When private property is abolished there will be no necessity for crime, no demand for it; it will cease to exist. Of course, all crimes are not crimes against property, though such are the crimes that the English law, valuing what a man has more than what a man is, punishes with the harshest and most horrible severity, if we except the crime of murder, and regard death as worse than penal servitude, a point on which our criminals, I believe, disagree.
But though a crime may not be against property, it may spring from the misery and rage and depression produced by our wrong system of property-holding, and so, when that system is abolished, will disappear. When each member of the community has sufficient for his wants, and is not interfered with by his neighbour, it will not be an object of any interest to him to interfere with anyone else. Jealousy, which is an extraordinary source of crime in modern life, is an emotion closely bound up with our conceptions of property, and under Socialism and Individualism will die out.
It is remarkable that in communistic tribes jealousy is entirely unknown. Now as the State is not to govern, it may be asked what the State is to do. The State is to be a voluntary association that will organise labour, and be the manufacturer and distributor of necessary commodities. The State is to make what is useful. The individual is to make what is beautiful. And as I have mentioned the word labour, I cannot help saying that a great deal of nonsense is being written and talked nowadays about the dignity of manual labour.
There is nothing necessarily dignified about manual labour at all, and most of it is absolutely degrading. It is mentally and morally injurious to man to do anything in which he does not find pleasure, and many forms of labour are quite pleasureless activities, and should be regarded as such. To sweep a slushy crossing for eight hours, on a day when the east wind is blowing is a disgusting occupation.
To sweep it with mental, moral, or physical dignity seems to me to be impossible. To sweep it with joy would be appalling. Man is made for something better than disturbing dirt. All work of that kind should be done by a machine. And I have no doubt that it will be so. Up to the present, man has been, to a certain extent, the slave of machinery, and there is something tragic in the fact that as soon as man had invented a machine to do his work he began to starve.
This, however, is, of course, the result of our property system and our system of competition. One man owns a machine which does the work of five hundred men. Five hundred men are, in consequence, thrown out of employment, and, having no work to do, become hungry and take to thieving. The one man secures the produce of the machine and keeps it, and has five hundred times as much as he should have, and probably, which is of much more importance, a great deal more than he really wants. Were that machine the property of all, every one would benefit by it.
It would be an immense advantage to the community.
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All unintellectual labour, all monotonous, dull labour, all labour that deals with dreadful things, and involves unpleasant conditions, must be done by machinery. Machinery must work for us in coal mines, and do all sanitary services, and be the stoker of steamers, and clean the streets, and run messages on wet days, and do anything that is tedious or distressing. At present machinery competes against man. Under proper conditions machinery will serve man. There is no doubt at all that this is the future of machinery, and just as trees grow while the country gentleman is asleep, so while Humanity will be amusing itself, or enjoying cultivated leisure — which, and not labour, is the aim of man — or making beautiful things, or reading beautiful things, or simply contemplating the world with admiration and delight, machinery will be doing all the necessary and unpleasant work.
The fact is, that civilisation requires slaves. The Greeks were quite right there. Unless there are slaves to do the ugly, horrible, uninteresting work, culture and contemplation become almost impossible. Human slavery is wrong, insecure, and demoralising. On mechanical slavery, on the slavery of the machine, the future of the world depends.
And when scientific men are no longer called upon to go down to a depressing East End and distribute bad cocoa and worse blankets to starving people, they will have delightful leisure in which to devise wonderful and marvellous things for their own joy and the joy of everyone else. There will be great storages of force for every city, and for every house if required, and this force man will convert into heat, light, or motion, according to his needs.
Is this Utopian? A map of the world that does not include Utopia is not worth even glancing at, for it leaves out the one country at which Humanity is always landing. And when Humanity lands there, it looks out, and, seeing a better country, sets sail. Progress is the realisation of Utopias. Now, I have said that the community by means of organisation of machinery will supply the useful things, and that the beautiful things will be made by the individual.
This is not merely necessary, but it is the only possible way by which we can get either the one or the other. An individual who has to make things for the use of others, and with reference to their wants and their wishes, does not work with interest, and consequently cannot put into his work what is best in him. Upon the other hand, whenever a community or a powerful section of a community, or a government of any kind, attempts to dictate to the artist what he is to do, Art either entirely vanishes, or becomes stereotyped, or degenerates into a low and ignoble form of craft.
A work of art is the unique result of a unique temperament. Its beauty comes from the fact that the author is what he is. It has nothing to do with the fact that other people want what they want. Indeed, the moment that an artist takes notice of what other people want, and tries to supply the demand, he ceases to be an artist, and becomes a dull or an amusing craftsman, an honest or a dishonest tradesman. He has no further claim to be considered as an artist. Art is the most intense mode of Individualism that the world has known.
I am inclined to say that it is the only real mode of Individualism that the world has known. Crime, which, under certain conditions, may seem to have created Individualism, must take cognisance of other people and interfere with them. It belongs to the sphere of action.
The soul of man under socialism and selected critical prose
But alone, without any reference to his neighbours, without any interference, the artist can fashion a beautiful thing; and if he does not do it solely for his own pleasure, he is not an artist at all. And it is to be noted that it is the fact that Art is this intense form of Individualism that makes the public try to exercise over it in an authority that is as immoral as it is ridiculous, and as corrupting as it is contemptible. It is not quite their fault. The public has always, and in every age, been badly brought up. They are continually asking Art to be popular, to please their want of taste, to flatter their absurd vanity, to tell them what they have been told before, to show them what they ought to be tired of seeing, to amuse them when they feel heavy after eating too much, and to distract their thoughts when they are wearied of their own stupidity.
Now Art should never try to be popular. The public should try to make itself artistic. There is a very wide difference. If a man of science were told that the results of his experiments, and the conclusions that he arrived at, should be of such a character that they would not upset the received popular notions on the subject, or disturb popular prejudice, or hurt the sensibilities of people who knew nothing about science; if a philosopher were told that he had a perfect right to speculate in the highest spheres of thought, provided that he arrived at the same conclusions as were held by those who had never thought in any sphere at all — well, nowadays the man of science and the philosopher would be considerably amused.
Yet it is really a very few years since both philosophy and science were subjected to brutal popular control, to authority — in fact the authority of either the general ignorance of the community, or the terror and greed for power of an ecclesiastical or governmental class. Of course, we have to a very great extent got rid of any attempt on the part of the community, or the Church, or the Government, to interfere with the individualism of speculative thought, but the attempt to interfere with the individualism of imaginative art still lingers.
In fact, it does more than linger; it is aggressive, offensive, and brutalising. In England, the arts that have escaped best are the arts in which the public take no interest. Poetry is an instance of what I mean. We have been able to have fine poetry in England because the public do not read it, and consequently do not influence it. The public like to insult poets because they are individual, but once they have insulted them, they leave them alone. In the case of the novel and the drama, arts in which the public do take an interest, the result of the exercise of popular authority has been absolutely ridiculous.
No country produces such badly-written fiction, such tedious, common work in the novel form, such silly, vulgar plays as England. It must necessarily be so. The popular standard is of such a character that no artist can get to it. It is at once too easy and too difficult to be a popular novelist. It is too easy, because the requirements of the public as far as plot, style, psychology, treatment of life, and treatment of literature are concerned are within the reach of the very meanest capacity and the most uncultivated mind.
It is too difficult, because to meet such requirements the artist would have to do violence to his temperament, would have to write not for the artistic joy of writing, but for the amusement of half-educated people, and so would have to suppress his individualism, forget his culture, annihilate his style, and surrender everything that is valuable in him.
The Soul of Man Under Socialism
In the case of the drama, things are a little better: the theatre-going public like the obvious, it is true, but they do not like the tedious; and burlesque and farcical comedy, the two most popular forms, are distinct forms of art. Delightful work may be produced under burlesque and farcical conditions, and in work of this kind the artist in England is allowed very great freedom.
It is when one comes to the higher forms of the drama that the result of popular control is seen. The one thing that the public dislike is novelty. Any attempt to extend the subject-matter of art is extremely distasteful to the public; and yet the vitality and progress of art depend in a large measure on the continual extension of subject-matter.
The public dislike novelty because they are afraid of it. It represents to them a mode of Individualism, an assertion on the part of the artist that he selects his own subject, and treats it as he chooses.
Oscar Wilde essay The soul of man under Socialism
The public are quite right in their attitude. Art is Individualism, and Individualism is a disturbing and disintegrating force. Therein lies its immense value. For what it seeks to disturb is monotony of type, slavery of custom, tyranny of habit, and the reduction of man to the level of a machine.
In Art, the public accept what has been, because they cannot alter it, not because they appreciate it. They swallow their classics whole, and never taste them. They endure them as the inevitable, and as they cannot mar them, they mouth about them. The uncritical admiration of the Bible and Shakespeare in England is an instance of what I mean. With regard to the Bible, considerations of ecclesiastical authority enter into the matter, so that I need not dwell upon the point.
But in the case of Shakespeare it is quite obvious that the public really see neither the beauties nor the defects of his plays. If they saw the beauties, they would not object to the development of the drama; and if they saw the defects, they would not object to the development of the drama either.
The fact is, the public make use of the classics of a country as a means of checking the progress of Art. They degrade the classics into authorities. They use them as bludgeons for preventing the free expression of Beauty in new forms. They are always asking a writer why he does not write like somebody else, or a painter why he does not paint like somebody else, quite oblivious of the fact that if either of them did anything of the kind he would cease to be an artist. A fresh mode of Beauty is absolutely distasteful to them, and whenever it appears they get so angry, and bewildered that they always use two stupid expressions — one is that the work of art is grossly unintelligible; the other, that the work of art is grossly immoral.
What they mean by these words seems to me to be this. When they say a work is grossly unintelligible, they mean that the artist has said or made a beautiful thing that is new; when they describe a work as grossly immoral, they mean that the artist has said or made a beautiful thing that is true. The former expression has reference to style; the latter to subject-matter.
But they probably use the words very vaguely, as an ordinary mob will use ready-made paving-stones. There is not a single real poet or prose-writer of this century, for instance, on whom the British public have not solemnly conferred diplomas of immorality, and these diplomas practically take the place, with us, of what in France, is the formal recognition of an Academy of Letters, and fortunately make the establishment of such an institution quite unnecessary in England.
Of course, the public are very reckless in their use of the word.
That they should have called Wordsworth an immoral poet, was only to be expected. Wordsworth was a poet. But that they should have called Charles Kingsley an immoral novelist is extraordinary. Still, there is the word, and they use it as best they can. An artist is, of course, not disturbed by it. The true artist is a man who believes absolutely in himself, because he is absolutely himself.
But I can fancy that if an artist produced a work of art in England that immediately on its appearance was recognised by the public, through their medium, which is the public press, as a work that was quite intelligible and highly moral, he would begin to seriously question whether in its creation he had really been himself at all, and consequently whether the work was not quite unworthy of him, and either of a thoroughly second-rate order, or of no artistic value whatsoever. The meaning of the word is so simple that they are afraid of using it.
Still, they use it sometimes, and, now and then, one comes across it in popular newspapers. It is, of course, a ridiculous word to apply to a work of art. For what is morbidity but a mood of emotion or a mode of thought that one cannot express? The public are all morbid, because the public can never find expression for anything. The artist is never morbid. He expresses everything. He stands outside his subject, and through its medium produces incomparable and artistic effects.
On the whole, an artist in England gains something by being attacked. His individuality is intensified. He becomes more completely himself. Of course, the attacks are very gross, very impertinent, and very contemptible. But then no artist expects grace from the vulgar mind, or style from the suburban intellect. Vulgarity and stupidity are two very vivid facts in modern life. One regrets them, naturally.
But there they are. They are subjects for study, like everything else. And it is only fair to state, with regard to modern journalists, that they always apologise to one in private for what they have written against one in public. Within the last few years two other adjectives, it may be mentioned, have been added to the very limited vocabulary of art-abuse that is at the disposal of the public.
It is a tribute, but a tribute of no importance. It is a rather interesting word. In fact, it is so interesting that the people who use it do not know what it means. What does it mean? What is a healthy, or an unhealthy work of art? All terms that one applies to a work of art, provided that one applies them rationally, have reference to either its style or its subject, or to both together. From the point of view of style, a healthy work of art is one whose style recognises the beauty of the material it employs, be that material one of words or of bronze, of colour or of ivory, and uses that beauty as a factor in producing the aesthetic effect.
From the point of view of subject, a healthy work of art is one the choice of whose subject is conditioned by the temperament of the artist, and comes directly out of it. In fine, a healthy work of art is one that has both perfection and personality. Of course, form and substance cannot be separated in a work of art; they are always one.
But for purposes of analysis, and setting the wholeness of aesthetic impression aside for a moment, we can intellectually so separate them. An unhealthy work of art, on the other hand, is a work whose style is obvious, old-fashioned, and common, and whose subject is deliberately chosen, not because the artist has any pleasure in it, but because he thinks that the public will pay him for it. In fact, the popular novel that the public calls healthy is always a thoroughly unhealthy production; and what the public call an unhealthy novel is always a beautiful and healthy work of art.
I need hardly say that I am not, for a single moment, complaining that the public and the public press misuse these words. I do not see how, with their lack of comprehension of what Art is, they could possibly use them in the proper sense. I am merely pointing out the misuse; and as for the origin of the misuse and the meaning that lies behind it all, the explanation is very simple. It comes from the barbarous conception of authority.
It comes from the natural inability of a community corrupted by authority to understand or appreciate Individualism. In a word, it comes from that monstrous and ignorant thing that is called Public Opinion, which, bad and well-meaning as it is when it tries to control action, is infamous and of evil meaning when it tries to control Thought or Art.
The former may be fine. The latter must be foolish. It is often said that force is no argument. That, however, entirely depends on what one wants to prove. Many of the most important problems of the last few centuries, such as the continuance of personal government in England, or of feudalism in France, have been solved entirely by means of physical force. The very violence of a revolution may make the public grand and splendid for a moment. It was a fatal day when the public discovered that the pen is mightier than the paving-stone, and can be made as offensive as the brickbat.
They at once sought for the journalist, found him, developed him, and made him their industrious and well-paid servant. It is greatly to be regretted, for both their sakes. Behind the barricade there may be much that is noble and heroic. But what is there behind the leading-article but prejudice, stupidity, cant, and twaddle? And when these four are joined together they make a terrible force, and constitute the new authority.
In old days men had the rack. Now they have the press. That is an improvement certainly. But still it is very bad, and wrong, and demoralising. Somebody — was it Burke? That was true at the time, no doubt. But at the present moment it really is the only estate. It has eaten up the other three. The Lords Temporal say nothing, the Lords Spiritual have nothing to say, and the House of Commons has nothing to say and says it. We are dominated by Journalism. In America the President reigns for four years, and Journalism governs for ever and ever. Fortunately in America Journalism has carried its authority to the grossest and most brutal extreme.
As a natural consequence it has begun to create a spirit of revolt. People are amused by it, or disgusted by it, according to their temperaments. But it is no longer the real force it was. It is not seriously treated. In England, Journalism, not, except in a few well-known instances, having been carried to such excesses of brutality, is still a great factor, a really remarkable power.
The fact is, that the public have an insatiable curiosity to know everything, except what is worth knowing. Journalism, conscious of this, and having tradesman-like habits, supplies their demands. In centuries before ours the public nailed the ears of journalists to the pump. That was quite hideous. In this century journalists have nailed their own ears to the keyhole.
That is much worse. And what aggravates the mischief is that the journalists who are most to blame are not the amusing journalists who write for what are called Society papers. The harm is done by the serious, thoughtful, earnest journalists, who solemnly, as they are doing at present, will drag before the eyes of the public some incident in the private life of a great statesman, of a man who is a leader of political thought as he is a creator of political force, and invite the public to discuss the incident, to exercise authority in the matter, to give their views, and not merely to give their views, but to carry them into action, to dictate to the man upon all other points, to dictate to his party, to dictate to his country; in fact, to make themselves ridiculous, offensive, and harmful.
The private lives of men and women should not be told to the public. The public have nothing to do with them at all. In France they manage these things better. There they do not allow the details of the trials that take place in the divorce courts to be published for the amusement or criticism of the public. All that the public are allowed to know is that the divorce has taken place and was granted on petition of one or other or both of the married parties concerned.
In France, in fact, they limit the journalist, and allow the artist almost perfect freedom. Here we allow absolute freedom to the journalist, and entirely limit the artist. English public opinion, that is to say, tries to constrain and impede and warp the man who makes things that are beautiful in effect, and compels the journalist to retail things that are ugly, or disgusting, or revolting in fact, so that we have the most serious journalists in the world, and the most indecent newspapers. It is no exaggeration to talk of compulsion. There are possibly some journalists who take a real pleasure in publishing horrible things, or who, being poor, look to scandals as forming a sort of permanent basis for an income.
But there are other journalists, I feel certain, men of education and cultivation, who really dislike publishing these things, who know that it is wrong to do so, and only do it because the unhealthy conditions under which their occupation is carried on oblige them to supply the public with what the public wants, and to compete with other journalists in making that supply as full and satisfying to the gross popular appetite as possible.
It is a very degrading position for any body of educated men to be placed in, and I have no doubt that most of them feel it acutely. However, let us leave what is really a very sordid side of the subject, and return to the question of popular control in the matter of Art, by which I mean Public Opinion dictating to the artist the form which he is to use, the mode in which he is to use it, and the materials with which he is to work.
I have pointed out that the arts which have escaped best in England are the arts in which the public have not been interested. They are, however, interested in the drama, and as a certain advance has been made in the drama within the last ten or fifteen years, it is important to point out that this advance is entirely due to a few individual artists refusing to accept the popular want of taste as their standard, and refusing to regard Art as a mere matter of demand and supply. With his marvellous and vivid personality, with a style that has really a true colour-element in it, with his extraordinary power, not over mere mimicry but over imaginative and intellectual creation, Mr Irving, had his sole object been to give the public what they wanted, could have produced the commonest plays in the commonest manner, and made as much success and money as a man could possibly desire.
But his object was not that. His object was to realise his own perfection as an artist, under certain conditions, and in certain forms of Art. At first he appealed to the few: now he has educated the many. He has created in the public both taste and temperament. The public appreciate his artistic success immensely. I often wonder, however, whether the public understand that that success is entirely due to the fact that he did not accept their standard, but realised his own. With their standard the Lyceum would have been a sort of second-rate booth, as some of the popular theatres in London are at present.
Whether they understand it or not the fact however remains, that taste and temperament have, to a certain extent been created in the public, and that the public is capable of developing these qualities. The problem then is, why do not the public become more civilised? They have the capacity. What stops them? The thing that stops them, it must be said again, is their desire to exercise authority over the artist and over works of art. To certain theatres, such as the Lyceum and the Haymarket, the public seem to come in a proper mood.
In both of these theatres there have been individual artists, who have succeeded in creating in their audiences — and every theatre in London has its own audience — the temperament to which Art appeals. And what is that temperament? It is the temperament of receptivity. That is all. If a man approaches a work of art with any desire to exercise authority over it and the artist, he approaches it in such a spirit that he cannot receive any artistic impression from it at all.
The work of art is to dominate the spectator: the spectator is not to dominate the work of art. The spectator is to be receptive. He is to be the violin on which the master is to play. And the more completely he can suppress his own silly views, his own foolish prejudices, his own absurd ideas of what Art should be, or should not be, the more likely he is to understand and appreciate the work of art in question. This is, of course, quite obvious in the case of the vulgar theatre-going public of English men and women.
But it is equally true of what are called educated people. A temperament capable of receiving, through an imaginative medium, and under imaginative conditions, new and beautiful impressions, is the only temperament that can appreciate a work of art. And true as this is in the case of the appreciation of sculpture and painting, it is still more true of the appreciation of such arts as the drama. For a picture and a statue are not at war with Time. They take no count of its succession. In one moment their unity may be apprehended. In the case of literature it is different.
Time must be traversed before the unity of effect is realised. And so, in the drama, there may occur in the first act of the play something whose real artistic value may not be evident to the spectator till the third or fourth act is reached. Is the silly fellow to get angry and call out, and disturb the play, and annoy the artists? The honest man is to sit quietly, and know the delightful emotions of wonder, curiosity, and suspense. He is not to go to the play to lose a vulgar temper. He is to go to the play to realise an artistic temperament. He is to go to the play to gain an artistic temperament.
He is not the arbiter of the work of art. He is one who is admitted to contemplate the work of art, and, if the work be fine, to forget in its contemplation and the egotism that mars him — the egotism of his ignorance, or the egotism of his information. This point about the drama is hardly, I think, sufficiently recognised. No spectator of art needs a more perfect mood of receptivity than the spectator of a play.
The moment he seeks to exercise authority he becomes the avowed enemy of Art and of himself. Art does not mind. It is he who suffers. With the novel it is the same thing. Popular authority and the recognition of popular authority are fatal. A true artist takes no notice whatever of the public. The public are to him non-existent. He has no poppied or honeyed cakes through which to give the monster sleep or sustenance. He leaves that to the popular novelist. One incomparable novelist we have now in England, Mr George Meredith.
There are better artists in France, but France has no one whose view of life is so large, so varied, so imaginatively true. There are tellers of stories in Russia who have a more vivid sense of what pain in fiction may be. But to him belongs philosophy in fiction. His people not merely live, but they live in thought. One can see them from myriad points of view. They are suggestive. There is soul in them and around them. They are interpretative and symbolic.
And he who made them, those wonderful quickly-moving figures, made them for his own pleasure, and has never asked the public what they wanted, has never cared to know what they wanted, has never allowed the public to dictate to him or influence him in any way but has gone on intensifying his own personality, and producing his own individual work. At first none came to him. That did not matter. Then the few came to him. That did not change him. The many have come now. He is still the same. He is an incomparable novelist. With the decorative arts it is not different. The public clung with really pathetic tenacity to what I believe were the direct traditions of the Great Exhibition of international vulgarity, traditions that were so appalling that the houses in which people lived were only fit for blind people to live in.
The public were really very indignant. They lost their temper. They said silly things. No one minded. No one was a whit the worse. No one accepted the authority of public opinion. And now it is almost impossible to enter any modern house without seeing some recognition of good taste, some recognition of the value of lovely surroundings, some sign of appreciation of beauty. People have been to a very great extent civilised. It is only fair to state, however, that the extraordinary success of the revolution in house-decoration and furniture and the like has not really been due to the majority of the public developing a very fine taste in such matters.
It has been chiefly due to the fact that the craftsmen of things so appreciated the pleasure of making what was beautiful, and woke to such a vivid consciousness of the hideousness and vulgarity of what the public had previously wanted, that they simply starved the public out. It would be quite impossible at the present moment to furnish a room as rooms were furnished a few years ago, without going for everything to an auction of second-hand furniture from some third-rate lodging-house.
The things are no longer made. However they may object to it, people must nowadays have something charming in their surroundings. Fortunately for them, their assumption of authority in these art-matters came to entire grief. It is evident, then, that all authority in such things is bad. People sometimes inquire what form of government is most suitable for an artist to live under.
To this question there is only one answer. The form of government that is most suitable to the artist is no government at all. Authority over him and his art is ridiculous. It has been stated that under despotisms artists have produced lovely work. This is not quite so. Artists have visited despots, not as subjects to be tyrannised over, but as wandering wonder-makers, as fascinating vagrant personalities, to be entertained and charmed and suffered to be at peace, and allowed to create.
There is this to be said in favour of the despot, that he, being an individual, may have culture, while the mob, being a monster, has none. One who is an Emperor and King may stoop down to pick up a brush for a painter, but when the democracy stoops down it is merely to throw mud. And yet the democracy have not so far to stoop as the emperor. In fact, when they want to throw mud they have not to stoop at all. But there is no necessity to separate the monarch from the mob; all authority is equally bad.
There are three kinds of despots. There is the despot who tyrannises over the body. There is the despot who tyrannises over the soul. There is the despot who tyrannises over the soul and body alike. The first is called the Prince. The second is called the Pope.
The third is called the People. The Prince may be cultivated. Many Princes have been. Yet in the Prince there is danger. It is better for the artist not to live with Princes. The Pope may be cultivated. Many Popes have been; the bad Popes have been. The bad Popes loved Beauty, almost as passionately, nay, with as much passion as the good Popes hated Thought. To the wickedness of the Papacy humanity owes much.
The goodness of the Papacy owes a terrible debt to humanity. Yet, though the Vatican has kept the rhetoric of its thunders, and lost the rod of its lightning, it is better for the artist not to live with Popes. It was a Pope who said of Cellini to a conclave of Cardinals that common laws and common authority were not made for men such as he; but it was a Pope who thrust Cellini into prison, and kept him there till he sickened with rage, and created unreal visions for himself, and saw the gilded sun enter his room, and grew so enamoured of it that he sought to escape, and crept out from tower to tower, and falling through dizzy air at dawn, maimed himself, and was by a vine-dresser covered with vine leaves, and carried in a cart to one who, loving beautiful things, had care of him.
There is danger in Popes. And as for the People, what of them and their authority? Perhaps of them and their authority one has spoken enough. Their authority is a thing blind, deaf, hideous, grotesque, tragic, amusing, serious, and obscene. It is impossible for the artist to live with the People. All despots bribe. The people bribe and brutalise. Who told them to exercise authority? They were made to live, to listen, and to love.
Someone has done them a great wrong. They have marred themselves by imitation of their inferiors. They have taken the sceptre of the Prince. How should they use it? They have taken the triple tiara of the Pope. How should they carry its burden? They are as a clown whose heart is broken. They are as a priest whose soul is not yet born. Let all who love Beauty pity them. Though they themselves love not Beauty, yet let them pity themselves. Who taught them the trick of tyranny? There are many other things that one might point out. One might point out how the Renaissance was great, because it sought to solve no social problem, and busied itself not about such things, but suffered the individual to develop freely, beautifully, and naturally, and so had great and individual artists, and great and individual men.
One might point out how Louis XIV. But the past is of no importance. The present is of no importance. It is with the future that we have to deal. For the past is what man should not have been. The present is what man ought not to be. The future is what artists are. It will, of course, be said that such a scheme as is set forth here is quite unpractical, and goes against human nature. This is perfectly true. It is unpractical, and it goes against human nature. This is why it is worth carrying out, and that is why one proposes it.
For what is a practical scheme? A practical scheme is either a scheme that is already in existence, or a scheme that could be carried out under existing conditions. But it is exactly the existing conditions that one objects to; and any scheme that could accept these conditions is wrong and foolish. The conditions will be done away with, and human nature will change.
The only thing that one really knows about human nature is that it changes. Change is the one quality we can predicate of it. The systems that fail are those that rely on the permanency of human nature, and not on its growth and development. The error of Louis XIV. The result of his error was the French Revolution. It was an admirable result.
All the results of the mistakes of governments are quite admirable. It is to be noted also that Individualism does not come to man with any sickly cant about duty, which merely means doing what other people want because they want it; or any hideous cant about self-sacrifice, which is merely a survival of savage mutilation. In fact, it does not come to man with any claims upon him at all. It comes naturally and inevitably out of man.
It is the point to which all development tends. It is the differentiation to which all organisms grow. It is the perfection that is inherent in every mode of life, and towards which every mode of life quickens. And so Individualism exercises no compulsion over man. On the contrary, it says to man that he should suffer no compulsion to be exercised over him. It does not try to force people to be good. It knows that people are good when they are let alone. Man will develop Individualism out of himself. Man is now so developing Individualism.
To ask whether Individualism is practical is like asking whether Evolution is practical. Evolution is the law of life, and there is no evolution except towards Individualism. Where this tendency is not expressed, it is a case of artificially-arrested growth, or of disease, or of death. Individualism will also be unselfish and unaffected. It has been pointed out that one of the results of the extraordinary tyranny of authority is that words are absolutely distorted from their proper and simple meaning, and are used to express the obverse of their right signification.
What is true about Art is true about Life. Yes, we do suffer from isolated shortcomings and temporary difficulties. The local authorities are still insufficiently careful in the way they work. We criticize them and try to set them straight. Of course, in order to create the perfect society of the future we do have to steel ourselves sometimes to make certain sacrifices. After all, no matter how many mistakes we make in individual cases, we are generally on the right track and our ideas are bright.
Nor must you forget the capitalist encirclement, which is out to wreck us and will keep on trying. All they are waiting for is for us to weaken and start doubting our correctness.
The enemy is not sleeping! The years go by, nothing changes, and doubt begins to creep in: are we really building Communism? After that, up till , we had the personality cult—again no Soviet power. Then, up to , it turns out that Khrushchev got it all wrong, but luckily they caught on to him too and kicked him out. This wavering state of uncertainty soon gives way to a conviction that all the propaganda is totally false. No matter how hard it is to get information, one is still not completely isolated. And it becomes apparent that in other districts and regions the situation is not a whit better—and in some cases is even worse—that other branches of the economy are also in a shambles, that the space program is a red herring, while the biggest factories and dams were built by convict labor for a crust of bread.
The unemployed, it turns out, get paid for not working! What a dream. Everybody has his own car, there is every sort of sausage and salami in the shops and no lines. And bang goes the belief in a radiant future. He was standing in line for milk in a shop. The queue was enormous, the salesgirls were working slowly and lackadaisically. Like in America! This could only happen here! The further it goes, the worse it gets. It transpires, for instance, that while we are having our temporary difficulties, our bosses in the district and regional party committees and in the Kremlin have long ago built Communism for themselves.
They divide up the caviar, salami, and imported goods among themselves in secret. This represents the longest possible path of reflection, and of progress toward insight, covered by a man in the very best situation in society. For most of us it is much shorter and quicker. Sooner or later a man encounters such a glaring injustice or falsehood that he can no longer remain silent. Almost anything can set it off, so long as it brings him into direct conflict with the regime. At first the workingman starts to try to get at the truth, searches high and low, writes complaints and petitions, goes for interviews, and gets answers that are progressively more insolent—or no answers at all.
And at interviews, if he gets them, he is confronted by a blockhead in specs who simply smacks his lips—and again nothing. That does it for our workingman! As things proceed he gets wilder and wilder. And he ends up by writing things about the Soviet regime that make him amazed at his own thoughts.
Generally speaking, all complaints converge in the office of that bespectacled blockhead of whose callousness you are complaining. And you get the most soothing reply back again—we sympathize, we understand, but unfortunately we cannot help. The workingman brightens up. It is astounding how quickly he recalls everything he was taught in school, the entire history of the Soviet Union, all its literature and geography, all the propaganda that since childhood has been haranguing him about individual shortcomings and temporary difficulties, about the radiant future and capitalist encirclement; and even all that stuff about the mirror of the Russian revolution and the verses he learned about Lenin in his nursery school.
And the propaganda blares merrily on, as though nothing were wrong—about that typhoon in Japan, that strike in England, that radiance in the distance, and the forces of peace and progress. And so on, day and night, night and day, from all sides—until suddenly our workingman goes berserk. The moment they find out, the moment I explain it to them they will stop, everything will change, and the whole situation will be different. Hey, people, stop! Give me the microphones. Let me get at the microphones! This is Moscow calling—and all the radio stations of the Soviet Union! While he is in this state, our workingman performs certain standard actions.
He attempts to make a speech at a meeting exposing the whole situation, or to distribute leaflets, or, with the help of foreigners, to send a message to the UN or the American President. Or at the very least he airs his opinions frankly among a wide circle of acquaintances. He experiences an extraordinary sense of freedom and omnipotence. Simple human words now appear to him as mighty weapons capable of moving mountains and damming rivers.
But at the same time our workingman notices that no one is very eager to listen to his words. On the contrary, he finds himself in a sort of vacuum, or rather he feels stifled. At meetings he is not allowed to speak, friends avert their eyes or try to make a joke of it, then hastily remember some urgent business.
His wife is in tears all day and scolds him for being a selfish egotist who is ruining her life. At work one day, just before lunch-time, he gets an urgent message to go to the personnel office. There, a polite but firm gentleman of about forty, neatly combed, wearing a well-cut gray suit, going by the name of Nikolai Ivanovich, Vladimir Fyodorovich, or at the outside Sergei Petrovich, invites our workingman to take a short trip with him to his office not far away.
After that Nikolai Ivanovich, Vladimir Fyodorovich, or at the least Pyotr Sergeyevich escorts him to his car and they ride in it together, indeed not for long. They climb the stairs of an absolutely normal block of apartments and enter a door, which opens into a corridor with lots of other doors. One of them leads into an office where a man is sitting behind a desk, graying and wearing a gray suit, a man whose name is Nikolai Petrovich, Sergei Ivanovich, or at worst Vladimir Fyodorovich. How nice it would be to go for a walk now in the woods—somewhere far, far off, remote from civilization.
The workingman begins to expound his new discoveries, still with vigor but without his former ardor. He tries to work himself up into a lather, but somehow he no longer has that sense of world tragedy, the seething passion, and the urge to get at the microphones. His turns of phrase and conclusions seem automatically to become softened and toned down, and evasive formulations and deprecating epithets leap to his lips.
Meanwhile Vladimir Nikolayevich, Sergei Petrovich, or maybe Ivan Ivanovich listens in silence, like a father, shaking his head from time to time and jotting notes in his notebook. Then, waiting for a pause in the disjointed narrative, he says:. And who else did you tell this to? And who else was present? And who else saw your letter to the UN? And you were thinking of fleeing abroad? Yes-yes-yes, I see. Your country nursed you, sparing no effort, raised you, educated you, refused you nothing.
And you? And at a time when our enemies are frantically searching for ways to injure us! At the mention of this proposition the working-man breaks into a cold sweat—no, no, not that! At this point, Vladimir Ivanovich, Nikolai Petrovich, or Sergei Mikhailovich takes a bulky file from his desk and opens it, and to his horror, the working-man catches sight of all his complaints, declarations, and protests, including his letter to the UN, lying there with blue-penciled comments in the margins. Bad pay? Well, at least you can work extra in the evenings or something.
Always was and always will be. We were just having a little chat. No, not for the time being, Comrade General. At your service sir. Yes, sir! And over here. You may go. Then you only had to open your mouth to find yourself on a prison transport. Times have changed. Our workingman scampers through the spring, autumn, or winter streets as fast as his legs can carry him—home to his wife and his Kaluga mother-in-law. A heavy door has opened a crack in front of him, he has caught a whiff of cryptlike dankness, putrefaction, and despair, but, thank God, he has got away.
A week or two later all the men at his place of work are called to a general meeting, speeches are made by the party organizer, the Komsomol organizer, and a representative of the local party committee. They wrathfully condemn him and hold him up to shame, and the elderly foreman, Petrovich, declares that in his opinion there is no room for such people in their collective. Then our workingman speaks up himself, expressing repentance and promising to reform. Somewhere on the outer fringes of the meeting, unnoticed, sits Nikolai Ivanovich, Petrovich, or Sergeyevich. Take a good look, my friend, look closely into the eyes of your workmates, look at the crowds of people thronging the streets, going to the movies, at football matches, or even in the Palace of Congresses, and you will see that almost all of them know all about flaying a stone.
So what could you have told them? Every one of them has experienced, or is destined to experience, the spasms of this revelation. And every one of them writhes for a while and then calms down; there is no way you can jolt them out of their lethargy again. What can you tell them in a skimpy leaflet, or even via all the radio stations of the Soviet Union?
They know, my friend. They remember those evil times when the prison vans used to cruise the streets every night collecting their human tribute. And they remember the war. Just think of the colossal force that crashed into us then, but not even that could flay a stone. Can you blame them? Once when I joined a geological expedition in Siberia, at one of our camp sites, I caught three ants and put them into a mug—I wanted to see to what degree ants were better than people.
Naturally they tried to climb out, but I shook them down to the bottom again. They tried again, and again I shook them down. Overall they made about attempts to climb out of the mug and every time, of course, were unsuccessful. They they gave up, crawled toward one another, and settled in a circle. I watched them for a long time, but they made no more attempts to get away. The mug with the three ants in it stood there in the grass for almost three days. Several times it drizzled, the sun set and rose, but they simply stayed there in the mug, twitching their whiskers—probably telling one another jokes.
What else could they do? They had grasped the situation; they needed nothing more. They would have been happy to narrow their world to the confines of family and home, to live for their quiet antlike joys, to bask in the sun on warm spring days and have a drink together. And to savor the moment while it was still sunny, while it was still so cozy sitting there over their drinks in the alehouse, while every minute consisted of sixty blissful seconds, each of which could be stretched still further by the booze.
He is pursued everywhere by propaganda, by that ubiquitous bawling that drowns out the spring chirping of the birds. Like a mountain echo, this voice bears down on us from all sides, spawning a strange creation that travels from person to person—the joke. The things he has been holding back all day are bursting to come out.
Peering over his shoulder is that ever-present companion, the joke. Plug your refrigerator into the radio network—it will always be full. Because, whether he wishes it or not, inside himself Soviet man is engaged in a permanent dialogue with Soviet propaganda. Look at them, those Soviet people, streaming silently down the underground passages of the subway or along the main streets, past the newspaper stands, where they just pick out the headlines and gnash their teeth.
Everyone is silent, each conducting his inner dialogue. And in the course of a lifetime he builds up such a store of rage that the whole world turns black for him. An intelligent looking little old man wanders down the Arbat and into the Prague to do some shopping, a quiet, subdued little man bothering nobody. Unprecedented, as usual, in record time, as usual. Students helping on the collective farms.
A strike in France. Student demonstrations dispersed. Should do the same everywhere. This same old man worked for that newspaper all his life, until he retired, and all his life wrote about those fantastic harvests. And why not? One way or another, everyone is implicated in the crimes of the regime, everyone works for government enterprises, reinforcing the system and creating its wealth. Everyone raises his hand at meetings, votes at elections, and, most important of all, does not protest. Whatever you do is proclaimed to be the achievement of the system.
A scientific discovery, a new symphony, a medal in the Olympic games—everything is a new victory for socialism and proof of its progressiveness. So why is it all right to make discoveries, write music, play hockey, and beat production targets, but not to make Soviet propaganda? Why is it wrong to be a member of the party or the Komsomol? They do nothing special there, and nothing is required of the average member other than to pay his dues. Beyond that nobody asks you for your opinion—what difference does it make whether they send you to work for the police or the KGB?
After all, everybody in our country is a functionary, everybody works for the government. As for the ones at the top who give the orders, they are just functionaries too, slaves of the system, of the internal struggle for power. If a sort of Nuremberg trial were held in Moscow today, the judges and prosecutors would find no one guilty. From top to bottom, no one believes in Marxist dogma any more, even though they continue to measure their actions by it, refer to it, and use it as a stick to beat one another with: it is both a proof of loyalty and a meal ticket.
But how can this mysterious being reconcile all these things? Thinking one thing, saying another, and doing a third? Jokes alone are not enough to explain it, and even the ants need elaborate theories to justify their submission:. You must make compromises, concessions, and sacrifices for the sake of the main cause.
Thus the Church holds that it must make concessions for the sake of self-preservation, yet there is no end to these concessions, so that priests are now nominated by the KGB, and Soviet power is celebrated from the pulpit. Thus the writer, eager to publish the work his readers are waiting for, agrees to cross out a line here, add a paragraph there, change the ending, remove one of the characters, revise the title, and hey, presto, the whole point of the work has gone.
We must live for Russia, the Communists will one day disappear by themselves. This argument is a favorite with scientists and the military. We must live for posterity, create the eternal values of science and culture; a trivial preoccupation with protests merely distracts us from the main thing. Never ever protest openly; that is a provocation which merely enrages the authorities and brings suffering on the innocent.
Open protests play into the hands of the hardliners in the Politburo and prevent the doves from carrying out a liberalization. Open protests hinder liberalization, which can only succeed by means of power politics and secret diplomacy. To protest about details is merely to expose oneself. The thing to do is to lie low. Then, when the decisive moment comes, okay. The worse things get, the better. Russia is a land of slaves. The Russians have never had democracy and never will.
The people are silent. What gives a handful of malcontents the right to speak out—whom do they represent, whose opinion are they expressing? Your protests are misleading world public opinion; people in the West will think that we are allowed to speak openly here and change things. Therefore you are helping Soviet propaganda. Someone has to survive to bear witness. I heard this in the labor camp just before a hunger strike.