OURSELVES AND OUR AIMS
Freedom and Order, Selected Speeches 1939-1946
We live in uncertain, dark and troubled days. Over men and women everywhere, as they go about their daily business, broods a continuing anxiety. No man can tell what the next day may bring forth in menace, shock or international upheaval. In such conditions there is a natural temptation to a mental fatalism. We are apt to content ourselves with momentary shifts and devices.
Yet it is just at such times as these that we need to be most certain of ourselves and of our aims. The more general the confusion, the more urgent the obligation clearly to set before us the conception of life that we wish to see realized at home, and the form of international order that it is our aim to join in establishing abroad. The successive squalls and sudden buffets which are now the staple weather of international affairs should make us look the more closely into ourselves. As Bacon reminded us long since: "Men ought to know that, in the theatre of human life, it is only for God and angels to be spectators." Through the centuries we in this country have evolved a system of government in which we take pride. In the nineteenth century we were sincerely flattered, for we had many imitators. Our Parliamentary system was adopted and adapted in many lands. That transplanting was far from universally successful; the stranger soil was no doubt sometimes unsuited or the climate unfriendly.
These foreign failures, however, though sincerely regretted, have not in any way affected our own faith in our own methods and in our own traditions, as preserved and developed among English speaking peoples. We have now reached the point where it is generally accepted that the art of government consists in striking a just balance between the claims of the individual and those of the State of which he is a citizen. We do not accept in this country that man is nothing more than an instrument destined blindly to serve the purposes of the State, an unthinking cog in a
OURSELVES AND OUR AIMS
remorseless machine. On the other hand we do recognize that citizenship carries with it certain obligations of service and we accept and conform to the law. Every time that we obey a regulation, every time that we pay a tax we, to that extent, limit our freedom; but we do so, if not voluntarily, at least consciously conforming to the will of the people as a whole. The mechanical devices by which that will finds expression may not yet be perfect. But the intention is there, none the less, and it is the intention that counts. So it is that there can never be compulsion in this country in any sphere, unless it be based on voluntary consent.
The art of statecraft, as we conceive it, is to give to men and women the fullest opportunity to develop personality in a free self-governing community. It is the duty of the State to seek to better the conditions of life so that every individual personality may have a fair chance to live and grow. We are still far from attaining that ideal, no doubt. There is yet no true equality of opportunity. The slums still exist, even though the mansion has become a rarity; and there is much that is unsatisfactory, much that is unjust and harsh in modern England. But we know whither we would go and have even made some progress.
If in this country we lay so much emphasis on the importance of personality it is because we are convinced that freedom to think, to speak, to write, to experiment and to act, is the essential prerequisite of all progress. At long last we have won the essentials and we will not yield them up. On this issue we cannot be meek. The essence of the matter has been admirably expressed in one of Professor Macneile Dixon's Gifford lectures: "Every man desires to be his own architect, and the creator of his own design, the sentimentalist himself among the rest. And the last and greatest insult you can offer to the human race is to regard it as a herd of cattle to be driven to your secluded pasture. You deprive the individual of his last rag of self-respect, the most precious of his possessions, himself. If you treat him as a thing, an inanimate object, which can be pushed hither and thither, if you treat him as one of a drove of oxen, you take away his birthright, and for this loss nothing can compensate him, not all the soothing syrups and honeys of the world."
No one, I think, in the English-speaking world would challenge for an instant the truth of those sentences.
When we turn to the consideration of the international sphere manifold new problems crowd in upon us. Here, too, there are, however, certain fundamentals in the faith of the British people.
OURSELVES AND OUR AIMS
We are convinced that with the aids which science has introduced to us, the nations of the world could, if they would, develop a prosperity in excess of anything that the wealthiest peoples enjoy to-day. It is true that the world's goods are not justly proportioned to-day; probably they never will be. It is also true that one nation can by seizing some part or all of the goods of its neighbour temporarily increase its nominal wealth. Yet the advantage thus derived, if advantage be indeed the right word, is as nothing to the benefits that could be gained by other and very different methods. In modern conditions an aggressor State can plunder the whole world and live a beggar. Some seem bent on travelling that road.
It is not merely because we as a people admittedly hold a position of some advantage in the balance of worldly goods, that we have had more than enough of gangster tactics. If we oppose methods of snatch and grab it is because this practice among nations puts a stop to progress in every sphere. Under our eyes the world now remilitarizes itself physically, mentally and materially. We all put on uniform again. This must seem to many of us a melancholy prospect. The dangers to which it points are the same as those to which other periods of rising armaments have led. As a people there is scarcely any material price we would not pay that war might become as antiquated as duelling, to be hung up as "quite out of fashion, like a rusty nail in monumental mockery".
If we feel this, it is not because the British people are decadent or soft, but because they know that war, when it is not unbelievably degrading, is unspeakably stupid. It is inconceivable that they should glory in war for its own sake. Nor have we as a people any quarrel with any other peoples on the earth's surface. Left to themselves, would this not be well-nigh true of the peoples everywhere? This influence is at the same time the one element that gives us a reasonable hope. Against this we have to set certain conceptions of statesmanship. "Everyone admits", wrote Machiavelli, "how praiseworthy it is in princes to keep faith, and to live with integrity, and not with craft. Nevertheless our experience has been that those princes who have done great things have held good faith of little account, and have known how to circumvent the intellect of men by craft, and in the end have overcome those who have placed reliance on their word." Whatever may be thought of the truth or otherwise of Machiavelli's contention as a statement of historical fact, the greater interdependence of the modern world, the constant contacts, the reduction and indeed the virtual
OURSELVES AND OUR AIMS elimination of the problems which distance once created, have rendered the conduct of international affairs on such a basis impossible. So it is that our first need now is of a return to good faith between nations. Without it international society, like human society, can only drift into ever-widening confusion.
It is not a question of morality only, but of the plainest practical politics. Whatever success has attended this gospel of Machiavelli, up to date, its scope has now been clearly limited, a warning has been uttered, and precautions have been taken. Let there be no mistake about that. We now know that the world can only keep the peace if its rulers will learn a like language, practise the same philosophy and keep an open faith.