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40.1 The Possible Unification of Men’s Wills in Political Matters

We have brought this Outline of History up to the threshold of our own times, but we have brought it to no conclusion. It breaks off at a dramatic phase of expectation. Nobody believes that the system of settlements grouped about the Treaty of Versailles is a permanent arrangement of the world’s affairs. These Treaties were the end of the war and not the establishment of a new order in the world. That new order has now to be established. In social and economic as in international affairs we are in the dawn of a great constructive effort. The story of life, which began inestimable millions of years ago, the adventure of mankind, which was already afoot half a million years ago, rises to a crisis in the immense interrogation of to-day. The drama becomes ourselves. It is you, it is I, and it is all that is happening to us and all that we are doing which will supply the next chapter of this continually expanding adventure of mankind.

Our history has traced a steady growth of the social and political units into which men have combined. In the brief period of ten thousand years these units have grown from the small family tribe of the early Neolithic culture to the vast united realms—vast yet still too small and partial—of the present time. And this change in size of the state—a change manifestly incomplete—has been accompanied by profound changes in its nature. Compulsion and servitude have given way to ideas of associated freedom, and the sovereignty that was once concentrated in an autocratic king and god, has been widely diffused throughout the community. Until the Roman republic extended itself to all Italy, there had been no free community larger than a city state; all great communities were communities of obedience under a monarch. The great united republic of the United States would have been: impossible before, the printing press and the railway. The telegraph and telephone, the aeroplane, the continual progress of land and sea transit, are now insisting upon a still larger political organization.

If our Outline, has been faithfully drawn, and if these brief conclusions are sound, it follows that we are engaged upon an immense task of adjustment to these great lines upon which our affairs are moving. Our wars, our social conflict, our enormous economic stresses, are all aspects of that adjustment. The loyalties and allegiances today are at best provisional loyalties and allegiances. Our true State, this state that is already beginning, this state to which every man owes his utmost political effort, must be now, this nascent Federal World State to which, human necessities point. Our true God now is the God of all men. Nationalism as a God must follow the tribal gods to limbo. Our true nationality is mankind.

How far will modern men lay hold upon and identify themselves with this necessity and set themselves to revise their ideas, remake their institutions, and educate the coming generations to this final extension of citizenship? How far will they remain dark, obdurate, habitual and traditional, resisting the convergent forces that offer them either unity or misery? Sooner or later that unity must come or else plainly men must perish by their own inventions. We, because we believe in the power of reason and in the increasing good will in men, find ourselves compelled to reject the latter possibility. But the way to the former may be very long and tedious, very tragic and wearisome a martyrdom of many generations, or it, may be travelled over almost swiftly in the course of a generation or so. That depends upon, forces whose nature we understand to, some extent now, but not their power. There has to be a great process of education, by precept and by information and by experience but there are as yet no quantitative measures of education to tell us how much has to be learnt or how soon that learning can be done. Our estimates vary with our moods; the time may be much longer than our hopes and much shorter than our fears.

The terrible experiences of the Great War have made very many men who once took political things lightly take them now very gravely. To a certain small number of men and women the attainment of a world peace has become the supreme work in life, has become a religious self-devotion. To a much greater number it has become at least a ruling motive. Many such people now are seeking ways of working for this great end, or they are already working for this great end, by pen and persuasion, in schools and colleges and books, and in the highways and byways of public life. Perhaps now most human beings in the world are well-disposed towards such efforts, but rather confusedly disposed; they are without any clear sense of what must be done and what ought to be prevented, that human solidarity may be advanced. The worldwide outbreak of faith and hope in President Wilson, before he began to wilt and fail us, was a very significant thing indeed for the future of mankind. Set against these motives of unity indeed are other motives entirely antagonistic, the fear and hatred of strange things and peoples, love of and trust in the old traditional thing, patriotisms, race prejudices, suspicions, distrusts—and the elements of spite, scoundrelism, and utter selfishness that are so strong still in every human soul.

The overriding powers that hitherto in the individual soul and in the community have struggled and prevailed against the ferocious, base, and individual impulses that divide us from one another, have been the powers of religion and education. Religion and education, those closely interwoven influences, have made possible the greater human societies whose growth we have traced in this Outline, they have been the chief synthetic forces throughout this great story of enlarging human co-operations that we have traced from its beginnings. We have found in the intellectual and theological conflicts of the nineteenth century the explanation of that curious exceptional disentanglement of religious teaching from formal education which is a distinctive feature of our age, and we have traced the consequences of this phase of religious disputation and confusion in the reversion of international politics towards a brutal nationalism and in the backward drift of industrial and business life towards harsh, selfish, and uncreative profit-seeking. There has been a slipping off of ancient restraints; a real decivilization of men’s minds. We would lay stress here on the suggestion that this divorce of religious teaching from organized education is necessarily a temporary one, a transitory dislocation, and that presently education must become again in intention and spirit religious, and that the impulse to devotion, to universal service and to a complete escape from self, which has been the common underlying force in all the great religions of the last five and twenty centuries, an impulse which ebbed so perceptibly during the prosperity, laxity, disillusionment, and scepticism of the past seventy or eighty years, will reappear again, stripped and plain, as the recognized fundamental structural impulse in human society.

Education is the preparation of the individual for the community, and his religious training is the core of that preparation. With the great intellectual restatements and expansions of the nineteenth century, an educational break-up, a confusion and loss of aim in education, was inevitable. We can no longer prepare the individual for a community when our ideas of a community are shattered and undergoing reconstruction. The old loyalties, the old too limited and narrow political and social assumptions, the old too elaborate religious formulae, have lost their power of conviction, and the greater ideas of a world state and of an economic commonweal have been winning their way only very slowly to recognition. So far they have swayed only a minority of exceptional people. But out of the trouble and tragedy of this present time there may emerge a moral and intellectual revival, a religious revival, of a simplicity and scope to draw together men of alien races and now discrete traditions into one common and sustained way of living for the world’s service. We cannot foretell the scope and power of such a revival; we cannot even produce evidence of its onset. The beginnings of such things are never conspicuous. Great movements of the racial soul come at first «like a thief in the night», and then suddenly are discovered to be powerful and world-wide. Religious emotion—stripped of corruptions and freed from its last priestly entanglements—may presently blow, through life again like a great wind, bursting the doors and flinging open the shutters of the individual life, and making many things possible and easy that in these present days of exhaustion seem almost too difficult to desire.

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