposes of others.
They looked on reasoning, not as a difficult and uncertain process, but as the necessary and automatic working of man’s mind when faced by problems affecting his interest.
All this means that his own power of political reasoning is being trained. He is learning that every man differs from every other man in his interests, his intellectual habits and powers, and his experience, and that success in the control of political forces depends on a recognition of this and a careful appreciation of the common factors of human nature. But meanwhile it is increasingly difficult for him to believe that he is appealing to the same process of reasoning in his hearers as that by which he reaches his own conclusions. He tends, that is to say, to think of the voters as the subject-matter rather than the sharers of his thoughts.
For the rest, ‘Reason has small effect upon numbers: a turn of imagination, often as violent and as sudden as a gust of wind, determines their conduct. The adoption by them, as the result of their new book-learning, of those methods of exploiting the irrational elements of human nature which have hitherto been the trade secret of the elderly and the disillusioned.
But however anxious we are to see the facts of our existence without illusion, and to hope nothing without cause, we can still draw some measure of comfort from the recollection that during the few thousand years through which we can trace political history in the past, man, without changing his nature, has made enormous improvements in his polity.
To myself it seems that the most important political result of the vast range of new knowledge started by Darwin’s work may prove to be the extension of the idea of conduct so as to include the control of mental processes of which at present most men are either unconscious or unobservant. The limits of our conscious conduct are fixed by the limits of our self-knowledge. Before men knew anger as something separable from the self that knew it, and before they had made that knowledge current by the invention of a name, the control of anger was not a question of conduct. Anger was a part of the angry man himself, and could only be checked by the invasion of some other passion, love, for instance, or fear, which was equally, while it lasted, a part of self.
It is true that in America, where politicians have learnt more successfully than elsewhere the art of controlling other men’s unconscious impulses from without, there have been of late some noteworthy declarations as to the need of conscious control from within.
In politics, indeed, the preaching of reason as opposed to feeling is peculiarly ineffective, because the feelings of mankind not only provide a motive for political thought but also fix the scale of values which must be used in political judgment.
The modern State must exist for the thoughts and feelings of its citizens, not as a fact of direct observation but as an entity of the mind, a symbol, a personification, or an abstraction. The possible area of the State will depend, therefore, mainly on the facts which limit our creation and use of such entities. Fifty years ago the statesmen who were reconstructing Europe on the basis of nationality thought that they had found the relevant facts in the causes which limit the physical and mental homogeneity of nations. A State, they thought, if it is to be effectively governed, must be a homogeneous ‘nation,’ because no citizen can imagine his State or make it the object of his political affection unless he believes in the existence of a national type to which the individual inhabitants of the State are assimilated; and he cannot continue to believe in the existence of such a type unless in fact his fellow-citizens are like each other and like himself in certain important respects.
‘Nations are the citizens of humanity as individuals are the citizens of the nation,’ and again, ‘The pact of humanity cannot be signed by individuals, but only by free and equal peoples, possessing a name, a banner, and the consciousness of a distinct existence.