The Road To Freedom,
And What Lies Beyond


Josiah and Ethel Wedgwood

[Published in London by C.W. Daniel, Ltd., 1913]


What do each of us stand to lose, when the Leveller comes upon us, like Death, with his scythe?

Many of us will lose a great deal: perhaps some of the things that seem to us -- and not in a base way -- very important; because the upper classes have not only got wealth and comfort through this general system of exploitation, but also excellences of mind and body that they are not wrong in prizing highly. We must be prepared to forfeit everything -- good as well as bad -- that has been got in an unjust way, and therefore this movement, once understood, would be very much hated by most of the upper and middle classes, and only come because it was inevitable. For the person who goes into the true revolution is like the passenger over Acheron -- he can take nothing but his naked soul with him, and must trust to finding something better than his lost possessions on the other side.

The "Lower Orders".

The obvious gainers by the change to a system of freedom and equal opportunity will, of course, be the "Lower Orders," who will benefit immediately, for the most part, in every conceivable way. The great mass of genuine workers are fitted at once to make use of the new opportunities. The wastrels, the foolish, the parasites and the blackguards of that class will suffer some inconvenience until they disappear, for they will be deprived of the conditions necessary for their existence and propagation. There will be no rich for them to attack or to toady; no prospects of wealth to tempt them on to crime or parasitism, and no destitution to goad them to it; no general sense of injustice and ill-treatment to make public opinion condone their unsocial actions.

The "Middle Classes":

The bourgeois or middle class will suffer a good deal. They will suffer not only in their pockets, but in their amour-propre and in their religion. The necessities of their existence have at all times taught them a special creed, which is inseparable from their best peculiarities. They worship, as barely second to the Deity, punctuality, sobriety, thrift, industry, early rising and cleanliness -- in short, all those good qualities which take prizes in the business world. Any erraticness or irregularity, as it means business ruin, is a menace to their caste, and is ranked by them with essential immorality; and they invariably oppose with righteous indignation anything that may upset the social ladder up which they are climbing with such diligence, courage and self-restraint.

It is in spite of the opposition of this class that the revolution will be carried.

The "Upper Classes"

The wealthy will, of course, be the greatest losers in the way of material possessions, and they will no doubt fight the change so soon as they begin to see it coming. At present, they are on a pinnacle, and trust to the extent of their money and power to keep themselves above the high -water mark of the deluge.

Those of them who are self-made men, of no tradition and small education, are the least to be pitied, for their loss at most will be purely material, whilst many of them could rely on their brains and business capacity to keep them afloat under any fair conditions.

Then there is the large class of hereditary gentlefolk, who have their traditional prestige to lose, and, in addition, perhaps, direct privileges as landowners.

Except for the damage to their prejudices, this class would not suffer as acutely as many others from the change to free industrial conditions and social equality. Most of them have been brought up to an active -- if non-productive -- way of life; they are by training and custom plucky, practical, fairly healthy and hardy, and socially genial. Such men, even if they lost at one stroke all they possessed, would be far better suited to keep themselves by their labour than the usual "unemployed" of the lower orders. They are just the type to take the lead in home or foreign colonisation, and to keep from their personal qualities much of their present ascendancy. For these country gentlemen, the change from existing circumstances to those of a free society would be actually less than for any other class - except perhaps the artisan or the intelligent country labourer.

The Aristocratic and the Intellectual Classes.

Those who are most to be sympathised with in such a prospect are the intellectual class -- those who have some claim to consider themselves as the real aristocracy of the nation -- the better professional classes, the writers, historians, rich amateurs, painters, professors, etc.

A very earnest writer, in two books lately published,[1] has urged the rich and the aristocratic to reform themselves: the rich to make a less bad use of their money, to be less self-indulgent, sensuous and selfish; the aristocracy to educate themselves better, and become leaders by virtue, not by tradition.

But the problem goes deeper than that. It is not a question of making better use of riches and leisure and culture, but of whether their acquisition is compatible with justice and common morality. The culture and education of the intellectual world is derived as much from the spoliation of the lower world as are material riches. No consecrating of the things so gotten to the service of humanity will satisfy reason and conscience, any more than the takings of robbery offered at a shrine.

The cultured man thinks:

"These poor, ignorant people do for me the rough work to which I am superior. In return I devote my knowledge and talents to their guidance and enlightenment."

But the poor and ignorant reply in their hearts:

"If it were not that you live by our rough work, we should have no need of your guidance. Change places awhile; take to yourself the toil, and give us the enlightenment."

The educated class are under the impression that the value of their existence pays the community for the privileged position they occupy. But what is really the case? Many of these people have independent incomes -- that is to say, they can live on other people's work without working themselves.

Some of them take to literature and art: they create a little world which exists by writing books or painting pictures or composing music, and by reading, looking at, listening to, and writing criticisms of what the others write, paint and compose. This they call "higher culture," and imagine that it is all of benefit to the world at large - because rich connoisseurs will pay to dabble in such things ; or because they exhibit sometimes in the East End for charity. And because they enjoy having beautiful thoughts and fine ideas, they imagine that their possessing them is an equivalent for the lives of the crass, inferior people, who work at tedious work many hours a day, feeding, clothing and housing the educated people with the fine thoughts.

Then there is the class of professional artists, who really live by catering for the public demands in art, literature, drama, etc. In so far as these people live by providing entertainments for a society that is spoilt by wealth at the top and poverty at the bottom, it is impossible to say how far they are parasitic. Only a free society can test the value of their services and determine whether they will continue their trade, or return amongst the manual workers. Then there are the professional men and women -- making incomes by services to the community that are of dubious value, or of value only in existing conditions: -- lawyers, who prosper on money disputes; doctors, who live by the diseases of civilisation; the civil servant, who is the protege of the State; of these too, the functions and numbers may be expected to diminish.

There is also the class of philanthropists, which has recently become in itself a profession. These people are genuinely grieved at the ills of society, and lead laborious lives trying to remedy them, working as hard as any wage-earner at hospital committees, boards of guardians, district visiting, school managing, etc., etc., in a perpetual effort to undo some of the evils of which they and those like them are in part the cause. If there is any truth in the preceding pages, then these people too will find their occupation gone in the new world of freedom, and drop from the guardian angels to the fellows of their neighbours.

Good brains and education will keep their natural predominance in every society and through any revolution, but much of the extant intellectualism is a spurious culture, grown for and existing only in a hot-house atmosphere.

The intellectuals emphasise the necessity of brain workers who are exempted from all manual exertions, as necessary for the good guidance and ordering of the manual workers. They will not see that their sharpened and trained brains have been fed by the overwork and the brutalising of those classes of whom they imagine themselves the saviours; that because they refuse their share in the common lot of Adam, others must toil and sweat double; and that in order that they may be finer instruments, others must be greater brutes. They are, in fact, themselves helping to create the problem to whose solution they devote the midnight oil, the pens, ink and paper that others have made.

But if, under free conditions, there were fewer specially trained intellects, there would be probably a higher average of culture, and certainly the opportunities for special natural intelligence would be more equal. At present the field from which the clever people are drawn is very narrow. The highest mental qualities have little chance, unless they go with an independent income; for it is minds of second-rate order which survive and succeed in the competitive business world.

And this brings us to the other kind of "intellectuals" -- to the real thing -- the race, not of trained clever people, but of those who have that special quality which makes us recognise them as great men. Such men are beacons to their own generation, and landmarks to those who come after, and the world owes its best things to them. Are they, too, to be swept away with the rest of the intellectual class, in this holocaust to liberty and equality? Now, such men have come to us from all grades of society: they are not confined to the leisured and sheltered class. They have come, like Plato, from a small oligarchy, like Christ from the working class of a despised race, or like Tolstoy from the rich and highly educated. But if they could be brought to birth and reared only under a system of privilege, and nourished only by the compulsory labour of their inferiors, then the best men -- one may believe -- would say of themselves, that they too must go, and that the light which shone in them will find some other medium more compatible with common human rights.

But if it is the intellectuals as a class who will suffer most in a true revolution, they are the principal danger to it, unless they surrender their privileges voluntarily; for their very education gives them power to turn the masses aside into wrong roads after false aims. There is no danger to the revolution in the rich or the well-born, once it is afoot. They will fight for their position, but it will be a mere contest of force, in which -- being the smallest party, and also least sure of a good cause -- they will be worsted.

The danger lies in the intellectuals, who are already trying to turn the revolution in a direction which shall make them pilots of the popular movement, and leave the common people in helpless dependence on their guidance. In renouncing this privileged position they would have to sacrifice what is far more to them than material comfort or success. They would have to forgo the very ideals for which they have neglected such common things, to forgo their fine visions -- schemes of human existence, their image of an evolution, in which history unrolls itself like a magnificent and harmonious pageant, and in the perfecting of which their own lives were to play a part. They would have to acquiesce in the decay of what they appreciate as noble social architecture -- the edifices of time and great intellects - in the neglect of the refined and beautiful, and in the triumph of vulgarity. They must accept a future human landscape in which there are no picturesque incidents, and few exalted passions - only the simple inglorious passion for unadorned truth and humdrum justice. To some minds it would be no small abrogation to lay their beautiful dreams aside, and accept the commonplace. And a world in which men are both just and free, without strife or wealth or poverty, would be likely to be very prosaic and insipid to our palate. We may regret the crimson in the picture, the sharp contrasts, the splendour and the din of battle ; and perhaps the beauty of the new social life may be impossible to appreciate except by other men in another age. Yet what can we do but let these things, too, go, if need be?


  1. A. Ponsonby, "The Camel and the Needle's Eye" and "The Decline of the Aristocracy."


Chapter I
Where The Road Leads
Chapter II
On Free and Forced Exchange
Chapter III
On Social Reform
Chapter IV
The Strengthening of Government
Chapter V
The Roots of Slavery
Chapter VI
On Land and Capital
Chapter VII
Various Theories About Land Reform
Chapter VIII
Marginal Land and Economic Rent
Chapter IX
The Single Tax as a Method of Destroying Land Monopoly
Chapter X
The Next Revolution
Chapter XI
The Steps of the Change
Chapter XII
What It Would Mean
Chapter XIII
What Lies Beyond
* *