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GOSPELS OF ANARCHY.*
such of us as not merely live, but think and feel what life is
and might be, an inner drama is enacted, full of conflicting emotions, long drawn out over the years, and sometimes 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 wellregulated structure called the universe or life is a sham constructed by human hands; that the reality is a seething whirlpool of fotces 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 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 in so far it is true that "in la sua volontade è nostra pace.
1. G. BERNARD SHAW: “The Quintessence of Ibsenism."
« Le Jardin de Bérénice."
“Un Homme Libre."
The following notes display, whatever its value, 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 differently, the silent discussions on anarchy and law which have arisen in me as a result of other folks' opinions and of experience of life's complexities and deadlocks.
“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 certain prescriptions, we are now told to understand it as a perpetual warning against all dogmatism” (H. B. Brewster, “ Theories of Anarchy and Law," p. 113).
Such doubts as these must have arisen, most certainly, in all kinds of men at all times, producing worldly wise cynicism in some and religious distress in others. Sach 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 specalation, but penetrating occasionally, mysterious subtle gases, to life's surface, and there igniting at contact with the active impalees 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 louisd'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 umiverse 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 practicability ; it is only in our own time 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, apon the possible vanity of all ideals and formulas whatever.
But the champions of moral anarchy and intellectual nihilism have made ap for lost time, and the books whose titles I have placed at the beginning of these 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 Mephistophelean 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 a growing sensitiveness to the sofferings of others, and a growing respect for intellectual sincerity, that have resulted such 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 admirable, heroism shown us in some of Mary Wilkins's New England stories, we have all of us witnessed the action of that moral training which thwarted personal preferences and repugnancos, and victoriously silenced their claims. We bave 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 vocationssuppressed 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-immolations 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, overy chapter of it, as an allegorical exhibition of the views to which most 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 began 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 inyent, or applaud the invention of, other instances which are decidedly farfetched : 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.
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 Shaw 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. 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 cases like this 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 wo 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 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 gurely 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. Now, 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. The evolution by which our ego has become less 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 thoroughly enjoy oneself at other folks' cost.
Ibsenians are apt to ask whether it was not horrible that Claudio should be put to death because Isabella stickled about chastity, that an inuocent Effie Deans should be hanged because Jeanie had cutand-dried ideas of veracity; that Bratus'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 sach have been the case, the world, or at least humankind, would probably have gone to pieces before Claudio, or Effie, or the