THE world has been very near to disaster, and it is far from apparent that its direction is now set to clear waters. I address myself here principally to the responsibilities for this situation which rest on the inheritors of the western capitalist tradition. We have built an interdependent world economy, but we have hardly sought in any serious way to build the institutions that are appropriate to its governance. Our science and its technology have opened to us the prospect of material well-being upon a scale no generation has previously known; but our relations of production halt us at the very entrance to the riches of Aladdin's cave. At the very center of our civilization there still lie hates and envies, ignorance and blindness, which cast a grim shadow over our future. Our world is one of contrasts that are alike fantastic and unforgivable. Here immense wealth, and there a grinding poverty. Here a culture that penetrates to the innermost secrets of nature, and there a tragic superstition that is born of an illiteracy which fetters the mind to ignorance. Here there is the dignity that is the elder child of freedom, while there whole nations toil under the curse of a slavery not less bitter because we have appeased our conscience by giving to its chains another name. In western society the use of medical science gives men and women at least the high prospect of life which may reach the allotted span; in other areas youth has hardly passed before death inexorably beckons. No doubt it is the right of all mankind to put Utopia upon its maps; but there are few organized peoples whose rulers have yet pointed to its presence save as a figure of rhetorical speech which binds most men and women afresh to the endless renewal of an exhausting round of toil.

The United Nations have won a global war waged in the name of freedom and democracy; but we are far from agreement upon what we mean by our great wars. We have founded a vast international organization that the peace may be kept and that the minds and bodies of men may be safeguarded from ignorance and credulity, from want and disease; but we have founded it upon a principle of national sovereignty that is on any rational showing wholly incompatible with the fulfilment of its purposes. Two years have passed since open hostilities ceased; but there is hardly an area of the world in which secret hostilities, made bitter by the darkness and conspiracies which surround them, do not continue with intensity and vigor. We tell one another that it requires only an effort of will to overcome the differences which divide the world; but we do little to organize the conditions under which that effort of will is likely to be made. There is no mask that is not used to cover the face of social injustices the remedies for which men seek to avoid. Sometimes we invoke the mythology of nationalism, as though we have not seen its problems continuously transcended in the war from which we have just emerged. Sometimes a social philosophy, already completely outmoded, is evoked to protect the habitual routine of past privilege against the innovating claims of men who deny the validity of some obsolete pattern of political and economic order. There is no injustice in our time which does not use the power of religion, the authority of custom, or the grim hand of state or mob coercion to safeguard its perpetuation. And each injustice, be it racial or national, religious or economic, rationalizes the claims it embodies by sheltering under a half-examined metaphysic of values, set, if it be possible, in a context made familiar by tradition, and so rooted in precious memories that faith may guard it from exposure by the keen sword of rational analysis. To the maintenance of that faith, techniques of propaganda are now devoted which condition the minds of millions against the right of reason to consideration before even the discussion of the validity of the faith has seriously commenced. Nearly 200 years ago Rousseau said that mankind ran to meet its chains; now it is our gravest danger that we should regard as our enemies the forces, human and impersonal alike, which strive by their interaction to liberate us from their burden.

It is, moreover, urgent for us in the west to remember that the technological conditions of our time make the power of those who control the instruments of production far greater than in any previous age. Our Alexanders and Caesars and Napoleons are no longer the great military captains who hack their way to empire; they have become half-impersonal but mighty business corporations, at whose bid a trackless desert may become the scene of battles for which the steel workers of Pittsburgh and Coventry, or the miners of the Ruhr and Silesia, may be mobilized to settle the decision, not only without knowing the end for which their effort is being employed, but in the passionate conviction that they labor for America or Britain, for Germany or Poland, and that their freedom from tyranny depends upon their effort. They toil in the light of a hope that is a half-promise from their masters that, if they endure till victory, tomorrow will begin the fulfilment of dreams beyond their horizon today. Security is to be theirs, a little of the ease that gives life its color and its dignity, freedom from the frustration of their trivial insignificance and from the haunting fear that their old age will be made mean and ugly by a stark poverty against which they cannot provide. But, even when victory has crowned their effort, they hear that the promise is beyond their rulers' power to fulfil since its redemption would disturb confidence or provoke disorder or transfer the power of government to men whose exercise of its authority would involve all in a common ruin because these lack the gift or the habitation which makes likely its successful operation. So the hope slowly fades, until all sense is lost of those common purposes of mind and heart which lead the citizens of some given society to believe that they can discuss how they may reach the new goal by methods which permit the accommodation where peace has freedom as its eldest child. Cannot we in the west yet see, even in the shadowed light of so profound a tragedy as we have just experienced, that a civilization built like ours upon so massive and so ruthless an exploitation of man by man must either move to the ending of that exploitation or perish in the bloody violence of fratricidal revolution?


Let us at least be sure that we have reached the end of that road, first fully opened by American independence and the Revolution of 1789, in which the aristocrat and the bourgeois combined to organize individual opportunity for those whose rise was not dependent merely upon the labor power they had to sell. That road had ceased to be a highway when the last American frontier had been overpassed. Thenceforward, gates were steadily closed which could have been kept open only if the men who ruled the United States had been willing to accept a vertical instead of a horizontal expansion of their well-being. Once they chose the latter, they not only chose to pattern their own society upon the model of Europe, with values which, however different the outward form in which they were clothed, had nevertheless the same inner essence; but they also imprisoned most of Europe within a frame of power increasingly difficult to adjust in any peaceful way because it had been driven to accept pressures beyond its capacity to contain. The multiform Europe of the twentieth century was a variegated mosaic in which the productive possibilities were always being defeated by historic and social relations which prevented their adequate use of technological possibilities. It was economically pluralistic, where its obvious need was set in monistic terms. Its cultural evils set the residuary legatees of medieval theocracy alongside the imaginative ardor of the men who thought in terms of what the outcome of tomorrow's scientific thinking might reveal. Its nationalist obsessions made political exclusiveness retard and even deny the felt implications of economic necessity. If, in some sudden crisis like 1832 or 1848, its privileged classes paid to democracy and freedom the hypocritical homage that vice has always paid to virtue, it was upon the assumed condition, never frankly stated but always secretly resolved, that the concession could be cancelled by some hidden device. So that when, after the close of the First World War, the combined impact of the Russian Revolution and that counterrevolution of which Hitler and Mussolini are the ugly symptoms forced the secret revolution of privilege throughout Europe into the open, by making its validity the basis of what was virtually an immense international civil war, men faced the question they can never avoid when they reach some vital crossroads of their historical experience: the question of whether they are to make their systems of property systems which at once increase the quantum of material well-being and distribute it with what can be recognized as a genuine concern for equity, or whether they will leave the issue of adjusting their systems of property to the arbitrament of pressures on either side, which are bound to entail violence as their influence is exerted more closely upon one another.

The answer to that question, moreover, was both more complicated and more important because, given the technological conditions of a world economy, expansion that was horizontal and not vertical, alike in the United States and Europe, meant that Asia and Africa, as well as the half-known potentialities of the Australasian continent, were bound to become quite vital elements in the equation which had to be solved. The bombing airplane made frontiers obsolete since it virtually annihilated distance. The discovery of atomic fission brought into hazard the industrial potential of any state which could not destroy its enemy before it was itself destroyed. The vast changes which the application of science had forced upon the world meant either that matters of common concern must be decided in common and freely, or that Hobbes' picture of the relations between states as a bellum omnium contra omnes was, quite inescapably, a literal description of obvious fact. Would statesmen, to whom those premises of action we term Machiavellianism seem obvious postulates, realize in time that, from these postulates, there now followed, unmistakably, the destruction of all principles of civilized living? Or, could they so overcome the heavy inertia of inherited tradition as to embark upon great experiments proportionate to the necessity they faced, of overcoming the anachronistic contradictions the mere continuance of which spelled the ruin of the world they were ceasing to comprehend, much less to govern?


The contradictions of our present situation can be illustrated by a quite simple example. When, as the United States reached its last internal frontier, its rulers chose horizontal, instead of vertical, expansion, its whole future was bound up with its ability to become a great exporting power. Its "manifest destiny" now became, not the Jeffersonian dream of a virtually self-sufficient, if mighty, nation of agrarian and not commercial, complexion, but that of a powerful competitor for the purchasing power of the world's markets, with a prosperity dependent upon its ability to satisfy effective demand more adequately than its rivals. But there it was bound to meet the search of other nations in a similar position, to increase their well-being by similar means. And, at every point, this struggle for external trade was matched by an internal struggle, from which none of them was free, by means of which their workers sought a larger share in well-being in their effort to pass beyond the mere subsistence-level of life. But, once the problem of a nation's ability to become a great exporting Power became a major need, two other unavoidable problems arose. The first was that, as a general rule, the greater the material well-being conceded to the workers by their employers especially where their labor was directly relevant to export, the higher would be the price of the commodity they produced, the more difficult, therefore, to sell it in the face of competition from their rivals. The second was that it was difficult alike for employers not to demand, and for statesmen not to offer, the assistance of the state power, both to industry and commerce, to safeguard that export trade upon which so much of any given national well-being had come, by our own time, to depend.

Nothing illustrates more incisively this second problem than the position of Great Britain today. It literally has the choice between an immense expansion of its exports and a swift, perhaps a catastrophic, reduction in its standard of life. If it fails to expand its export capacity, the share of well-being it can allot to its workers is bound to shrink, at a time when those workers have so organized their collective power that a reduction of their share is bound to seem to them an unacceptable denial of legitimate expectation. Great Britain, therefore, must within the framework of her present social and economic order either greatly expand her exports or call upon employers and workers, perhaps upon both alike, to give up the hope of increased well-being.

What is true of the United States and of Great Britain is also true, if in different degrees, of all the major industrial countries. And their position is complicated by the fact that the backward countries in an industrial sense, like India and China in Asia, or like Rumania and Jugoslavia in Europe, can advance the standard of life of their citizens only by taking large and rapid strides to industrialization. But, as they do so in this age of horizontal expansion, they intensify the difficulties of the well-established industrial Powers or they run the grave danger of accepting aid for their economic development in such a way as to become a political dependency of the Power from which they accept it. This is why the immense productive capacity of the United States drives it to seek for open markets abroad, while its manufacturers and merchants who live by its domestic market seek, almost with frenzy, to prevent the entry of foreign goods into territory they regard as their own. That is why, also, Jugoslavia seeks to prevent its nascent industrialism from being subjected to the pressure of more powerful, and often more efficient, competitors from outside. The Jugoslav fear of economic exploitation is shared by other states in eastern and central Europe whose political affiliations with Soviet Russia are close; and, indeed, an objective observer might reasonably argue that these affiliations have also their economic consequences. What emerges is the grave difficulty that none of these secondary states may safely be able, in view of the disagreements between the major states, to make choices based upon considerations of its own economic welfare.

It has, moreover, been the fear of entanglement in foreign finance-capitalism which made Soviet Russia, until the beginning of the Second World War, seek to develop its own industrial development with capital deliberately taken from a national level of production which has not yet provided for its workers a standard of life seriously comparable with that of the American worker, the Swedish, the Swiss, the British or the citizen of New Zealand. The market economy, in brief, which is the essential condition of an operative capitalist society, has now in terms of technological possibilities reached a stage where it has become an impossible hindrance to our capacity to produce. If it were to regain the status which once made its principles an aid to progress, it would rapidly reduce all weaker competitors, in the struggle it postulates, to a condition of helpless dependency on the stronger Powers or to a permanent poverty from which they could escape only by the grace of an allotment of some place in the economic sun they were unable to win by their own effort. Since no nation is ready to acquiesce in a status that is bound to lead to violent conflict within its own boundaries, it becomes increasingly involved in the obligation to deny the validity of the market economy. The plain lesson of our situation is the obsolescence of Adam Smith's "simple system of natural liberty," and indeed, further, of any of those more sophisticated versions of its substance that in one form or another now constitute applications of equilibrium-economies. We have reached the point where vertical expansion is necessary for the safety of the world. But vertical expansion means public ownership of the means of production that planned distribution may secure an equitable share for the members of the community. The age of laissez-faire has, on every plane of living, drawn to its close. Either we go forward to Socialism or we must go back to an industrial feudalism in which the maintenance of a privileged aristocracy of predatory capitalists involves the destruction alike of freedom and democracy.


That is the issue posed to us upon the economic plane. It is, of course, an issue inseparable from its political context, and in that aspect it sets us a problem as decisively simple in its principles as it is decisively complex in their application. A world economy means a world government; and we cannot achieve a world government so long as the operating unit of political administration is the sovereign national state. That became very evident during the recent hostilities when every major plan of the United Nations in the western theater of war demanded, and largely achieved, the transcendence of sovereignty. Indeed, it is reasonable to argue that the difficulties between Russia and the western Powers in the postwar period have largely arisen because, during the conflict itself, the contrast in the implications of their economic systems never permitted that transcendence to emerge by a full coöperation. I do not think it is an exaggeration to say that the Britain of Mr. Churchill and the America which gave President Roosevelt its support on the vital condition that he abandon the New Deal welcomed partnerships with Russia as a means to the defeat of their enemies, but without enthusiasm for the new status victory would bring to Russia. It is, of course, not less true that Russia's wartime alliance with Great Britain and the United States was an essential condition for its liberation from the threat to its existence of Nazi Germany and Fascist Japan; but the rulers of Russia were never under the illusion that America, at any rate, would travel upon the road they had chosen once the common enemy had been vanquished.

That is why the Charter of the United Nations was bound to be built upon the preservation of the national sovereign state, and bound, therefore, to be an unsatisfactory compromise disproportionate to the scale of the problem it was intended to meet. For it applies to the political requirements of a world economy those concepts of Grotius which he devised for a society which existed 300 years ago. He was writing in a mercantilist epoch, when the bourgeoisie had only begun its dramatic rise to power and when the use of the state authority to organize the nation, both for production at home and for markets abroad, coincided with a massive increase in the forces of production, and a creative adjustment of the system of ownership to the possibilities involved in that massive increase. The outlook of Grotius is intelligible enough until some such period as the end of the American Civil War. After its close, the sovereignty of the national state imposed an increasing strain upon the implications of a world economy. For as it was utilized to protect or to further the vested interests of the owners in the industry and commerce of any national community, it was essentially an attempt to protect the past against the future, an old technology against a new, the claims of new men and new nations, to alter the historic dispositions of power that they, too, might advance in well-being. Once the Charter of San Francisco made the principle of national sovereignty its basis, the constituent members of the United Nations could coöperate only to the degree that their governments were prepared to sacrifice or to adjust the claims of the vested interests it was the function of each of them to protect, to some larger common welfare which reached so clearly beyond those claims that no vested interest within the territory it controlled would dare to challenge its decision.

Even in the 30 months that have passed since the Charter was signed, it is clear how narrow is the room for manœuvre permitted by this limitation. The really vital decisions taken in the international field since the spring of 1945 have been taken outside and not inside the United Nations organization. That was true of the principles laid down at Potsdam. It was true of the Anglo-American loan. It was true of the aid given to Greece and Turkey by the United States even though, as an afterthought, Senator Vandenberg thought it was wise to make a graceful bow in the direction of Lake Success. Even Secretary Marshall's offer, in June 1947, of collective aid from the United States to Europe takes no account of that European Economic Commission of the United Nations which would seem as though it had been founded for precisely the purpose Mr. Marshall had in mind. To this must be added that, so far, what attempts have been made to utilize the new body do not suggest that it is free from any of the major difficulties -- all hinging upon the sovereignty of its members -- which wrecked the League of Nations. The veto power means, in effect, that the Security Council is a platform for discussion and not an organ for command, and that, as the Albanian incident showed in the spring of 1946, even where the obligations of a small Power may be concerned. Great Britain has asked for and obtained an investigation into the Palestinian Mandate by the Assembly of the United Nations; but its representative there has been emphatic that acceptance of any proposals the Assembly may agree to make is contingent upon approval of them by the British Government.

If Egypt and Iran make appeals to the Security Council, it is less in the hope that a decision may be made in their favor than because of their awareness that there alone can they so state their case that they may hope for more consideration than in private diplomacy. Nor must we miss the significance of the facts, first, that the vital rearming by the American Government of the reactionary forces behind Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek in China was done without discussion with or consent from the United Nations; and that, on acquiring the innumerable islands of the South Pacific, some of which have considerable strategic importance, the American Government refused to be accountable for them to the Trusteeship Council. Nor is it without importance that no reference was made to the views of the United Nations when the American Government obtained its air base in Iceland by a treaty which the Icelandic legislature was far from eager to ratify; it is, indeed, at least possible that, without the pressure of the British Foreign Office on behalf of the United States, the request for the base would have been refused by the Government of Iceland.

The political problem that has emerged from the Second World War is not likely to be solved by the half-measures to which, like its predecessor, the United Nations organization is confined. That is to be set in the background of the absence of Russia from most of its supplementary institutions, above all from the Food and Agricultural Organization, from UNESCO and from the International Monetary Fund. Without full Russian coöperation each of these institutions is bound to be halting and inconclusive. Given as we are given a world economy, any international government which, like the U.N., is fragmentary and interstitial, and possessed only of conditional law-making powers, is profoundly unsatisfactory because so profoundly disproportionate to the issues before it. We cannot rest content until we have a genuine world government expressing, through the direct choice of peoples, in a parliament responsible to them, the will of the common folk, instead of being dependent, like the United Nations, upon the sovereign wills of nation states which express, in all vital matters, the purposes of their ruling classes and subordinate to those purposes the interests of the common peoples. International peace which maximizes creative opportunity is the supreme end of which the common people take account.

The difficulty is that we do not live in a world in which the basic economic principles of social organization are viewed in a similar way by all governments. That is, no doubt, the reason why, at San Francisco, Soviet Russia was not less insistent than the United States that the principle of national sovereignty was the heart of the Charter and why, therefore, it insisted upon the veto as the instrument which would express that sovereignty in the operation of international decisions. It is important to realize that this was a reiteration, in a different form, of that insistence upon the rule of unanimity which was closely connected with the weakness of the League of Nations.

For a considerable period, the principle of national sovereignty -- and therefore the veto -- is likely to remain. It is useless to deny that it hampers any big move toward genuine world government, not only because it prevents decisions being made after discussion, but, even more, because the fear that it may be used acts as a kind of prenatal control over issues which ought to be discussed. The one way round what is, otherwise, a grave handicap to any serious move toward world government would seem to lie in the growth of a functional as distinct from a territorial federalism. If nation states could agree to pool their interests in certain areas of action, as in a single European railway system, or a single system of aviation for the American continent, if there could be joint ownership and control of electric power, say in the Danubian Valley, or an internationally governed irrigation and power authority in the Middle East, we should begin to think in supranational terms about problems which are not only in themselves supranational, but are rarely capable of being satisfactorily solved if they are dealt with always on the national level. The work of the Combined Staffs Committee during the war, and of UNRRA after its close, has shown that this functional federalism can succeed if those who operate it have good faith and imagination and energy. This is a field in which experiment is urgently required. For it is only by transcending a principle the obsolescence of which hinders international coöperation at every turn that we can begin to make men realize that the little platoon which now demands their exclusive loyalty is in fact only a part of the great regiment of mankind. To get that regiment to strike its tents is the first of the duties before us. That is the condition which alone will make it possible for humanity to move forward to a higher conception of citizenship than is permitted by the narrow horizons of the nation state.


If we are honest, we must admit that everywhere there is an important gap between the interest of the people and the will of the state, as this is expressed by the government which exercises sovereignty over a nation. The gap is not easy to define, though it is always there. We can see it in the mutual interpenetration of purposes between the Nazi Party and the German Army under the Hitler régime, or between I.G. Farben and those who, under Hitler, made the ultimate decisions about the German economy. We can see it again in the interaction between the American oil interests and the State Department, as the policy of the United States is made in the Middle East; in this aspect, there is high interest in the contrast between President Truman's claims for the Jews in Palestine, and the curious relations between the Middle East Division of the State Department and the similar division of the British Foreign Office. Or, again, it emerges in the impact of the electric power interests in the United States, both upon the federal government and the governments of the different states.

The gap was grimly clear in France in the protection offered by the Government to the Army during the Dreyfus case, and in that creeping paralysis of will which afflicted the French Government at least from Munich onward; and, indeed, in the fantastic domination of Vichy by Laval, whose allegiance was always coincident with his bank balance. It is the same, too, in Great Britain. A great deal of British agricultural legislation is, right down to our own day, the outcome of a partnership between landowner and farmer and the government, with the general public and the farm laborer bearing the burden of that partnership. The peculiar configuration of landowner, house-property owner, the building industry and the government has always stood in the way of any drastic attempt to grapple with the British housing problem in the interest of the common people; it is only since the general election of 1945 that Mr. Sartorius'[i] daughter has begun to feel uneasy about the unearned increment of her grandchildren. Nor do I doubt for one moment that in any single-party state the very fact that criticism is so swiftly regarded as sedition or treason, that the boundary is so thin between opposition and conspiracy, is proof that there also, even when the instruments of production are publicly owned, it is by no means inevitable that the gap is bridged.

I do not need to multiply examples. It is no more than a commonplace to insist that most governments exercise the state power in national communities in the service of the ruling class of the time. They do not do this out of conscious malevolence; they do this because, as Marx said in a classic sentence, "the ruling ideas of an age are the ideas of its ruling class." But this clearly implies that an international organization, based upon governments representing sovereign nation states, reproduces, in the sphere of world affairs, the gap I have described which exists in the domestic affairs of each national community. If we accept the principle that we cannot transcend the sovereignty of the nation state, we are, in fact, saying that the gap cannot be closed in world affairs. We are then arguing that what I have elsewhere termed cosmopolitan lawmaking is ruled out as impossible, even when we know that there are areas of behavior where the need for it is both obvious and urgent. I take one example only. Nothing has done more to poison international relations in the last two years than the revelation of the terrifying destructive power of the atomic bomb. That the principle of national sovereignty should hinder us from being able to prevent its use as an instrument of state policy is the gravest single reason I know for pessimism about the future of mankind. That its manufacture should threaten the integrity of that public and free knowledge within the international community of science, which has been so largely responsible for the conquest of nature, is only less tragic in its possible consequences. So long as we build a world order on sovereignty, when the facts about us have made that principle a clear anachronism, our world order, as a going political concern, is a pretty thin and insubstantial thing, a veil which will be torn aside when the member states in that world order confront their first crisis of serious magnitude. The principle that the nation state must, at all costs, preserve its sovereignty, belongs to and maintains an age of economic scarcity in which privilege is concerned to preserve by force claims which it could not defend by reason. To continue the authority of that principle into an age when we might advance to the economics of abundance is to sacrifice the future to the past, to maintain scarcity because privilege is afraid to buy off its fears by pursuing exactly the same policy which a century ago made 1848 inevitable. This is the clue to the First World War, to the inevitability of the Russian Revolution, to the acceptance of Hitler as the executioner of Weimar Germany, and thence, by a logic which the historical pattern has so often repeated, to the Second World War.

Politically, on the international plane, we have not yet taken a single step which proves that we have learned the lessons of this second catastrophe. Europe lies about us maimed and scarred; there is wide divergence of opinion about its restoration to health. We cannot agree upon either the shape or the character of the new Germany; and the longer we delay in reaching that agreement, the deeper the Nazi poison takes hold of its heart. We had an Italy in our hands as early as 1943 which could have been a genuine Risorgimento had we possessed the capacity of instant magnanimity; we threw the chances away lest, in exorcising its demon, we injure a pattern of historic relations and promote innovations our rulers cannot bring themselves to regard as desirable, even though they suspect that they may prove to be inevitable. There was the same failure in Greece, a more profound and tragic failure, because we broke liberal hopes in the service of our vested interests. Even the France of the Liberation seems not to have understood all that is implied in the disaster of 1940 and its aftermath in the régime of Vichy -- that it is time for France to accept the great Revolution, and to complete the translation of its principles into the fabric of the French nation. If the meaning of so vast an experience as the Revolution of 1789 can still leave mankind in doubt and deep division, it becomes the less remarkable that an event as near us as the Russian Revolution should still have the power to divide men into hostile and angry camps, each of which can hardly speak a language that the other can understand.

Is it possible that the war for freedom and democracy has left us unable to understand what is involved in their fulfilment? Are we so crippled by the burden of our heritage, and so fatigued by our exertions for victory, that we have lost the power to make those innovations in civilized living which any realistic imagination can see are inevitable? Is our western statesmanship so bankrupt that it does not know that the essential wisdom in the art of politics is to abridge the birth-pangs of our emerging order? These are the questions we are bound to ask in this tortured world; and we have to answer them because it is the foundations of our civilization that are in peril.

For the Second World War was, above everything, the proof of a mortal sickness in the way of life by which we sought to preserve the security of those foundations. Every civilization is in serious danger when, as in ours, there is so grave a disproportion between the growth of material power and the growth of that spiritual and intellectual insight which makes possible common agreement about the use of that power. We could hold social relationships in an uneasy equilibrium so long as faith in some supernatural compensation for earthly inequalities seemed to mitigate their harshness. When that faith declined so swiftly, we were driven to the impossible task of finding a rational explanation for differences which were mostly inexplicable save in terms of laws intended themselves to maintain those differences. And this task was the more hopeless to the degree that it was attempted in a society which, over wide areas, announced its allegiance to democratic principles. In their turn, these depend on the preservation of that freedom of discussion which alone preserves the empire of reason over the minds of men.

The fatal contradiction in the ethos of western civilization is the obvious one that the greater the power it possessed over material things, the more it seemed to call upon the masses to renounce the prospect of the well-being and grace and dignity which it provided for those who owned and operated the instruments of production; and the less able it was to persuade the masses to accept the religious sanction under which that renunciation had been previously imposed. The masses sought, on every plane of political activity, to use the democratic power of numbers to mitigate the results of social and economic inequality; yet each new method they used, from universal suffrage to direct government, always seemed in the end to maintain the configuration of a world in which, both within and between nation states, the growth of material power brought no proportionately juster distribution of the well-being it made possible. That is why, at a pace which has never ceased to grow swifter since the French Revolution and especially since the immense events in Russia in 1917, men's thoughts have turned from political to economic changes, as the effective basis upon which the masses can achieve what they regard as social justice. They have thus been driven to reconsider the legal relations which are implied in a capitalist system of ownership, and in so doing to attempt the readjustment of every aspect of organization, national and international alike, in which the legal relations of capitalist ownership are involved. This has brought the vital problem of property into the central field of discussion. About no problem are men more likely to make their reason the slave of their passions; none, therefore, is less easily discussed in a democratic society whose safety depends upon the triumph of reason over passion. As always, when the foundations of social order come into view, primitive emotions are released in both men and nations which make tolerance and reflection too pale a mental climate in which to fulfil the ends for which we are reaching.

We shall not reach a new equilibrium in which peace and reason become the habitual instruments of action until we realize that, in itself, the material control over nature is not an assurance of a civilized way of life. That power must be matched by a proportionate capacity to use our insight into the processes of nature, to offer more spiritual dignity and a higher level of intellectual satisfaction, to the underprivileged citizens in every nation state. And it must be able to offer greater adequacy, also, to the nation states which now fight among themselves for what well-being there is. For it has become common knowledge that well-being is limited less by the depth of our insight than by the boundaries within which the prevalent economic order forces it to remain confined. We have created all over the world fear and envy and anger in human relations by the restraints we have seemed to impose upon men's access to a richer civilization; we have even fought world wars to impose those restraints through one channel rather than through another. We shall not persuade men to go down a third time into the abyss to rescue a way of life that decays before their eyes.

Our supreme need, therefore, is to find that common faith which enables us all to coöperate in casting off those restraints. Our history will become an ever more tragic drama until, by the discovery of that faith, we become able to persuade the world that we are consciously devoting alike our knowledge and our power to affirm, and not to deny, the yearning of the common man for creative fulfilment. It is, moreover, urgent to realize with all the speed we may that in this epoch time is no longer on our side.

[i]Cf. Bernard Shaw's play, "Widowers' Houses."

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  • HAROLD J. LASKI, Professor of Political Science in the University of London; Chairman of the Executive Committee of the British Labor Party, 1945-46; author of "The Dangers of Obedience," "The State in Theory and Practice" and other works
  • More By Harold J. Laski