List Of Contents | Contents of Utopia of Usurers and other Essays
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be bad for the health: bombs and bayonets and even barbed wire are not
good for the health.  I never met a doctor who recommended any of them.
But the trouble with this sort of man is that he cannot adjust himself to
the scale of things.  He would do very good service if he would go among
the rich aristocratic ladies and tell them not to take drugs in a chronic
sense, as people take opium in China.  But he would be doing very bad
service if he were to go among the doctors and nurses on the field and
tell them not to give drugs, as they give morphia in a hospital.  But it
is the whole hypothesis of war, it is its very nature and first principle,
that the man in the trench is almost as much a suffering and abnormal
person as the man in the hospital.  Hit or unhit, conqueror or conquered,
he is, by nature of the case, having less pleasure than is proper and
natural to a man.

Fourth (for I need not dwell here on the mere diabolical idiocy that can
regard beer or tobacco as in some way evil and unseemly in themselves),
there is the most important element in this strange outbreak; at least,
the most dangerous and the most important for us.  There is that main
feature in the degradation of the old middle class: the utter
disappearance of its old appetite for liberty.  Here there is no question
of whether the men are to smoke cigarettes, or the women choose to send
cigarettes, or even that the officers or doctors choose to allow
cigarettes.  The thing is to cease, and we may note one of the most
recurrent ideas of the servile State: it is mentioned in the passive mood.
It must be stopped, and we must not even ask who has stopped it!


The amazing decision of the Government to employ methods quite alien to
England, and rather belonging to the police of the Continent, probably
arises from the appearance of papers which are lucid and fighting, like
the papers of the Continent.  The business may be put in many ways.  But
one way of putting it is simply to say that a monopoly of bad journalism
is resisting the possibility of good journalism.  Journalism is not the
same thing as literature; but there is good and bad journalism, as there
is good and bad literature, as there is good and bad football.  For the
last twenty years or so the plutocrats who govern England have allowed the
English nothing but bad journalism.  Very bad journalism, simply
considered as journalism.

It always takes a considerable time to see the simple and central fact
about anything.  All sorts of things have been said about the modern Press,
especially the Yellow Press; that it is Jingo or Philistine or
sensational or wrongly inquisitive or vulgar or indecent or trivial; but
none of these have anything really to do with the point.

The point about the Press is that it is not what it is called.  It is not
the "popular Press." It is not the public Press.  It is not an organ of
public opinion.  It is a conspiracy of a very few millionaires, all
sufficiently similar in type to agree on the limits of what this great
nation (to which we belong) may know about itself and its friends and
enemies.  The ring is not quite complete; there are old-fashioned and
honest papers: but it is sufficiently near to completion to produce on the
ordinary purchaser of news the practical effects of a corner and a
monopoly.  He receives all his political information and all his political
marching orders from what is by this time a sort of half-conscious secret
society, with very few members, but a great deal of money.

This enormous and essential fact is concealed for us by a number of
legends that have passed into common speech.  There is the notion that the
Press is flashy or trivial _because_ it is popular.  In other words, an
attempt is made to discredit democracy by representing journalism as the
natural literature of democracy.  All this is cold rubbish.  The
democracy has no more to do with the papers than it has with the peerages.
The millionaire newspapers are vulgar and silly because the millionaires
are vulgar and silly.  It is the proprietor, not the editor, not the
sub-editor, least of all the reader, who is pleased with this monotonous
prairie of printed words.  The same slander on democracy can be noticed in
the case of advertisements.  There is many a tender old Tory imagination
that vaguely feels that our streets would be hung with escutcheons and
tapestries, if only the profane vulgar had not hung them with
advertisements of Sapolio and Sunlight Soap.  But advertisement does not
come from the unlettered many.  It comes from the refined few.  Did you
ever hear of a mob rising to placard the Town Hall with proclamations in
favour of Sapolio?  Did you ever see a poor, ragged man laboriously
drawing and painting a picture on the wall in favour of Sunlight
Soap--simply as a labour of love?  It is nonsense; those who hang our
public walls with ugly pictures are the same select few who hang their
private walls with exquisite and expensive pictures.  The vulgarisation of
modern life has come from the governing class; from the highly educated
class.  Most of the people who have posters in Camberwell have peerages at
Westminster.  But the strongest instance of all is that which has been
unbroken until lately, and still largely prevails; the ghastly monotony of
the Press.

Then comes that other legend; the notion that men like the masters of the
Newspaper Trusts "give the people what they want." Why, it is the whole
aim and definition of a Trust that it gives the people what it chooses.
In the old days, when Parliaments were free in England, it was discovered
that one courtier was allowed to sell all the silk, and another to sell
all the sweet wine.  A member of the House of Commons humorously asked who
was allowed to sell all the bread.  I really tremble to think what that
sarcastic legislator would have said if he had been put off with the
modern nonsense about "gauging the public taste." Suppose the first
courtier had said that, by his shrewd, self-made sense, he had detected
that people had a vague desire for silk; and even a deep, dim human desire
to pay so much a yard for itl Suppose the second courtier said that he had,
by his own rugged intellect, discovered a general desire for wine: and
that people bought his wine at his price--when they could buy no other!
Suppose a third courtier had jumped up and said that people always bought
his bread when they could get none anywhere else.

Well, that is a perfect parallel.  "After bread, the need of the people is
knowledge," said Danton.  Knowledge is now a monopoly, and comes through
to the citizens in thin and selected streams, exactly as bread might come
through to a besieged city.  Men must wish to know what is happening,
whoever has the privilege of telling them.  They must listen to the
messenger, even if he is a liar.  They must listen to the liar, even if he
is a bore.  The official journalist for some time past has been both a
bore and a liar; but it was impossible until lately to neglect his sheets
of news altogether.  Lately the capitalist Press really has begun to be
neglected; because its bad journalism was overpowering and appalling.
Lately we have really begun to find out that capitalism cannot write, just
as it cannot fight, or pray, or marry, or make a joke, or do any other
stricken human thing.  But this discovery has been quite recent.  The
capitalist newspaper was never actually unread until it was actually

If you retain the servile superstition that the Press, as run by the
capitalists, is popular (in any sense except that in which dirty water in
a desert is popular), consider the case of the solemn articles in praise
of the men who own newspapers--men of the type of Cadbury or Harmsworth,
men of the type of the small club of millionaires.  Did you ever hear a
plain man in a tramcar or train talking about Carnegie's bright genial
smile or Rothschild's simple, easy hospitality?  Did you ever hear an
ordinary citizen ask what was the opinion of Sir Joseph Lyons about the
hopes and fears of this, our native land?  These few small-minded men
publish, papers to praise themselves.  You could no more get an
intelligent poor man to praise a millionaire's soul, except for hire, than
you could get him to sell a millionaire's soap, except for hire.  And I
repeat that, though there are other aspects of the matter of the new
plutocratic raid, one of the most important is mere journalistic jealousy.
The Yellow Press is bad journalism: and wishes to stop the appearance of
good journalism.

There is no average member of the public who would not prefer to have
Lloyd George discussed as what he is, a Welshman of genius and ideals,
strangely fascinated by bad fashion and bad finance, rather than discussed
as what neither he nor anyone else ever was, a perfect democrat or an
utterly detestable demagogue.  There is no reader of a daily paper who
would not feel more concern--and more respect--for Sir Rufus Isaacs as a
man who has been a stockbroker, than as a man who happens to be
Attorney-General.  There is no man in the street who is not more
interested in Lloyd George's investments than in his Land Campaign.  There
is no man in the street who could not understand (and like) Rufus Isaacs
as a Jew better than he can possibly like him as a British statesman.
There is no sane journalist alive who would say that the official account
of Marconis would be better "copy" than the true account that such papers
as this have dragged out.  We have committed one crime against the
newspaper proprietor which he will never forgive.  We point out that his
papers are dull.  And we propose to print some papers that are


Everyone but a consistent and contented capitalist, who must be something
pretty near to a Satanist, must rejoice at the spirit and success of the
Battle of the 'Buses.  But one thing about it which happens to please me
particularly was that it was fought, in one aspect at least, on a point
such as the plutocratic fool calls unpractical.  It was fought about a
symbol, a badge, a thing attended with no kind of practical results, like
the flags for which men allow themselves to fall down dead, or the shrines
for which men will walk some hundreds of miles from their homes.  When a
man has an eye for business, all that goes on on this earth in that style
is simply invisible to him.  But let us be charitable to the eye for
business; the eye has been pretty well blacked this time.

But I wish to insist here that it is exactly what is called the
unpractical part of the thing that is really the practical.  The chief
difference between men and the animals is that all men are artists; though
the overwhelming majority of us are bad artists.  As the old fable truly
says, lions do not make statues; even the cunning of the fox can go no
further than the accomplishment of leaving an exact model of the vulpine
paw: and even that is an accomplishment which he wishes he hadn't got.
There are Chryselephantine statues, but no purely elephantine ones.  And,
though we speak in a general way of an elephant trumpeting, it is only by
human blandishments that he can be induced to play the drum.  But man,
savage or civilised, simple or complex (always desires to see his own soul
outside himself; in some material embodiment.  He always wishes to point
to a table in a temple, or a cloth on a stick, or a word on a scroll, or a
badge on a coat, and say: "This is the best part of me.  If need be, it
shall be the rest of me that shall perish."  This is the method which
seems so unbusinesslike to the men with an eye to business.  This is also
the method by which battles are won.

The Symbolism of the Badge

The badge on a Trade Unionist's coat is a piece of poetry in the genuine,
lucid, and logical sense in which Milton defined poetry (and he ought to
know) when he said that it was simple, sensuous, and passionate.  It is
simple, because many understand the word "badge," who might not even
understand the word "recognition."  It is sensuous, because it is visible
and tangible; it is incarnate, as all the good Gods have been; and it is
passionate in this perfectly practical sense, which the man with an eye to
business may some day learn more thoroughly than he likes, that there are
men who will allow you to cross a word out in a theoretical document, but
who will not allow you to pull a big button off their bodily clothing,
merely because you have more money than they have.  Now I think it is this
sensuousness, this passion, and, above all, this simplicity that are most
wanted in this promising revolt of our time.  For this simplicity is
perhaps the only thing in which the best type of recent revolutionists
have failed.  It has been our sorrow lately to salute the sunset of one of
the very few clean and incorruptible careers in the most corruptible phase
of Christendom.  The death of Quelch naturally turns one's thoughts to
those extreme Marxian theorists, who, whatever we may hold about their
philosophy, have certainly held their honour like iron.  And yet, even in
this instant of instinctive reverence, I cannot feel that they were
poetical enough, that is childish enough, to make a revolution.  They had
all the audacity needed for speaking to the despot; but not the simplicity
needed for speaking to the democracy.  They were always accused of being
too bitter against the capitalist.  But it always seemed to me that they
were (quite unconsciously, of course) much too kind to him.  They had a
fatal habit of using long words, even on occasions when he might with
propriety have been described in very short words.  They called him a
Capitalist when almost anybody in Christendom would have called him a cad.
And "cad" is a word from the poetic vocabulary indicating rather a
general and powerful reaction of the emotions than a status that could be
defined in a work of economics.  The capitalist, asleep in the sun, let
such long words crawl all over him, like so many long, soft, furry
caterpillars.  Caterpillars cannot sting like wasps.  And, in repeating
that the old Marxians have been, perhaps, the best and bravest men of our
time, I say also that they would have been better and braver still if they
had never used a scientific word, and never read anything but fairy tales.

The Beastly Individualist

Suppose I go on to a ship, and the ship sinks almost immediately; but I
(like the people in the Bab Ballads), by reason of my clinging to a mast,
upon a desert island am eventually cast.  Or rather, suppose I am not cast
on it, but am kept bobbing about in the water, because the only man on the
island is what some call an Individualist, and will not throw me a rope;
though coils of rope of the most annoying elaboration and neatness are
conspicuous beside him as he stands upon the shore.  Now, it seems to me,
that if, in my efforts to shout at this fellow-creature across the
crashing breakers, I call his position the "insularistic position," and my
position "the semi-amphibian position," much valuable time may be lost.  I
am not an amphibian.  I am a drowning man.  He is not an insularist, or
an individualist.  He is a beast.  Or rather, he is worse than any beast
can be.  And if, instead of letting me drown, he makes me promise, while I
am drowning, that if I come on shore it shall be as his bodily slave,
having no human claims henceforward forever, then, by the whole theory and
practice of capitalism, he becomes a capitalist, he also becomes a cad.

Now, the language of poetry is simpler than that of prose; as anyone can
see who has read what the old-fashioned protestant used to call
confidently "his" Bible.  And, being simpler, it is also truer; and, being
truer, it is also fiercer.  And, for most of the infamies of our time,
there is really nothing plain enough, except the plain language of poetry.
Take, let us say, the ease of the recent railway disaster, and the
acquittal of the capitalists' interest.  It is not a scientific problem
for us to investigate.  It is a crime committed before our eyes; committed,
perhaps, by blind men or maniacs, or men hypnotised, or men in some other
ways unconscious; but committed in broad daylight, so that the corpse is
bleeding on our door-step.  Good lives were lost, because good lives do
not pay; and bad coals do pay.  It seems simply impossible to get any
other meaning out of the matter except that.  And, if in human history
there be anything simple and anything horrible, it seems to have been
present in this matter.  If, even after some study and understanding of
the old religious passions which were the resurrection of Europe, we
cannot endure the extreme infamy of witches and heretics literally burned
alive--well, the people in this affair were quite as literally burned
alive.  If, when we have really tried to extend our charity beyond the
borders of personal sympathy, to all the complexities of class and creed,
we still feel something insolent about the triumphant and acquitted man
who is in the wrong, here the men who are in the wrong are triumphant and
acquitted.  It is no subject for science.  It is a subject for poetry.
But for poetry of a terrible sort.

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