THE POLITICAL PUPA. -|- Educational Philosophy Theory


No Comment - Post a comment

I have picked up on the moor the chrysalis of a common English butterfly. As I sit on the heather and turn it over attentively, while it wriggles in my hands, I can't help thinking how closely it resembles the present condition of our British commonwealth. It is a platitude, indeed, to say that "this is an age of transition." But it would be truer and more graphic perhaps to put it that this is an age in which England, and for the matter of that every other European country as well, is passing through something like the chrysalis stage in its evolution.

But, first of all, do you clearly understand what a chrysalis is driving at? It means more than it seems; the change that goes on within that impassive case is a great deal more profound than most people imagine. When the caterpillar is just ready to turn into a butterfly it lies by for a while, full of internal commotion, and feels all its organs slowly melting one by one into a sort of indistinguishable protoplasmic pulp; chaos precedes the definite re-establishment of a fresh form of order. Limbs and parts and nervous system all disappear for a time, and then gradually grow up again in new and altered types. The caterpillar, if it philosophised on its own state at all (which seems to be very little the habit of well-conducted caterpillars, as of well-conducted young ladies), might easily be excused for forming just at first the melancholy impression that a general dissolution was coming over it piecemeal. It must begin by feeling legs and eyes and nervous centres melt away by degrees into a common indistinguishable organic pulp, out of which the new organs only slowly form themselves in obedience to the law of some internal impulse. But when the process is all over, and—hi, presto!—the butterfly emerges at last from the chrysalis condition, what does it find but that instead of having lost everything it has new and stronger legs in place of the old and feeble ones; it has nerves and brain more developed than before; it has wings for flight instead of mere creeping little feet to crawl with? What seemed like chaos was really nothing more than the necessary kneading up of all component parts into a plastic condition which precedes every fresh departure in evolution. The old must fade before the new can replace it.

Now I am not going to work this perhaps somewhat fanciful analogy to death, or pretend it is anything more than a convenient metaphor. Still, taken as such, it is not without its luminosity. For a metaphor, by supplying us with a picturable representation, often enables us really to get at the hang of the thing a vast deal better than the most solemn argument. And I fancy communities sometimes pass through just such a chrysalis stage, when it seems to the timid and pessimistic in their midst as if every component element of the State (but especially the one in which they themselves and their friends are particularly interested) were rushing violently down a steep place to eternal perdition. Chaos appears to be swallowing up everything. "The natural relations of classes" disappear. Faiths melt; churches dissolve; morals fade; bonds fail; a universal magma of emancipated opinion seems to take the place of old-established dogma. The squires and the parsons of the period—call them scribes or augurs—wring their hands in despair, and cry aloud that they don't know what the world is coming to. But, after all, it is only the chrysalis stage of a new system. The old social order must grow disjointed and chaotic before the new social order can begin to evolve from it. The establishment of a plastic consistency in the mass is the condition precedent of the higher development.

Not, of course, that this consideration will ever afford one grain of comfort to the squires and the parsons of each successive epoch; for what they want is not the reasonable betterment of the whole social organism, but the continuance of just this particular type of squiredom and parsonry. That is what they mean by "national welfare;" and any interference with it they criticise in all ages with the current equivalent for the familiar Tory formula that "the country is going to the devil."

Sometimes these great social reconstructions of which I speak are forced upon communities by external factors interfering with their fixed internal order, as happened when the influx of northern barbarians broke up the decaying and rotten organism of the Roman Empire. Sometimes, again, they occur from internal causes, in an acute, and so to speak, inflammatory condition, as at the French Revolution. But sometimes, as in our own time and country, they are slowly brought about by organic development, so as really to resemble in all essential points the chrysalis type of evolution. Politically, socially, theologically, ethically, the old fixed beliefs seem at such periods to grow fluid or plastic. New feelings and habits and aspirations take their place. For a while a general chaos of conflicting opinions and nascent ideas is produced. The mass for the moment seems formless and lawless. Then new order supervenes, as the magma settles down and begins to crystallise; till at last, I'm afraid, the resulting social organism becomes for the most part just as rigid, just as definite, just as dogmatic, just as exacting, as the one it has superseded. The caterpillar has grown into a particular butterfly.

Through just such a period of reconstruction Europe in general and Britain in particular are now in all likelihood beginning to pass. And they will come out at the other end translated and transfigured. Laws and faiths and morals will all of them have altered. There will be a new heaven and a new earth for the men and women of the new epoch. Strange that people should make such a fuss about a detail like Home Rule, when the foundations of society are all becoming fluid. Don't flatter yourself for a moment that your particular little sect or your particular little dogma is going to survive the gentle cataclysm any more than my particular little sect or my particular little dogma. All alike are doomed to inevitable reconstruction. "We can't put the Constitution into the melting-pot," said Mr. John Morley, if I recollect his words aright. But at the very moment when he said it, in my humble opinion, the Constitution was already well into the melting-pot, and even beginning to simmer merrily. Federalism, or something extremely like it, may with great probability be the final outcome of that particular melting; though anything else is perhaps just as probable, and in any case the melting is general, not special. The one thing we can guess with tolerable certainty is that the melting-pot stage has begun to overtake us, socially, ethically, politically, ecclesiastically; and that what will emerge from the pot at the end of it must depend at last upon the relative strength of those unknown quantities—the various formative elements.

Being the most optimistic of pessimists, however, I will venture (after this disclaimer of prophecy) to prophesy one thing alone: 'Twill be a butterfly, not a grub, that comes out of our chrysalis.

Beyond that, I hold all prediction premature. We may guess and we may hope, but we can have no certainty. Save only the certainty that no element will outlive the revolution unchanged—not faiths, nor classes, nor domestic relations, nor any other component factor of our complex civilisation. All are becoming plastic in the organic plasm; all are losing features in the common mass of the melting-pot. For that reason, I never trouble my head for a moment when people object to me that this, that, or the other petty point of detail in Bellamy's Utopia or William Morris's Utopia, or my own little private and particular Utopia, is impossible, or unrealisable, or wicked, or hateful. For these, after all, are mere Utopias; their details are the outcome of individual wishes; what will emerge must be, not a Utopia at all, either yours or mine, but a practical reality, full of shifts and compromises most unphilosophical and illogical—a practical reality distasteful in many ways to all us Utopia-mongers. "The Millennium by return of post" is no more realisable to-day than yesterday. The greatest of revolutions can only produce that unsatisfactory result, a new human organisation.

Yet, it is something, after all, to believe at least that the grub will emerge into a full-fledged butterfly. Not, perhaps, quite as glossy in the wings as we could wish; but a butterfly all the same, not a crawling caterpillar.

This Post has No Comment Add your own!

Yorum Gönder