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Utopia of Usurers and other Essays

by Gilbert Keith Chesterton


A Song of Swords

Utopia of Usurers
 I. Art and Advertisement
 II. Letters and the New Laureates
 III. Unbusinesslike Business
 IV. The War on Holidays
 V. The Church of the Servile State
 VI. Science and the Eugenists
 VII. The Evolution of the Prison
 VIII. The Lash for Labour
 IX. The Mask of Socialism

The Escape
The New Raid
The New Name
A Workman's History of England
The French Revolution and the Irish
Liberalism: A Sample
The Fatigue of Fleet Street
The Amnesty for Aggression
Revive the Court Jester
The Art of Missing the Point
The Servile State Again
The Empire of the Ignorant
The Symbolism of Krupp
The Tower of Bebel
A Real Dancer
The Dregs of Puritanism
The Tyranny of Bad Journalism
The Poetry of the Revolution


"A drove of cattle came into a village called Swords;
and was stopped by the rioters."--Daily Paper.

In the place called Swords on the Irish road
It is told for a new renown
How we held the horns of the cattle, and how
We will hold the horns of the devils now
Ere the lord of hell with the horn on his brow
Is crowned in Dublin town.

Light in the East and light in the West,
And light on the cruel lords,
On the souls that suddenly all men knew,
And the green flag flew and the red flag flew,
And many a wheel of the world stopped, too,
When the cattle were stopped at Swords.

Be they sinners or less than saints
That smite in the street for rage,
We know where the shame shines bright; we know
You that they smite at, you their foe,
Lords of the lawless wage and low,
This is your lawful wage.

You pinched a child to a torture price
That you dared not name in words;
So black a jest was the silver bit
That your own speech shook for the shame of it,
And the coward was plain as a cow they hit
When the cattle have strayed at Swords.

The wheel of the torrent of wives went round
To break men's brotherhood;
You gave the good Irish blood to grease
The clubs of your country's enemies;
you saw the brave man beat to the knees:
And you saw that it was good.

The rope of the rich is long and long--
The longest of hangmen's cords;
But the kings and crowds are holding their breath,
In a giant shadow o'er all beneath
Where God stands holding the scales of Death
Between the cattle and Swords.

Haply the lords that hire and lend
The lowest of all men's lords,
Who sell their kind like kine at a fair,
Will find no head of their cattle there;
But faces of men where cattle were:
Faces of men--and Swords.


I. Art and Advertisement

I propose, subject to the patience of the reader, to devote two or three
articles to prophecy.  Like all healthy-minded prophets, sacred and
profane, I can only prophesy when I am in a rage and think things look
ugly for everybody.  And like all healthy-minded prophets, I prophesy in
the hope that my prophecy may not come true.  For the prediction made by
the true soothsayer is like the warning given by a good doctor.  And the
doctor has really triumphed when the patient he condemned to death has
revived to life.  The threat is justified at the very moment when it is
falsified.  Now I have said again and again (and I shall continue to say
again and again on all the most inappropriate occasions) that we must hit
Capitalism, and hit it hard, for the plain and definite reason that it is
growing stronger.  Most of the excuses which serve the capitalists as
masks are, of course, the excuses of hypocrites.  They lie when they claim
philanthropy; they no more feel any particular love of men than Albu felt
an affection for Chinamen.  They lie when they say they have reached their
position through their own organising ability.  They generally have to pay
men to organise the mine, exactly as they pay men to go down it.  They
often lie about the present wealth, as they generally lie about their past
poverty.  But when theysay that they are going in for a "constructive
social policy," they do not lie.  They really are going in for a
constructive social policy.  And we must go in for an equally destructive
social policy; and destroy, while it is still half-constructed, the
accursed thing which they construct.

The Example of the Arts

Now I propose to take, one after another, certain aspects and departments
of modern life, and describe what I think they will be like in this
paradise of plutocrats, this Utopia of gold and brass in which the great
story of England seems so likely to end.  I propose to say what I think
our new masters, the mere millionaires, will do with certain human
interests and institutions, such as art, science, jurisprudence, or
religion--unless we strike soon enough to prevent them.  And for the sake
of argument I will take in this article the example of the arts.

Most people have seen a picture called "Bubbles," which is used for the
advertisement of a celebrated soap, a small cake of which is introduced
into the pictorial design.  And anybody with an instinct for design (the
caricaturist of the Daily Herald, for instance), will guess that it was
not originally a part of the design.  He will see that the cake of soap
destroys the picture as a picture; as much as if the cake of soap had been
used to Scrub off the paint.  Small as it is, it breaks and confuses the
whole balance of objects in the composition.  I offer no judgment here
upon Millais's action in the matter; in fact, I do not know what it was.
The important point for me at the moment is that the picture was not
painted for the soap, but the soap added to the picture.  And the spirit
of the corrupting change which has separated us from that Victorian epoch
can be best seen in this: that the Victorian atmosphere, with all its
faults, did not permit such a style of patronage to pass as a matter of
course.  Michael Angelo may have been proud to have helped an emperor or a
pope; though, indeed, I think he was prouder than they were on his own
account.  I do not believe Sir John Millais was proud of having helped a
soap-boiler.  I do not say he thought it wrong; but he was not proud of it.
And that marks precisely the change from his time to our own.  Our
merchants have really adopted the style of merchant princes.  They have
begun openly to dominate the civilisation of the State, as the emperors
and popes openly dominated in Italy.  In Millais's time, broadly speaking,
art was supposed to mean good art; advertisement was supposed to mean
inferior art.  The head of a black man, painted to advertise somebody's
blacking, could be a rough symbol, like an inn sign.  The black man had
only to be black enough.  An artist exhibiting the picture of a negro was
expected to know that a black man is not so black as he is painted.  He
was expected to render a thousand tints of grey and brown and violet: for
there is no such thing as a black man just as there is no such thing as a
white man.  A fairly clear line separated advertisement from art.

The First Effect

I should say the first effect of the triumph of the capitalist (if we
allow him to triumph) will be that that line of demarcation will entirely
disappear.  There will be no art that might not just as well be
advertisement.  I do not necessarily mean that there will be no good art;
much of it might be, much of it already is, very good art.  You may put it,
if you please, in the form that there has been avast improvement in
advertisements.  Certainly there would be nothing surprising if the head
of a negro advertising Somebody's Blacking nowadays` were finished with as
careful and subtle colours as one of the old and superstitious painters
would have wasted on the negro king who brought gifts to Christ.  But the
improvement of advertisements is the degradation of artists.  It is their
degradation for this clear and vital reason: that the artist will work,
not only to please the rich, but only to increase their riches; which is a
considerable step lower.  After all, it was as a human being that a pope
took pleasure in a cartoon of Raphael or a prince took pleasure in a
statuette of Cellini.  The prince paid for the statuette; but he did not
expect the statuette to pay him.  It is my impression that no cake of soap
can be found anywhere in the cartoons which the Pope ordered of Raphael.
And no one who knows the small-minded cynicism of our plutocracy, its
secrecy, its gambling spirit, its contempt of conscience, can doubt that
the artist-advertiser will often be assisting enterprises over which he
will have no moral control, and of which he could feel no moral approval.
He will be working to spread quack medicines, queer investments; and will
work for Marconi instead of Medici.  And to this base ingenuity he will
have to bend the proudest and purest of the virtues of the intellect, the
power to attract his brethren, and the noble duty of praise.  For that
picture by Millais is a very allegorical picture.  It is almost a prophecy
of what uses are awaiting the beauty of the child unborn.  The praise will
be of a kind that may correctly be called soap; and the enterprises of a
kind that may truly be described as Bubbles.

II. Letters and the New Laureates

In these articles I only take two or three examples of the first and
fundamental fact of our time.  I mean the fact that the capitalists of our
community are becoming quite openly the kings of it.  In my last (and
first) article, I took the case of Art and advertisement.  I pointed out
that Art must be growing worse--merely because advertisement is growing
better.  In those days Millais condescended to Pears' soap, In these days
I really think it would be Pears who condescended to Millais.  But here I
turn to an art I know more about, that of journalism.  Only in my ease the
art verges on artlessness.

The great difficulty with the English lies in the absence of something one
may call democratic imagination.  We find it easy to realise an individual,
but very hard to realise that the great masses consist of individuals.
Our system has been aristocratic: in the special sense of there being only
a few actors on the stage.  And the back scene is kept quite dark, though
it is really a throng of faces.  Home Rule tended to be not so much the
Irish as the Grand Old Man.  The Boer War tended not to be so much South
Africa as simply "Joe."  And it is the amusing but distressing fact that
every class of political leadership, as it comes to the front in its turn,
catches the rays of this isolating lime-light; and becomes a small
aristocracy.  Certainly no one has the aristocratic complaint so badly as
the Labour Party.  At the recent Congress, the real difference between
Larkin and the English Labour leaders was not so much in anything right or
wrong in what he said, as in something elemental and even mystical in the
way he suggested a mob.  But it must be plain, even to those who agree
with the more official policy, that for Mr. Havelock Wilson the principal
question was Mr. Havelock Wilson; and that Mr. Sexton was mainly
considering the dignity and fine feelings of Mr. Sexton.  You may say they
were as sensitive as aristocrats, or as sulky as babies; the point is that
the feeling was personal.  But Larkin, like Danton, not only talks like
ten thousand men talking, but he also has some of the carelessness of the
colossus of Arcis; "Que mon nom soit fletri, que la France soit libre."

A Dance of Degradation

It is needless to say that this respecting of persons has led all the
other parties a dance of degradation.  We ruin South Africa because it
would be a slight on Lord Gladstone to save South Africa.  We have a bad
army, because it would be a snub to Lord Haldane to have a good army.  And
no Tory is allowed to say "Marconi" for fear Mr. George should say "Kynoch."
But this curious personal element, with its appalling lack of
patriotism, has appeared in a new and curious form in another department
of life; the department of literature, especially periodical literature.
And the form it takes is the next example I shall give of the way in which
the capitalists are now appearing, more and more openly, as the masters
and princes of the community.

I will take a Victorian instance to mark the change; as I did in the case
of the advertisement of "Bubbles."  It was said in my childhood, by the
more apoplectic and elderly sort of Tory, that W. E. Gladstone was only a
Free Trader because he had a partnership in Gilbey's foreign wines.  This
was, no doubt, nonsense; but it had a dim symbolic, or mainly prophetic,
truth in it.  It was true, to some extent even then, and it has been
increasingly true since, that the statesman was often an ally of the
salesman; and represented not only a nation of shopkeepers, but one
particular shop.  But in Gladstone's time, even if this was true, it was
never the whole truth; and no one would have endured it being the admitted
truth.  The politician was not solely an eloquent and persuasive bagman
travelling for certain business men; he was bound to mix even his
corruption with some intelligible ideals and rules of policy.  And the
proof of it is this: that at least it was the statesman who bulked large
in the public eye; and his financial backer was entirely in the background.
Old gentlemen might choke over their port, with the moral certainty that
the Prime Minister had shares in a wine merchant's.  But the old gentleman
would have died on the spot if the wine merchant had really been made as
important as the Prime Minister.  If it had been Sir Walter Gilbey whom
Disraeli denounced, or Punch caricatured; if Sir Walter Gilbey's favourite
collars (with the design of which I am unacquainted) had grown as large as
the wings of an archangel; if Sir Walter Gilbey had been credited with
successfully eliminating the British Oak with his little hatchet; if, near
the Temple and the Courts of Justice, our sight was struck by a majestic
statue of a wine merchant; or if the earnest Conservative lady who threw a
gingerbread-nut at the Premier had directed it towards the wine merchant
instead, the shock to Victorian England would have been very great indeed.

Haloes for Employers

Now something very like that is happening; the mere wealthy employer is
beginning to have not only the power but some of the glory.  I have seen
in several magazines lately, and magazines of a high class, the appearance
of a new kind of article.  Literary men are being employed to praise a big
business man personally, as men used to praise a king.  They not only find
political reasons for the commercial schemes--that they have done for some
time past--they also find moral defences for the commercial schemers.
They describe the capitalist's brain of steel and heart of gold in a way
that Englishmen hitherto have been at least in the habit of reserving for
romantic figures like Garibaldi or Gordon.  In one excellent magazine Mr.
T. P. O'Connor, who, when he likes, can write on letters like a man of
letters, has some purple pages of praise of Sir Joseph Lyons--the man who
runs those teashop places.  He incidentally brought in a delightful

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