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For in fact, considering the relation of the modern world to art, our business is now, and for long will be, not so much attempting to produce definite art, as rather clearing the ground to give art its opportunity. We have been such slaves to the modern practice of the unlimited manufacture of makeshifts for real wares, that we run a serious risk of destroying the very material of art; of making it necessary that men, in order to have any artistic perception, should be born blind, and should get their ideas of beauty from the hearsay of books. This degradation is surely the first thing which we should deal with ; and certainly Socialists must deal with it at the first opportunity ; they at least must see, however much others may shut their eyes : for they cannot help reflecting that to condemn a vast population to live in South Lancashire while art and education are being furthered in decent places, is like feasting within earshot of a patient on the rack.
Anyhow, the first step toward the fresh new-birth of art must interfere with the privilege of private persons to destroy the beauty of the earth for their private advantage, and thereby to rob the community. The day when some company of enemies of the community are forbidden, for example, to turn the fields of Kent into another collection of cinder heaps in order that they may extract wealth, unearned by them, from a mass of half-paid labourers ; the day when some hitherto all powerful “pig-skin stuffed with money " is told that he shall not pull down some ancient building in order that he may force his fellow citizens to pay him additional rack-rent for land which is not his (save as the newly acquired watch of the highwayman is)—that day will be the beginning of the fresh new-birth of art in modern times.
But that day will also be one of the memorable days of Socialism; for this very privilege, which is but the privilege of the robber by force of arms, is just the thing which it is the aim and end of our present organisation to uphold ; and all the formidable executive at the back of it, army, police, law courts, presided over by the judge as representing the executive, is directed towards this one end—to take care that the richest shall rule, and shall have full licence to injure the commonwealth to the full extent of his riches.
HERE are so many innocent people among those just about
to read the survey of politics as illuminated by Socialism upon which I am now entering, that I feel bound to warn them against expecting either accuracy or impartiality from me. Why they should expect from a man the qualities of a ready reckoner and a signpost, I do not know; but there is no doubt that writers are expected to be impartial in this country; and some of them are not above pretending to comply with this unnatural requirement. Further, I cannot for the life of me escape from the influence of my audience. In addressing the rich members of the review-reading classes, I am addressing an inorganic part of society; and when, out of mere good nature, I pretend to take them for real people, my acting lacks conviction : they smell brimstone, somehow, no matter how respectably my cloven hoof is booted. Sunday (for nothing) to hear me explain things to an audience of working men; and, though I say it, a more serious and elevated propagandist you will not find in the world. But confront me with a respectable audience, even though it be a Socialist one, and my sense of humour gets the better of me: the truths they ignore assume flippant and fantastic disguises in spite of me: the deportment of the truthteller sinks to the occasion and becomes egotistical and shameless. And after all, what good would it do if I were to rage at them like another Jeremiah? They would not believewould not comprehend—would feel sincerely hurt at my misunderstandings of them. I could not even shame them into effecting the social change I aim at; for that change will not be made by them, but by men with whom they dare not walk arm in arm down Piccadilly. What can I do but give the rein to my fancy, and charitably amuse these poor devils of ladies and gentlemen who never meant any harm, and would be heartily willing to further any arrangement by which they could have what money they want without causing suffering to any human being? I know a Socialist who began open-air speaking with much diffidence as to his powers of extemporaneous oratory. On the other hand he was a confident executant upon the German concertina. So he took the instrument with him to an eligible street corner ; induced the nearest progressively-minded confectioner to throw in the loan of a chair with a pennyworth of voice lozenges; stood on the seat; and played a voluntary on the concertina. A crowd soon assembled, as around Orpheus; and my friend then put down the concertina and began : “Friends and fellow citizens: the misery of the workers, and the brutal despotism," &c. If the oration was unsuccessful and the audience began to disperse, the concertina was resumed; and thus, between Socialism and music, the cause flourished.
It was a capital plan; but in respectable circles I improve on it by making the entertainment, so to speak, all concertina.
Yet when the well-to-do confront me, not as assemblages of ladies and gentlemen, but as organised classes, political parties, schools of moralists, or Churches, then the mood for indulgent banter leaves me, and the Social Democrat comes out in his vital colours. To me the Gentleman is a disgraceful sponging creature, the Tory my natural enemy, the Liberal a treacherous ally who will desert me when the hour of battle comes. The landlord is a thief, the capitalist a thief and a hypocrite to boot, the moralist a pitiful dupe of his own ratiocinative machinery, and the genuinely pious man a most dangerous rascal. When they rise up in majesty to vindicate virtue (which is to me simply the primal curse) and rebuke my monstrous and immoral paradoxes, I take a horrible delight in forcing upon them that unbearable practical question, “How much harm are you doing?” The effect of this on a respectable Englishman, brought up in the belief that he may do as much harm as he likes provided he does it on principle, gratifies my keenest aggressive passions. When the Fabian Society sends me to lecture to the earnest people in the provinces, such accounts are often sent in of my having left “a bad moral impression,” that it becomes necessary to send down another lecturer to explain that Socialism is to be introduced, not because it will do anybody any good (which would at once vitiate the thing with a low motive), but because duty, religion, and sound economic and democratic principles imperatively demand its establishment by a great act of self-denial on the part of everybody. The effect of this is excellent, as it follows the natural order of the growth of conviction in the British mind. First I show the Briton that Socialism will benefit him, thereby creating a demand for some person to prove that Socialism is “right.” My successor meets that demand ; and Socialism, provided with a mora! basis, becomes respectable and begins to boom. Even my own character is rehabilitated by the discovery that since I do without whatever I cannot afford, and abstain from certain popular and unwholesome foods which I happen to dislike, besides lecturing for nothing to people who have no money, I am obviously a model of self-denial and disinterested devotion to a great principle of human brotherhood, any expressions to the contrary on my own part being mere delightful eccentricities, probably due to the accident of birth, which occurred to me in Ireland. All this sounds egotistical ; but it is of the greatest importance as an illustration : you cannot understand the vogue either of Socialism or Unsocialism without it, Once show the masses that Socialism will do them some good ; and no matter what your opinions and character may be, it will be found easy to rationalise and moralise not only your teaching, but yourself, to the satisfaction of the masses. Once show the capitalist classes that private property and free competition will enrich them ; and within a month first-class arguments will be manufactured to prove that private property is a sacred and eternal social institution, with free competition for its sacred and eternal social principle. The purveyor of the arguments may be an atheist and utilitarianthat will not matter : Nonconformity and Establishment alike will see him solely as an cminent political economist.
Politics, then, are based on the pocket. I do not deny that there are men and women to whom complete living is so rich, so significant a process that they suffocate in a society where the huge majority go to their graves without ever having been onefifth alive. To them the natural fact of the will to live makes all human society not founded on a natural right to live unhappy and ultimately impossible. Of these elect you will find about a dozen in any populous district of England. To the rest all persons count as living until they become corpses; and some will
prove to you out of Bentham that there are no such things as natural rights in a manner that reminds you irresistibly of a learned pig selecting a number under the eye of its showman. Do not, however, rashly conclude that they are wholly unsympathetic or depraved : by no means : the aggregate of their kindly acts for one day alone would cheer a Swist or a Koheleth if it could be counted up for him. Still, they are not generous enough to carry Socialism by mere force of generosity. Mr. Gladstone has just estimated the generosity of the rich at 10 per cent of their incomes. That shows that he has found them good fellows enough ; but of what use is that to me, the Socialist, who want to get at 100 per cent. of their incomes ? Even the generous souls among those who have great possessions turn away sorrowfully from Social Democracy, not because they will give nothing—they will give a thousand pounds to General Booth or a hundred to an hospital with both hands-but because they will not give all. The proof of the want of the will is the want of the way; for when by chance one of the twelve is a rich man, he cannot surrender his riches to a society which is not organised to receive them, and so must summon up the moderate fortitude needed to endure the sneering comment expressed in the memorable phrase of Mr. F.'s aunt, “It'll be long enough afore he'll give up any of his own money.” Be it added that when society is organised to receive such donations, it will not leave its benefactors the option of refusing.
Consider the painful situation. Socialism, polite, constitutional, and Fabian as it has become, intends eventually to take every square foot of land and every penny of capital in the country from their private proprietors and to make them public property, without any further compensations than those which, ample though they may be, the proprietary classes have not been educated to appreciate. Moral force, Mr. Gladstone tells us, may perhaps accomplish 10 per cent of the transfer.
The remaining 90 per cent. must then be effected by coercion. But observe, this is highly principled England, where coercion must have moral force behind it. Let us see how the moral forces will balance themselves.
At present the Liberal party, by a series of great reforms, have settled the social question to the perfect satisfaction of those who