Typos p. 11: athority [= authority]; p. 15: Annointed [= Anointed]
- p. 9 -
Aristocracy and the Mob
From the dawn of social life men have recognised that communal existence is permanently in need of regulation and that, if it is not to be disruptive of good order, human behaviour cannot be left to the uncontrolled direction of natural passion and instinct.
The native iniquity of Man his cupidity, aggressiveness, sadistic impulses and lust inevitably taught all human groups that social survival was feasible only if some curb was placed on many of mankind's natural characteristics. This was always a pressing necessity. But to-day, when added to Man's natural iniquity, the general state of civilised mankind their prevalent sickness both mental and physical has aggravated rather than diminished their evil potentialities (for even if the sick and neurotic are not intentionally malicious, their reactions and impulses cannot always be properly controlled and their taste, judgment and influence, can hardly be wholesome), the need of restraint, of discipline, and of a good example set by a sane healthy and wise élite, is more than ever necessary.
For this reason, Man's most urgent and everlasting problem must always have been, and still is, to find and establish an Authority which can lend acceptable compelling power to the rules by which he governs his society. Originally, men were doubtless assisted in this quest by the natural inequality of gifts and capabilities recognisable among them, and whenever no arbitrary imposition of rulership through conquest occurred differences in individual endowment, in mental and physical attributes, must usually have determined the identity of rulers and ruled.
The readiness of all men in situations of emergency or simple need to defer to their superiors in strength, whether of body or mind, and willingly to profit from a fellow man's greater resourcefulness, perspicacity, inventiveness, mere dexterity, ob-
To this day, one has only to live long enough in any close community like a hamlet or village, in order to discover how impossible it is to conceal under a bushel any light one may be able to emit. Neighbours will soon become aware of it and in due course importune one with their wish to turn it to their own account. And when this occurs, they will display a surprising amount of humility and subservience in accepting advice and even commands which, in the ordinary way, they would have regarded as overbearing.
When, therefore, Herbert Spencer maintained that "The desire to command is essentially a barbarous desire. Whether seen in the ukase of a Czar, or in the order of an Eton bully to his fag, it is alike significant of brutality. Command cannot be otherwise than savage for it implies an appeal to force should force be needful. . . . Command is the growl of coercion crouching in ambush. It is inconsistent with the first law of morality. It is radically wrong." (H. Spencer: Social Statics, Chap. XVI, 5); when I say, Spencer penned these words he was writing nonsense. He was forgetting all the more generous and beneficent features of command, whether in guidance, education, or protection, and we have only to compare his words with Aristotle's on the same subject in order to appreciate how little political thought advanced in the two millenniums separating him from the Greek philosopher.
From the very examples with which Spencer illustrated his doctrine, it is however evident that he was prompted more by emotion than by thought when he propounded it. Why, for instance, does he speak of the "desire to command" and refer us to the ukase of a Czar and the order of an Eton bully to his fag, as if the act of commanding necessarily issued from a secret urge to dominate and oppress? We know that in the minds of most Liberals this is precisely what it does always mean. But the belief has no foundation.
"It is natural," said Aristotle, "that some beings command and others obey, that each may obtain mutual safety." (Politics, II, Bk. I, Chap. II, 1252a).
We have but to think of the Alpine guide whose commands, if disobeyed, may spell disaster for both his charges and himself. Nor do we need unduly to strain our imaginations in order to picture scores of possible situations in which the command of a superior, whether in knowledge, experience or skill, may be a means of salvation to him who is commanded.
Besides, it is hardly possible to lead without actually voicing or implying the two words of command, which the Forsaken Merman in Matthew Arnold's poem cries to his bereaved offspring.
"Children dear, let us away!
This way, this way! . . .
Call her once more and come away;
This way, this way!"
As Dr. Franz Boas aptly remarks. "The assumption that all leadership is an aberration from the primitive nature of man and an expression of individual lust for power cannot be maintained." (Anthropology and Modern Life, 1929, Chap. IX).
Naturally, the Authority recognised as imparting acceptable power to the government of a community will vary according to the level of civilisation it has reached. In some groups, superiority in physical strength, or in the use of offensive weapons, or in mere speed and agility, will confer the right to command. In others, superior skill in craftsmanship, intelligence or merely good observational powers will suffice. Possessors of the latter quality, for instance, might acquire leadership owing to their ability to foretell weather changes. In yet others, powers of divination and of intuition in the elementary principles of therapeutics and dietetics, or even mere seniority, would establish the authority to command.
Only when the particular form of superiority wanes, does the athority deriving from it tend to lapse. Hence, for instance, the custom among such people as the African Dinka and Shilluk to kill their chiefs at the first sign of weakness.
But it is important to note that this summary suppression of a chief does not necessarily mean that the rest of the com-
When, however, in these more advanced societies, the degeneration or extinction of their hitherto acknowledged rulers has left the seat of Authority vacant, the difficulty of finding a new occupant for it, by being commensurate with the greater complexity of the stage of development reached, has often confronted the community with a problem which they have been unable to solve with either sagacity or caution.
Admittedly the difficulty has always been serious and, owing to the urgent need of quickly filling the vacancy in question, the time allowed for solving the problem has usually been short. This may partly explain how and why the sort of solution reached in crises of this sort has, in advanced societies, often been inadequately pondered, faulty and palpably makeshift.
What has chiefly marked the speculations and cogitations of Europeans, faced with the problem of finding a suitable successor to their discredited and deposed rulers, has been their constant failure to investigate the basic causes of the deterioration in ability and general quality which brought about the downfall of their whilom rulers. In consequence, they were never able to devise such reforms in the production, preservation and control of their élites as would have prevented a recurrence of decay. Even among the deposed rulers themselves, whether royal or aristocratic, no effort was made to discover what avoidable errors had occurred in their way of life, their training and particularly in their marriages, which had prevented them from preserving their quality unimpaired.
Thus the procedure common to most advanced European communities of the past, faced with the situation resulting from the deposition of their former rulers, has been, not to attempt any chastening or improvement of the institutions on which their government depended, but the summary abolition of these institutions, followed by a gradual elevation to power
The process which finally culminated in complete Popular Government was, at least in England, a long and arduous one; but it was at all events never delayed or obstructed by any attempt to discover an alternative form of government less obviously makeshift and gratuitous. It is true that the class of politicians who functioned as the Parliamentary representatives of the People, started by being, unlike the Lords spiritual and temporal, only elected and not summoned counsellors of the King, and that originally therefore their rôle was less dignified and less important than that of the Lords. But gradually this state of affairs was reversed, and when once kings and nobles ceased from being paramount in the legislature, the electorate who placed the members of the Commons in Parliament became the virtual rulers of the land.
Needless to say, there were many fierce political struggles before this final stage was reached. But, in the first decades of the twentieth century, Universal adult Suffrage placed all men and women in a position thus to control the national destiny. The main features of the process culminating in the supersession of the common people over their former rulers were, first, the downfall of Kingship as an institution involving the rule of sovereigns possessed of supreme executive power and their replacement by what has come to be known as "Constitutional or Limited Monarchy"; secondly the decline and overthrow of Aristocracy as an institution resting on a class of hereditary rulers who ideally consisted of the "Best" in the community, and thirdly the usurpation by the elected of the people the Commons of all ruling power, including that of modifying the Constitution, of making and unmaking laws, and, through the control of taxation, of even passing discriminatory legislation aimed at easing the universal modern ache of Envy.
Although a confirmed Liberal, John Stuart Mill perceived
But, as I have already pointed our, the gradual transition from true Kingship (i.e. the rule by kings possessed of supreme executive power and not its modern travesty, "Limited" or "Constitutional Monarchy"), and true Aristocracy, to Popular Government based on Universal Suffrage, followed a course never once interrupted by any attempt to discover any wiser alternative, or to devise means of correcting and in future avoiding the errors that had led to the downfall of royal and aristocratic rule, so that these could be restored and preserved.
It is as if a spirit of settled pessimism, peculiar to political speculation in particular, had generally prevented remedial measures from taking precedence of drastic and total abrogation. Thus, wherever we look in European History, we find more or less the same sequence of events: Monarchy making way for Aristocracy; Aristocracy superseded by Democracy, and Democracy inevitably culminating in Ochlocracy and Anarchy. And at each stage, there is the same failure to investigate the causes of the collapse of the previous régime and the same omission to devise methods of preventing similar collapses in the future.
When, for instance, coupled with the complete disregard of the essentials of a wise marriage and sound hereditary conditions, we find the dangerous practice of primogeniture ob-
And the fact that the repeated failure of Monarchy by Divine Right ultimately led the most simple-minded, even in a religious Age, to look on this source of Authority as a baseless superstition, sufficiently illustrates the revulsion of feeling to which incompetence, misconduct and inadequate endowment in high places can lead. Nor is the case of Aristocracy very different. For the ultimate loss of all magic and majesty from the notion of hereditary rule, was due, not as mankind tended almost everywhere in Europe to assume, to a mistaken belief in the hereditary transmission of traits and to the inherent shortcomings of the institution of Aristocracy per se, but to the very selfsame vices which repeatedly caused the collapse of monarchical efficiency and competence, plus the total lack of any disciplinary organisation within the aristocracy itself, which could enforce a certain minimum of good behaviour and competence among its members.
But, from the moment when the belief in a supreme ruler's Divine Right began to be regarded as no better than a savage's worship of his idol, and the prescriptive Right of the Best to lead and govern the common people came to be looked upon as a superstition accepted only by snobs and toadies, the whole problem of governmental Authority was inevitably returned to the melting pot, and the source of Authority, instead of being located in the Annointed of the Deity, or (in the case of the Aristocrats) in an élite possessed of superior hereditary qualities and rigidly disciplined by their own vigilants, had to be placed elsewhere.
But where? That was the problem with which modern Europeans have wrestled ever since the first sign of collapse began to appear in their ruling classes.
Above I may have led the reader to understand that the substitution of Popular for Monarchical and Aristocratic government, although a slow process, was made by modern Europeans as it were "off their own bat" without any hint or help from other sources. But this is not so; for the deliberations,
For this reason it may be said that Western European political expedients were never original, but always influenced by the powerful example of ancient Greece and Rome. Wherever there happened to be classical erudition, the history of these two great nations of antiquity and their political innovations were well known, and many documents recording the shifts to which they were reduced after their kings and nobles failed them, had not only survived but were also familiar to scholars throughout Christendom.
Thus, unfortunately for Western Europe, the problem of finding an acceptable Authority for government when former rulers had been deposed was never studied by minds free from prepossessions. For the knowledge of what Greece and Rome had done gave a fatal twist to political speculation and offered the indolent minds of the Age a temptingly speedy and ready-made solution of a riddle bristling with difficulties.
While the time factor prevented any attempt to examine and mend the errors of their late rulers with a view to preserving the political institutions these had mismanaged, it also discouraged men from exploring possible solutions of their problem, free from the influence of ancient Greece and Rome. Modern nations therefore tended to take the sagacity of the two greatest peoples of antiquity for granted and consequently grafted on to their own ancient tribal usages the essentials of Graeco-Roman polity.
It never seemed to occur to them that in thus allowing themselves to be carried away by the crude political improvisations of peoples as remote and relatively primitive as the ancient Greeks and Romans, they were arbitrarily handpicking from a scrap-heap of miscellaneous and exploded superstitions one or two belonging to the realm of politics, which, for no satisfactory reason, except haste and sterility of invention, they assumed to be less puerile than the rest.
They overlooked the fact that the political expedients they
Nor were these the only forms of occult prevision and divination at least among the ancient Greeks for a plundered and baffled householder of Hellenic times would think nothing of dashing up to the Oracle of Dodona and asking it to reveal the whereabouts of the few cushions stolen from his house the day before.
If moreover, we turn from primitive superstitions such as these, to consider the philosophical ideas for which the ancient Greeks and Romans were responsible, it is difficult to deny that many of the most disastrous mistakes of Western Civilisation are to be ascribed to the conclusions which these two ancient peoples bequeathed to us concerning the nature of Man and the Universe. (See on this point Part 1, Chap. VII of my Religion for Infidels.)
Confidently, however, as modern Europeans accepted many of these unsound Graeco-Roman philosophical ideas, their gullibility reached its apogee when they appropriated lock, stock and barrel, the shoddy political improvisations for which Athens and Rome became famous.
Overlooking the minor modifications by means of which we adapted Greek and Roman political systems to our own national needs and character, what chiefly marked our slavish sequacity was our adoption without any reservation whatsoever of their superstition concerning mob-majority voting and its prescriptive Right to Prevail.
Although the untoward consequences of this superstition might easily have been foreseen from the start, let alone dis-
When it errs it cannot be brought to book, dismissed, deposed or punished. No matter how treacherously or catastrophically its votes may be used, it cannot be shot. Even if it were proposed to penalise a majority known to have used their Divine Right of prevailing (Vox populi vox Dei, or as some wag once put it, "Vox populi vox idiocy") in a manner calamitous for the nation, how would one identify the culprits? Even before the institution of the Ballot, whether in Rome or England, this was difficult enough. But, with the Ballot, which by-the-by that great Liberal, John Stuart Mill, heartily condemned, it became quite impossible.
Habit and convention so insidiously create instinctive feeling and convince us of the self-evidence and natural necessity of our national usages, however odd, that there must now be few Westerners who entertain the slightest doubt about the wisdom of governing a country by means of mob-majority voting. To most moderns the system seems to belong to the order of Nature, like the revolution of the Earth about its axis. Least of all can women, who form more than half of the electorate in England, be expected to question the sanity of mob-majority voting, seeing that they fought like maenads to secure their Right to this man-invented form of Ersatz-Rulership.
Yet, only the spiritual heirs of the ancient Greeks and Romans appear to have fallen victims to this fantastic superstition, and it was chiefly owing to the respect and envy their colossal wealth and prodigious technological achievements had inspired that they succeeded in infecting the rest of the world with it.
It is true that many Western countries have by now found it unworkable and in recent years have established thinly-
A shining example of this attitude is Ghana where, to the horror of a typical "Votes-for-Women" enthusiast like Lady Violet Bonham Carter (B.B.C.: Any Questions, 1.5.64), a ruler like Nkrumah has shown that he at least has not been hoaxed by Graeco-Roman and Anglo-Saxon political Brummagen. This shows that, when free from the cloud-cuckoo principles of Lockian and Benthamite political philosophy (if it deserves so dignified a name!), the human brain does not yield kindly to a belief in the infallibility of a mere preponderance of human flesh and bones.
It can, therefore, hardly sunrise us that at least three of the most highly intelligent of civilised people were able to survive the evanescence of their monarchies and aristocracies without ever having once imagined that mob majority voting could adequately replace Kingship or the Rule of the Best. I refer to the ancient Jews, the Hindus and the Chinese, all of whom displayed political sagacity unparalleled by Europeans. Nor was it until the trio in question became inextricably entangled with the people of the West and their political sophistries, that any of them abandoned their instinctive distrust of irresponsible Popular Government.
Theretofore, all three of them had been content to wait, even in bad times, until scions of their own flesh and blood could arise possessed of the endowments entitling them to assume the leadership of the nation.
In the case of the ancient Jews, during the anarchy of the later years of their monarchy and thereafter, it was the inspired prophets who, from time to time, by reviving respect and patriotic fervour for the spiritual heritage of the race, and by rekindling loyalty and the passion for national unity, contrived to restore Law and Order on the basis of the Torah, and
First Haggar, then Zechariah appeared to infuse fresh life and confidence into their people's wilting spirits. And although in 557 B.C. Jerusalem was a heap of ruins and the whole of the surrounding country was devastated, these two prophets reorganised the nation, induced their people to undertake the formidable task of rebuilding the Temple, and by 524 B.C. a resurrected nation witnessed the solemn consecration of the new structure.
Again, when there was a renewed outbreak of disorder and anarchy, it was Ezra who, in 459 B.C., in the square outside the Temple, exhorted the people to mend their ways and to cease imperilling the preservation of their national type and character by mingling their blood with that of strange peoples. And such was the compelling passion of his appeal that his listeners came forward and themselves promptly proposed to dissolve their mixed marriages.
These drastic measures, however, together with the social aloofness to which they inevitably led, incensed the surrounding non-Jewish races who, feeling themselves affronted and despised, opened war. Jerusalem was once more assaulted; its walls demolished, its gates burned down, and the invaders "did as they pleased in the city." Everything seemed once more to be hopelessly lost.
But yet again salvation was forthcoming; this time in the person of Nehemiah who, reaching Jerusalem from Persian Babylonia in 445 B.C., caused the city to be rebuilt, gave the community a constitution based on the Torah, restored the rules against miscegenation and then, believing the people satisfactorily settled and secure, after twelve years of vigilant activity, returned to Persia.
He was, however, mistaken. Not long had his back been turned before chaos and anarchy reigned once more, and he was forced to return and to apply his rules against mixed marriages with even greater rigour than he had exercised on the previous occasion. Indeed, he actually went so far as narrowly to scrutinise the register of births and to expel from the community even Aaronite families whose ancestry could not pass muster. After forcibly dissolving all mixed marriages contracted in his absence, he made every infringement of the law
Now, it is important to note that, throughout this whole history of unrest and disorder i.e. in the hundred years or so between 557 and 430 B.C. not once did any Jew think of resorting to the expedient of mob majority voting as an "ersatz" for competent and skilful leadership and government during those intervals when the community was destitute of accredited guides and guardians. And if for a moment we pause to ask what would have been most likely to happen had such a step been taken, can there be any possible doubt about the answer? Surely, with the most complete confidence we may reply that had the Jewish mob been called upon to vote especially at the time when their neighbours were becoming so much incensed by the aloofness Ezra had ordained the majority among them, in order to ease their heart-ache, would, in keeping with the sentimentality of crowds and their fondness for the line of least resistance, undoubtedly have favoured the course of yielding to the protestations of their affronted neighbours, of recognising the "heartlessness" of "racial discrimination", and of softly countenancing once again the practice of unrestricted mixed marriages.
And, had they done so, what would have been the result? Undoubtedly, it would have meant that all the precious racial qualities of the Jews, sedulously cultivated and garnered through the Ages, would have been adulterated, diluted, weakened and squandered. For crowds are always soft-hearted and lachrymose, ever ready to take the easiest way out of a jam, and never capable of taking a long-term view of any measure involving restraint and discipline.
All honour to the leaders of the ancient Jews for having scorned the vulgar expedient of mob-majority voting. To them Jewish posterity has been indebted for any distinctive triumphs that were to mark the history of their race in the modern world, and for all the feats, whether in Science or Philosophy, which can be ascribed to Jewish genius.
As regards the Hindus, their King usually hailed from the Warrior or Kshatrya Caste; but he reigned under Brahmin supervision and had a relatively restricted authority. Usually unencumbered by the detrimental rule of primogeniture, the
Buddhist counsellors also functioned under some of the kings and probably did so under Asoka (269 B.C.), " the greatest and noblest ruler India has known." (A. L. Basham: The Wonder that was India, Chap. III).
But what made the Brahmins particularly suitable as royal ministers was to a great extent the rule governing their lives; for they were expected to spend at least the last quarter of it as ascetic paupers, depending on charity alone. This meant that ancient Hindu society enjoyed the singular advantage of having a superior class that could command and obtain respect and exercise considerable influence without the vulgar pre-requisites thereof in our civilisation, which consists of ostentatious opulence and the capacity to display lavish and even wasteful expenditure; and without provoking the universal heart ache of our Western world, which is chronic envy.
At all events, during the whole of India's monarchical period there was never any suggestion of sinking the mob-majority voting as an alternative means of lending authority to governmental control. As Mr. Parkinson says: "Indian thought is not directed towards discovering alternative forms of rule but rather towards considering how to make monarchy effective." (op. cit.)
Nor, if we study the time-table of royal duties outlined in Kantalya's Arthasastra, do we find any reason to regard the
And this ancient Hindu kingdom not only produced a great culture, which reached its apogee under Chandragupta II (A.D. 375-415), but at the time of the Gupta Empire certainly also made "India perhaps the happiest and most civilised region of the world." (Basham: op. cit.). Sir George Dunbar sets the zenith slightly later between the fifth and seventh centuries A.D. but both authorities agree about its splendour. Even in Science, the achievements of this ancient Hindu State were by no means negligible (See History of India by Sir G. Dunbar, 1936, Chap. III). But what chiefly concerns us is that in good times as in bad, never once did the leaders of the Hindu people think of resorting to mob-majority voting as a means of governing the country.
Much of what has been said of the ancient Jews and Hindus applies also to the people of China. And in this matter we should not allow ourselves to be misled by the loose terminology often to be found in even expert accounts of Chinese manners and customs.
Every student of Chinese history must have come across statements made by reputable sinologues, which indicate that throughout her long existence China has tended to favour the sort of mob-majority rule now prevailing in modern France and England (though less virulent perhaps in France since de Gaulle mitigated its worst follies). But this impression is false and results from a misuse of the term "democratic" by many authorities.
We find Professor H. A. Giles, for instance, describing the Chinese government as having always been "an irresponsible autocracy democratic in operation." (The Civilisation of China, 1911, Chap II). Yet by this he means no more than that the régime sometimes tolerated certain liberal features found in democratic societies, but not invariably. I refer to the absence of class distinctions, the horror of injustice, and "la carrière ouverte aux talents."
Moreover, these two great nations are in addition divided into two sharply differentiated groups which have long ceased to correspond to Heine's "two nations" the rich and the poor (see William Ratcliffe, 1821, Scene 6. The idea was plagiarised 24 years later by Disraeli in Sybil), but which might now be described as the Blackmailed and the Blackmailers; the former constituting the less highly organised minority and depending on the latter for their public and other services and bearing the heaviest burdens of taxation; and the latter, the so-called "Workers", constituting the majority who, by periodically withholding their services and thereby creating intolerable inconvenience, levy blackmail on the former with a view to increasing their own incomes at the expense of the class blackmailed.
When, therefore, Professor Giles tells us that "China has always been at the highest rung of the democratic ladder." He is obviously misusing the word "democratic"; for none better than Professor Giles must have known that no government could have endured, as he says China's did, "nearly twenty-two centuries" if it had been truly democratic, (op. cit. Chap. XII).
Even Lin Yutang, in his able treatise, My Country and My People (1936, Epilogue, IV), is equally misleading. For, when he maintains that "the Chinese people are and always have been the most democratic, the most casteless, the most self-respecting" people, he is obviously enumerating only the least essential and least constant features of a truly democratic society. For what chiefly characterises such a society is that in it demos is the ultimate arbiter of all laws and policies.
As in the same book Lin Yutang tells us that "The Chinese
The very fact that China "is the country in which the old man is made to feel at ease" and that Lin Yutang is able to maintain that "the old man in China is a most imposing figure, more dignified and good to look at than the old man in the West," and "that accounts for the poise and serenity of old age" (op. cit.), suffices to show that democracy can never have been agreeable to Chinese taste. For old men always compose the minority in every society; their experience constitutes for their juniors a source of wise counsels, and where the old and their judgment are thought negligible, not to say contemptible, as they are in the West, one may feel sure that the mania for mob-majority rule and snap judgments has taken possession of the populace and that complete anarchy is only round the corner.