THE MOST IMPORTANT THING IN THE WORLD. FROM 1903.
AND the wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid and the calf and the young lion and the fatling together ; and a little child shall lead them. And the cow and the bear shall feed: their young ones shall lie down together ; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. And the sucking child shall play on the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put his hand on the basilisk's den. They shall not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain ; for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea.-Isaiah xi., 6-9.
For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed to us-ward…For we know that the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now. And not only so, but ourselves also, which have the first-fruits of the spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting for our adoption , to wit the redemption of our body. For by hope were we saved : but hope that is seen is not hope : for who hopeth for that which he seeth ? But if we hope for that which we see not, then do we with patience wait for it.-Romans viii., 18-25.
The most important thing in the world-the divine event to which the whole creation moves-is the ordering of the lives of all kindly creatures on lines that make for benignity, friendliness, and mutual service and interdependence. By this I do not mean the forming once for all of a social system regulated upon a hard-and-fast social code covering all the details of life like the Institutes of Lycurgus or the Book of Leviticus ; not an attempt to make a perfect social system, but the establishing of society on principles from which it might have a chance of growing into increasing perfection, without periods of deadlock, of misdirected progress, or of retrogression such as civilised communities have always hitherto displayed. In short, a society, not perfect in details, but, on the other hand, not fundamentally wrong, as a system based on rank, privilege, and monopoly, instead of on industry and ability, must always be. I claim these humane conditions, as I say, for all "kindly " creatures.
I confess I have no hope for the lion, the asp, the bear, and the basilisk, which the eloquent and sonorous Isaiah represents as living in millennial amity with the creatures who at present form their food. The carnivora do not obviously serve any good purpose in the world. They say a tiger is immensely fascinating just when he is about to eat you; but that is a species of attraction which most men are pleased to have no experience of. Indeed, man-devouring animals seem to be neither useful nor ornamental. In any case, there is no reason to doubt but that they will coninue in the future to go the way they are going, at present-that is to say, the way of complete extermination. The prophet says "the lion shall eat straw like the ox "; but apart from the fact that the lion shows no tendency in the direction of becoming a vegetarian, we should want to know what he was prepared to do for his straw. Man, originally omnivorous and cannibal, and still an eater of carrion-fish, flesh, and fowl-becomes more and more vegetarian and fruitarian in his diet, and while I am fond of beafsteak, I think it is perhaps not too much to expect that a time will come when men will turn with loathing from the idea of breeding and feeding an animal in order to kill and eat it. Use and necessity reconcile us to many things; but I do not think I could be a butcher. I have a great deal of sympathy with the Lord High Executioner in "The Mikado " who "Couldn't kill a bluebottle." And I do not consider that have any right to ask others to do what I should not like to do myself.
The millennial picture of Isaiah, the Kingdom of God spoken of by Jesus, and the more specific schemes of the latter-day Socialist are all varying forms of one aspiration and one vision-the vision of a reformed and happy and peaceful world. Nature will always doubtless remain "red in tooth and claw." We can exterminate and are rapidly exterminating beasts and birds of prey. But the lightning will still deal death from the blue. The earthquake will swallow cities and devastate a countryside. The cruel sea will continue to engulf the trusting voyager in one hour, and the next will smile over the living and the dead in its depths. Floods and typhoons will not conceivably cease to remind man how puny and helpless he is against the mighty forces and elements of Nature.
But if Nature must always remain a capricious and often cruel step mother, at least man in the mass need not continue to suffer inhumanity at the hands of a despicable few of his fellow-creatures. A hundred tenants need no longer give their substance to one landlord. A thousand workmen need no longer hand over any part of their gains to one capitalist. That the community as a whole should be deceived by professional mumbo jumbos- priest, lawyer, official, medicine man, newspaper editor-is no necessary or inescapable law of the order of things. Not the education which produces sharps and sharks and intensifies the struggle for existence. Not the science which ministers to the wealthy and mocks the miserable with triumphs in which they do not share. Not the wealth which burdens and vulgarises Midas and enslaves the mass of the people in a still more helpless and hopeless slavery. Not the rude health and brute strength which make men careless and cheerful under evil conditions, scoffing at public spirit and civic self-sacrifice, delighting in wars and boatraces and football matches, and scorning sweeter manners and purer laws.
Not any of these things constitutes the most important thing in the world-not all of them together. The harvest to the husband man, the product to the producer, strength and wisdom in man, beauty and gentleness in woman, health, happiness, and long life to all, and humane treatment to the lower animals-these things and the conditions that will finally render these things possible form together the most important thing in the world. As the theological formula runs, "Seek ye first the Kingdom of Heaven and all these things shall be added unto you," so the newer and more practical formula may be said to be "Seek ye first economic justice, and all these things shall be added unto you." We often hear men say that life would not be worth living if there were no Here after-by which they mean no serenely happy existence of the disembodied spirit. I do not say that. I do not say that life would not be worth living even if we had no hope of better conditions up0n earth. An active and healthy person finds life interesting and streaked with strips of happiness holidays, honeymoons, personal successes, the gladdening defeat and discomfiture of wicked enemies-no matter how evil his social surroundings may be. But I do say that, the hope of, and the belief in, a great future for the human race on this earth give a man courage to face difficulties, and a happy unconcern as to consequences, such as the early Christians and the Scottish Covenanters carried with them. This hope and this belief inspire affection between man and man such as I have seen no other faith, creed, sect, or movement inspire. The pictures of an imaginary heaven, with pearly gates and golden streets and jasper walls and all the quiring and wheeling of Milton's heavenly militia, make a tinsel show indeed by comparison with the perfectly natural and realisable conception of a new earth and a new man. This great hope and belief, moreover, play an incalculably beneficent part in supplying driving force and inspiration for the stow business of social reform-probably the slowest of all kinds of progress certainly much slower than the progress made in applied science and the arts of life.
The most important thing in the world is easy to state thus broadly; but what of the days we live in? What indications do they afford of an approach to the millennial state? None of us here can remember a time when the forces of reaction were so strong as they seem in Britain at present. When the Gladstone Administration of 1868 to '74 was turned out of office after a career of comparatively brilliant reforms rapidly consummated, there followed a period of reactionary wallowing, during which Parliament and people did many things calculated to grieve the friends of progress. It was during this time that Queen Victoria was styled Empress of India by the theatrical Disraeli. It was during this time that Mr Plimsoll was moved to indignant protest by the evasive tactics of the Tory Premier over the reform of the conditions of life and labour in our mercantile navy. It was during this time that the Transvaal was temporarily annexed on the crocodile plea that that was necessary in order to save the Boers from the onslaught of the Zulus. Above all, it was during this time that Britain once more interfered to save the Turk, repeating the mistake which had been made in 1854 when we went to war with Russia to perpetuate Mabometan cruelty and misgovernment. We annexed another Imperial burden in Cyprus in those years; we went through the farce known as the Berlin Conference; and we found all too good occasion to invent the name Jingo to denote the class who consider that the business of a Government is to make war and steal territory abroad rather than to develop and perfect our life and institutions at home. That we also got into one little war in Afghanistan and another little war in Zululand is not to be wondered at in a time when Disraeli was the darling of the people and Gladstone and his wife had one day to take refuge in a friendly doorway from a threatening crowd of Cockney Jingoes.
That was an evil time; but after all, it lasted only six years, with lucid intervals, whereas the present spell of theft, murder, and retrogression has lasted without interruption for over seven years. That period was marked by the magnificent campaign against the Turk undertaken in the country by Gladstone; whereas on the present occasion no equally effective protest has been anywhere raised against the criminal relapse into barbarism. The years from 1895 to 1903 have been characterised by such a putting back of the hands on the clock as Britain has not seen since the Restoration of the Stewarts followed the Republic of Milton and Cromwell. We have seen the co-operative societies twice attacked. We have seen the perfectly false charge brought against workmen that they generally practice the malingering policy known as "Ca' canny." We see at this present moment a general attack, now led by the Times, against the one really satisfactory and progressive branch of public life in Britain-namely, Municipal Socialism. Fom taking part in a Peace Congress we have seen Britain turn to enter upon one of the most disgraceful wars in which she has ever engaged-a war in which a monarchy attacked a republic-a war in which we have had a country of plural voting and property qualifications fighting against a state administered on a basis of simple manhood suffrage-a war professedly waged to secure the franchise for aliens by a country which refuses the franchise to aliens-a war waged against alleged iniquitous taxation, mainly raised from millionaire mineowners paying the lowest gold-royalty in the world, by an Empire whose own taxation is iniquitous without an) doubt about it, since it includes taxes upon the food of the poor while allowing the landlords' rents to escape taxation -a war waged by an enormous empire against two puny states whose combined populations did not exceed that of a single third-class British city-the motto of the aggressor apparently being "Hit him on the head: he's only a little 'un " a war from which our countrymen returned to be acclaimed as heroes, though they were ten to one against their indifferently armed and still less disciplined foe.
Part Two to follow next month.
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