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good man or a bad man, a good horse or a bad horse, not just man or horse. But Religion and /<&#/ are treated by those who deal in them as if they were words like sustenance and poison, implying a quality of being good or bad for those who take it, in which case we should have to admit that just as all sustenance is sustaining, and all poison poisonous, all religions must be true, all Ideals desirable, not merely the religions and Ideals we happen to approve of. An Ideal can be recognized not by the goodness or badness of its results, but (just like its older representative, religious doctrine) by the manner in which it is held, by its cause and concomitants in the mind or the society holding by it. An Ideal is held as imperative and binding, that essential attitude being taken over from its religious origin; while its rationalistic fostering reveals itself in the supposition (not always justified) that although imperative and best not argued about, once you have got it (for Ideals do not, like religions, say in oldfashioned parental phrase: "How dare you argue with your creator ? ") can yet be shown, with a little trouble, to have been got by an act of free investigating reason. That is the attitude Ideals take up vis-a-vis of religions. But even like Protestantism when no longer obliged to differentiate itself from Popery, Ideals, when left to themselves, have a way of falling back upon an intuitive and inevitable recognition of whatever is good, noble, etc. And this is an Ideal's true characteristic: it is an aim, often a vague aim, which we recognize for an Ideal by the feelings accompanying it; in fact by the manner wherein it is held. An Ideal is never held for interested motives; it ceases to be an Ideal in proportion as its objects embody anything which also suits our convenience or our self-interest. It takes an Italian prime minister, born of the race of Machiavelli and of the seventeenth century Conceit-Mongers, to come by such a paradox as "Sacro Egoismo." Indeed an Ideal, like a duty (but with a free, spontaneous burst, a self-imposed and uplifting imperative) is precisely what puts aside and silences convenience and self-interest, both of which can look after themselves without its magnificent but sometimes tiresome trumpeting. An Ideal implies the willing oblation of that which, however dear to us, is yet less dear than this sense of freedom and uplifting and dignity given us by an ideal. In fact, an Ideal, like the other spiritual entities we talk about, like art, civilization, religion, is a group of activities of our own, a special definable response to certain outer circumstances, a state of mind and a readiness for action of a particular type. Under the sway of an Ideal, a man acts, feels, even looks in a recognizable way, other than how a man does under the dominion of say, a sense of duty, a recognition of practical advantage, or a desire for pleasure. I have emphasized the word looks, because this appearance is the outward sign of an inner and spiritual, i.e., an unconscious, nervous, muscular, cardiac, visceral, state. You will find in old-fashioned books on physiognomy the description of the "enthusiast," the man with an Ideal, usually a religious one. But while religious feeling may often produce mere admiring resignation and acquiescence, an "Ideal" nearly always implies a fervid willingness to sacrifice, or at least override, somebody else. Ideals, whether religious or secular, are combative; they imply that something is as it shouldn't be, and that you are conducing (or would conduce, if you could) to set it right. Set it right. An Ideal, also, involves that the holder thereof considers it right; just as a religion implies for the believer that its creed is true. Hence, just as religion gives a sense of certainty, highly conducive to inner peace, indeed so highly prized that religion is often adopted for its sake; so also an Ideal gives a persuasive sense that however wrong the world may be (indeed, ideals imply a degree of wrongness, else why have them?), the world can be set right, and what is more, can be set right in greater or less degree by your adherence to them, your fervour for them, your readiness to take action, to upset something or somebody, your joyous willingness to sacrifice yourself and others for that ideal's actuation. Just as it is the essential and overwhelming certainty of possessing the truth which makes it so easy for religious belief to be erroneous; so also it is the essential and overwhelming sense of aiming at good, of increasing the good in the universe, this conviction of being a lieutenant of howsoever abstract a Power Making for Betterment, which surrounds Idealism with pitfalls of wrong-doing. It is his unhesitating willingness to sacrifice himself and therefore somebody else which makes the Idealist a possible, a frequent, Tool of the Devil. May, i9i8.
What would become of the world without Ideals and Idealists? Well ! If the foregoing analysis is at all correct, the world will never be without them, any more than without generosity or cautiousness, without impulsive persons or phlegmatic ones; they are all natural varieties. The question is rather: given their existence, how could they be made to further the world's happiness rather than jeopardize it? The war, which suggested this question to my mind, has answered it as follows: by making Idealists less spectacular and decorative; and Ideals less gimcrack and gaudy; more akin, these latter, to the manly, homespun, wearable things called standards and obligations. If people were less idle and less overworked, they would, as I shall go on to suggest, hanker rather less after adventure; at all events adventure would arise out of the day's work or day's play. Similarly, if people were more decent, more accustomed to feel that certain omissions and commissions brought the kind of discomfort and accompanying unseemliness as lack of soap and water, then methinks Ideals and Idealism would scarcely be required in everyday reality, and might find their proper place and satisfaction in poetry and art. IV This train of thought, so familiar to me since the war, has been brought to expression by being asked what I thought of Quinn's very eloquent rhapsody on Roger Casement.
"What I think of it? Why that it is the selfsame material this War is made of!" And added that I hoped the younger generation would see to eliminating it from real affairs, and keeping it, with past romance and madness, for our dramatic delectation, like Macbeth and his Witches and the Furies of Orestes. My young friend seemed to agree, as I ardently hope that those who have grown out of childhood during this War will, many of them, do.
"But," she demurs, "one can't help admiring it, all the same, quite tremendously."
"Exactly. And what you people have to learn (for we are too old !) is that admiration is not a test of usefulness. Set it to music, put it into a wonderful form of verse, keep it to look at and rejoice in; but at arms' length, above your life, if you will, but not in it. Learn the essential, salutary and consoling difference between Life and Art."
"But will people ever be satisfied with ideal emotions unless they believe them to answer to something really existing f"
Perhaps not. Though to me, possibly because I am old, to do so would seem the sign of spiritual maturity, of having left behind the child's and the adolescent's faith in wishes as horses. The result, above all, of a more vital and more frequent interest in all kinds of science and philosophy. We cannot yet say whether such a time will ever come; for we are still only at the end of the Middle Ages so far as mental habits are concerned, not really at the beginning of a new era. Since even our atheistic philosophers, like Nietzsche and Bertrand Russell, are always taking up positions vis-dvis of the old Gods whom they imagine themselves to have discarded. Not merely Nietzcshe saying how could there be Gods and I not one of them? But less naively Bertrand Russell turning away from the sugary Eternities of other beliefs with a" I prefer the Eternities bitter, with such withering bitterness as gives the magnificent sense of Tragedy." Now I suspect that the bitter Eternities ministering toNietzsche's Amor Fati and to Bertrand Russell's Free Man's Worship are mere little private brews of their own making; and no more eternal, let alone eternally real, than the sugar and water and eau de fleur tPoranger which, as in the cut-glass caraffe and tumbler of old French bedrooms, Mankind has been careful to place (when it had leisure to procure them) alongside of its uneasy pillow.
But we should die without such ideals, bitter or sweet! Well! what is music for, from Bach and Mozart to Strauss, except to minister to these legitimate needs? Only do not pretend that it is the music of the Spheres performing like a Restaurant-band, for your sole satisfaction. Of all Idealism there is none more paltry than such treating of the Realities and Eternities as if they must fetch and carry for our Heart's Desire, however distinguished. And if there were Realities and Eternities thus interested in our persons and wishes, why surely, being so human and personal, they would laugh at us, even as we should in their place.
But Idealism, as the world at present exists, does a good deal of practical, by no means aesthetic, fetching and carrying. And, I am asked, by others and by myself, what could possibly replace it from the utilitarian point of view? At present, nothing; since its production will continue a long time yet, like that of religion. But eventually, I cannot but hope, Idealism might transform (after handing its emotional appeal to art and poetry) into something very modest yet at the same time very imperious. Something, for which I can find no existing name, for even Duty is too sounding, and lacks also the imperative of personal preference. Something whose refusal should imply that the refuser is an imbecile or a cad; something which, short of being either, you or I must do, or oftener (since most commandments are negative) must refrain from doing. Not do, in the same sense as a decent child is taught not to spit, not slop its food upon the table, not grab its neighbour's bread, not spread its elbows, not drown other folk's voice or interrupt their speaking; briefly, not be a nuisance; and more particularly not a grown-up and symbolical nuisance, like the ill-mannered beasts of every nationality who have converted Europe into the obscene refuse-heap, moral and material, now spread before us!I am asked whether what I should like to see in place of Idealism is the George Herbert "sweeping of the room from the