The Road To Freedom,
And What Lies Beyond
Josiah and Ethel Wedgwood
[Published in London by C.W. Daniel, Ltd., 1913]
WHERE THE ROAD LEADS
That the existing state of
society is unsatisfactory; that the world as fashioned by man is at
best a bad one, and that its evils are in great part self-created and
unnecessary -- all this is a truism, and, like most truisms, is so
frequently uttered as to be half forgotten, and requires to be
continually discovered afresh.
But this book is not written to
show up social evils in any new light, nor to join in denouncing them.
It starts with assuming them ; and therefore to those who are
contented with the world as it is -- who think the failure in human
relationships accidental, not structural - the following pages have
nothing to say. They can only have any interest for those who also are
tossed on dubious seas and steering uncertainly for unknown ports.
Nor is this an attempt to portray
a new Utopia. There is more than enough already of these, framed each
upon its author's own tastes and ideals, and limited by the moral
development and scientific knowledge of the particular date. For this
very reason, though they contain many dreams that are perennially
beautiful, they are in detail antipathetic to people of a different
character or period, and valuable chiefly as a record of the highest
social ideals of their age.
Nor are they any real guide as to
the tendencies of society. Human progress is not a regular curve of
which the future can be calculated by the formula of the past, and
there is no reason to suppose that humanity is being conducted - or
conducting itself - towards the social conception of any individual,
however enlightened he may be. It would indeed be truly astonishing if
it were so.
Such fancy remodellings of the
world are downright mischievous when they become a guide to
legislation or action, and when the many possibilities of human
development are regulated within the limits of a present-day
imagination. Most reformers carry about with them a mental picture of
the world- as-it-should-be, and aim at making every creature take the
proper size and shape for it, as the parts of a puzzle dovetail. And
the puzzle grows ever more complicated, until each fragment of it
requires a special study.
The New Priesthood.
No small evil of modern
civilisation is that its intricacies breed a class of sociological
experts who have the same kind of interest in "social problems"
that an attorney has in the criminal code. They become yearly more
indispensable to the present system, as each loose thread gets more
tightly interwoven with the universal web, and as the public grows
more aware that only special knowledge can prescribe the means to any
given end, or foretell the general results of any local disturbance.
So it happens that at the moment when so-called democratic government
has reached its apotheosis, it has become a mere masque for
bureaucrats and wire-pullers. First we have the elected
representatives of the people, men of the common sort, with the honest
desire to "govern justly" according to a conflicting set of
opinions about the "general welfare," "morality," "justice,"
"patriotism" and so forth; and because these vague maxims
afford no certain clue among the intricacies of laws and workings,
they fall back for instruction on the permanent officials of
departments - men of few general notions but great experience of
administrative detail -- and these again are inspired as to the aims
and objects of their administrative efforts by experts, who, having
made a hobby of some special part of the machine, cannot conceive a
world without it. Any attempt to combat their demands on general
grounds, or to introduce a first principle into the argument, is
treated by such specialists with contempt as "doctrinaire."
Such people think that when they have shown by statistics that 90 per
cent, of the children of drunkards inherit a tendency to drink, they
have proved the necessity of legislation for the sterilisation of
drunkards; that the proved connection between consumption and slums is
an argument for compulsory farm colonies ; or that if the chest
measurement of soldiers increases on an average two inches for every
year of drill, that is an argument for universal conscription.
The ordinary citizen accepts
unquestioningly all such decisions based on " the unanimous
consensus of expert opinion," which enlarges and diversifies its
statistics every year; and so we find an ever- increasing tendency to
hand over important questions for decision to some "recognised
authority" -- a favourite politician, a royal commission, an "impartial"
board of arbitrators -- to be decided, not according to some simple
principle of honesty or justice, such as the man-in-the-street
recognises, but with the one idea of keeping in existence such a state
of society as such commissioners, arbitrators and politicians think
desirable -- i.e. one in which arbitrators, commissioners and
politicians are necessary and respected, and in which the other people
are docilely willing to be arbitrated and legislated for.
These experts are like the guides
to the Catacombs. They have a vested interest in the inricacies of the
place ; for having once got the traveller well lost in the labyrinth,
with no light but their torches, they have him at their mercy, and can
dictate exactly what he is to see and where he is to walk, and can
thoroughly frighten him with images of death and famine if he attempts
to rebel and find his way back to daylight unaided.
Of course these superior persons
are not consciously moved by similar considerations ; but simply,
being part and parcel of a certain state of things, they cannot
conceive of any other as possible or desirable; and with the natural
tendency to idealise one's motives, they preach some hazy creed about
the General Good, or Social Morality, or Equal Distribution of Wealth,
or anything that will justify them in arranging other people's lives
And the more such legislation is
extended, the more complicated its administration becomes, and the
larger the class of official experts who live by and on it; so that
these professional reformers promise to become as heavy a saddle on
the human beast of burden as ever was the mediaeval priesthood. But
while the old priesthood mapped out their heaven and drove men along
the road to it in the name of Mumbo Jumbo, the new priesthood does it
all in the name of Science, Humanitarianism and Progress.
The Social Machine.
One thing this new religion, with
its creed of toleration, will not tolerate, and that is a disbelief in
the social machine. Alterations of detail and structural improvement
it welcomes, as necessary stages on the road to complete development.
You may quarrel with its form and
tinker with its parts -- only, in the machine itself you shall
believe. You may overthrow kings, lords, even democracies; but you
must not shake Government. You may attack religions and philosophies
(true or false), but you must not attack Social Ethics. You may
rearrange society (theoretically) in any way you like, so long as you
do not deny that society should be arranged.
Everything done under this creed
is not done for the sake of any intrinsic right or wrong, truth or
falsehood, but solely to preserve the machine, and to make it work
more easily. What chance would there be for our popular social reforms
if it were shown that a fair wage, an eight -hours day, higher
education, and so forth, instead of "soothing industrial unrest"
and making the population more contented, luxurious and manageable,
would lessen the total wealth of the country, or make the working
classes impossible to control?
If we assume that the present
social system is the necessary outcome of the world's development, and
that civilisation, as we know it, is the culmination of human history,
then, obviously, when any part sticks or breaks down, it is for want
of proper attention and management, and we must call in the army of
social mechanicians who deafen and override us to-day. Their business
is not to speculate on ultimate principles, but to keep the present
thing going at all costs and by any means.
But in the midst of the social
reformer's ceaseless activity, of the endless league for the
propagation of this and that, and enactments for the regulation of one
thing and another, one pauses to wonder whether the common-sense of
men will not at last revolt against all this meddlesomeness?
The plainest thinker can see that
opinions as to the ultimate good are conflicting, and that, even if
everyone be agreed as to the aim, it is folly to attempt to legislate
for the intricacies of modern life, because calculations of the
necessary accuracy are impossible. And one is led to reflect whether
there is not, after all, some simpler solution to the great problem of
social duty, plain enough to guide the man-in-the- street, and not
involving a solution of statistics to the nth decimal and a
dictatorship over the living and the yet unborn.
The question, as it presents
itself to us, is not, how by careful adjustment we may improve the
condition of those who oil the wheels of the car of civilisation, as
well as gratify the amiable feelings of those whose principal function
is to ride inside it; nor yet, how, by increasing the solidarity of
labour and fomenting class warfare, we may continue the present
benefits of civilisation but secure them to the class that produces
them; but -- much simpler and still more vital question - whether the
present civilisation is not altogether a spurious one, based on a
primary wrong-doing that vitiates it throughout; and whether, if one
fundamental injustice were removed, civilisation, as we know it, could
continue at all.
Suppose the monopoly ownership of
land, the source of all industry and life, done away with; and with it
the coercion under which men suffer, and, suffering, labour in
artificial combinations: would not many kinds of labour, those
especially on which the finer details of the structure depend, cease
altogether, and the whole elaborate edifice tumble down?
This Book's Purpose.
The purpose of this book is,
then, to suggest, as it appears true to us (1) that this present form
of civilisation is built up by slave labour; (2) that this slave
labour is necessitated by the monopoly of land alone; (3) that it must
cease, and with it so-called civilisation, when land is freed.
Further, that, owing to this fundamental injustice, human progress may
have taken a wrong turn, and that what we are accustomed to look on as
the necessary conditions of a superior life may be, in reality, a bar
to true development.
In the first point many sorts of
reformers will agree ; in the second all "single taxers"
will agree; comparatively few people will agree with the conclusion.
The politicians and social reformers cannot be expected to approve of
such ideas, for an overthrow of existing conditions would destroy the
raison d'etre of their activities. The intellectual man mistrusts such
forms of thought as childishly crude and simple, and if he believed
that the civilisation, of which he is the hothouse flower, would
really be overthrown by any such fundamental reform, he would see in
this fact an excellent argument against introducing ethics into
practical politics. The ordinary private gentleman or business man
cannot like it, for it would turn his world topsy-turvy (just as his
religion would, if he practised it).
Indeed, to most persons the
disintegration of the modern world seems a catastrophe hardly to be
discussed seriously, much less advocated, by any sane person. As a
rule, only war or death or birth can shake our stolid imaginations
sufficiently to give us a glimpse into such possibilities.
It seems to them that such a
revolution, involving the waste of so many centuries of human effort,
the repudiation of so many fine flowers of intellect, a slur on the
aspirations of so many noble lives, would be a cruel and a wicked
folly ; moreover, that it would be a deathblow to progress, a negation
of all natural forces and tendencies, a sort of scientific blasphemy
-- in short, an inconceivable thing.
To this many things might be
replied, as: that our boasted progress does not seem to involve any
great advance in essentials, and that in so far as we are more humane,
cleaner and more artistic, there is no convincing proof that such
improvement is due to the railways or the daily press, or the
cinematograph, or the marconigram -- nor even to the aeroplane; that
the age which perfected the spinning-loom and the dynamo, perfected
also the slum and the American Trust; that our fine feelings are more
a matter of overstrung nerves than of altruism, and that religion is
much where it was in the days before Jesus of Nazareth.
Also we might say that custom
alone makes all these wonted surroundings seem necessary to us, and
that men of adventure know well how independent the human mind and
happiness are of those things which the civilised world regards as
essentials; also that the least accident -- a derailed comet, or the
spark of a new religion, or merely a great war -- might equally at any
moment upset the status quo, and make our stable civilisation a bygone
and a strange thing.
Finally, it must be remembered
that this civilisation -- of which the upper classes, at present,
enjoy most of the sweets, and the lower classes all the bitters -
cannot in any case be carried on much longer except by an absolute
despotism: a despotism which must finally embrace all classes alike,
and which will be death to all advance.
Rotation or Progress?
People are becoming aware that
any eccentricity whatever is a danger to the stability of the whole
system, and that to preserve the system every orbit must be regulated.
They began long ago with the obvious - courts, dungeons, scaffolds,
and justiciars; a little cleverer, they went on with compulsory school
-learning and the poor-law; becoming economically wise, they took up
factory legislation and enforced thrift; now they are about to
continue with laws about eugenics, etc., etc.; and, because you cannot
control men's bodies with ease while their minds are in rebellion,
they will -- very logically - begin to drill their minds in
utilitarian religions and other suitable doctrines ; indeed, they have
begun to do so already.
These despotic methods of
preserving the machine are not yet fully developed, because science as
applied to sociology is still in its infancy, and also because the
popular imagination lags behind the popular reason. But once it has
caught it up, then farewell to such anomalies as that which still
allows the children of rich people to be educated off the beaten
track, and lets freedom be at least purchasable.
When the system is logically
perfected, then we shall all alike have learned to rotate, and
civilisation will bloom securely -- but we shall have ceased to
In such a system of social
stability there will, it is true, be equality, for all will be in
equal servitude to the machine, and there may, or may not, as the
machine finds advisable, be external similarity as well in
surroundings, pay, treatment. But if we drop equality from the
triplet, and look to freedom and brotherhood -- in which lie the hopes
of human development -- we shall find them incompatible with such a
civilisation, and that the present manner of living, in food, lodging,
dress, culture, pleasures -- of the poorest as well as of the richest
-- is only procurable in a system of servitude.
The modern citizen finds himself
between two terrifying alternatives: -- the glacier age of the old
world, where all will be dead and only mechanical revolutions go on
with regularity, towards which he is being protestingly but steadily
dragged on by his own efforts to improve and regulate the existing
order; or, on the other side, the rise of a quite new world, foreign
to his conceptions and dreadful to him.
Both are alarming, with that
shock of death and of birth from which we all physically shrink,
through which we all nevertheless pass as we go on our inevitable