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4. The Ethics Of Elfland
When the business man rebukes the idealism of his office-boy, it is commonly in
some such speech as this: "Ah, yes, when one is young, one has these ideals in
the abstract and these castles in the air; but in middle age they all break up like
clouds, and one comes down to a belief in practical politics, to using the
machinery one has and getting on with the world as it is." Thus, at least,
venerable and philanthropic old men now in their honoured graves used to talk to
me when I was a boy. But since then I have grown up and have discovered that
these philanthropic old men were telling lies. What has really happened is exactly
the opposite of what they said would happen. They said that I should lose my
ideals and begin to believe in the methods of practical politicians. Now, I have not
lost my ideals in the least; my faith in fundamentals is exactly what it always was.
What I have lost is my old childlike faith in practical politics. I am still as much
concerned as ever about the Battle of Armageddon; but I am not so much
concerned about the General Election. As a babe I leapt up on my mother's knee
at the mere mention of it. No; the vision is always solid and reliable. The vision is
always a fact. It is the reality that is often a fraud. As much as I ever did, more
than I ever did, I believe in Liberalism. But there was a rosy time of innocence
when I believed in Liberals.
I take this instance of one of the enduring faiths because, having now to trace
the roots of my personal speculation, this may be counted, I think, as the only
positive bias. I was brought up a Liberal, and have always believed in
democracy, in the elementary liberal doctrine of a self-governing humanity. If any
one finds the phrase vague or threadbare, I can only pause for a moment to
explain that the principle of democracy, as I mean it, can be stated in two
propositions. The first is this: that the things common to all men are more
important than the things peculiar to any men. Ordinary things are more valuable
than extraordinary things; nay, they are more extraordinary. Man is something
more awful than men; something more strange. The sense of the miracle of
humanity itself should be always more vivid to us than any marvels of power,
intellect, art, or civilization. The mere man on two legs, as such, should be felt as
something more heartbreaking than any music and more startling than any
caricature. Death is more tragic even than death by starvation. Having a nose is
more comic even than having a Norman nose.
This is the first principle of democracy: that the essential things in men are the
things they hold in common, not the things they hold separately. And the second
principle is merely this: that the political instinct or desire is one of these things
which they hold in common. Falling in love is more poetical than dropping into
poetry. The democratic contention is that government (helping to rule the tribe) is
a thing like falling in love, and not a thing like dropping into poetry. It is not
something analogous to playing the church organ, painting on vellum,
discovering the North Pole (that insidious habit), looping the loop, being