Page images

implied, first, such share of material welfare as is necessary to lift a man above the constant pressure of animal needs, and to gratify the demands of his nature for order, decency, comfort, and a measure of beauty in his surroundings; secondly, opportunity for the exercise of his faculties and the development of his social instincts in intercourse with his fellows. It is required of the individual, as a social unit, that he shall minister to the utmost of his power, whether as thinker, artist, statesman or craftsman, to the needs and desires of his fellowcitizens. It is required of the nation, as a community, that each of the individuals composing it shall participate, to the full extent of his capacity, in the material prosperity and the intellectual or spiritual activities arising from the common effort.

Every community, however, is something more than the sum of its units; and national life is something more than the sum of individual activities. The common efforts of many generations have built up a body of corporate achievement, corporate traditions and corporate ideals, which has become the rightful heritage of every individual citizen; and the present generation itself has in its power to shape, in large measure, the lives of those which are to come. This inheritance from the past, this responsibility for the future, are a part of that common stock for which the nation is a trustee to the individual and the individual to the nation.

It is by the participation of its people in all these phases of communal activity that the vitality of a nation is to be judged by their share in the creation and distribution of wealth, in the evolution of thought and culture, in the shaping of political institutions and the building up of the corporate tradition. If there remains any class or group which fails to participate consciously and fully in these activities, either through indifference to its obligations, or through circumstances which cramp its energies or hinder the gratification of its reasonable demands, the life of the whole nation is impoverished and the structure of its social order stands condemned.

This conception of the nation as a living organism, of which its citizens are members, will have a bearing on our ideas as to the part which the State should play in the direction of our national activities. The conception

of the State as a separate entity, possessing power over the lives of its citizens but responsible only to itself, arose in countries in which political power is confined, altogether or in great part, to a particular class or a particular order, or where the population of the State, as a political unit, is not united by the ties of common nationality. In such countries there is often a clear distinction between the interest of the State, as represented by the governmental machine, and the individual interest of the citizens, or even their collective interest as a social community. Even if the State, or the Government as representing the State, desires the welfare of the governed, it does so, primarily, in order to increase the power and stability of the political unit, in the guidance of whose activities the bulk of the population has no real, though it may have a nominal share. In these cases, therefore, the Government claims, logically enough, to choose for its subjects the kind of good to be pursued, and to regulate in every detail the methods by which it is to be obtained.

Where the political unit is based on the principle of nationality and the form of government is representative, such distinctions can have no legitimate place. For, whether we regard the State as implying the whole commonwealth-the nation, considered in its corporate capacity or confine the term to the governmental machine by which the corporate action of the community is directed, it can have no existence apart from the life of the nation itself. And in that life, its activities, its achievements and its responsibilities, it is at once the duty and the privilege of the citizens to participate. In such a case, the State is the visible symbol and representative of the national life, the guardian of the common stock and the instrument of the common will. Its sovereignty is delegated and held in trust for the welfare of the individual citizens, in fulfilment of the implied contract by which the sovereignty of the individual is limited by his obligations to the community.

This view of the State affects not merely the objects which it will seek, but the manner in which it will seek them. An irresponsible Government may, as has been said, impose upon any section of its subjects such institutions as it deems to be for their good, and direct their

activities into the channels which it regards as advantageous. But healthy national life is a thing of organic growth; its institutions are the reflex and expression of national character in its relation to national needs; its activities are the outcome of individual initiative working towards common ends. Where the State is the living embodiment of the commonwealth, its institutions will derive their origin and strength from the will of the people rather than from the authority of the Government. Where the recognized object of the State is to assure to its citizens a life 'fit for the dignity of man,' governmental action will be directed not so much to inspiring and regulating individual effort as to facilitating and encouraging it, and to restraining those who, in seeking their own selfish ends, impede the legitimate activities of others and so defeat the purpose for which the community exists.

The difference between States of these two types is exemplified in their attitude towards all the various departments of human endeavour. To those who regard the State as a separate entity, the development of military power is the most important field of national effort; it is, indeed, an end in itself, the aggrandisement of the political unit being the supreme object of Government. In the same way, their conception of commercial prosperity is expressed in terms of total national output and national income. They value trade and industry mainly for the resources which they place at the disposal of the State. They value the arts and sciences mainly as an adornment to the dignity of the State or as contributing to the increase of its power and wealth. To those, on the other hand, who think in terms of national life, military power is not an end to be sought, but the means whereby national institutions may be preserved, the freedom of internal development secured, and the nation enabled to discharge its obligations to the world at large. They measure commercial prosperity, not by the volume of imports and exports or the sum total of the national capital, but by the standard of life amongst the mass of the people, and by the conditions of their employment. In other words, they apply to trade and industry, as to the cultivation of the arts and sciences, a standard based not on the quantity of things

produced but upon the manner in which they affect human life, by adding to its amenities or giving scope for the natural instinct of creation and service.

If we accept these conceptions-the conception of the nation as a community having for its purpose the development and enrichment of individual life, of the State as the instrument of the communal purpose, and of industry, trade, art and science as a form of service to the community or an expression of human personality-we may deduce therefrom certain fundamental principles to guide us in the work of reconstruction.

In the first place, it is evident that our greatest need is a renaissance, a quickening, of the national spirit, rather than a mere reconstruction of national institutions. For national life is not a temple made with hands,' the bricks and mortar of which we may shift about at our pleasure, but a living organism, the members of which are men and women. Before we frame a national programme we have to decide on a national policy, a definite expression of our attitude and purpose with regard to the future of this country.

In the second place, both this policy itself and the programme in which it is embodied must consider the life of the nation as a whole and of the individuals composing it also as a whole. We must neither divide the community by sectional barriers which limit the obligations of any class to the community or of the community to any of its members, nor divide human activities into watertight compartments and attempt to deal with work as divorced from life.

Thirdly, the process of reform must involve the intelligent, voluntary, cooperative activity of all classes and all sections of the population. The attempt to impose a reformation by the authority of the State is doomed to failure. It may produce an imposing organisation, but it will be fatal to the initiative and sense of responsibility which are the vital principle of national life. The task of Government is to facilitate and encourage development, to clear away the obstacles presented by past mistakes and adverse conditions, and to restrain the antisocial activities of selfish interests. To demand that it should itself prescribe and regulate

every form of national activity is to confound the instrumental functions of the State with that corporate life of which it is the symbol and the trustee.

Finally, the measures of reconstruction must be consonant with the character of the British people and of British institutions. Our policy will be evolutionary rather than revolutionary. We shall beware of breaking the current of national life, and shall forget neither the circumstances of the present, nor our responsibility to the future, nor our heritage from the past. Since we aim at organic development rather than at mechanical organisation, we shall proceed rather by way of experiment, discussion and education, than by the establishment of a rigid and uniform code. So long as there is unity of spirit we shall welcome diversity of means.

These, then, are the fundamental principles of our policy-to aim at the enrichment of the national life rather than at the mere perfecting of political or industrial machinery; to consider the life of the nation and that of the individual as one indivisible whole; to seek for progress rather by way of cooperative effort than by State compulsion; and to reject the lure of theoretical perfection in favour of natural and organic development. But before proceeding to apply these principles, it is necessary to examine the conditions in which we have to work, and the special problems presented by the circumstances of the moment. Our survey of these conditions must necessarily be very brief, but a few words will serve to remind us of some of the more salient difficulties of our task.

In the first place, the strain imposed by abnormal exertions during the war will almost certainly be followed by a reaction; and the special emphasis necessarily laid on national service in the military sense may have obscured in some quarters the equal importance of civic obligations. There is a distinct danger that the nation as a whole may be inclined to rest on its laurels; and this danger is emphasised by the economic situation with which we shall be faced. For a considerable period after peace is signed there will be a world-wide shortage of food, of manufactured products and of transport. It is probable that the hardships involved will be less patiently

[blocks in formation]
« PreviousContinue »