CHESTERTON-WHAT'S WRONG - II: THE FALLACY OF THE UMBRELLA STAND
In the quarrel earlier alluded to between the energetic Progressive
and the obstinate Conservative (or, to talk a tenderer language,
between Hudge and Gudge), the state of cross-purposes is at the present
moment acute. The Tory says he wants to preserve family life
in Cindertown; the Socialist very reasonably points out to him that
in Cindertown at present there isn't any family life to preserve.
But Hudge, the Socialist, in his turn, is highly vague and mysterious
about whether he would preserve the family life if there were any;
or whether he will try to restore it where it has disappeared.
It is all very confusing. The Tory sometimes talks as if he wanted
to tighten the domestic bonds that do not exist; the Socialist
as if he wanted to loosen the bonds that do not bind anybody.
The question we all want to ask of both of them is the original
ideal question, "Do you want to keep the family at all?" If Hudge,
the Socialist, does want the family he must be prepared for the
natural restraints, distinctions and divisions of labor in the family.
He must brace himself up to bear the idea of the woman having
a preference for the private house and a man for the public house.
He must manage to endure somehow the idea of a woman being womanly,
which does not mean soft and yielding, but handy, thrifty, rather hard,
and very humorous. He must confront without a quiver the notion
of a child who shall be childish, that is, full of energy,
but without an idea of independence; fundamentally as eager for
authority as for information and butter-scotch. If a man, a woman
and a child live together any more in free and sovereign households,
these ancient relations will recur; and Hudge must put up with it.
He can only avoid it by destroying the family, driving both sexes into
sexless hives and hordes, and bringing up all children as the children of
the state--like Oliver Twist. But if these stern words must be addressed
to Hudge, neither shall Gudge escape a somewhat severe admonition.
For the plain truth to be told pretty sharply to the Tory is this,
that if he wants the family to remain, if he wants to be strong enough
to resist the rending forces of our essentially savage commerce,
he must make some very big sacrifices and try to equalize property.
The overwhelming mass of the English people at this particular instant
are simply too poor to be domestic. They are as domestic as they
can manage; they are much more domestic than the governing class;
but they cannot get what good there was originally meant to be in
this institution, simply because they have not got enough money.
The man ought to stand for a certain magnanimity, quite lawfully expressed
in throwing money away: but if under given circumstances he can only
do it by throwing the week's food away, then he is not magnanimous,
but mean. The woman ought to stand for a certain wisdom which is
well expressed in valuing things rightly and guarding money sensibly;
but how is she to guard money if there is no money to guard?
The child ought to look on his mother as a fountain of natural fun
and poetry; but how can he unless the fountain, like other fountains,
is allowed to play? What chance have any of these ancient arts
and functions in a house so hideously topsy-turvy; a house where
the woman is out working and the man isn't; and the child is forced
by law to think his schoolmaster's requirements more important
than his mother's? No, Gudge and his friends in the House of Lords
and the Carlton Club must make up their minds on this matter,
and that very quickly. If they are content to have England turned into
a beehive and an ant-hill, decorated here and there with a few faded
butterflies playing at an old game called domesticity in the intervals
of the divorce court, then let them have their empire of insects;
they will find plenty of Socialists who will give it to them.
But if they want a domestic England, they must "shell out,"
as the phrase goes, to a vastly greater extent than any Radical
politician has yet dared to suggest; they must endure burdens much
heavier than the Budget and strokes much deadlier than the death duties;
for the thing to be done is nothing more nor less than the distribution
of the great fortunes and the great estates. We can now only avoid
Socialism by a change as vast as Socialism. If we are to save property,
we must distribute property, almost as sternly and sweepingly as did
the French Revolution. If we are to preserve the family we must
revolutionize the nation.
And now, as this book is drawing to a close, I will whisper in
the reader's ear a horrible suspicion that has sometimes haunted me:
the suspicion that Hudge and Gudge are secretly in partnership.
That the quarrel they keep up in public is very much of a put-up job,
and that the way in which they perpetually play into each other's hands
is not an everlasting coincidence. Gudge, the plutocrat, wants an
anarchic industrialism; Hudge, the idealist, provides him with lyric
praises of anarchy. Gudge wants women-workers because they are cheaper;
Hudge calls the woman's work "freedom to live her own life."
Gudge wants steady and obedient workmen, Hudge preaches teetotalism--
to workmen, not to Gudge--Gudge wants a tame and timid population
who will never take arms against tyranny; Hudge proves from Tolstoi
that nobody must take arms against anything. Gudge is naturally
a healthy and well-washed gentleman; Hudge earnestly preaches
the perfection of Gudge's washing to people who can't practice it.
Above all, Gudge rules by a coarse and cruel system of sacking
and sweating and bi-sexual toil which is totally inconsistent with
the free family and which is bound to destroy it; therefore Hudge,
stretching out his arms to the universe with a prophetic smile, tells us
that the family is something that we shall soon gloriously outgrow.
I do not know whether the partnership of Hudge and Gudge is conscious
or unconscious. I only know that between them they still keep the common
man homeless. I only know I still meet Jones walking the streets
in the gray twilight, looking sadly at the poles and barriers and low
red goblin lanterns which still guard the house which is none the less
his because he has never been in it.
Here, it may be said, my book ends just where it ought to begin.
I have said that the strong centers of modern English property
must swiftly or slowly be broken up, if even the idea of property
is to remain among Englishmen. There are two ways in which it
could be done, a cold administration by quite detached officials,
which is called Collectivism, or a personal distribution,
so as to produce what is called Peasant Proprietorship. I think
the latter solution the finer and more fully human, because it
makes each man as somebody blamed somebody for saying of the Pope,
a sort of small god. A man on his own turf tastes eternity or,
in other words, will give ten minutes more work than is required.
But I believe I am justified in shutting the door on this vista
of argument, instead of opening it. For this book is not designed
to prove the case for Peasant Proprietorship, but to prove
the case against modern sages who turn reform to a routine.
The whole of this book has been a rambling and elaborate urging
of one purely ethical fact. And if by any chance it should happen
that there are still some who do not quite see what that point is,
I will end with one plain parable, which is none the worse
for being also a fact.
A little while ago certain doctors and other persons permitted
by modern law to dictate to their shabbier fellow-citizens, sent
out an order that all little girls should have their hair cut short.
I mean, of course, all little girls whose parents were poor.
Many very unhealthy habits are common among rich little girls,
but it will be long before any doctors interfere forcibly with them.
Now, the case for this particular interference was this,
that the poor are pressed down from above into such stinking
and suffocating underworlds of squalor, that poor people must not
be allowed to have hair, because in their case it must mean lice
in the hair. Therefore, the doctors propose to abolish the hair.
It never seems to have occurred to them to abolish the lice.
Yet it could be done. As is common in most modern discussions
the unmentionable thing is the pivot of the whole discussion.
It is obvious to any Christian man (that is, to any man with a
free soul) that any coercion applied to a cabman's daughter ought,
if possible, to be applied to a Cabinet Minister's daughter.
I will not ask why the doctors do not, as a matter of fact
apply their rule to a Cabinet Minister's daughter.
I will not ask, because I know. They do not because they dare not.
But what is the excuse they would urge, what is the plausible
argument they would use, for thus cutting and clipping poor children
and not rich? Their argument would be that the disease is more
likely to be in the hair of poor people than of rich. And why?
Because the poor children are forced (against all the instincts
of the highly domestic working classes) to crowd together in close
rooms under a wildly inefficient system of public instruction;
and because in one out of the forty children there may be offense.
And why? Because the poor man is so ground down by the great
rents of the great ground landlords that his wife often has
to work as well as he. Therefore she has no time to look
after the children, therefore one in forty of them is dirty.
Because the workingman has these two persons on top of him,
the landlord sitting (literally) on his stomach, and the
schoolmaster sitting (literally) on his head, the workingman must
allow his little girl's hair, first to be neglected from poverty,
next to be poisoned by promiscuity, and, lastly, to be abolished
by hygiene. He, perhaps, was proud of his little girl's hair.
But he does not count.
Upon this simple principle (or rather precedent) the sociological
doctor drives gayly ahead. When a crapulous tyranny crushes men
down into the dirt, so that their very hair is dirty, the scientific
course is clear. It would be long and laborious to cut off the heads
of the tyrants; it is easier to cut off the hair of the slaves.
In the same way, if it should ever happen that poor children,
screaming with toothache, disturbed any schoolmaster or artistic
gentleman, it would be easy to pull out all the teeth of the poor;
if their nails were disgustingly dirty, their nails could be
plucked out; if their noses were indecently blown, their noses
could be cut off. The appearance of our humbler fellow-citizen
could be quite strikingly simplified before we had done with him.
But all this is not a bit wilder than the brute fact that a doctor
can walk into the house of a free man, whose daughter's hair
may be as clean as spring flowers, and order him to cut it off.
It never seems to strike these people that the lesson of lice
in the slums is the wrongness of slums, not the wrongness of hair.
Hair is, to say the least of it, a rooted thing. Its enemy
(like the other insects and oriental armies of whom we have spoken)
sweep upon us but seldom. In truth, it is only by eternal institutions
like hair that we can test passing institutions like empires.
If a house is so built as to knock a man's head off when he enters it,
it is built wrong.
The mob can never rebel unless it is conservative, at least enough
to have conserved some reasons for rebelling. It is the most
awful thought in all our anarchy, that most of the ancient blows
struck for freedom would not be struck at all to-day, because of
the obscuration of the clean, popular customs from which they came.
The insult that brought down the hammer of Wat Tyler might now
be called a medical examination. That which Virginius loathed
and avenged as foul slavery might now be praised as free love.
The cruel taunt of Foulon, "Let them eat grass," might now be
represented as the dying cry of an idealistic vegetarian.
Those great scissors of science that would snip off the curls
of the poor little school children are ceaselessly snapping
closer and closer to cut off all the corners and fringes
of the arts and honors of the poor. Soon they will be twisting
necks to suit clean collars, and hacking feet to fit new boots.
It never seems to strike them that the body is more than raiment;
that the Sabbath was made for man; that all institutions shall
be judged and damned by whether they have fitted the normal flesh
and spirit. It is the test of political sanity to keep your head.
It is the test of artistic sanity to keep your hair on.
Now the whole parable and purpose of these last pages, and indeed of all
these pages, is this: to assert that we must instantly begin all over
again, and begin at the other end. I begin with a little girl's hair.
That I know is a good thing at any rate. Whatever else is evil,
the pride of a good mother in the beauty of her daughter is good.
It is one of those adamantine tendernesses which are the touchstones
of every age and race. If other things are against it, other things
must go down. If landlords and laws and sciences are against it,
landlords and laws and sciences must go down. With the red hair of one
she-urchin in the gutter I will set fire to all modern civilization.
Because a girl should have long hair, she should have clean hair;
because she should have clean hair, she should not have an unclean home:
because she should not have an unclean home, she should have a free
and leisured mother; because she should have a free mother, she should
not have an usurious landlord; because there should not be an usurious
landlord, there should be a redistribution of property; because there
should be a redistribution of property, there shall be a revolution.
That little urchin with the gold-red hair, whom I have just watched
toddling past my house, she shall not be lopped and lamed and altered;
her hair shall not be cut short like a convict's; no, all the kingdoms
of the earth shall be hacked about and mutilated to suit her.
She is the human and sacred image; all around her the social fabric
shall sway and split and fall; the pillars of society shall be shaken,
and the roofs of ages come rushing down, and not one hair of her head
shall be harmed.
Not wishing to overload this long essay with too many parentheses,
apart from its thesis of progress and precedent, I append here three
notes on points of detail that may possibly be misunderstood.
The first refers to the female controversy. It may seem
to many that I dismiss too curtly the contention that all women
should have votes, even if most women do not desire them.
It is constantly said in this connection that males have
received the vote (the agricultural laborers for instance)
when only a minority of them were in favor of it. Mr. Galsworthy,
one of the few fine fighting intellects of our time, has talked
this language in the "Nation." Now, broadly, I have only to
answer here, as everywhere in this book, that history is not a
toboggan slide, but a road to be reconsidered and even retraced.
If we really forced General Elections upon free laborers who
definitely disliked General Elections, then it was a thoroughly
undemocratic thing to do; if we are democrats we ought to undo it.
We want the will of the people, not the votes of the people;
and to give a man a vote against his will is to make voting
more valuable than the democracy it declares.
But this analogy is false, for a plain and particular reason.
Many voteless women regard a vote as unwomanly.
Nobody says that most voteless men regarded a vote as unmanly.
Nobody says that any voteless men regarded it as unmanly.
Not in the stillest hamlet or the most stagnant fen could you
find a yokel or a tramp who thought he lost his sexual dignity
by being part of a political mob. If he did not care about a vote
it was solely because he did not know about a vote; he did not
understand the word any better than Bimetallism. His opposition,
if it existed, was merely negative. His indifference to a vote
was really indifference.
But the female sentiment against the franchise, whatever its size,
is positive. It is not negative; it is by no means indifferent.
Such women as are opposed to the change regard it (rightly or wrongly)
as unfeminine. That is, as insulting certain affirmative traditions
to which they are attached. You may think such a view prejudiced;
but I violently deny that any democrat has a right to override
such prejudices, if they are popular and positive. Thus he would
not have a right to make millions of Moslems vote with a cross
if they had a prejudice in favor of voting with a crescent.
Unless this is admitted, democracy is a farce we need scarcely keep up.
If it is admitted, the Suffragists have not merely to awaken
an indifferent, but to convert a hostile majority.
On re-reading my protest, which I honestly think much needed,
against our heathen idolatry of mere ablution, I see that it
may possibly be misread. I hasten to say that I think washing
a most important thing to be taught both to rich and poor.
I do not attack the positive but the relative position of soap.
Let it be insisted on even as much as now; but let other
things be insisted on much more. I am even ready to admit
that cleanliness is next to godliness; but the moderns
will not even admit godliness to be next to cleanliness.
In their talk about Thomas Becket and such saints and heroes
they make soap more important than soul; they reject godliness
whenever it is not cleanliness. If we resent this about remote
saints and heroes, we should resent it more about the many saints
and heroes of the slums, whose unclean hands cleanse the world.
Dirt is evil chiefly as evidence of sloth; but the fact remains
that the classes that wash most are those that work least.
Concerning these, the practical course is simple; soap should
be urged on them and advertised as what it is--a luxury.
With regard to the poor also the practical course is not hard
to harmonize with our thesis. If we want to give poor people
soap we must set out deliberately to give them luxuries.
If we will not make them rich enough to be clean,
then emphatically we must do what we did with the saints.
We must reverence them for being dirty.
I have not dealt with any details touching distributed ownership,
or its possibility in England, for the reason stated in the text.
This book deals with what is wrong, wrong in our root of
argument and effort. This wrong is, I say, that we will go
forward because we dare not go back. Thus the Socialist says
that property is already concentrated into Trusts and Stores:
the only hope is to concentrate it further in the State. I say
the only hope is to unconcentrate it; that is, to repent and return;
the only step forward is the step backward.
But in connection with this distribution I have laid myself open to
another potential mistake. In speaking of a sweeping redistribution,
I speak of decision in the aim, not necessarily of abruptness
in the means. It is not at all too late to restore an approximately
rational state of English possessions without any mere confiscation.
A policy of buying out landlordism, steadily adopted in England
as it has already been adopted in Ireland (notably in Mr. Wyndham's
wise and fruitful Act), would in a very short time release the lower
end of the see-saw and make the whole plank swing more level.
The objection to this course is not at all that it would not do,
only that it will not be done. If we leave things as they are,
there will almost certainly be a crash of confiscation.
If we hesitate, we shall soon have to hurry. But if we start doing
it quickly we have still time to do it slowly.
This point, however, is not essential to my book. All I have to urge
between these two boards is that I dislike the big Whiteley shop,
and that I dislike Socialism because it will (according to Socialists)
be so like that shop. It is its fulfilment, not its reversal.
I do not object to Socialism because it will revolutionize our commerce,
but because it will leave it so horribly the same.
CHESTERTON-WHAT'S WRONG - II: THE FALLACY OF THE UMBRELLA STAND