Sunday, March 11, 2007

The Horror

by G.K. Chesterton

For the first time within mortal memory, the Government and the nation has set out on a definite deliberate campaign to make the poor poorer. Even Industrialism and Individualism pretended to make the poor richer. Even Smiles and Self-Help promised to the make the poorricher; or at least some of the poor richer. Every dirty little limited liability company professes to make some of the poor richer. But to-day the little professional politician, telling the truth for the first time in his life, threatens to make the poor poorer. As far as I can make out, he threatens to make some of the poor poorer than they can possibly be, without starving in the street, or falling back in another form on support by the State. People who are already clinging with their teeth and fingernails to the edge of the chasm are to be formally and legally kicked into the chasm. It is no longer even a matter of the old leonine contract of the wicked philanthropists, who made a man swear away his liberty before they would throw him a rope. The whole point is that we are refusing the rope; we are even cutting the rope. We are no longer pretending to be philanthropists or social reformers, whether moderate or advanced. The success of our Economy, in the name of the nation, is to be measured by the impoverishment of the people.

Now if that sort of thing were really a necessity, one would think it would be taken at least as seriously as a natural calamity. Men would write and speak of it as they would of a pestilence or an earthquake; with a certain lack of gaity; with a certain suspension of the lighter note; with a certain gravity born of sympathy with the houses buried in the earthquake or the corpse rotting in the streets. There would be a certain deficiency of that Optimism which The Daily Express so uproariously sustains. If these poor men were all private soldiers captured after an overwhelming military defeat, men whom our retreating armies were forced to abandon, or our victorious enemy could refuse to liberate, we should consider that the 'necesity' was not exactly a thing to sing about. But endless talk about the horrors of war seems to have left us dead to all sense of humiliation about the horrors of peace. If these workers had been left buried in a mine, and we had at last and reluctantly come to the conclusion that all the engines of science and all the heroism of humanity were impotent to save them, we should hardly march from the deserted mine and the deserted men singing music-hall patriotic songs. After such surrenders there would be a certain feeling that, if they were necessary, they justified the name of necessary evils. Most people would be gloomy; many people would be bitter. But as nobody must now be bitter or gloomy, the talents of our teachers and leaders are occupied with thinking of the nicest way of describing a mine disaster or a military defeat. I would suggest that deserted men dying in a dark hole might well be called 'social stratification'; and that soldiers sold into slavery by barbarians might be known as 'the ethnographical permeation policy.'

But the main point is that, while it might ultimately mean a rebirth of idealistic Socialism, it is at least the death of idealistic Capitalism. It is the end of all that pretence that the new Capitalism would go on paying higher and higher wages, till the men who worshipped gold had brought about a golden age. It is now part of the Capitalist case that Capitalism cannot afford to be generous. The business that pays property will not pay at all. Mr. Penty wrote in this paper, a long time ago, that the modern issue was really between Gandhi and Ford. Perhaps the visit of Gandhi, to this country, at this moment, is something of an apocalyptic symbol. The spinning-wheel sounds louder and nearer, weaving perhaps new garments of destiny like a fate; and the Ford car is wreaked upon every road. I do not claim to read the sign of the times; but at least I refuse to read the mere impoverishment of the poor as a happy sign. I have fought for fair wages all my life; and I will not now join the pomp of the New Pharisees; who sound a trumpet before them - not when they give money, but when they take it away.

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