Lay Morals HTML version

The Day After To-Morrow
History is much decried; it is a tissue of errors, we are told, no doubt correctly;
and rival historians expose each other's blunders with gratification. Yet the worst
historian has a clearer view of the period he studies than the best of us can hope
to form of that in which we live. The obscurest epoch is to-day; and that for a
thousand reasons of inchoate tendency, conflicting report, and sheer mass and
multiplicity of experience; but chiefly, perhaps, by reason of an insidious shifting
of landmarks. Parties and ideas continually move, but not by measurable
marches on a stable course; the political soil itself steals forth by imperceptible
degrees, like a travelling glacier, carrying on its bosom not only political parties
but their flag-posts and cantonments; so that what appears to be an eternal city
founded on hills is but a flying island of Laputa. It is for this reason in particular
that we are all becoming Socialists without knowing it; by which I would not in the
least refer to the acute case of Mr. Hyndman and his horn-blowing supporters,
sounding their trumps of a Sunday within the walls of our individualist Jericho--
but to the stealthy change that has come over the spirit of Englishmen and
English legislation. A little while ago, and we were still for liberty; 'crowd a few
more thousands on the bench of Government,' we seemed to cry; 'keep her head
direct on liberty, and we cannot help but come to port.' This is over; laisser faire
declines in favour; our legislation grows authoritative, grows philanthropical,
bristles with new duties and new penalties, and casts a spawn of inspectors, who
now begin, note-book in hand, to darken the face of England. It may be right or
wrong, we are not trying that; but one thing it is beyond doubt: it is Socialism in
action, and the strange thing is that we scarcely know it.
Liberty has served us a long while, and it may be time to seek new altars. Like all
other principles, she has been proved to be self- exclusive in the long run. She
has taken wages besides (like all other virtues) and dutifully served Mammon; so
that many things we were accustomed to admire as the benefits of freedom and
common to all were truly benefits of wealth, and took their value from our
neighbours' poverty. A few shocks of logic, a few disclosures (in the journalistic
phrase) of what the freedom of manufacturers, landlords, or shipowners may
imply for operatives, tenants, or seamen, and we not unnaturally begin to turn to
that other pole of hope, beneficent tyranny. Freedom, to be desirable, involves
kindness, wisdom, and all the virtues of the free; but the free man as we have
seen him in action has been, as of yore, only the master of many helots; and the
slaves are still ill-fed, ill-clad, ill- taught, ill-housed, insolently treated, and driven
to their mines and workshops by the lash of famine. So much, in other men's
affairs, we have begun to see clearly; we have begun to despair of virtue in these
other men, and from our seat in Parliament begin to discharge upon them, thick
as arrows, the host of our inspectors. The landlord has long shaken his head
over the manufacturer; those who do business on land have lost all trust in the
virtues of the shipowner; the professions look askance upon the retail traders and