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Gospels of Anarchy and Other Contemporary Studies . Lee, Vernon, 1856–1935.
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IN such of us as not merely live, but think and feel what life is and might be, there is enacted an inner drama full of conflicting emotions, long drawn out through the years, and, in many cases, never brought to a conclusion.

It begins with the gradual suspicion, as we pass out of childish tutelage, that the world is not at all the definite, arranged, mechanical thing which the doctrine convenient to our elders and our own optimistic egoism have led us to expect; that the causes and results of actions are by no means so simple as we imagined, and that good and evil are not so distinctly opposed as black and white. We guess, we slowly recognise with difficulty and astonishment, that this well‐regulated structure called the universe or life is a sham constructed by human hands; that the reality is a seething whirlpool of forces seemingly blind, mainly disorderly and cruel, and, at the best, utterly indifferent; a chaos of which we recognise, with humiliation turning into cynicism, that our poor self is but a part and a sample.

Thus we feel. But if we feel long enough, and do page: 14 not get blunted in the process, we are brought gradually, by additional seeing and feeling, to a totally new view of things. The chaos becomes ordered, the void a firmament; and we recognise with joy and pride that the universe has made us, and that we, perceiving it, have made the universe in our turn; and that therefore “in la sua volontade è nostra pace.”

The following notes display this process of destruction and reconstruction in one particular type of mind; embody, for the benefit of those who constitutionally tend to think alike, and still more of those who are constitutionally bound to think otherwise, the silent discussions on anarchy and law which have arisen in me as a result of other folks’ opinions and my own experience of life’s complexities and deadlocks.


The intellectual rebellion and lawlessness of our contemporaries have been summed up by Mr. Henry Brewster, in a book too subtle and too cosmopolitan ever to receive adequate appreciation.

“On the one hand, a revolt against any philosophical system of unity, which many would call a revolt against all philosophy, genuine scepticism. Then the denial that the feeling of obligation can be brought to bear on any fixed point.... Morally, we must content ourselves with the various injunctions of wisdom and with distinct, independent ideals. Something beyond them is, indeed, recognised; but, whereas we were accustomed to place it in the obligatory character of page: 15 certain prescriptions, we are now told to understand it as a perpetual warning against all dogmatism.”¹

This is, as I have said, the modern formula of scepticism and revolt. But similar doubts must have arisen, most certainly, in all kinds of men at all times, producing worldly wise cynicism in some and religious distress in others. Such doubts as these have lurked, one suspects, at the bottom of all transcendentalism. They are summed up in Emerson’s disquieting remark that saints are sad where philosophers are merely interested, because the first see sin where the second see only cause and effect. They are implied in a great deal of religious mysticism, habitually lurking in esoteric depths of speculation, but penetrating occasionally, mysterious subtle gases, to life’s surface, and there igniting at contact with the active impulses of men; whence the ambiguous ethics, the questionable ways of many sects originally ascetic. Nay, it is quite conceivable that, if there really existed the thing called the Secret of the Church which Villiers de l’Isle Adam’s gambling abbé staked at cards against twenty louis‐d’or, it would be found to be, not that there is no purgatory, but rather that there is no heaven and hell, no law and no sin.

Be this as it may, all dogmatic religions have forcibly repressed such speculations, transcendental or practical, upon the ways of the universe and of man. And it is only in our own day, with the habit of each individual striking out his practice for himself, and with the scientific recognition that the various religiously sanctioned codes embody a very rough‐and‐ready practi‐

¹ “Theories of Anarchy and Law,” p. 113.

page: 16 cability—it is only in our own day that people are beginning to question the perfection of established rules of conduct, to discuss the drawbacks of duty and self‐sacrifice, and to speculate upon the possible futility of all ethical systems, nay, upon the possible vanity of all ideals and formulas whatever.

But the champions of moral anarchy and intellectual nihilism have made up for lost time, and the books I intend discussing in the following notes contain, systematically or by implication, what one might call the ethics, the psychology, and the metaphysics of negation. These doctrines of the school which denies all schools and all doctrines are, as I hope to show, not of Mephistophelian origin. The spirit which denies has arisen, in our days at least, neither from heartlessness nor from levity. On the contrary, and little as the apostles of anarchy may suspect it, it is from greater sensitiveness to the sufferings of others, and greater respect for intellectual sincerity, that have resulted these doubts of the methods hitherto devised for diminishing unhappiness and securing truth. And for this reason, if no other, such subversive criticism ought to be of the highest use to the very notions and tendencies which it attacks: we want better laws, better formulas, better ideals; we want a wiser attitude towards laws, formulas, and ideals in general; and this better we shall get only by admitting that we have not already got the best.

Leaving alone the epic feats of the old spirit of duty, the tragedies of Jeanie Deans and Maggie Tulliver, the lesser, though not less astonishing, heroism shown us in some of Mary Wilkins’s New page: 17 England stories, we have all of us witnessed the action of that moral training which thwarted personal preferences and repugnances, and victoriously silenced their claims. We have all of us heard of women (particularly in the times of our mothers and grandmothers) refusing the man they loved and marrying the man of whom their parents approved; we still look on, every day, at lives dragged along in hated companionship; at talents—nay actual vocations—suppressed in deference to family prejudice or convenience: acts of spiritual mutilation so thorough as often to minimise their own suffering, changing the current of life, atrophying organic possibilities in such a way that the victim’s subsequent existence was not actively unhappy, and not even obviously barren. Such things still go on all round us. The difference now is that the minor sacrifices are no longer taken for granted by all lookers‐on; and the grand, heroic self‐immolation no longer universally applauded. There has arisen (it began, not without silly accompaniments enough, and disgusting ones, in the eighteenth century) an active suspiciousness towards all systematic tampering with human nature. We have had to recognise all the mischief we have done by always knowing better than the mechanical and spiritual forces of the universe; we are getting to believe more and more in the organic, the constitutional, and the unconscious; and there is an American book (by the late Mr. Marsh) on the disastrous consequences of cutting down forests, draining lakes, and generally subverting natural arrangements in our greed for immediate advantages, which might be taken, every chapter of it, as an allegorical exhibition page: 18 of the views to which many people are tending on the subject of religious and social discipline.

We have had to recognise, moreover, that a great deal of all the discipline and self‐sacrifice hitherto so universally recommended has been for the benefit of individuals, and even classes, who by no means reciprocated towards their victims; and we cannot deny that there is a grain of truth in Nietzsche’s contempt for what he calls the “Ethics of Slaves.” And, finally, we see very plainly that the reasonableness and facility of thorough‐going self‐sacrifice is intimately connected with a belief that such self‐sacrifice would be amply compensated in another existence: it was rational to give up the present for the future; it is not rational to prefer a future which is problematic to a present which alone is quite certain. In this way have all of us who think at all begun to think differently from our fathers; indeed, we feel upon this point even more than we actually think. We warn people not to give up their possibilities of activity and happiness in deference to the wishes of others. We almost unconsciously collect instances of such self‐sacrifice as has entailed the damage of others, instances of the tissues of the social fabric being insidiously rotted through the destruction of one of its human cells; and these instances, alas! are usually correct and to the point. We even invent, or applaud the invention of, other instances which are decidedly far‐fetched: for instance, Mrs. Alving producing her son’s hereditary malady by not acquiescing more openly in his father’s exuberant joy of life; and Pastor Rosmer destroying, by his scruples, the resources for happiness of the less scrupulous Rebecca.

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I have chosen these examples on purpose, for they have enabled me to give a name to these portions of the anarchical tendencies of our day: we are, all of us who look a little around us and feel a little for others, more or less infected with Ibsenism; conscious or unconscious followers of the Ibsenite gospel which Mr. Bernard Shaw¹ preaches with jaunty fanaticism. This seems, on the whole, a very good thing. Except, perhaps, in the question of manners, of courtesy, particularly between the sexes (æsthetic superfluities, but which help to make life liveable), I feel persuaded that even the most rabid Ibsenism will be advantageous in the long run. The more we let nature work for us, the more we employ our instincts and tendencies, instead of thwarting them, the less will be the waste, the greater the achievement. But in all similar reactions against past exaggeration there is apt to be a drawback; alongside of a great gain, a certain loss; and this we should do our utmost to minimise. The old conception of duty was warped by the fearful error of thinking that human nature is bad; or, as we moderns would express it, that the instincts of the individual are hostile to the community. This was, calmly looked at, monstrous. But are we not, perhaps, on the brink of a corresponding error, less enormous of course, but large enough to grow a fine crop of misery? The error, I mean, of taking for granted that human nature is already entirely good; that the instincts, desires, nay, interests of the individual are necessarily in accordance with the good

¹ “The Quintessence of lbsenism”—and implicitly wherever else Ibsenism is not itself being attacked by G.B.S.

page: 20 of the community. The Ibsenian theory is right in saying that there are lots of people, a majority, even, who had much better have had their own way. But is the Ibsenian theory right in supposing that certain other persons (and there may be strands of such in the best of us), persons like Captain Alving, or Rebecca West, or Hedda Gabler, or the Master Builder, would have become harmless and desirable if no one had interfered with their self‐indulgence, their unscrupulousness, their inborn love of excitement, or their inborn ego‐mania? Surely not. There is not the smallest reason why the removal of moral stigma and of self‐criticising ideals should reduce these people’s peculiar instincts (and these people, I repeat, are mere types of what is mixed up in most of us) to moderation.

Nor is moderation the remedy for all evils. There are in us tendencies to feel and act which survive from times when the mere preservation of individual and of race was desirable quite unconditionally; but which, in our altered conditions, require not moderating, but actually replacing by something more discriminating, less wasteful and mischievous. Vanity, for instance, covetousness, ferocity, are surely destined to be evolved away, the useful work they once accomplished being gradually performed by instincts of more recent growth which spoil less in the process. Improvement, in the moral life as in any other, is a matter of transformation; if we are to use our instincts, our likings and dislikings, to carry us from narrower circles of life to wider ones, we must work unceasingly at reconstituting those likings and dislikings themselves. Now, the evolution by which our ego has become less page: 21 incompatible with its neighbours has taken place, largely, by the mechanism of ideals and duties, of attaching to certain acts an odium sufficient to counterbalance their attraction; till it has become more and more difficult to enjoy oneself thoroughly at other folks’ cost. And this Ibsenites are apt to forget.

Ibsenites ask whether it was not horrible that Claudio should be put to death because Isabella stickled about chastity; that an innocent Effie Deans should be hanged because Jeanie had cut‐and‐dried ideas of veracity; that Brutus’s son should die because his father was so rigidly law‐abiding. But it would have been far more horrible for the world at large if people had always been ready to sacrifice chastity, veracity, or legality to family feelings; indeed, could such have been the case, the world, or at least humankind, would probably have gone to pieces before Claudio, or Effie, or the son of Brutus had been born. Cut‐and‐dried notions of conduct are probably exactly commensurate with moral slackness. We do not require to deter people from what they do not want to do, nor to reward them for what they would do unrewarded. The very difficulty of acting spontaneously in any given way demands the formation of more or less unreasoning habits; the difficulty of forming desirable habits demands the coercive force of public opinion; and the insufficient power of mere opinion necessitates that appeal to brute force which is involved in all application of the law. The oversight of Ibsenian anarchists (whatever Ibsen’s individual views on the subject) is that of imagining that duties, ideals, laws can be judged by examining their action in the page: 22 individual case; for their use, their evolutional raison d’être, is only for the general run.

The champions of the Will of the Ego, whether represented by bluff Bernard Shaw or by ambiguous Maurice Barrès,¹ start from the supposition that because the individual is a concrete existence, while the species is obviously an abstraction, the will of the individual can alone be a reality, and the will of the species must be a figment. They completely forget that there is not one concrete individual, but an infinite number of concrete individuals, and that what governs the world is, therefore, the roughly averaged will of all these concrete individuals. The single individual may will to live as hard as he can, will to expand, assimilate, reproduce, cultivate his moi, or anything else besides; but the accomplishment of that Will of his—nay, the bare existence of himself and his Will—depends entirely upon the Will of the species. Without the permission of that abstract entity which he considers a figment, the concrete and only really real individual would never have realised his individual existence at all. This is not saying that his own will is not to react against the will of the species; for the will of the species is merely the averaged will of its component individuals, and as the individual will alters, so must the averaged will differ. The opinions and ideals and institutions of the present and the future are unconsciously, and in some cases consciously, modified, however infinitesimally, by the reactions of every living man and woman; and the

¹ “L’Ennemi des Lois,” “Le Jardin de Bérénice,” “Un Homme Libre.”

page: 23 more universal this atomic individual modification, the higher the civilisation, the greater the bulk of happiness attained and attainable. Meanwhile ideals, commandments, institutions are, each for its own time, so many roads, high roads, if not royal roads, to the maximum of good behaviour possible in any given condition. Without them, people would have to carry their virtuous potentialities through bogs and briars, where most of them would remain sticking. Succeeding generations, knowing more of the soil and employing more accurate measurements, making, moreover, free use of blasting powder, may build shorter and easier roads, along which fewer persons will die; roads also in a greater variety of directions, that every one may get near his real destination. And the more each individual keeps his eyes open to the inconveniences and dangers of the existing roads to righteousness, and airs his criticisms thereof, the better: for the majority, which is as slow as the individual is quick, is not likely to destroy the old thoroughfares before having made itself new ones. The Ibsenite anarchists are right in reminding us that there is really nothing holy in such a road; for holiness is a quality, not of institutions, but of character, and a man can be equally holy along a new road as along an old one; alas! as holy along a wrong road as along a right one. But we, on the other hand, must remind the Ibsenites that new or old, right or wrong, such high roads are high roads to the advantage not always of the single individual at any given moment, but of the majority at most times, or, at least, of the majority composed of the most typical individuals.

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After our doubts regarding the validity of the ideals and institutions to which society expects each individual voluntarily to conform, come doubts, even more necessary and natural, concerning the majesty of the methods by which society enforces its preference on such individuals as fail to conform spontaneously thereunto.

Such doubts as these are by no means due to the growth of sympathy only, to what is called, and sometimes really is, mere sentimental weakness. Together with disbelief in a theologically appointed universe, we have witnessed the growth of respect both for fact and for logic; and, as a consequence, we no longer regard the infringement of a human law as the rebellion to the will of God. We have replaced the notion of sin by the notion of crime; and the particular act which we happen to call a crime is no longer, in our eyes, a detached and spontaneously generated fact in a single individual character, but the result of a dozen converging causes, of which this individual character may be only one, while the constitution of surrounding society is sure to be another of the determinants. We recognise also that while, on the one hand, the capacity for committing certain acts intolerable to the majority does not imply utter worthlessness in many other directions; on the other hand, the thorough‐going perversity which renders an individual criminal an unmitigated evil to his fellow‐creatures involves constitutional and irresistible tendencies which are incompatible with any notion of responsibility. All this page: 25 comes to saying that the coercion and punishment of offenders has become a question not of morality, but of police; that it has ceased to be a sort of holy sacrifice to God, and grown to be a rough‐and‐ready way of getting rid of a nuisance. And this has altered our feelings from the self‐complacency of a priest to the humiliation of an unwilling scavenger. We are getting a little ashamed of the power to imprison, bully, outlaw, destroy either life or life’s possibilities, which constitutes the secular arm of all theoretic morality.

Is such a feeling mistaken? Surely only inasmuch as it would turn a desirable possibility for the future into an unmanageable actuality in the present. For, however much we may admit that bodily violence, and the kind of discipline dependent thereupon, are necessary in the present, and will be necessary for longer than we dare foresee in the future, we must open our eyes to the fact that all progress represents a constant diminution thereof. Similarly we must be careful that all our methods (even the methods including authoritativeness and violence) shall tend to the eventual disappearance of violence towards human beings and authoritativeness towards adults; violence remaining our necessary method with brutes and authoritativeness with children, but even in these relations diminishing to the utmost. For violence, and the discipline founded on violence (as distinguished from self‐discipline sprung from intelligence and adaptability) means not merely suffering, but wastefulness worse than suffering, because it entails it: waste of the possibilities of adaptation in him who exerts it, as well as of constitutional improvement in him who suffers from it. Waste above page: 26 all of the Reality, the reality which must be slightly different in every individual case, reality containing the possibilities of new arrangements and new faculties; reality which we cruelly disregard whenever we treat individual cases as merely typical, whenever we act on the one half of a case containing similarity, and neglect the other half of the case containing difference. Such wastefulness of method is necessary just in proportion as we are deficient in the power of seeing, feeling, sympathising, discriminating; deficient in the power of selecting, preferring, and postponing. Violence over body and over mind; violence against the will of others; violence against fact: these represent the friction in the imperfect machinery of life; and progress is but the substitution of human mechanism more and more delicate and solid, through which the movement is ever greater, the friction ever less.

Meanwhile, do we possess a human mechanism as good as it might be? Tolstoi, Ibsen, the author of the very suggestive dialogues on Anarchy and Law, even egoistic decadents like Maurice Barrès, the whole heterogeneous crusade of doubt and rebellion, are doing good work in showing that we have not; in forcing us to consider what proportions of subtlety and clumsiness, of movement and of friction, of utility and waste, are represented by the system of coercion and punishment accepted in our days. And such an examination will surely prove that in this matter we have developed our ingenuity less (sometimes atrophied it), and proceeded with far greater hurry and slovenliness than with any of the other products of civilisation. Try and imagine where building, agriculture, manu‐ page: 27 facture, any of the most common crafts would be, had it been carried on throughout the centuries as we still carry on the moralisation of mankind; if stone, brick, soil, manure, raw material, let alone the physical and chemical laws, had been treated in the rough‐and‐ready manner in which we treat human thought and impulse! But the fact is that we have required food, clothing, and shelter so bitterly hitherto, that all our best intelligence and energy have gone to diminish wastefulness in their production; and no time has remained, no power of discrimination, for making the best of intellectual and moral qualities. Indeed, we have dealt, and we deal only, with the bad moral qualities of mankind; those that can be seen in spare five minutes and with a rushlight; nay, those which are stumbled over in the dark and kicked into corners. We may hope for improvement almost in proportion as we recognise that punishment is the expression not of responsibility towards heaven on the part of the malefactor, but of incapacity and hurry on the part of those whom the malefactor damages. For here even as in the question of duties and ideals, what we are suffering from is lack of discrimination, paucity of methods, insufficiency of formulas; and what we want is not less law, but more law: law which will suit the particular case which is a reality and has results, not merely the general run, which is an abstraction and takes care of itself.


Out of these various doubts about standards of conduct and social arrangements there arises gradually page: 28 a central core of doubt, to which the others can be logically reduced; the doubt, namely, whether the individuality is not cramped, enfeebled, rendered unfit for life, by obedience to any kind of abstraction, to anything save its own individual tendencies. Oddly enough, the psychological theory had in this matter preceded the thorough‐going practical application; and the implicit principles of subsequent anarchical views were expressed by the earliest and least read of anarchist writers, Max Stirner (Kaspar Schmidt)¹, who died so long ago as 1856.

Max Stirner builds up his system—for his hatred of system is expressed in elaborately systematic form—upon the notion that the Geist, the intellect which forms conceptions, is a colossal cheat for ever robbing the individual of its due, and marring life by imaginary obstacles; a wicked sort of Archimago, whose phantasmagoria, duty, ideal, vocation, aim, law, formula, can be described only by the untranslatable German word Spuk, a decidedly undignified haunting by bogies. Against this kingdom of delusion the human individual —der Einzige—has been, since the beginning of time, slowly and painfully fighting his way; never attaining to any kind of freedom, but merely exchanging one form of slavery for another, slavery to the religious delusion for slavery to the metaphysic delusion, slavery to divine right for slavery to civic liberty; slavery to dogma, commandment, heaven and hell, for slavery to sentiment, humanity, progress; all equally mere words, conceits, figments, by which the wretched individual

¹ “Der Einzige und sein Eigenthum.”

page: 29 has allowed himself to be coerced and martyrised: the wretched individual who alone is a reality.

This is the darkest, if not the deepest, pit of anarchical thought; and through its mazes Stirner drags us round and round for as long a time as Kant requires for his Categories, or the Mediæval Monk for the imitation of Christ—both of which, by the way, are good examples of Spuk. But even as Dante clambered out of hell by continuing the way he had come down, so we also can emerge from Stirner’s negations by pursuing the arguments which had led into them. And, having got to the individual as the only and original reality, we can work our way back to those subsidiary and contingent realities, the individual’s duties, ideals, and institutions.

There is nothing real, says Stirner, but the various conditions of the individual; the rest is delusion, Spuk. But if only the ego is real, how can anything else interfere with it? If such abstractions and figments as God, State, Family, Morality (or whatever the name of the particular bogy), can cramp, cabin, maim our individuality; then, since our individuality alone has reality, these various delusions must be a part of our individuality. Free yourselves, says Stirner, from your own ideas. But our ideas, whether spontaneously generated in ourselves or assimilated from others, must, in order to have real powers such as we attribute to them, be a part of ourself: and if we sacrifice any other part of ourself to those ideas, it is a proof that they, and not the sacrificed part, must be, at that particular conjunction of circumstances, the dominant part of our ego. Stirner’s psychology page: 30 admits love for individuals as a determinant of action; and similarly regard for the reciprocity of self‐interest. But is not love for mankind, however vague the mankind, and regard for principle, however abstract the principle, quite as much a real active power of our nature? If Stirner is made uncomfortable, as he says, by the frown on the face of his beloved, and “kisses the frown away”—to rid himself of his discomfort; why, so are other egos—less numerous, but not less real—made uncomfortable by the look of pain in men and women whom they do not care for, nay, by the mere knowledge that men and women, even animals, whom they have never seen, are suffering, or are likely to suffer: and, in certain egos—rarest, but most efficaciously real—there will arise an impulse—yes, something so irresistibly real as a constitutional impulse—to sacrifice everything for the sake of diminishing that unseen, that possible suffering: suffering present in hospitals, in factories, in slums, in prisons, or future suffering in hell.

And similarly there are egos which are made as wretched by the neglect of some civic or religious duty as Stirner could possibly be by skipping a meal or losing a night’s sleep. It is quite a different question whether such ideas as these, ideas whose coercive power reveals them an integral part of the ego, happen or not to coincide with the courses most desirable for the total welfare either of one single ego or of a great number of egos. The point at issue is whether or not such active factors in life can be treated as separate from life itself; it is a different question similarly whether any more egoistic preference, say for alcohol or gambling, page: 31 happens in the long run to tally with the ego’s advantage. Stirner, indeed, entrenches himself behind notion that wherever there exists any kind of over‐mastering desire, need, or idea, the ego ceases to exist. But, as a psychological fact, at any given moment of reality, some desire, need, or idea, or group of desires, needs, or ideas, must inevitably be having the mastery, otherwise impulse would disappear and action of all kinds cease. For the ego which refuses to be dominated by any particular idea or any particular desire, be it externalised as humanity, duty, or merely tobacco or bottle, is an ego dominated by some other idea or desire, by the idea or desire that it ought to be free from such domination in particular, or from all conscious domination in general. But as to an ego which, at any given moment, is otherwise than dominated by some feeling, impulse, or thought, that kind of ego is, oddly enough, exactly the thing which Stirner is waging war against—an abstraction, a nonentity, a figment of logic, of which we have no practical experience. Yes, indeed, nothing but the ego is efficient; since, to be efficient, everything else must have been absorbed into or must impinge upon it.

This anarchical psychology of Stirner’s (and something similar, however unformulated, exists in the mind also of Maurice Barrès and of Bernard Shaw) brings home to me how much we stand in need of a new science of will, thought, and emotion; or, rather, of the practical application of such a science of the soul as recent years have already given us. It would put us equally above the new‐fangled theories of freeing the ego by abolishing ideals and habits, and above the old‐ page: 32 fashioned notions of thwarting the ego in the name of morality. For it would show that the ego is not the separate momentary impulse, but the organic hierarchy of united and graduated impulses; a unity which being evolved by contact with similar unities, can be made as harmonious with them as the mere separate impulses, referring to mere partial and momentary relations, are likely to be the reverse. This being understood, we shall seek less for the outer discipline, the constraining of the individual by society, than for the inner discipline, the subordination of the individual’s lesser and also less durable motives to the greater and more durable. We shall, once we have really conceived this organic unity of the individual, desist from our wasteful and cruel attempts to reduce all men to one pattern, to extract from all the same kind of service. But in such healthy development of the ego, in such organic, inner discipline, the conscious reference to standards, the conscious desire for harmony, will be an indispensable means. Duties and ideals will again be valued above all things; not, indeed, as intellectual formulas, but as factors of habitual emotional conditions. For the chief value of duty or ideal is the capacity fostered thereby of being dutiful, of acting in accordance with an ideal. Among the great gifts for which we must thank the theological systems of the past, the Puritan element in every creed, the most valuable are not the tables of permissions and prohibitions, always variable, and still very rough and ready. The splendid work of Puritanism is the training, nay, the conception, of a real individuality, the habit of self‐dominion, of postponing, foregoing the immediate, momentary and page: 33 temporal for the sake of a distant, permanent, and, inasmuch as intellectually recognised, spiritual something. The moral value of Jeanie Deans is not in her conviction that under no circumstances must a lie be told (although her conviction was correct in 999 cases out of 1,000), but in her incapacity of telling a lie so long as she was convinced against it. Puritanism is psychologically right in its implicit recognition of the superiority of the habitual condition of feeling over the transient impulse. For what I habitually wish to be represents, or ought to represent, the bulk of my nature and organisation more really than what at a given moment I actually am. If individualism is to triumph, if any good is to come (and it doubtless will) out of contemporary anarchic theories of the ego, it will be by an increase rather than a diminution of the healthy Puritan element. It is, after all, the Puritans in temper who have done all successful rebellion against items of Puritan codes; whereas the egoist of the modern type is, nine times out of ten, the sort of person who tolerates evil for want of the self‐discipline and consistency necessary to stop it.


After the psychology of anarchy comes its metaphysics, or, I would almost say, its theology. Theology, because, not satisfied with appealing to our reason, it meddles with the instincts which seek for the quality we call divine, and for the emotions that quality awakens; and theology also, because it occasionally page: 34 even suggests the making of new gods, the creation of a strange metaphorical Olympus. Like all other theology, it is esoteric and exoteric; it has its treatises of highest metaphysical subtlety; and its little popular catechisms, quite full of explicit absurdities. Such a catechism as this was made up by the late J.A. Symonds out of the opinions, or what he took to be the opinions, of Walt Whitman. It is the declaration of the equal rights and equal dignity of all the parts of man’s nature; and implicity therefore of the foolishness of all the hierarchies which various creeds and various systems of ethics have set up in the soul and the life of mankind. It is characteristically different in tone from the anarchical utterances of the egotistic decadent Barrès and the metaphysical Nihilist Stirner; it is eminently Anglo—Saxon in a sort of unconscious optimistic cant. Its subversiveness consists in an attempt to set things right; but it does so, not by pleading that nothing is evil, but rather by insisting. that everything is good. The democratic view, as it is called, of Whitman, as expounded by Symonds, consists in asserting that all things are equally divine.

Now if you start with identifying divine with divinely ordained, and identify the Divinity with the bare fact of existence, then all things are certainly portions of the Divinity, and, in so far, divine. But if all things are in this sense divine, then divine ceases to be a quality which evokes any sense of preference; then divine is no longer an expression commensurate with esteem, still less legitimately productive of emotional satisfaction; if all things are divine, why then some may be divine and honourable and others page: 35 divine and dishonourable. There is something akin in this anarchic theology to the juggling with the word value of Karl Marx and his followers. It is the acceptance of the emotional quality of a word after emptying out the meaning which had produced it. Good, noble, divine; a hierarchy of words denoting such qualities as we think especially desirable; denoting fuller possession of that which we esteem most in ourselves, be it strength or beauty, moral or intellectual helpfulness; words which awaken in our mind the sense of approval, of respect, and finally of reverence and wonder. Perform a little sleight‐of‐hand, and shuffle divinity with God, God with Nature, Nature with Being, and you contrive to awaken that emotion of rareness, superiority, wonderfulness, in connection with... with what? O irony of self‐delusion! with everything equally.

This subversion of all appreciation is the furthest possible from being, as Whitman seems to have imagined, and as Symonds reiterates, a highly scientific thought. For science teaches us that all life, and especially the life we human beings call progress, is not a mere affirmation, so to speak, of mere passive being, of “what is—is”—but a selection and rejection, the perpetual assertion of fitness against unfitness, a constant making of inequality. To our feelings, and to our mind (unless it become a word without intellectual and emotional meaning) the divine is the supremely desirable. According to our condition that desirable has inevitably shifted quarters, but it has always been, and must always be, the exceptional, the exceptional which becomes, perhaps, by dint of our page: 36 seeking it, the rule; our desires being set free to seek something new, some other rare thing which we would fain make common. And in this way our spiritual progress has consisted, most probably, in the gradual relegation to the obscure, half‐conscious, automatic side of our nature of instincts and functions which have once been uppermost; in the gradual raising of the level of the desirable, the contemplated, above the necessities of the moment and the body, above the interest of the ego. There is no place for democracy à la Whitman in the soul; its law is coordination, subordination, hierarchy.

The “Theories of Anarchy and Law,” of Mr. H.B. Brewster, is unknown to the public just in proportion, I should say, to its merits. It takes no ordinary reader to appreciate its subtlety of analysis and boldness of hypothesis. And the marvellous impartiality which sees every side of every argument equally, and refrains from all judgment, is positively distressing even to the most admiring reader, who seeks in vain for something to attack or to espouse, who gropes, blinded by excess of light, for the unclutchable personality of the author. Behind which of the speakers of these dialogues shall we look for him? At which moment does he shift from the one side to the other? Is Mr. Brewster on the whole for or against intellectual and ethical Nihilism? Be this as it may, the book is on the whole a perfect gospel of anarchy, because, in the first place, the anarchical opinions, although they represent only one quarter of the doctrines represented, are those we are least accustomed to and consequently most impressed by; and because, in the second place, page: 37 the very impartiality, the refusal to decide, to commend and condemn, leaves an impression of the utter vanity of all formula and all system.

It is, therefore, only as an expression of anarchic tendencies that I wish, in this connection, to mention the book. And principally because it affords, in the most remarkable form, the key‐note of what I should call the transcendental theology of anarchy. I use the word theology once more advisedly. For Mr. Brewster has separated from the various practical and speculative items which held it in solution, and distilled into the subtlest essence, a transcendental principle which lurks, however unperceived, in all anarchic writings, a transcendental equivalent of the old Persian and Manichean dualism. At the end of all the doubts, doubts about ideals, duties, institutions, formulas, whether they are good or evil, arises the final doubt: have we a right to prefer good to evil? Does the universe live only in the being of God; does the universe not live equally in the being of Satan? The pessimistic philosophers of our century have accustomed us to conceive of forces in creation which are irreconcileable with benevolence. The later Darwinism is training us to perceive that in the process of evolution there is, alongside of the selection of the fittest, the rendering even unfitter of the initially unfit, degenerative tendencies as well as tendencies to adaptation. We have had to admit that destruction is a factor in all construction. The doubt arises, may not destruction be just as great a power as construction? Not as its servant, but as its rival, its equal. Are we not Pharisees in condemning page: 38 all persons and instincts unsuitable, forsooth, to the purposes of our race and civilisation, when those persons and instincts are as much realities as any others? Are we not Philistines in condemning all views of life which do not square with our particular intellectual organisation? Is not what we call evil a reality, and does chaos perhaps not exist as truly as order? Shall we not recognise the great dualism?

By no means. We are so constituted that evil cannot please nor chaos satisfy us; and our constitution must be, for us, the law of the universe. For we conceive the universe only in terms of our own existence, and the qualities we attribute to it are only modes of our own feeling. All we can be sure of about good and evil, chaos and order, is that they are conceptions of ours. Are they conceptions, and it so, to what extent corresponding, of anything else? We cannot tell. What we call forces of destruction and disorder are such to us; nay, they are forces perhaps only to us; it is only through our own aversion that we know of destruction and disorder at all. The origin of all such doubts, and their solution also, lies in the nature of the doubter. In the little world which our faculties, our spiritual and practical needs, as well as our bodily senses, have created for us out of the infinite unknown universe, it is our human instincts which decide, as they have determined, everything. And among the ideas they have set on foot they decide for good against evil, for order against chaos.

These discussions on anarchy and law, these page: 39 struggles between what we have and what we want, should give a result more practically important than even the most important application in practice; for, in our life, a habit of feeling and thinking, an attitude, is of wider influence than a rule of conduct. The attempt to verify our moral compass, the deliberate readiness to do so, might result in the safest kind of spiritual peace. For, to be able to see in all that we call bad, wrong, false, the cause and effect, the immense naturalness and inevitableness, its place in the universe as distinguished from its place in our own liking or convenience; to be able to face fact as fact, as something transcending all momentary convenience or pleasantness; yet at the same time to preserve our human preferences, to exercise our human selection all the more rigidly because we know that it is our selection, reality offering more, but we accepting only what we choose; such a double attitude would surely be the best. It would be the only attitude thoroughly true, just, kind, and really practical, giving us peace and dignity and energy for struggle without hoodwinking or arrogance. It would be more respectful both to our own nature, and to the nature which transcends ours, to recognise that what mankind wants it wants because it is mankind; and to leave off claiming from the universe conformity to human ideals and methods.

The sense of this (however vague) has been furthered by occasional fortunate conditions of civilisation, and it is, most probably, constitutional in certain happily balanced natures. It is what gives the high serenity to men of the stamp of Plato and page: 40 Goethe and Browning; they can touch everything, discuss everything, understand the reason of everything, yet remain with preferences unaltered. Perhaps we may all some day attain, by employing equally our tendencies to doubt and our tendencies to believe, to such a fearless, yet modest, recognition of what is, and also of what we wish it to be.

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