English Socialist Campaigner, Journalist, Atheist, Author and Opponent of Eugenics
Robert Blatchford, fully Robert Peel Glanville Blatchford
English Socialist Campaigner, Journalist, Atheist, Author and Opponent of Eugenics
If you knew the nature and the environment of a man thoroughly well, and the circumstances (all the circumstances) surrounding a choice of action to be presented to him, and if you were clever enough to work such a difficult problem, you could forecast his choice before he made it, as surely as in the case of the lady, the toper, and the honorable man above mentioned. You have power to choose, then, but you can only choose as your heredity and environment compel you to choose. And you do not select your own heredity nor your own environment.
It is impossible for me to present the whole of my case in the space at my command; I can only give an outline. Neither can I do it as well as it ought to be done, but only as well as I am able. To make up for my shortcomings, and to fortify my case with fuller evidence, I must refer the reader to books written by men better equipped for the work than I. To do justice to so vast a theme would need a large book where I can only spare a short chapter, and each large book should be written by a specialist. For the reader's own satisfaction, then, and for the sake of justice to my cause, I shall venture to suggest a list of books whose contents will atone for all my failures and omissions. And I am justified, I think, in saying that no reader who has not read the books I recommend, or others of like scope and value, can fairly claim to sit on the jury to try this case.
It is not to revelation that we owe the ideal of human brotherhood, but to evolution. It is because altruism is better than selfishness that it has survived. It is because love is stronger and sweeter than greed that its influence has deepened and spread. From the love of the animal for its mate, from the love of parents for their young, sprang the ties of kindred and the loyalty of friendship; and these in time developed into tribal, and thence into national patriotism. And these stages of altruistic evolution may be seen among the brutes. It remained for Man to take the grand step of embracing all humanity as one brotherhood and one nation. But the root idea of fraternity and mutual loyalty was not planted by any priest or prophet. For countless ages universal brotherhood has existed among the bison, the swallow, and the deer, in a perfection to which humanity has not yet attained.
Organized and authoritative religion the world over makes for ignorance, for poverty and superstition.
Religion promises us a future Heaven, where we shall meet once more those "whom we have loved long since and lost awhile," and that is the most potent lure that could be offered to poor humanity. How much of the so-called "universal instinct of belief" arises from that pathetic human yearning for reunion with dear friends, sweet wives, or pretty children "lost awhile"? It is human love and natural longing for the dead darlings, whose wish is father to the thought of Heaven. Before that passionate sentiment reason itself would almost stand abashed: were reason antagonistic to the "larger hope"?which none can prove. Few of us can keep our emotions from overflowing the bounds of reason in such a case. The poor, tearful desire lays a pale hand on reason's lips and gazes wistfully into the mysterious abyss of the Great Silence.
Take away from a man all that God gave him, and there will be nothing of him left.Take away from a man all that heredity and environment have given him, and there will be nothing left. Man is what he is by the act of God, or the results of heredity and environment. In either case he is not to blame. In one case the result is due to the action of his ancestors and society, in the other to the act of God. Therefore a man is not responsible for his actions, and cannot sin against God. If God is responsible for Man's existence, God is responsible for Man's acts. A religion built upon the doctrine of Free Will and human responsibility to God is built upon a misconception and must fall.
The greatest curse of humanity is ignorance. The only remedy is knowledge. Religion, being based on fixed authority, is naturally opposed to knowledge. A man may have a university education and be ignorant. A man may be a genius, like Plato, or Shakespeare, or Darwin, and lack more knowledge. The humblest of unlettered peasants can teach the highest genius something useful. The greatest scientific and philosophical achievements of the most brilliant age are imperfect, and can be added to and improved by future generations. There is no such thing as human infallibility. There is no finality in human knowledge and human progress. Fixed authority in matters of knowledge or belief is an insult to humanity.
To say that we could not work without capital is as true as to say that we could not mow without a scythe. To say that we could not work without a capitalist is as false as to say that we could not mow a meadow unless all the scythes belonged to one man. Nay, it is as false as to say that we could not mow unless all the scythes belonged to one man and he took a third of the harvest as payment for the loan of them.
War is a crime and a horror. No man is doing his duty when he is not trying his best to abolish war.
When a man talks about "spiritual discernment," he makes a tacit assertion which ought not to be allowed to pass unchallenged. What is that assertion or implication? It is the implication that there is a spiritual discernment which is distinct from mental discernment. What does that mean? It means that man has other means of understanding besides his reason. This spiritual discernment is a metaphysical myth. Man feels, sees, and reasons with his brain. His brain may be more emotional or less emotional, more acute or less acute; but to invent a faculty of reason distinct from reason, or to suggest that man can feel or think otherwise than with his brain, is to darken counsel with a multitude of words. There is no ground for the assertion that a spiritual faculty exists apart from the reason. But the Christian first invents this faculty, and then tells us that by this faculty religion is to be judged. Spiritual truths are to be spiritually discerned. What is a "spiritual truth"? It is neither more nor less than a mental idea. It is an idea originating in the brain, and it can only be "discerned," or judged, or understood, by an act of reason performed by the brain. The word "spiritual," as used in this connection, is a mere affectation. It implies that the idea (which Archdeacon Wilson calmly dubs a "truth") is so exalted, or so refined, that the reason is too gross to appreciate it.
Heredity decides how a man shall be bred; environment regulates what he shall learn. One man is a critic, another is a poet. Each is what heredity and environment have made him. Neither is responsible for his heredity nor for his environment. If the critic repents his evil deeds, it is because something has happened to awake his remorse. Someone has told him of the error of his ways. That adviser is part of his environment. If the poet takes to writing musical comedies, it is because some evil influence has corrupted him. That evil influence is part of his environment. Neither of these men is culpable for what he has done.
How many successful men who have led loveless lives would wish to be born again to the mean worry and anxious labor they have suffered under and defeated? But when I have spoken to grey-haired widowed husbands of a future life their eyes have sparkled and I have not needed telling of their secret hope. As I have put it: If there is another life I will seek my sweet friend and marry her again.
If a leaden bullet is composed of electric charges, may not a human spirit be composed of something equally intangible?or tangible? I found myself as Carlyle put it, standing on the bosom of nothing. That was in 1920, when I was just turned sixty-nine. In the following year, on the 19th of December, 1 9 2 1, my wife died. The dear girl had a happy death. She never knew she was dying and she had no pain. She just fell asleep. The last time I saw her she was sleeping quietly, and she looked like a pretty child. There was a slight flush on her cheeks and one little white hand lay out on the green counterpane: like an April daisy on the grass. That was at midnight, and she died at six the next morning. I had gone to bed, for I was exhausted with watching. For the last week or more she would not let me out of her room by night or day. When I got up on the morning of her death I found to my surprise that I did not believe she was dead. My materialism notwithstanding, I felt that my wife was alive. My daughters, who held the same materialistic views, shared my feeling. We could not believe that she was not. Perhaps it was because we had been so devoted to her, because she had so filled our lives. I began to ask myself if perhaps the spiritualists were right. I did what Lady Warwick did when the Socialist idea came to her. I read all the best spiritualist books I could get hold of. I read and thought steadily for a couple of years and then I wrote some articles in the Sunday Chronicle protesting against the harsh criticism and cheap ridicule to which spiritualists were subjected. Still, I was not convinced. I was only puzzled. The books had affected me as W. T. Stead's talk had affected me. I told myself that all those gifted and honorable men and women could not be dupes or knaves. And?if they were right?
If no man can be justly blamed for anything he says or does, there is an end of all law and order, and society is impossible.
A hungry man, an idle man, an ignorant man, a destitute or degraded woman, a beggar or pauper child is a reproach to Society and a witness against existing religion and civilization.
And yet?does it not seem too good to be true? Oh, believe me, I cannot shake nor ignore the evidence. My doubt is quite illogical and therefore quite human. And?we shall all know some day?perhaps. Old people love to look back, they say. It may be because they have much to look back upon. But if the promise of the soul's reawakening holds good, there is a larger joy in looking forward. To our next meeting then?
Genius should not be regarded as a weapon, but as a tool. A man of genius should not be allowed to command, but only to serve. The human race would do well to watch jealously and restrain firmly all superior persons. Most kings, jockeys, generals, prize-fighters, priests, ladies'-maids, millionaires, lords, tenor singers, authors, lion-comiques, artists, beauties, statesmen, and actors are spoiled children who sadly need to be taught their place. They should be treated kindly, but not allowed too many toys and sweetmeats, nor too much flattery. Such superior persons are like the clever minstrels, jesters, clerks, upholsterers, storytellers, horse-breakers, huntsmen, stewards, and officers about a court. They should be fed and praised when they deserve it, but they cannot be too often reminded that they are retainers and servants, and that their Sovereign and Master is?The People. In a really humane and civilised nation: There should be and need be no such thing as poverty. There should be and need be no such thing as ignorance. There should be and need be no such thing as crime. There should be and need be no such thing as idleness. There should be and need be no such thing as war. There should be and need be no such thing as slavery. There should be and need be no such thing as hate. There should be and need be no such thing as envy. There should be and need be no such thing as pride. There should be and need be no such thing as greed. There should be and need be no such thing as gluttony. There should be and need be no such thing as vice.
Here is a cultured, educated, earnest man rhapsodizing about holiness and the glory of a God no mortal eye has ever seen, and of whom no word has ever reached us across the gulf of death. And while he rhapsodized, with a congregation of honest bread-and-butter citizens under him, trying hard with their blinkered eyes and blunted souls, to glimpse that imaginary glamour of ecstatic "holiness," there surged and rolled around them the stunted, poisoned, and emaciated life of London. Holiness!?Holiness in the Strand, in Piccadilly, in Houndsditch, in Whitechapel, in Park Lane, in Somerstown, and the Mint. Holiness!?In Westminster, and in Fleet Street, and on 'Change. Holiness!?In a world given over to robbery, to conquest, to vanity, to ignorance, to humbug, to the worship of the golden calf. Holiness!?With twelve millions of our workers on the verge of famine, with rich fools and richer rogues lording it over nations of untaught and half-fed dupes and drudges. Holiness!?With a recognized establishment of manufactured paupers, cripples, criminals, idlers, dunces, and harlots. Holiness!?In a garden of weeds, a hotbed of lies, where hypnotized saints sing psalms and worship ghosts, while dogs and horses are pampered and groomed, and children are left to rot, to hunger, and to sink into crime, or shame, or the grave. Holiness! For shame. The word is obnoxious. It has stood so long for craven fear, for exotistical inebriation, for selfish retirement from the trials and buffets and dirty work of the world. What have we to do with such dreamy, self-centred, emotional holiness, here and now in London? What we want is citizenship, human sympathy, public spirit, daring agitators, stern reformers, drains, houses, schoolmasters, clean water, truth-speaking, soap?and Socialism. Holiness! The people are being robbed. The people are being cheated. The people are being lied to. The people are being despised and neglected and ruined body and soul. Yes. And you will find some of the greatest rascals and most impudent liars in the "Synagogues and High Places" of the cities. Holiness! Give us common sense, and common honesty, and a "steady supply of men and women who can be trusted with small sums.
You remember that from the first the Clarion crowd and the Hardie crowd were out of harmony...I loathe the “top-hatted, frock-coated magnolia-scented” snobocracy as much as you do; but I cannot away with the Keir Hardies and Arthur Hendersons and Ramsay MacDonalds and Bernard Shaws and Maxtons. Not long ago you told me in a letter of some trade union delegates who were smoking cigars and drinking whisky at the House of Commons at the expense of their unions. You liked them not. Nor do I like the Trade Union bigots who have cheated J. H. Thomas of his pension...I am glad the Labour Party is defeated because I believe they would have disrupted the British Empire. I dreaded their childish cosmopolitanism; their foolish faith that we could abolish crime by reducing the police force. ... The England of my affection and devotion is not a country nor a people: it is a tradition, the finest tradition the world has ever produced. The Labour Party do not subscribe to that tradition; do not know it; could not feel it.
My ideal is that each individual should seek his advantage in co-operation with his fellows, and that the people should make the best of their own country before attempting to trade with other peoples.