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For those of us who contemplate the problems of life from the point of view of some knowledge concerning the principles which really govern human evolution, there is much at the same time amusing and pathetic in the various schemes aiming at the promotion of human happiness embraced in the vague term Socialism. We need not for a moment stop to consider the objections brought to bear against the views of those who call themselves socialists, by rivals inspired with enthusiasm for the policy described by the term "individualism." In both cases the people concerned are groping vaguely in the dark in search of ideals to which they can be guided by no trustworthy clue in their possession. But the student of occultism, in criticising the proposals of the socialist, may begin by giving away with both hands all the arguments that can be brought to bear against co-operative methods by those who believe in the supreme virtue of individual effort.
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The reasons which really preclude the possibility of working out in practice any such designs for the promotion of human welfare as those for instance embodied years ago by Mr Bellamy in his well-known book, Looking Backward, have to do with facts concerning spiritual conditions underlying human progress, the true character of which is wholly unsuspected by the commonplace political philanthropist. Of course, Mr Bellamy's book was only one of a great number following out somewhat similar lines of thought. One of much more recent origin, entitled A Vision of the Future, by Miss Jane Hume Clapperton, may claim our attention directly, and only within the last month that much-admired and amiable dreamer, Count Tolstoy, has set forth, in a long article translated and published in the Times, his earnest conviction to the effect that human welfare depends entirely upon the abolition of that "great iniquity," private property in land. The equitable division of the soil amongst those prepared to cultivate it is, in his estimation, the one supreme need of mankind. Superficial and frivolous objections to this course might be set up on the ground that private property in land would not be extinguished by taking the acres from one owner and handing them over to another. The suggestion has some flavour of resemblance to that underlying the familiar Irish conception of Utopia, where every man was to have a hundred a year and another man to wait upon him. In Russia perhaps—from the phenomena of which country Count Tolstoy deduces conceptions which he supposes to be capable of world-wide application—it is not impossible that peasant proprietorship and the application of "la petite culture" might work well for a time as compared with existing systems, though even there it is probable that the conflicting influence of vodka in some cases and virtuous thrift in others would soon bring about a distribution of the fields by no means in harmony with the good Count's programme.
For the moment, however, let us put aside all immediate practical considerations relating to the economical merits of big and little estates. At variance with views which have hitherto prevailed in England, important testimony has, indeed, been accumulated in considerable volume of late in favour of cultivation by means of small allotments, and, as a question of practical politics, great interest attaches to the controversy with which that evidence is concerned, as well as with large schemes of land nationalisation which need not be associated in any degree with the doctrines of socialism. For people whose political opinions may be described by the colour of the electioneering posters they favour, rather than by any more detailed form of words, land nationalisation is generally regarded as a radical proposal to be supported, as such, by the democratic candidate and treated as diabolical in its wickedness by the true-blue Tory. It really lies quite outside the area of political sympathies favouring in the one case democracy, and in the other, government by the upper class. It would rob the country of many decorative remnants coming down to us from a feudal period; it would not necessarily conduce to the system of government by the least-educated masses of the people; it would be compatible with infinite reform in the direction of disfranchising the unworthy, and it is really a scheme of a highly practical character to be considered with reference solely to its economical consequences. But it is not a scheme dependent entirely on that ignorance of the true principles governing human evolution which is the foundation on which most of the theories embraced by the term socialism actually rest.
In taking this view one need not be supposed to be dealing merely with those extravagances of socialism with which Count Tolstoy, for one, is in sympathy, by virtue of which everyone is supposed to be supplied with everything according to his need, while everyone is equally supposed to be willing, in his enthusiasm for the common good, to exert himself with zeal along any lines of industry for which he may be qualified. Without diving into the depths of occultism in search of an explanation, practical observers of life will recognise that all people are not equally endowed with altruistic enthusiasm, and that under the socialistic system those who developed the largest body of need would not always be those on whose behalf it would be most desirable that the others should exert themselves gratuitously. The real reason why it is absurd to suppose that artificial rules and regulations could establish equality of welfare among all members of the community is to be found in the fundamental truth that there is no real natural equality pervading all members of the human family, in the way the socialist takes for granted. All writers of the Tolstoy or the Bellamy type start with the assumption, as if it were an undeniable axiom, that every child that is born comes into the world on equal terms with every other, free of all previous claims or responsibilities, a new divine creation in each case set up by Providence with a stock in trade of limbs, appetites, and capacities, identically the same throughout the race, and constituting an equal credit on the accumulated resources of the race, if the selfishness of individual magnates had not enabled them to absorb more than their proper share. A great many blunders, more unfortunate even than those which have to do with political beliefs, arise from this absurd conception that each new child is a new creation. This idea has been somehow developed in the Western world through the stupidity of Christian theologians during the last dozen or so centuries. Not by any means because of their Christianity, for correctly speaking, primitive Christianity is wholly free from the delusion in question; but simply by reason of the stupidity which in that, as in so many other ways, has perverted the whole course of ecclesiastical teaching. But for the moment turning aside from the confusion imparted to religion and ethics by the complicated misconception referred to, let us concentrate our attention upon its bearing on the dreams of the socialist, most of which avowedly rest on the theory that every human being comes into the world with equal claims on its consideration.
To begin with, those who comprehend the magnificent patience displayed by Nature in the gradual growth of a human individuality know that the process is one which in all cases involves the expenditure of enormous periods of time. This is not an opportunity that could be conveniently made use of for setting out at full length an explanation of the means and methods by which the occultist acquires his knowledge. These can be studied in the vast literature that has gathered round the subject in recent years. But for the moment it will be more convenient to deal with conclusions than with processes and reasons that lead to them. We know that a human ego is first of all differentiated from previous spiritual conditions in forms of a very primitive order. Subject to reservations which need not be considered in connection with the main course of the argument before us, everyone now living in civilised communities, whether in a lofty or a lowly station, has at some remote period in the past gone through life in presence of what would generally be called savage or barbaric conditions. With attention concentrated simply on the physical aspect of natural phenomena, modern biologists have grasped the idea that the human body is the product of a very slow and protracted evolution, the earlier stages of which were carried on under conditions very unlike those of modern civilisation. But neither the modern biologist nor the dunder-headed modern theologian have as yet grasped the corresponding idea that the human ego, soul or entity, call it what you like, that which really is the being we have to deal with as we look at a man, has itself been the product of an evolution equally protracted. Of course, that evolution has not been exactly concurrent with the physical evolution of the body. Everyone now living must have a physical pedigree extending backward from son to father (or, what is perhaps more important, from daughter to mother), back through illimitable ages in which years are reckoned by the million rather than by the century. But there is no spiritual identity to be observed along that line of physical descent. Each man, as we look at him, has a spiritual pedigree, also, as certainly a fact, could we trace it back, as the other, in the course of which we should find him gradually developing the complicated attributes of intellect and morals of which he is now the accumulation, by virtue of a series of incarnations in bodies adapted by previous development to express his growth at each given stage of his progress. The spiritual pedigree is not a series of naturally linked forms like the pedigrees of modern life, to which such exaggerated importance is attributed. It is a single stream of consciousness, a trace impressed upon the imperishable records of the past, reaching back in an unbroken line to the period when the entity in question first of all emerged from the ocean of an undifferentiated animal life.
At the earlier stages of that huge process he was little qualified to reflect problems of social organisation. He was in a condition of mind represented amongst us by that of the child in its cradle opening observant eyes for the first time (as far as that personality is concerned) to the phenomena of Nature around. The primitive man, although involving in his subtle constitution potentialities that may relate him later on to the higher planes of existence, is for the time being a creature concerned alone with the observation of material facts around him. It is only after all but innumerable lives have been spent in that early condition that those which we call in their perfection the characteristics of the intellect begin slowly to accumulate around the nucleus of unintelligent observation. In parenthesis we may observe that amongst the manifold absurdities engendered in modern thought for want of knowledge concerning the true method employed by Nature in developing a human ego, none are more ludicrous to the occultist than those that have to do with the commonplace attempt to account for what is called abnormal genius. Such attempts must indeed be grotesque whenever they are built on the ludicrous belief that each human being in every new cradle is a new work of the Creator. Were that so, genius or any abnormal faculty would indeed be an enigma of infinite profundity. But occult science accounts for the genius as readily as for the giant oak tree. The one is no more the growth of yesterday than the other, but the product of protracted evolution, the last stages of which merely represent the perfect result at which the world gazes in wonder, although in its last manifestation it probably impressed a generation that occupied the earth from ten to twenty centuries ago.
Now, coupled with these reflections, in order to obtain an accurate comprehension of modern society, we have to remember that the entities, with which the world is populated at the present moment, have commenced their pilgrimage through incarnation, at periods of time differing not by centuries, but by millions and tens of millions of years. Figures, however dazzling to the imagination, are hardly, it is true, worth using in this connection, because, however dazzling, they are for the most part inadequate. But, at all events, when the principle is comprehended, the main idea, which it is important to enforce, can be appreciated, if we use none but algebraical symbols for the periods that have to be taken into account.
Let our thoughts take one other departure before their various streams are concentrated on a single point. We are all familiar with the old division of past times into the bronze, the iron, the stone ages. Gently setting aside the beliefs they profess on Sunday, all educated thinkers understand that in remote periods corresponding with certain geological strata, the inhabitants of the world were savages whose most complicated implements had been chipped from one bit of flint by another. That picture of the past is incomplete, but for the moment it will serve. It is recognised that after the Stone Age had been going on for an indefinite period, the use of metals gradually supervened, and mankind perfected the arts of mutual destruction by the invention of bows and arrows. No one professes to define the century in which more complicated civilisations first arose, but they are recognised as having arisen at some time or another, and the only serious thought to be found in this very broad conception of human growth, if we consider alone what may be regarded as the current cycle of progress, has to do with the way in which it ignores the manner in which the successive ages overlap each other. Looking at the present population of London, it is certain, considering the magnitude of the population, that some of the entities now in life must have passed through their stone age during an antiquity that is all but unfathomable by thought, while others have emerged from savage conditions in which the stone age was perpetuated here and there in holes and corners of the earth up to a relatively recent period. These need not be thought of as to blame for having so recently been immersed in savage conditions. They are no more to blame than the seedling sown last year is to blame for not being the giant tree, but, as a matter of fact, the seedling is younger than the tree, and the man, lately evolved from earlier races, is younger than he who has lived through myriads of lives since his corresponding emergence. And the younger entity has thus to go through the experiences which the older went through myriads of lives ago, and now for anyone who has been patient enough to follow these converging lines of thought, it will be seen that the inequalities of life are not artificial in their character; are no more the product, fundamentally and intrinsically, of human selfishness, than the superior condition of the European as such, compared with that of the African pigmy, is explicable by any grasping selfishness of his.
No doubt as soon as this fundamental idea is realised it is necessary to guard it with many qualifications. One need not for an instant deny that social inequalities have been aggravated in their pressure by the arrogance of those in a position to oppress weaker members of the community. At the present age of the world, whatever opportunities for evil-doing are granted to any sections of the human race, we may be quite sure that multitudes will take advantage of them and exercise their privileges in their widest scope. But these in truth are the excrescences in the social order we have to criticise as we look around. The fundamental fact in a community consisting of those who are engaged in rough manual work, and others who enjoy the privileges of wealth and leisure, is a condition of things arising as inevitably from the operation of Nature's law as the differences of complexion to be observed when viewing mankind in a more comprehensive fashion as we think of it scattered over the two hemispheres. Exceptional conditions apart, the young people are doing the hard work, and the older people taking their rest. No doubt the conception seems terribly inexplicable to those who can look at nothing but the momentary manifestation before them. When the older who are taking their rest are represented, let us say, by the gilded youth of a luxurious aristocracy—the younger, who are doing the work, by the bent forms of aged ploughmen at their toil—the idea we have just presented may seem not a little absurd; but the absurdity lies merely on the surface, and, exceptions apart, which can easily be considered by themselves, it is a simple truth which must be recognised before social theories can be reconciled with reason, that, very broadly speaking, those who are born to the inheritance of leisure and privilege, and the opportunities of moral and intellectual culture, are those who are far older in evolution than the humbler classes engaged in manual labour. Their opportunities may be terribly misused, the grand privileges with which they have been endowed grievously neglected, and then in the patient course of the ages they will suffer in their turn for such misuse and neglect, except in so far—poor people—as they are merely victims of the stupid teaching around them, that has blinded their sight to the true nature of their responsibilities.
And, furthermore, it must be recognised (exceptions apart) that the lower classes are broadly, not merely younger, than those more comfortably circumstanced, but less completely endowed with mental qualifications arising from the protracted observation of life in all its varieties. They are bound to grope their way more or less painfully through the experiences of physical life before reaching the stages at which they can expect to be invested with leisure to digest the accumulations of their experience. This thought, properly apprehended, need not be held to imply that we are justified in being careless concerning the hardships and privations of the poor. The world at large is still very confused in its thinking, and apt to misunderstand all revelation of superior wisdom in the first instance. Undoubtedly it is the law of Nature, as we have shown, that society should be classified and stratified pretty much along the lines that have actually been followed, but it is equally the desire of Nature that the progress of those on the lower strata should be promoted in all practicable and reasonable ways by those who have already ascended to the upper levels. If these fail to realise the duty of so doing, so much the worse momentarily for those whom they have neglected, so much the worse more than momentarily for those who have neglected their appointed tasks. But the help to be rendered should not be of the kind embodied in a meek response to the familiar epigram, "ote toi que je m'y mette." That is the blustering Radical's sole conception of the way in which socialism should be carried out, and the infinite foolishness it represents engenders in due course the brutal selfishness of the oppressor. But, however contemptible a shape that selfishness may often assume, incarnate wisdom itself would enjoin the superior officer of Nature, however ready to be self-denying, to retain his own place and his own authority.
And how is that idea compatible with the generally accepted theory of popular and representative government as the perfection of modern political intelligence?
The question opens up a very wide realm of thought. Few people will deny that the best imaginable government, as far as the results to be attained are concerned, would be that of a perfectly wise and benevolent despot. But as the services of such despots cannot readily be secured, the conventional belief is that democracy affords us the next best system of government, and, at all events, protects mankind from the miseries attending the rule of despots who are neither wise nor benevolent. And that much may be granted even by the philosophical observer. But problems of government are ill-understood unless people can survey the whole progress of human affairs from periods lying far back behind the records of literary history. There was a time for this world of ours when wise and benevolent despotism really prevailed amongst the young races belonging to civilisations that have long been forgotten, and conditions of social happiness prevailed at such times in consequence, to an extent which has been observed with wonder and delight by those who are capable, by the exercise of unusually perfect faculties of clairvoyance, to look back across the gulfs of time to the periods in question. Under wise and competent control it is wholly unnecessary that any community, whether great or small, should include within its conditions the miseries of poverty and ignorance that modern cities exhibit in such dismal abundance. But, guided along the paths of a productive industry like so many docile children, the people of the early age above referred to gained little as regards their interior growth by the untroubled incarnations of the regime they enjoyed. We can see that for the progress of the race as a whole, for the progress of each individual entity belonging to it, it was necessary that periods of more strenuous effort, of trial and difficulty, should supervene. The disappearance from human affairs of that benevolent despotism so clearly shadowed forth in all the earlier traditions of "divine kings" was inevitable. The human family on the large scale, like the single family growing up to maturity, had to be left to fend for itself, and thus, in the great design of Nature, the idea of popular representative government gradually supervened, not, as the modern enthusiast or radical reformer imagines, because democracy and constitutional government are the best machinery for managing human affairs—the best product of political intelligence—but simply because it was necessary that mankind in the mass, as well as in the individual, should learn wisdom by feeling the consequences of its own blundering.
Bad kings come on the scene in fulfilment of Nature's programme to wean mankind from attachment to the royal idea, and undoubtedly in some countries during modern times the conflict of the two systems has shown us democracy engaged in abolishing abuses and defeating the selfishness of oppressors on a lower level than those who represented the degradation of monarchy. A time was in our own country not long since when democracy broke down much that was indefensible in the institutions of the regime immediately preceding it, and its achievements have served in various ways to disguise its true character, and to endear its methods to observers sympathising with human suffering, which, if they could only see more clearly, they would recognise, as in many cases, but the product of democracy itself. For the sufferings of the industrial army in its lower ranks are really the price paid for freedom, for individual liberty, for exemption from that stern discipline which could alone protect the idle and improvident from the consequences of their own shortcomings.
The neglect of all these thoughts, the disregard of the principles governing human evolution on a large scale, have given rise to all the amiable delusions of the modern socialist. Turn to Miss Clapperton's volume referred to above, immeasurably superior in its intellectual value to good Count Tolstoy's incoherent raving. Its whole drift is dictated, so far as it is concerned with economic problems, by a misapprehension of the causes that have given rise to the evils the authoress proposes to combat. She observes a condition in which the proletariat carries on its back, as Sindbad carried the Old Man of the Sea, the rich classes with their innumerable dependents, the army, the navy, the paupers, the criminals, the Royal Family, and the Government officials. "Slavery of the many for the comforts and enjoyment of the few," that is what humanity has attained to, so far, in the evolution of society. That is in reality the result accruing to society from the withdrawal of benevolent despotism and the transfer of power to the multitude.
Free scope is given in this way to the operation of individual selfishness. The vast differences in human capacities ensure the triumph of the selfishness which is most intelligent. The freedom of all enables those who can to get the better of their neighbours, and in truth "the slavery of the many for the comfort and enjoyment of the few" is the ultimate product of leaving the many in control of their own affairs. This does not mean that the social evils of the present period are to be borne as inevitable. We need not be denied the hope, that as loftier wisdom prevails the few will come to realise that responsibility attaches itself to privilege. By degrees the many, who will never really have the guidance of affairs except in stormy periods of revolution, will be guarded by the wiser few from the consequences of their own blundering, and in the spirally cyclic progress of mankind, conditions of government, somewhat resembling the benevolent despotisms of old, will return to us in a modernised condition. But the socialist, who imagines that by democratic methods this merciful change will be accomplished, reminds one of the German story concerning the bear who can think of but one way of combating an enemy. Scorched by a hot stove, the only thing that occurs to him to do is to hug it more vehemently. Just so the modern democrat, distressed by the spectacle of the human trouble that has really accrued from the vagaries of popular liberty, conceives that the only hope of the future resides in giving the populace more liberty still, Miss Clapperton presents the socialist case with unusual force, because with unusual moderation, but the answer is the same whether the complaint is couched in dignified language or in the rougher terms with which we are more familiar. "The extremity of contrast between rich and poor," we now read, "has no ethical justification. Why should one baby be born to an income of one hundred thousand a year and another to a constant struggle for a bare existence?" For an ethical justification of Nature's ways we may sometimes search in vain, but an explanation of the contrasts referred to above will readily be discerned in the laws of Nature by the occult student. Inequalities of condition are as naturally ordained as inequalities of climate, and when in communities like ours they are sometimes grotesquely exaggerated, that has been the direct outcome of human folly mismanaging its own freedom. For the occult student the hope of the future resides entirely in the growth of that wisdom already dawning amongst the few, and in the absolute and unreserved abandonment of the socialist's fantastic dream!