Since the war I have stressed altogether five main objectives. The true union of Europe; the union of government with science; the power of government to act rapidly and decisively, subject to parliamentary control; the effective leadership of government to solve the economic problem by use of the wage-price mechanism at the two key-points of the modern industrial world; and a clearly defined purpose for a movement of humanity to ever higher forms.
It is strange that in this last sphere of almost abstract thought my ideas have more attracted some of the young minds I value than my practical proposals in economics and politics. The reason is perhaps that people seek the ideal rather than the practical during a period in which such action is not felt to be necessary. This is encouraging for an ultimate future, in which through science the world can become free from the gnawing anxiety of material things and can turn to thinking which elevates and to beauty which inspires, but the hard fact is that many practical problems and menacing dangers must first be faced and overcome.
The thesis of higher forms was preceded by a fundamental challenge to the widely accepted claim of the communists that history is on their side. On the contrary, they are permanent prisoners of a transient phase in the human advance which modern science has rendered entirely obsolete. Not only is the primitive brutality of their method only possible in a backward country, but their whole thinking is only applicable to a primitive community. Both their economic thinking and their materialist conception of history belong exclusively to the nineteenth century. This thinking, still imprisoned in a temporary limitation, we challenge with thinking derived from the whole of European history and from the yet longer trend revealed by modern science. We challenge the idea of the nineteenth century with the idea of the twentieth century.
Communism is still held fast by the long obsolete doctrine of its origin, precisely because it is a material creed which recognises nothing beyond such motives and the urge to satisfy such needs. Yet modern man has surpassed that condition as surely as the jet aircraft in action has overcome the natural law of gravity which Newton discovered. The same urge of man’s spiritual nature served by his continually developing science can inspire him to ever greater achievement and raise him to ever further heights.
The challenge to communist materialism was stated as follows in Europe: Faith and Plan: ‘What then, is the purpose of it all? Is it just material achievement? Will the whole urge be satisfied when everyone has plenty to eat and drink, every possible assurance against sickness and old age, a house, a television set, and a long seaside holiday each year? What other end can a communist civilisation hold in prospect except this, which modern science can so easily satisfy within the next few years?
If you begin with the belief that all history can be interpreted only in material terms, and that any spiritual purpose is a trick and a delusion, which has the simple object of distracting the workers from their material aim of improving their conditions—the only reality—what end can there be even after every conceivable success, except the satisfaction of further material desires? When all the basic needs and wants are sated by the output of the new science, what further aim can there be but the devising of ever more fantastic amusements to titillate material appetites? If Soviet civilisation achieves its furthest ambitions, is the end to be sputnik races round the stars to relieve the tedium of being a communist?
‘Communism is a limited creed, and its limitations are inevitable. If the original impulse is envy, malice, and hatred against someone who has something you have not got, you are inevitably limited by the whole impulse to which you owe the origin of your faith and movement. That initial emotion may be well founded, may be based on justice, on indignation against the vile treatment of the workers in the early days of the industrial revolution. But if you hold that creed, you carry within yourself your own prison walls, because any escape from that origin seems to lead towards the hated shape of the man who once had something you had not got; anything above or beyond yourself is bad. In reality, he may be far from being a higher form; he may be a most decadent product of an easy living which he was incapable of using even for self-development, an ignoble example of missed opportunity. But if the first impulse be envy and hatred of him, you are inhibited from any movement beyond yourself for fear of becoming like him, the man who had something which you had not got.
‘Thus your ideal becomes not something beyond yourself, still less beyond anything which now exists, but rather, the petrified, fossilised shape of that section of the community which was most oppressed, suffering and limited by every material circumstance in the middle of the nineteenth century. The real urge is then to drag everything down toward the lowest level of life, rather than the attempt to raise everything towards the highest level of life which has yet been attained, and finally to move beyond even that. In all things this system of values seeks what is low instead of what is high.
‘So communism has no longer any deep appeal to the sane, sensible mass of the European workers who, in entire contradiction of Marxian belief in their increasing “immiseration”, have moved by the effort of their own trade unions and by political action to at least a partial participation in the plenty which the new science is beginning to bring, and towards a way of living and an outlook in which they do not recognise themselves at all as the miserable and oppressed figures of communism’s original workers.
‘The ideal is no longer the martyred form of the oppressed, but the beginning of a higher form. Men are beginning not to look down, but to look up. And it is precisely at this point that a new way of political thinking can give definite shape to what many are beginning to feel is a new forward urge of humanity. It becomes an impulse of nature itself directly man is free from the stifling oppression of dire, primitive need.
‘The ideal of creating a higher form on earth can now rise before men with the power of a spiritual purpose, which is not simply a philosophic abstraction but a concrete expression of a deep human desire. All men want their children to live better than they have lived, just as they have tried by their own exertions to lift themselves beyond the level of their fathers whose affection and sacrifice often gave them the chance to do it. This is a right and natural urge in mankind, and, when fully understood, becomes a spiritual purpose.’
This purpose I described as the doctrine of higher forms. The idea of a continual movement of humanity from the amoeba to modern man and on to ever higher forms has interested me since my prison days, when I first became acutely aware of the relationship between modern science and Greek philosophy. Perhaps it is the very simplicity of the thesis which gives it strength; mankind moving from the primitive beginning which modern science reveals to the present stage of evolution and continuing in this long ascent to heights beyond our present vision, if the urge of nature and the purpose of life are to be fulfilled. While simple to the point of the obvious, in detailed analysis it is the exact opposite of prevailing values. Most great impulses of life are in essence simple, however complex their origin. An idea may be derived from three thousand years of European thought and action, and yet be stated in a way that all men can understand.
My thinking on this subject was finally reduced to the extreme of simplicity in the conclusion of Europe, Faith and Plan: ‘To believe that the purpose of life is a movement from lower to higher forms is to record an observable fact. If we reject that fact, we reject every finding of modern science, as well as the evidence of our own eyes…. It is necessary to believe that this is the purpose of life, because we can observe that this is the way the world works, whether we believe in divine purpose or not. And once we believe this is the way the world works, and deduce from the long record that it is the only way it can work, this becomes a purpose because it is the only means by which the world is likely to work in future. If the purpose fails, the world fails.
The purpose so far has achieved the most incredible results—incredible to anyone who had been told in advance what was going to happen—by working from the most primitive life forms to the relative heights of present human development. Purpose becomes, therefore, quite clearly in the light of modern knowledge a movement from lower to higher forms. And if purpose in this way has moved so far and achieved so much, it is only reasonable to assume that it will so continue if it continues at all; if the world lasts. Therefore, if we desire to sustain human existence, if we believe in mankind’s origin which science now makes clear, and in his destiny which a continuance of the same progress makes possible, we must desire to aid rather than to impede the discernible purpose. That means we should serve the purpose which moves from lower to higher forms; this becomes our creed of life. Our life is dedicated to the purpose.
‘In practical terms this surely indicates that we should not tell men to be content with themselves as they are, but should urge them to strive to become something beyond themselves. … To assure men that we have no need to surpass ourselves, and thereby to imply that men are perfect, is surely the extreme of arrogant presumption. It is also a most dangerous folly, because it is rapidly becoming clear that if mankind’s moral nature and spiritual stature cannot increase more commensurately with his material achievements, we risk the death of the world. . . .
‘We must learn to live, as well as to do. We must restore harmony with life, and recognise the purpose in life. Man has released the forces of nature just as he has become separated from nature; this is a mortal danger, and is reflected in the neurosis of the age. We cannot stay just where we are; it is an uneasy, perilous and impossible situation. Man must either reach beyond his present self, or fail; and if he fails this time, the failure is final. That is the basic difference between this age and all previous periods. It was never before possible for this failure of men to bring the world to an end.
‘It is not only a reasonable aim to strive for a higher form among men; it is a creed with the strength of a religious conviction. It is not only a plain necessity of the new age of science which the genius of man’s mind has brought; it is in accordance with the long process of nature within which we may read the purpose of the world. And it is no small and selfish aim, for we work not only for ourselves but for a time to come. The long striving of our lives can not only save our present civilisation, but can also enable others more fully to realise and to enjoy the great beauty of this world, not only in peace and happiness, but in an ever unfolding wisdom and rising consciousness of the mission of man.’
The doctrine of higher forms may have appealed to some in a generation acutely aware of the divorce between religion and science because it was an attempted synthesis of these two impulses of the human movement. I went so far as to say that higher forms could have the force of a science and a religion, in the secular sense, since it derived both from the evolutionary process first recognised in the last century, and from the philosophy, perhaps the mysticism, well described as the ‘eternal becoming’, which Hellenism first gave to Europe as an original and continuing movement still represented in the thinking, architecture and music of the main European tradition.
To simplify and synthesise are the chief gifts which clear thought can bring, and never have they been so deeply needed as in this age. A healing synthesis is required, a union of Hellenism’s calm but radiant embrace of the beauty and wonder of life with the Gothic impulse of new discoveries urging man to reach beyond his presently precarious balance until sanity itself is threatened. The genius of Hellas can still give back to Europe the life equilibrium, the firm foundation from which science can grasp the stars. He who can combine within himself this sanity and this dynamism becomes thereby a higher form, and beyond him can be an ascent revealing always a further wisdom and beauty. It is a personal ideal for which all can try to live, a purpose in life.
We can thus resume the journey to further summits of the human spirit with measure and moderation won from the struggle and tribulation of these years. We may even in this time of folly and sequent adversity gain the balance of maturity which alone can make us worthy of the treasures, capable of using the miraculous endowment, and also of averting the tempestuous dangers, of modern science. We may at last acquire the adult mind, without which the world cannot survive, and learn to use with wisdom and decision the wonders of this age.
I hope that this record of my own small part in these great affairs and still greater possibilities has at least shown that I have ‘the repugnance to mean and cruel dealings’ which the wise old man ascribed to me so long ago, and yet have attempted by some union of mind and will to combine thought and deed; that I have stood with consistency for the construction of a worthy dwelling for humanity, and at all cost against the rage and folly of insensate and purposeless destruction; that I have followed the truth as I saw it, wherever that service led me, and have ventured to look and strive through the dark to a future that can make all worth while.