The Last Five Years
During the five years which have elapsed since I wrote Looking Backwards and Forwards, many superficial changes have occurred in the physical, political, economic, monetary, and psychological conditions affecting human populations in all parts of the world. Yet I can't help reflecting on the sentiment expressed by Alphonse Karr [1808-90, French novelist. Ed.]: "The more things change, the more they are the same", and endorsing the view of Sir Kingsley Amis [1922-95, English novelist. Ed.] that "More will mean worse".
The one thing that the world currently keeps having more of is human beings. But Earth's resources are finite. It cannot for long sustain the unlimited growth of a population of resource-consuming humans, and there are ever-more-obvious signs that the sustainable limit has already been reached and that the only way is down. We cannot reverse the flow of time. Unless we quickly appreciate our predicament, change our wasteful ways, and voluntarily agree to engineer a controlled decrease in population, Mother Nature shall inevitably impose her own discipline upon us and we shall, like lemmings, collectively fall over a cliff and drown.
One thing we cannot change is human nature; the best we can do is try to improve our understanding of it in the hope that we may acquire better control over its individual and collective activity.
Ancient wisdom, corroborated by internal reflection, tells us that human nature is an uneasy amalgam in which the idealistic desires of an aspirational soul are in constant combat with the self-centred instincts of an animal body. Hence voluntary population control on a sufficient scale is so unlikely that those among us whose souls are in the ascendancy should simply try to ensure the survival of all that is best in our civilisation after a lemming solution. Unredeemed materialists will obviously find such an idea unpalatable; those of us who look forward to an eternal Life, with or without a body, can remain hopeful and happy.
The internal struggle between liberty and mere licentiousness is reflected externally in the struggle between order and disorder in daily life. That is why humans, unique among Earthly species, feel the need to establish forms of government to impose and maintain order in and among communities and nations.
The soul seeks a state of orderliness in which all may thrive and progress through overcoming difficulties; the body cares only for its own survival and immediate gratification. The soul understands that the body with which it is equipped should be cared for and used economically, and that the balance between care and use has a natural cycle. Children must be nurtured and educated until they are able to look after themselves, find satisfying work, start rearing their own families, and care for their parents and those neighbours who, disabled by sickness, injury or age, are no longer able to look after themselves.
The soul also understands that voluntary restraint is a pre-requisite for the responsible employment and enjoyment of individual liberty in an orderly environment. It seeks to maintain order by restraining other's bodies from harmful behaviour which disturbs the peace of society and it endeavours to foster a spirit of co-operation with other souls to achieve and sustain a mutually congenial way of life in the long term and on the widest possible scale.
The body seeks a life of ease, comfort, and immediate supply of whatever it wants for whatever reason. Humans who are unwilling or unable to control their animal instincts in their haste for satisfaction are liable to engage in disorderly acts which are harmful to others. Such people are not fit to be free. Hence a system of laws must be devised to define types of conduct which are universally agreed to be "wrong" and to prescribe restraints and punishments, including deprivation of liberty and, in extreme cases, even of life for wrong-doers.
Its legal system is probably the principal defining characteristic of a nation.
From a legal point of view, "wrongs" can be defined relatively easily. A fairly comprehensive list is contained in an ancient Egyptian text, The Confession to Maat.
It is therefore regrettable that in the aftermath of the Second World War, a natural desire to deter further wars between states resulted in the development of a Universal Declaration of Human Rights, infringement of which by any nations would incur international sanctions. This Declaration has turned out to be a minefield of subjective sentimental niceties which has enabled many wrong-doers to escape appropriate punishment by asserting their "human rights" and getting the benefit of Quixotic judicial interpretations of the Declaration.
I cannot see any moral justification for granting human wrong-doers any "rights" beyond those available to other animals which make an intolerable nuisance of themselves. If punishment is to "fit the crime", anyone found guilty after due process should be deemed to have relinquished his or her notional "rights" until the prescribed punishment has been completed.
The protection of society from wrong-doers within its borders and of its system of laws from overthrow by competing societies outside its borders constitute the sole justification for national governments. This requires the highest standards of integrity from those entrusted with the government of a nation. I know of no better "handbook" for would-be governors than Plato's Republic.
Plato knew that even at the level of government, the same struggle between soul and instinct continues within the "guardians" (whom we today commonly call "politicians") and determines the overall tenor of the resulting government.
Any system of law and order must be paid for. Liberty-loving citizens of a nation need little persuasion to sacrifice a reasonable proportion of the rewards of their toil and ingenuity in the form of taxes devoted to suppression of wrong-doing at home and prevention of invasion from abroad. Difficulties and dissension arise when taxation is perceived to be excessive, particularly when some if its proceeds are spent in ways which do more harm than good such as giving handouts to individuals who are too lazy to earn their own keep, paying people to bring more children into an over-crowded world, or engaging in military adventures against other nations which present no threat to national polity.
The chief problem with taxation is that it places a very large proportion of the nation's wealth at the disposal of a small number of governors, most of whom have no experience in the application of unimaginably huge funds to duly authorised economic ends and may be too arrogant to seek advice from the small minority who do. A secondary problem is that governors may raise taxes to a level so high as to be counter-productive. And, of course, there is always the possibility that instinct may vanquish soul in the matter of stewardship.
Guardians, whose souls govern their instincts, are motivated by the will to serve, recognising that the people they govern are aspirational souls like themselves. They accordingly pursue "liberal" policies which encourage individuals to improve their own and their neighbours' living conditions while voluntarily refraining from activities deemed to be harmful to their communities or to the population at large. There is then an obvious identity of interest between governors and governed, and a climate of mutual respect and trust ensures the long-term wellbeing of all.
"Instinctive" materialistic politicians, most of whom seem to be motivated primarily by a will to power, seek personal advancement, prestige, and riches without paying much attention to the welfare of the souls of the governed. They may therefore be tempted to pursue policies designed to further their own career objectives constrained only by the need to avoid offending the governed on whose willing or unwilling co-operation they rely for giving effect to their political aims. Hence, in any democratic society, free and critical communications media are essential for reporting on politicians and representing the interests of personal liberty.
It should be recognized that "career" politicians have no power of their own. All they can do is talk in the hope of persuading the people to place power at their temporary disposal through the expedient of elections and "opinion polls". Once elected, too many politicians use their borrowed power as if it were their own.
Plato is scathing about the vagaries of mere opinion. In Book 7, Socrates says, e.g.: "Until the person is able to abstract and rationally define the idea of good, and unless he can run the gauntlet of all objections, and is ready to disprove them, not by appeals to opinion, but to absolute truth, never faltering at any step of the argument unless he can do all this, you would say that he knows neither the idea of good nor any other good? He apprehends only a shadow, if anything at all, which is given by opinion, and not by science; dreaming and slumbering in this life, before he is well awake here he arrives at the world below, and has his final quietus."
Is it not obvious that political representatives elected for short periods on the basis of the fickle opinions of a poorly informed public require some form of supervision, not only to survive the vacillations of a fickle electorate but also to ensure some concern for the continuity of the nation into the indefinite future beyond polls and elections?
Plato asserts the need for government by "philosopher princes", but such are hard to find. The nearest practical alternative may be to assign an important overseeing role to the "landed gentry", the heads of long-establshed dynasties with a record of maintaining their lines and estates through good times and bad and with an obvious interest in continuing to do so into the indefinite future. Such people are best qualified to give prudent advice to inexperienced ministers and to exert a restraining influence on impulsive ones.
Here in the UK, we have made a terrible error in emasculating the House of Lords by removing nearly all the "hereditaries" and replacing them with worn-out politicians and other honorary "life peers", all too often selected on the basis of generous financial donations to political parties rather than personal distinction. The Church of England is still represented by a few bishops (the "Lords Spiritual") as a token gesture to the care of souls, but the great majority of the electorate seem to have lost faith in the Church.
Hence I feel that many among the Queen's subjects would now welcome a restoration of the constitution of the Upper House approximately as it was in about 1946, but perhaps with a sprinkling of representatives of other faiths besides those of the "established church". Certainly, any move to make its membership subjected to the lottery of election by nothing more substantial than public opinion bedevilled by Party propaganda should be resolutely opposed, because it would only mean "more of the same" and therefore be "worse".
Since 1946, the Labour Party has been "in power" for two extended periods. On both occasions, it has left the succeeding government deeply in debt.
The main reason for this is that politicians greedy for power bribe the unthinking electorate by promising higher "standards of living" through general entitlement to "welfare" and other "benefits" to be paid for by taxation. This is the essence of the the economically ruinous brand of "socialism" now so well-established in the United Kingdom that no political party that hopes to gain enough votes to form a government dares declare an intention to modify it in any important respect.
The snag is that the promised "welfare" and "benefits" always cost far more than expected or than can be paid for by current taxation. Rather than increase taxes, which is never popular with the people who actually have to pay them, politicians resort to borrowing enormous sums in order to maintain socialist largesse knowing that the burden of loan repayment will fall on a new generation of tax-payers at some time in the future when the Ministers responsible will have retired to well-feathered nests and second careers as self-lauding diarists and after-dinner speakers.
The people who "lose out" are the young: school-leavers who can find no work because mechanisation and automation have left little need for muscular labour. Work increasingly requires skills that schools cannot impart. Even graduates from Universities seldom have knowledge readily applicable to actual work and they may have to be content to begin their careers with work they could have done just as well without having "wasted" three or more years in "higher education". It is hard to think of anything more detrimental to the morale of a nation than this waste of young talent.
Those of the young who succeed in finding jobs or, better, in creating their own work as some few still contrive to do, have to wait much longer than they would like before they can afford to leave their family homes, secure their own accommodation, start their own families, and become responsible citizens. Hence far too many young adults fall into the slough of the debilitating dependency culture by which the State inadvertently promotes a life of crime.
The only means of encouraging energetic enterprising young persons is to exempt them from personal income tax until they have reached a level of earning at which they can not only keep themselves in board and lodging but also save enough from their incomes to lay "nest eggs" which will gradually develop into deposits on homes and, later, result in "happy families" independent of the State.
It therefore requires an economic and financial crisis of global proportions such as we are now living through to bring people to their economic senses. Politicians have been presented with a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to persuade the voting public, nearly all of whom are by now well aware that money is worth only what it can buy, of the need to re-impose systems of good house-keeping on all the functions of state and begin to reform the national and international climate by setting a governmental standard that will command willing obedience at home and respect abroad.
Let us hope that this happens and that future generations will bless the political heroes who saved them from having to carry financial burdens bequeathed by their grand-parents.