Eugenics and Other Evils by G.K. Chesterton Part One
Return to Main Page:
Continue Reading:
First is presented Chesterton's writing on the subject which gives
us a good view of the conditions involving Eugenics in his time and
next is presented a study done in 1995.

Eugenics and Other Evils
by G.K. Chesterton



I publish these essays at the present time for a particular reason connected with the present situation; a
reason which I should like briefly to emphasize and make clear.
Though most of the conclusions, especially towards the end, are conceived with reference to recent
events, the actual bulk of preliminary notes about the science of Eugenics were written before the war. It
was a time when this theme was the topic of the hour; when eugenic babies --- not visibly very
distinguishable from other babies --- sprawled all over the illustrated papers; when the evolutionary
fancy of Nietzsche was the new cry among the intellectuals; and when Mr. Bernard Shaw and others
were considering the idea that to breed a man like a cart-horse was the true way to attain that higher
civilization, of intellectual magnanimity and sympathetic insight, which may be found in cart-horses. It
may therefore appear that I took the opinion too controversially, and it seems to me that I some times
took it too seriously. But the criticism of Eugenics soon expanded of itself into a more general criticism
of a modern craze for scientific officialism and strict social organization.
And then the hour came when I felt, not without relief, that I might well fling all my notes into the fire.
The fire was a very big one, and was burning up bigger things than such pedantic quackeries. And,
anyhow, the issue itself was being settled in a very different style. Scientific officialism and organization
in the State which had specialized in them, had gone to war with the older culture of Christendom.
Either Prussianism would win and the protest would be hopeless, or Prussianism would lose and the
protest would be needless. As the war advanced from poison gas to piracy against neutrals, it grew more
and more plain that the scientifically organized State was not increasing in popularity. Whatever
happened, no Englishmen would ever again go nosing round the stinks of that low laboratory. So I
thought all I had written irrelevant, and put it out of my mind.

I am greatly grieved to say that it is not irrelevant. It has gradually grown apparent, to my astounded
gaze, that the ruling classes in England are still proceeding on the assumption that Prussia is a pattern for
the whole world. If parts of my book are nearly nine years old most of their principles and proceedings
are a great deal older. They can offer us nothing but the same stuffy science, the same bullying
bureaucracy and the same terrorism by tenth-rate professors that have led the German Empire to its
recent conspicuous triumph. For that reason, three years after the war with Prussia, I collect and publish
these papers.
G. K. C.


The wisest thing in the world is to cry out before you are hurt. It is no good to cry out after you are hurt;
especially after you are mortally hurt. People talk about the impatience of the populace; but sound
historians know that most tyrannies have been possible because men moved too late. It is often essential
to resist a tyranny before it exists. It is no answer to say, with a distant optimism, that the scheme is only
in the air. A blow from a hatchet can only be parried while it is in the air.
There exists to-day a scheme of action, a school of thought, as collective and unmistakable as any of
those by whose grouping alone we can make any outline of history. It is as firm a fact as the Oxford
Movement, or the Puritans of the Long Parliament; or the Jansenists; or the Jesuits. It is a thing that can
be pointed out; it is a thing that can be discussed; and it is a thing that can still be destroyed. It is called
for convenience "Eugenics"; and that it ought to be destroyed I propose to prove in the pages that
follow. I know that it means very different things to different people; but that is only because evil
always takes advantage of ambiguity. I know it is praised with high professions of idealism and
benevolence; with silver-tongued rhetoric about purer motherhood and a happier posterity. But that is
only because evil is always flattered, as the Furies were called "The Gracious Ones." I know that it
numbers many disciples whose intentions are entirely innocent and humane; and who would be
sincerely astonished at my describing it as I do. But that is only because evil always wins through the
strength of its splendid dupes; and there has in all ages been a disastrous alliance between abnormal
innocence and abnormal sin. Of these who are deceived I shall speak of course as we all do of such
instruments; judging them by the good they think they are doing, and not by the evil which they really
do. But Eugenics itself does exist for those who have sense enough to see that ideas exist; and Eugenics
itself, in large quantities or small, coming quickly or coming slowly, urged from good motives or bad,
applied to a thousand people or applied to three, Eugenics itself is a thing no more to be bargained about
than poisoning.

It is not really difficult to sum up the essence of Eugenics: though some of the Eugenists seem to be
rather vague about it. The movement consists of two parts: a moral basis, which is common to all, and a
scheme of social application which varies a good deal. For the moral basis, it is obvious that man's
ethical responsibility varies with his knowledge of consequences. If I were in charge of a baby (like Dr.
Johnson in that tower of vision), and the baby was ill through having eaten the soap, I might possibly
send for a doctor. I might be calling him away from much more serious cases, from the bedsides of
babies whose diet has been far more deadly; but I should be justified. I could not be expected to know
enough about his other patients to be obliged (or even entitled) to sacrifice to them the baby for whom I
was primarily and directly responsible. Now the Eugenic moral basis is this; that the baby for whom we
are primarily and directly responsible is the babe unborn. That is, that we know (or may come to know)
enough of certain inevitable tendencies in biology to consider the fruit of some contemplated union in
that direct and clear light of conscience which we can now only fix on the other partner in that union.
The one duty can conceivably be as definite as or more definite than the other. The baby that does not
exist can be considered even before the wife who does. Now it is essential to grasp that this is a
comparatively new note in morality. Of course sane people always thought the aim of marriage was the
procreation of children to the glory of God or according to the plan of Nature; but whether they counted
such children as God's reward for service or Nature's premium on sanity, they always left the reward to
God or the premium to Nature, as a less definable thing. The only person (and this is the point) towards
whom one could have precise duties was the partner in the process. Directly considering the partner's
claims was the nearest one could get to indirectly considering the claims of posterity. If the women of
the harem sang praises of the hero as the Moslem mounted his horse, it was because this was the due of
a man; if the Christian knight helped his wife off her horse, it was because this was the due of a woman.
Definite and detailed dues of this kind they did not predicate of the babe unborn; regarding him in that
agnostic and opportunist light in which Mr. Browdie regarded the hypothetical child of Miss Squeers.
Thinking these sex relations healthy, they naturally hoped they would produce healthy children; but that
was all. The Moslem woman doubtless expected Allah to send beautiful sons to an obedient wife; but
she would not have allowed any direct vision of such sons to alter the obedience itself. She would not
have said, "I will now be a disobedient wife; as the learned leech informs me that great prophets are
often children of disobedient wives." The knight doubtless hoped that the saints would help him to
strong children, if he did all the duties of his station, one of which might be helping his wife off her
horse; but he would not have refrained from doing this because he had read in a book that a course of
falling off horses often resulted in the birth of a genius. Both Moslem and Christian would have thought
such speculations not only impious but utterly unpractical. I quite agree with them; but that is not the
point here.

The point here is that a new school believes Eugenics against Ethics. And it is proved by one familiar
fact: that the heroisms of history are actually the crimes of Eugenics. The Eugenists' books and articles
are full of suggestions that non-eugenic unions should and may come to be regarded as we regard sins;
that we should really feel that marrying an invalid is a kind of cruelty to children. But history is full of
the praises of people who have held sacred such ties to invalids; of cases like those of Colonel
Hutchinson and Sir William Temples, who remained faithful to betrothals when beauty and health had
been apparently blasted. And though the illnesses of Dorothy Osborne and Mrs. Hutchinson may not fall
under the Eugenic speculations (I do not know), it is obvious that they might have done so; and certainly
it would not have made any difference to men's moral opinion of the act. I do not discuss here which
morality I favour; but I insist that they are opposite. The Eugenist really sets up as saints the very men
whom hundreds of families have called sneaks. To be consistent, they ought to put up statues to the men
who deserted their loves because of bodily misfortune; with inscriptions celebrating the good Eugenist
who, on his fianc?e falling off a bicycle, nobly refused to marry her; or to the young hero who, on
hearing of an uncle with erysipelas, magnanimously broke his word. What is perfectly plain is this: that
mankind have hitherto held the bond between man and woman so sacred, and the effect of it on the
children so incalculable, that they have always admired the maintenance of honour more than the
maintenance of safety. Doubtless they thought that even the children might be none the worse for not
being the children of cowards and shirkers; but this was not the first thought, the first commandment.
Briefly, we may say that while many moral systems have set restraints on sex almost as severe as any
Eugenist could set, they have almost always had the character of securing the fidelity of the two sexes to
each other, and leaving the rest to God. To introduce an ethic which makes that fidelity or infidelity vary
with some calculation about heredity is that rarest of all things, a revolution that has not happened

It is only right to say here, though the matter should only be touched on, that many Eugenists would
contradict this, in so far as to claim that there was a consciously Eugenic reason for the horror of those
unions which begin with the celebrated denial to man of the privilege of marrying his grandmother. Dr.
S. R. Steinmetz, with that creepy simplicity of mind with which the Eugenists chill the blood, remarks
that "we do not yet know quite certainly" what were "the motives for the horror of" that horrible thing
which is the agony of Oedipus. With entirely amiable intention, I ask Dr. S. R. Steinmetz to speak for
himself. I know the motives for regarding a mother or a sister as separate from other women; nor have I
reached them by any curious researches. I found them where I found an analogous aversion to eating a
baby for breakfast. I found them in a rooted detestation in the human soul to liking a thing in one way,
when you already like it in another quite incompatible way. Now it is perfectly true that this aversion
may have acted eugenically; and so had a certain ultimate confirmation and basis in the laws of
procreation. But there really cannot be any Eugenist quite so dull as not to see that this is not a defence
of Eugenics but a direct denial of Eugenics. If something which has been discovered at last by the lamp
of learning is something which has been acted on from the first by the light of nature, this (so far as it
goes) is plainly not an argument for pestering people, but an argument for letting them alone. If men did
not marry their grandmothers when it was, for all they knew, a most hygienic habit; if we know now that
they instinctively avoided scientific peril; that, so far as it goes, is a point in favour of letting people
marry anyone they like. It is simply the statement that sexual selection, or what Christians call falling in
love, is a part of man which in the rough and in the long run can be trusted. And that is the destruction of
the whole of this science at a blow.

The second part of the definition, the persuasive or coercive methods to be employed, I shall deal with
more fully in the second part of this book. But some such summary as the following may here be useful.
Far into the unfathomable past of our race we find the assumption that the founding of a family is the
personal adventure of a free man. Before slavery sank slowly out of sight under the new climate of
Christianity, it may or may not be true that slaves were in some sense bred like cattle, valued as a
promising stock for labour. If it was so it was so in a much looser and vaguer sense than the breeding of
the Eugenists; and such modern philosophers read into the old paganism a fantastic pride and cruelty
which are wholly modern. It may be, however, that pagan slaves had some shadow of the blessings of
the Eugenist's care. It is quite certain that the pagan freemen would have killed the first man that
suggested it. I mean suggested it seriously; for Plato was only a Bernard Shaw who unfortunately made
his jokes in Greek. Among free men, the law, more often the creed, most commonly of all the custom,
have laid all sorts of restrictions on sex for this reason or that. But law and creed and custom have never
concentrated heavily except upon fixing and keeping the family when once it had been made. The act of
founding the family, I repeat, was an individual adventure outside the frontiers of the State. Our first
forgotten ancestors left this tradition behind them; and our own latest fathers and mothers a few years
ago would have thought us lunatics to be discussing it. The shortest general definition of Eugenics on its
practical side is that it does, in a more or less degree, propose to control some families at least as if they
were families of pagan slaves. I shall discuss later the question of the people to whom this pressure may
be applied; and the much more puzzling question of what people will apply it. But it is to be applied at
the very least by somebody to somebody, and that on certain calculations about breeding which are
affirmed to be demonstrable. So much for the subject itself. I say that this thing exists. I define it as
closely as matters involving moral evidence can be defined; I call it Eugenics. If after that anyone
chooses to say that Eugenics is not the Greek for this --- I am content to answer that "chivalrous" is not
the French for "horsy"; and that such controversial games are more horsy than chivalrous.

Now before I set about arguing these things, there is a cloud of skirmishers, of harmless and confused
modern sceptics, who ought to be cleared off or calmed down before we come to debate with the real
doctors of the heresy. If I sum up my statement thus: "Eugenics, as discussed, evidently means the
control of some men over the marriage and unmarriage of others; and probably means the control of the
few over the marriage and unmarriage of the many," I shall first of all receive the sort of answers that
float like skim on the surface of teacups and talk. I may very roughly and rapidly divide these
preliminary objectors into five sects; whom I will call the Euphemists, the Casuists, the Autocrats, the
Precedenters, and the Endeavourers. When we have answered the immediate protestation of all these
good, shouting, short-sighted people, we can begin to do justice to those intelligences that are really
behind the idea.

Most Eugenists are Euphemists. I mean merely that short words startle them, while long words soothe
them. And they are utterly incapable of translating the one into the other, however obviously they mean
the same thing. Say to them "The persuasive and even coercive powers of the citizen should enable him
to make sure that the burden of longevity in the previous generations does not become disproportionate
and intolerable, especially to the females?"; say this to them and they sway slightly to and fro like babies
sent to sleep in cradles. Say to them "Murder your mother," and they sit up quite suddenly. Yet the two
sentences, in cold logic, are exactly the same. Say to them "It is not improbable that a period may arrive
when the narrow if once useful distinction between the anthropoid homo and the other animals, which
has been modified on so many moral points, may be modified also even in regard to the important
question of the extension of human diet"; say this to them, and beauty born of murmuring sound will
pass into their faces. But say to them, in a simple, manly, hearty way "Let's eat a man!" and their
surprise is quite surprising. Yet the sentences say just the same thing. Now, if anyone thinks these two
instances extravagant, I will refer to two actual cases from the Eugenic discussions. When Sir Oliver
Lodge spoke of the methods "of the stud-farm" many Eugenists exclaimed against the crudity of the
suggestion. Yet long before that one of the ablest champions in the other interest had written "What
nonsense this education is! Who could educate a racehorse or a greyhound?" Which most certainly
either means nothing, or the human stud-farm. Or again, when I spoke of people "being married forcibly
by the police," another distinguished Eugenist almost achieved high spirits in his hearty assurance that
no such thing had ever come into their heads. Yet a few days after I saw a Eugenist pronouncement, to
the effect that the State ought to extend its powers in this area. The State can only be that corporation
which men permit to employ compulsion; and this area can only be the area of sexual selection. I mean
somewhat more than an idle jest when I say that the policeman will generally be found in that area. But I
willingly admit that the policeman who looks after weddings will be like the policeman who looks after
wedding-presents. He will be in plain clothes. I do not mean that a man in blue with a helmet will drag
the bride and bridegroom to the altar. I do mean that nobody that man in blue is told to arrest will even
dare to come near the church. Sir Oliver did not mean that men would be tied up in stables and scrubbed
down by grooms. He meant that they would undergo a loss of liberty which to men is even more
infamous. He meant that the only formula important to Eugenists would be "by Smith out of Jones."
Such a formula is one of the shortest in the world; and is certainly the shortest way with the Euphemists.
The next sect of superficial objectors is even more irritating. I have called them, for immediate purposes,
the Casuists. Suppose I say "I, dislike this spread of Cannibalism in the West End restaurants."
Somebody is sure to say "Well, after all, Queen Eleanor when she sucked blood from her husband's arm
was a cannibal." What is one to say to such people? One can only say "Confine yourself to sucking
poisoned blood from people's arms? and I permit you to call yourself by the glorious title of Cannibal."
In this sense people say of Eugenics, "After all, whenever we discourage a schoolboy from marrying a
mad negress with a hump back, we are really Eugenists." Again one can only answer, "Confine
yourselves strictly to such schoolboys as are naturally attracted to hump-backed negresses; and you may
exult in the title of Eugenist, all the more proudly because that distinction will be rare." But surely
anyone's common-sense must tell him that if Eugenics dealt only with such extravagant cases, it would
be called common-sense --- and not Eugenics. The human race has excluded such absurdities for
unknown ages; and has never yet called it Eugenics. You may call it flogging when you hit a choking
gentleman on the back; you may call it torture when a man unfreezes his fingers at the fire; but if you
talk like that a little longer you will cease to live among living men. If nothing but this mad minimum of
accident were involved, there would be no such thing as a Eugenic Congress, and certainly no such thing
as this book.

I had thought of calling the next sort of superficial people the Idealists; but I think this implies a
humility towards impersonal good they hardly show; so I call them the Autocrats. They are those who
give us generally to understand that every modern reform will "work" all right, because they will be
there to see. Where they will be, and for how long, they do not explain very clearly. I do not mind their
looking forward to numberless lives in succession; for that is the shadow of a human or divine hope. But
even a theosophist does not expect to be a vast number of people at once. And these people most
certainly propose to be responsible for a whole movement after it has left their hands. Each man
promises to be about a thousand policemen. If you ask them how this or that will work, they will
answer, "Oh, I would certainly insist on this"; or "I would never go so far as that"; as if they could return
to this earth and do what no ghost has ever done quite successfully --- force men to forsake their sins. Of
these it is enough to say that they do not understand the nature of a law any more than the nature of a
dog. If you let loose a law, it will do as a dog does. It will obey its own nature, not yours. Such sense as
you have put into the law (or the dog) will be fulfilled. But you will not be able to fulfill a fragment of
anything you have forgotten to put into it.

Along with such idealists should go the strange people who seem to think that you can consecrate and
purify any campaign for ever by repeating the names of the abstract virtues that its better advocates had
in mind. These people will say "So far from aiming at slavery, the Eugenists are seeking true liberty;
liberty from disease and degeneracy, etc." Or they will say "We can assure Mr. Chesterton that the
Eugenists have no intention of segregating the harmless; justice and mercy are the very motto of ---" etc.
To this kind of thing perhaps the shortest answer is this. Many of those who speak thus are agnostic or
generally unsympathetic to official religion. Suppose one of them said "The Church of England is full of
hypocrisy." What would he think of me if I answered, "I assure you that hypocrisy is condemned by
every form of Christianity; and is particularly repudiated in the Prayer Book"? Suppose he said that the
Church of Rome had been guilty of great cruelties. What would he think of me if I answered, "The
Church is expressly bound to meekness and charity; and therefore cannot be cruel"? This kind of people
need not detain us long. Then there are others whom I may call the Precedenters; who flourish
particularly in Parliament. They are best represented by the solemn official who said the other day that
he could not understand the clamour against the Feeble-Minded Bill as it only extended the "principles"
of the old Lunacy Laws. To which again one can only answer "Quite so. It only extends the principles of
the Lunacy Laws to persons without a trace of lunacy." This lucid politician finds an old law, let us say,
about keeping lepers in quarantine. He simply alters the word "lepers" to "long-nosed people," and says
blandly that the principle is the same.

Perhaps the weakest of all are those helpless persons whom I have called the Endeavourers. The prize
specimen of them was another M. P. who defended the same Bill as "an honest attempt" to deal with a
great evil: as if one had a right to dragoon and enslave one's fellow citizens as a kind of chemical
experiment; in a state of reverent agnosticism about what would come of it. But with this fatuous notion
that one can deliberately establish the Inquisition or the Terror, and then faintly trust the larger hope, I
shall have to deal more seriously in a subsequent chapter. It is enough to say here that the best thing the
honest Endeavourer could do would be to make an honest attempt to know what he is doing. And not to
do anything else until he has found out. Lastly, there is a class of controversialists so hopeless and futile
that I have really failed to find a name for them. But whenever anyone attempts to argue rationally for or
against any existent and recognizable thing, such as the Eugenic class of legislation, there are always
people who begin to chop hay about Socialism and Individualism; and say "You object to all State
interference; I am in favour of State interference. You are an Individualist; I, on the other hand," etc. To
which I can only answer, with heart-broken patience, that I am not an Individualist, but a poor fallen but
baptized journalist who is trying to write a book about Eugenists, several of whom he has met; whereas
he never met an Individualist and is by no means certain he would recognize him if he did. In short, I do
not deny, but strongly affirm, the right of the State to interfere to cure a great evil. I say in this case it
would interfere to create a great evil; and I am not going to be turned from the discussion of that direct
issue to bottomless botherations about Socialism and Individualism, or the relative advantages of always
turning to the right and always turning to the left.

And for the rest, there is undoubtedly an enormous mass of sensible, rather thoughtless people, whose
rooted sentiment it is that any deep change in our society must be in some way infinitely distant. They
cannot believe that men in hats and coats like themselves can be preparing a revolution; all their
Victorian philosophy has taught them that such transformations are always slow. Therefore, when I
speak of Eugenic legislation, or the coming of the Eugenic State, they think of it as something like The
Time Machine or Looking Backward: a thing that, good or bad, will have to fit itself to their great-greatgreat-grandchild, who may be very different and may like it; and who in any case is rather a distant
relative. To all this I have, to begin with, a very short and simple answer. The Eugenic State has begun.
The first of the Eugenic Laws has already been adopted by the Government of this country; and passed
with the applause of both parties through the dominant House of Parliament. This first Eugenic Law
clears the ground and may be said to proclaim negative Eugenics; but it cannot be defended, and nobody
has attempted to defend it, except on the Eugenic theory. I will call it the Feeble-Minded Bill, both for
brevity and because the description is strictly accurate. It is, and quite simply and literally, a Bill for
incarcerating as madmen those whom no doctor will consent to call mad. It is enough if some doctor or
other may happen to call them weak-minded. Since there is scarcely any human being to whom this term
has not been conversationally applied by his own friends and relatives on some occasion or other (unless
his friends and relatives have been lamentably lacking in spirit), it can be clearly seen that this law, like
the early Christian Church (to which, however, it presents points of dissimilarity), is a net drawing in of
all kinds. It must not be supposed that we have a stricter definition incorporated in the Bill. Indeed, the
first definition of "feeble-minded" in the Bill was much looser and vaguer than the phrase "feebleminded"
itself. It is a piece of yawning idiocy about "persons who though capable of earning their living
under favourable circumstances" (as if anyone could earn his living if circumstances were directly
unfavourable to his doing so), are nevertheless "incapable of managing their affairs with proper
prudence"; which is exactly what all the world and his wife are saying about their neighbours all over
this planet. But as an incapacity for any kind of thought is now regarded as statesmanship, there is
nothing so very novel about such slovenly drafting. What is novel and what is vital is this: that the
defence of this crazy Coercion Act is a Eugenic defence. It is not only openly said, it is eagerly urged,
that the aim of the measure is to prevent any person whom these propagandists do not happen to think
intelligent from having any wife or children. Every tramp who is sulky, every labourer who is shy, every
rustic who is eccentric, can quite easily be brought under such conditions as were designed for
homicidal maniacs. That is the situation; and that is the point. England has forgotten the Feudal State; it
is in the last anarchy of the Industrial State; there is much in Mr. Belloc's theory that it is approaching
the Servile State; it cannot at present get at the Distributive State; it has almost certainly missed the
Socialist State. But we are already under the Eugenist State; and nothing remains to us but rebellion.


A silent anarchy is eating out our society. I must pause upon the expression; because the true nature of
anarchy is mostly misapprehended. It is not in the least necessary that anarchy should be violent; nor is
it necessary that it should come from below. A government may grow anarchic as much as a people. The
more sentimental sort of Tory uses the word anarchy as a mere term of abuse for rebellion; but he misses
a most important intellectual distinction. Rebellion may be wrong and disastrous; but even when
rebellion is wrong, it is never anarchy. When it is not self-defence, it is usurpation. It aims at setting up a
new rule in place of the old rule. And while it cannot be anarchic in essence (because it has an aim), it
certainly cannot be anarchic in method; for men must be organized when they fight; and the discipline in
a rebel army has to be as good as the discipline in the royal army. This deep principle of distinction must
be clearly kept in mind. Take for the sake of symbolism those two great spiritual stories which, whether
we count them myths or mysteries, have so long been the two hinges of all European morals. The
Christian who is inclined to sympathize generally with constituted authority will think of rebellion under
the image of Satan, the rebel against God. But Satan, though a traitor, was not an anarchist. He claimed
the crown of the cosmos; and had he prevailed, would have expected his rebel angels to give up
rebelling. On the other hand, the Christian whose sympathies are more generally with just self-defence
among the oppressed will think rather of Christ Himself defying the High Priests and scourging the rich
traders. But whether or no Christ was (as some say) a Socialist, He most certainly was not an Anarchist.
Christ, like Satan, claimed the throne. He set up a new authority against an old authority; but He set it up
with positive commandments and a comprehensible scheme. In this light all mediaeval people ---
indeed, all people until a little while ago --- would have judged questions involving revolt. John Ball
would have offered to pull down the government because it was a bad government, not because it was a
government. Richard II would have blamed Bolingbroke not as a disturber of the peace, but as a usurper.
Anarchy, then, in the useful sense of the word, is a thing utterly distinct from any rebellion, right or
wrong. It is not necessarily angry; it is not, in its first stages, at least, even necessarily painful. And, as I
said before, it is often entirely silent.

Anarchy is that condition of mind or methods in which you cannot stop yourself. It is the loss of that
self-control which can return to the normal. It is not anarchy because men are permitted to begin uproar,
extravagance, experiment, peril. It is anarchy when people cannot end these things. It is not anarchy in
the home if the whole family sits up all night on New Year's Eve. It is anarchy in the home if members
of the family sit up later and later for months afterwards. It was not anarchy in the Roman villa when,
during the Saturnalia, the slaves turned masters or the masters slaves. It was (from the slave-owners'
point of view) anarchy if, after the Saturnalia, the slaves continued to behave in a Saturnalian manner;
but it is historically evident that they did not. It is not anarchy to have a picnic; but it is anarchy to lose
all memory of mealtimes. It would, I think, be anarchy if (as is the disgusting suggestion of some) we all
took what we liked off the sideboard. That is the way swine would eat if swine had sideboards; they
have no immovable feasts; they are uncommonly progressive, are swine. It is this inability to return
within rational limits after a legitimate extravagance that is the really dangerous disorder. The modern
world is like Niagara. It is magnificent, but it is not strong. It is as weak as water --- like Niagara. The
objection to a cataract is not that it is deafening or dangerous or even destructive, it is that it cannot stop.
Now it is plain that this sort of chaos can possess the powers that rule a society as easily as the society
so ruled. And in modern England it is the powers that rule who are chiefly possessed by it --- who are
truly possessed by devils. The phrase, in its sound old psychological sense, is not too strong. The State
has suddenly and quietly gone mad. It is talking nonsense and it can't stop.

Now it is perfectly plain that government ought to have, and must have, the same sort of right to use
exceptional methods occasionally that the private householder has to have a picnic or to sit up all night
on New Year's Eve. The State, like the householder, is sane if it can treat such exceptions as exceptions.
Such desperate remedies may not even be right; but such remedies are endurable as long as they are
admittedly desperate. Such cases, of course, are the communism of food in a besieged city; the official
disavowal of an arrested spy; the subjection of a patch of civil life to martial law; the cutting of
communication in a plague; or that deepest degradation of the commonwealth, the use of national
soldiers not against foreign soldiers, but against their own brethren in revolt. Of these exceptions some
are right and some wrong; but all are right in so far as they are taken as exceptions. The modern world is
insane, not so much because it admits the abnormal as because it cannot recover the normal.
We see this in the vague extension of punishments like imprisonment; often the very reformers who
admit that prison is bad for people propose to reform them by a little more of it. We see it in panic
legislation like that after the White Slave scare, when the torture of flogging was revived for all sorts of
ill-defined and vague and variegated types of men. Our fathers were never so mad, even when they were
torturers. They stretched the man out on the rack. They did not stretch the rack out, as we are doing.
When men went witch-burning they may have seen witches everywhere --- because their minds were
fixed on witchcraft. But they did not see things to burn everywhere, because their minds were unfixed.
While tying some very unpopular witch to the stake, with the firm conviction that she was a spiritual
tyranny and pestilence, they did not say to each other, "A little burning is what my Aunt Susan wants, to
cure her of her back-biting," or "Some of these faggots would do your Cousin James good, and teach
him to play with poor girls' affections."
Now the name of all this is Anarchy. It not only does not know what it wants, but it does not even know
what it hates. It multiplies excessively in the more American sort of English newspapers. When this new
sort of New Englander burns a witch the whole prairie catches fire. These people have not the decision
and detachment of the doctrinal ages. They cannot do a monstrous action and still see it is monstrous.
Wherever they make a stride they make a rut. They cannot stop their own thoughts, though their
thoughts are pouring into the pit.

A final instance, which can be sketched much more briefly, can be found in this general fact: that the
definition of almost every crime has become more and more indefinite, and spreads like a flattening and
thinning cloud over larger and larger landscapes. Cruelty to children, one would have thought, was a
thing about as unmistakable, unusual and appalling as parricide. In its application it has come to cover
almost every negligence that can occur in a needy household. The only distinction is, of course, that
these negligences are punished in the poor, who generally can't help them, and not in the rich, who
generally can. But that is not the point I am arguing just now. The point here is that a crime we all
instinctively connect with Herod on the bloody night of Innocents has come precious near being
attributable to Mary and Joseph when they lost their child in the Temple. In the light of a fairly recent
case (the confessedly kind mother who was lately jailed because her confessedly healthy children had no
water to wash in) no one, I think, will call this an illegitimate literary exaggeration. Now this is exactly
as if all the horror and heavy punishment, attached in the simplest tribes to parricide, could now be used
against my son who had done any act that could colourably be supposed to have worried his father, and
so affected his health. Few of us would be safe.

Another case out of hundreds is the loose extension of the idea of libel. Libel cases bear no more trace of
the old and just anger against the man who bore false witness against his neighbour than "cruelty" cases
do of the old and just horror of the parents that hated their own flesh. A libel case has become one of the
sports of the less athletic rich --- a variation on baccarat, a game of chance. A music-hall actress got
damages for a song that was called "vulgar," which is as if I could fine or imprison my neighbour for
calling my handwriting "rococo." A politician got huge damages because he was said to have spoken to
children about Tariff Reform; as if that seductive topic would corrupt their virtue, like an indecent story.
Sometimes libel is defined as anything calculated to hurt a man in his business; in which case any new
tradesman calling himself a grocer slanders the grocer opposite. All this, I say, is Anarchy; for it is clear
that its exponents possess no power of distinction, or sense of proportion, by which they can draw the
line between calling a woman a popular singer and calling her a bad lot; or between charging a man with
leading infants to Protection and leading them to sin and shame. But the vital point to which to return is
this. That it is not necessarily nor even specially, an anarchy in the populace. It is an anarchy in the
organ of government. It is the magistrates --- voices of the governing class --- who cannot distinguish
between cruelty and carelessness. It is the judges (and their very submissive special juries) who cannot
see the difference between opinion and slander. And it is the highly placed and highly paid experts who
have brought in the first Eugenic Law, the Feeble-Minded Bill --- thus showing that they can see no
difference between a mad and a sane man.

That, to begin with, is the historic atmosphere in which this thing was born. It is a peculiar atmosphere,
and luckily not likely to last. Real progress bears the same relation to it that a happy girl laughing bears
to an hysterical girl who cannot stop laughing. But I have described this atmosphere first because it is
the only atmosphere in which such a thing as the Eugenist legislation could be proposed among men. All
other ages would have called it to some kind of logical account, however academic or narrow. The
lowest sophist in the Greek schools would remember enough of Socrates to force the Eugenist to tell
him (at least) whether Midias was segregated because he was curable or because he was incurable. The
meanest Thomist of the mediaeval monasteries would have the sense to see that you cannot discuss a
madman when you have not discussed a man. The most owlish Calvinist commentator in the
seventeenth century would ask the Eugenist to reconcile such Bible texts as derided fools with the other
Bible texts that praised them. The dullest shopkeeper in Paris in l790 would have asked what were the
Rights of Man, if they did not include the rights of the lover, the husband, and the father. It is only in our
own London Particular (as Mr. Guppy said of the fog) that small figures can loom so large in the vapour,
and even mingle with quite different figures, and have the appearance of a mob. But, above all, I have
dwelt on the telescopic quality in these twilight avenues, because unless the reader realizes how elastic
and unlimited they are, he simply will not believe in the abominations we have to combat.

One of those wise old fairy tales, that come from nowhere and flourish everywhere, tells how a man
came to own a small magic machine like a coffee-mill, which would grind anything he wanted when he
said one word and stop when he said another. After performing marvels (which I wish my conscience
would let me put into this book for padding) the mill was merely asked to grind a few grains of salt at an
officers' mess on board ship; for salt is the type everywhere of small luxury and exaggeration, and
sailors' tales should be taken with a grain of it. The man remembered the word that started the salt mill,
and then, touching the word that stopped it, suddenly remembered that he forgot. The tall ship sank,
laden and sparkling to the topmasts with salt like Arctic snows; but the mad mill was still grinding at the
ocean bottom, where all the men lay drowned. And that (so says this fairy tale) is why the great waters
about our world have a bitter taste. For the fairy tales knew what the modern mystics don't --- that one
should not let loose either the supernatural or the natural.


The modern evil, we have said, greatly turns on this: that people do not see that the exception proves the
rule. Thus it may or may not be right to kill a murderer; but it can only conceivably be right to kill a
murderer because it is wrong to kill a man. If the hangman, having got his hand in, proceeded to hang
friends and relatives to his taste and fancy, he would (intellectually) unhang the first man, though the
first man might not think so. Or thus again, if you say an insane man is irresponsible, you imply that a
sane man is responsible. He is responsible for the insane man. And the attempt of the Eugenists and
other fatalists to treat all men as irresponsible is the largest and flattest folly in philosophy. The Eugenist
has to treat everybody, including himself, as an exception to a rule that isn't there.
The Eugenists, as a first move, have extended the frontiers of the lunatic asylum; let us take this as our
definite starting point, and ask ourselves what lunacy is, and what is its fundamental relation to human
society. Now that raw juvenile scepticism that clogs all thought with catchwords may often be heard to
remark that the mad are only the minority, the sane only the majority. There is a neat exactitude about
such people's nonsense; they seem to miss the point by magic. The mad are not a minority because they
are not a corporate body; and that is what their madness means. The sane are not a majority; they are
mankind. And mankind (as its name would seem to imply) is a kind, not a degree. In so far as the lunatic
differs, he differs from all minorities and majorities in kind. The madman who thinks he is a knife
cannot go into partnership with the other who thinks he is a fork. There is no trysting place outside
reason; there is no inn on those wild roads that are beyond the world.

The madman is not he that defies the world. The saint, the criminal, the martyr, the cynic, the nihilist
may all defy the world quite sanely. And even if such fanatics would destroy the world the world owes
them a strictly fair trial according to proof and public law. But the madman is not the man who defies
the world; he is the man who denies it. Suppose we are all standing round a field and looking at a tree in
the middle of it. It is perfectly true that we all see it (as the decadents say) in infinitely different aspects:
that is not the point; the point is that we all say it is a tree. Suppose, if you will, that we are all poets?
which seems improbable; so that each of us could turn his aspect into a vivid image distinct from a tree.
Suppose one says it looks like a green cloud and another like a green fountain, and a third like a green
dragon and the fourth like a green cheese. The fact remains: that they all say it looks like these things. It
is a tree. Nor are any of the poets in the least mad because of any opinions they may form, however
frenzied, about the functions or future of the tree. A conservative poet may wish to clip the tree; a
revolutionary poet may wish to burn it. An optimist poet may want to make it a Christmas tree and hang
candles on it. A pessimist poet may want to hang himself on it. None of these are mad, because they are
all talking about the same thing. But there is another man who is talking horribly about something else.
There is a monstrous exception to mankind. Why he is so we know not; a new theory says it is heredity;
an older theory says it is devils. But in any case, the spirit of it is the spirit that denies, the spirit that
really denies realities. This is the man who looks at the tree and does not say it looks like a lion, but says
that it is a lamp-post.

I do not mean that all mad delusions are as concrete as this, though some are more concrete. Believing
your own body is glass is a more daring denial of reality than believing a tree is a glass lamp at the top
of a pole. But all true delusions have in them this unalterable assertion --- that what is not is. The
difference between us and the maniac is not about how things look or how things ought to look, but
about what they self-evidently are. The lunatic does not say that he ought to be King; Perkin Warbeck
might say that. He says he is King. The lunatic does not say he is as wise as Shakespeare; Bernard Shaw
might say that. The lunatic says he is Shakespeare. The lunatic does not say he is divine in the same
sense as Christ; Mr. R. J. Campbell would say that. The lunatic says he is Christ. In all cases the
difference is a difference about what is there; not a difference touching what should be done about it.
For this reason, and for this alone, the lunatic is outside public law. This is the abysmal difference
between him and the criminal. The criminal admits the facts, and therefore permits us to appeal to the
facts. We can so arrange the facts around him that he may really understand that agreement is in his own
interests. We can say to him, "Do not steal apples from this tree, or we will hang you on that tree." But if
the man really thinks one tree is a Lamp-post and the other tree a Trafalgar Square fountain, we simply
cannot treat with him at all. It is obviously useless to say, "Do not steal apples from this lamp-post, or I
will hang you on that fountain." If a man denies the facts, there is no answer but to lock him up. He
cannot speak our language: not that varying verbal language which often misses fire even with us, but
that enormous alphabet of sun and moon and green grass and blue sky in which alone we meet, and by
which alone we can signal to each other. That unique man of genius, George Macdonald, described in
one of his weird stories two systems of space co-incident; so that where I knew there was a piano
standing in a drawing-room you knew there was a rose-bush growing in a garden. Something of this sort
is in small or great affairs the matter with the madman. He cannot have a vote, because he is the citizen
of another country. He is a foreigner. Nay, he is an invader and an enemy; for the city he lives in has
been super-imposed on ours.

Now these two things are primarily to be noted in his case. First, that we can only condemn him to a
general doom, because we only know his general nature. All criminals, who do particular things for
particular reasons (things and reasons which, however criminal, are always comprehensible), have been
more and more tried for such separate actions under separate and suitable laws ever since Europe began
to become a civilization --- and until the rare and recent reincursions of barbarism in such things as the
Indeterminate Sentence. Of that I shall speak later; it is enough for this argument to point out the plain
facts. It is the plain fact that every savage, every sultan, every outlawed baron, every brigand-chief has
always used this instrument of the Indeterminate Sentence, which has been recently offered us as
something highly scientific and humane. All these people, in short, being barbarians, have always kept
their captives until they (the barbarians) chose to think the captives were in a fit frame of mind to come
out. It is also the plain fact that all that has been called civilization or progress, justice or liberty, for
nearly three thousand years, has had the general direction of treating even the captive as a free man, in
so far as some clear case of some defined crime had to be shown against him. All law has meant
allowing the criminal, within some limits or other, to argue with the law: as Job was allowed, or rather
challenged, to argue with God. But the criminal is, among civilized men, tried by one law for one crime
for a perfectly simple reason: that the motive of the crime like the meaning of the law, is conceivable to
the common intelligence. A man is punished specially as a burglar, and not generally as a bad man,
because a man may be a burglar and, in many other respects not be a bad man. The act of burglary is
punishable because it is intelligible. But when acts are unintelligible, we can only refer them to a general
untrustworthiness, and guard against them by a general restraint. If a man breaks into a house to get a
piece of bread, we can appeal to his reason in various ways. We can hang him for housebreaking; or
again (as has occurred to some daring thinkers) we can give him a piece of bread. But if he breaks in, let
us say, to steal the parings of other people's finger nails, then we are in a difficulty: we cannot imagine
what he is going to do with them, and therefore cannot easily imagine what we are going to do with him.
If a villain comes in, in cloak and mask, and puts a little arsenic in the soup, we can collar him and say
to him distinctly, "You are guilty of murder; and I will now consult the code of tribal law, under which
we live, to see if this practice is not forbidden." But if a man in the same cloak and mask is found at
midnight putting a little soda-water in the soup, what can we say? Our charge necessarily becomes a
more general one. We can only observe, with a moderation almost amounting to weakness, "You seem
to be the sort of person who will do this sort of thing." And then we can lock him up. The principle of
the indeterminate sentence is the creation of the indeterminate mind. It does apply to the
incomprehensible creature, the lunatic. And it applies to nobody else.

The second thing to be noted is this: that it is only by the unanimity of sane men that we can condemn
this man as utterly separate. If he says a tree is a lamp-post he is mad; but only because all other men say
it is a tree. If some men thought it was a tree with a lamp on it, and others thought it was a lamp-post
wreathed with branches and vegetation, then it would be a matter of opinion and degree; and he would
not be mad, but merely extreme. Certainly he would not be mad if nobody but a botanist could see it was
a tree. Certainly his enemies might be madder than he, if nobody but a lamplighter could see it was not a
lamp-post. And similarly a man is not an imbecile if only a Eugenist thinks so. The question then raised
would not be his sanity, but the sanity of one botanist or one lamplighter or one Eugenist. That which
can condemn the abnormally foolish is not the abnormally clever, which is obviously a matter in
dispute. That which can condemn the abnormally foolish is the normally foolish. It is when he begins to
say and do things that even stupid people do not say or do, that we have a right to treat him as the
exception and not the rule. It is only because we none of us profess to be anything more than man that
we have authority to treat him as something less.

Now the first principle behind Eugenics becomes plain enough. It is the proposal that somebody or
something should criticize men with the same superiority with which men criticize madmen, it might
exercise this right with great moderation; but I am not here talking about the exercise, but about the
right. Its claim certainly is to bring all human life under the Lunacy Laws.
Now this is the first weakness in the case of the Eugenists: that they cannot define who is to control
whom; they cannot say by what authority they do these things. They cannot see the exception is
different from the rule --- even when it is misrule, even when it is an unruly rule. The sound sense in the
old Lunacy Law was this: that you cannot deny that a man is a citizen until you are practically prepared
to deny that he is a man. Men, and only men, can be the judges of whether he is a man. But any private
club of prigs can be judges of whether he ought to be a citizen. When once we step down from that tall
and splintered peak of pure insanity we step on to a tableland where one man is not so widely different
from an other. Outside the exception, what we find is the average. And the practical, legal shape of the
quarrel is this: that unless the normal men have the right to expel the abnormal, what particular sort of
abnormal men have the right to expel the normal men? If sanity is not good enough, what is there that is
saner than sanity?

Without any grip of the notion of a rule and an exception, the general idea of judging people's heredity
breaks down and is useless. For this reason: that if everything is the result of a doubtful heredity, the
judgment itself is the result of a doubtful heredity also. Let it judge not that it be not judged. Eugenists,
strange to say, have fathers and mothers like other people; and our opinion about their fathers and
mothers is worth exactly as much as their opinions about ours. None of the parents were lunatics, and
the rest is mere likes and dislikes. Suppose Dr. Saleeby had gone to Byron and said, "My lord, I perceive
you have a club-foot and inordinate passions: such are the hereditary results of a profligate soldier
marrying a hot-tempered woman." The poet might logically reply (with characteristic lucidity and
impropriety), "Sir, I perceive you have a confused mind and an unphilosophic theory about other
people's love affairs. Such are the hereditary delusions bred by a Syrian doctor marrying a Quaker lady
from New York." Suppose Dr. Karl Pearson had said to Shelley, "From what I see of your temperament,
you are running great risks in forming a connection with the daughter of a fanatic and eccentric like
Godwin." Shelley would be employing the strict rationalism of the older and stronger free thinkers, if he
answered, "From what I observe of your mind, you are rushing on destruction in marrying the greatniece
of an old corpse of a courtier and dilettante like Samuel Rogers." It is only opinion for opinion.
Nobody can pretend that either Mary Godwin or Samuel Rogers was mad; and the general view a man
may hold about the healthiness of inheriting their blood or type is simply the same sort of general view
by which men do marry for love or liking. There is no reason to suppose that Dr. Karl Pearson is any
better judge of a bridegroom than the bridegroom is of a bride.

An objection may be anticipated here, but it is very easily answered. It may be said that we do, in fact,
call in medical specialists to settle whether a man is mad; and that these specialists go by technical and
even secret tests that cannot be known to the mass of men. It is obvious that this is true; it is equally
obvious that it does not affect our argument. When we ask the doctor whether our grandfather is going
mad, we still mean mad by our own common human definition. We mean, is be going to be a certain
sort of person whom men recognize when once he exists. That certain specialists can detect the approach
of him, before he exists, does not alter the fact that it is of the practical and popular madman that we are
talking, and of him alone. The doctor merely sees a certain fact potentially in the future, while we, with
less information, can only see it in the present; but his fact is our fact and everybody's fact, or we should
not bother about it at all. Here is no question of the doctor bringing an entirely new sort of person under
coercion, as in the Feeble-Minded Bill. The doctor can say, "Tobacco is death to you," because the
dislike of death can be taken for granted, being a highly democratic institution; and it is the same with
the dislike of the indubitable exception called madness. The doctor can say, "Jones has that twitch in the
nerves, and he may burn down the house." But it is not the medical detail we fear, but the moral upshot.
We should say, "Let him twitch, as long as he doesn't burn down the house." The doctor may say "He
has that look in the eyes, and he may take the hatchet and brain you all." But we do not object to the
look in the eyes as such; we object to consequences which, once come, we should all call insane if there
were no doctors in the world. We should say, "Let him look how he likes; as long as he does not look for
the hatchet."

Now, that specialists are valuable for this particular and practical purpose, of predicting the approach of
enormous and admitted human calamities, nobody but a fool would deny. But that does not bring us one
inch nearer to allowing them the right to define what is a calamity; or to call things calamities which
common-sense does not call calamities. We call in the doctor to save us from death; and, death being
admittedly an evil, he has the right to administer the queerest and most recondite pill which he may
think is a cure for all such menaces of death. He has not the right to administer death as the cure for all
human ills. And as he has no moral authority to enforce a new conception of happiness, so he has no
moral authority to enforce a new conception of sanity. He may know I am going mad; for madness is an
isolated thing like leprosy; and I know nothing about leprosy. But if he merely thinks my mind is weak,
I may happen to think the same of his. I often do.

In short, unless pilots are to be permitted to ram ships on to the rocks and then say that heaven is the
only true harbour; unless judges are to be allowed to let murderers loose, and explain afterwards that the
murder had done good on the whole; unless soldiers are to be allowed to lose battles and then point out
that true glory is to be found in the valley of humiliation; unless cashiers are to rob a bank in order to
give it an advertisement; or dentists to torture people to give them a contrast to their comforts; unless we
are prepared to let loose all these private fancies against the public and accepted meaning of life or
safety or prosperity or pleasure --- then it is as plain as Punch's nose that no scientific man must be
allowed to meddle with the public definition of madness. We call him in to tell us where it is or when it
is. We could not do so, if we had not ourselves settled what it is.

As I wish to confine myself in this chapter to the primary point of the plain existence of sanity and
insanity, I will not be led along any of the attractive paths that open here. I shall endeavor to deal with
them in the next chapter. Here I confine myself to a sort of summary. Suppose a man's throat has been
cut, quite swiftly and suddenly, with a table knife, at a small table where we sit. The whole of civil law
rests on the supposition that we are witnesses; that we saw it; and if we do not know about it, who does?
Now suppose all the witnesses fall into a quarrel about degrees of eyesight. Suppose one says he had
brought his reading-glasses instead of his usual glasses; and therefore did not see the man fall across the
table and cover it with blood. Suppose another says he could not be certain it was blood, because a slight
colour-blindness was hereditary in his family. Suppose a third says he cannot swear to the uplifted knife,
because his oculist tells him he is astigmatic, and vertical lines do not affect him as do horizontal lines.
Suppose another says that dots have often danced before his eyes in very fantastic combinations, many
of which were very like one gentleman cutting another gentleman's throat at dinner. All these things
refer to real experiences. There is such a thing as myopia, there is such a thing as colour-blindness; there
is such a thing as astigmatism; there is such a thing as shifting shapes swimming before the eyes. But
what should we think of a whole dinner party that could give nothing except these highly scientific
explanations when found in company with a corpse? I imagine there are only two things we could think
either that they were all drunk, or they were all murderers.

And yet there is an exception. If there were one man at table who was admittedly blind, should we not
give him the benefit of the doubt? Should we not honestly feel that he was the exception that proved the
rule? The very fact that he could not have seen would remind us that the other men must have seen. The
very fact that he had no eyes must remind us of eyes. A man can be blind; a man can be dead: a man can
be mad. But the comparison is necessarily weak, after all. For it is the essence of madness to be unlike
anything else in the world: which is perhaps why so many men wiser than we have traced it to another.
Lastly, the literal maniac is different from all other persons in dispute in this vital respect: that he is the
only person whom we can, with a final lucidity, declare that we do not want. He is almost always
miserable himself, and he always makes others miserable. But this is not so with the mere invalid. The
Eugenists would probably answer all my examples by taking the case of marrying into a family with
consumption (or some such disease which they are fairly sure is hereditary) and asking whether such
cases at least are not clear cases for a Eugenic intervention. Permit me to point out to them that they
once more make a confusion of thought. The sickness or soundness of a consumptive may be a clear and
calculable matter. The happiness or unhappiness of a consumptive is quite another matter, and is not
calculable at all. What is the good of telling people that if they marry for love, they may be punished by
being the parents of Keats or the parents of Stevenson? Keats died young; but he had more pleasure in a
minute than a Eugenist gets in a month. Stevenson had lung-trouble; and it may, for all I know, have
been perceptible to the Eugenic eye even a generation before. But who would perform that illegal
operation: the stopping of Stevenson? Intercepting a letter bursting with good news, confiscating a
hamper full of presents and prizes, pouring torrents of intoxicating wine into the sea, all this is a faint
approximation for the Eugenic in action of the ancestors of Stevenson. This, however, is not the
essential point; with Stevenson it is not merely a case of the pleasure we get, but of the pleasure he got.
If he had died without writing a line, he would have had more red-hot joy than is given to most men.
Shall I say of him, to whom I owe so much, let the day perish wherein he was born? Shall I pray that the
stars of the twilight thereof be dark and it be not numbered among the days of the year, because it shut
not up the doors of his mother's womb? I respect fully decline; like Job, I will put my hand upon my


It happened one day that an atheist and a man were standing together on a doorstep; and the atheist said,
"It is raining." To which the man replied, "What is raining?": which question was the beginning of a
violent quarrel and a lasting friendship. I will not touch upon any heads of the dispute, which doubtless
included Jupiter, Pluvius, the Neuter Gender, Pantheism, Noah's Ark, Mackintoshes, and the Passive
Mood; but I will record the one point upon which the two persons emerged in some agreement. It was
that there is such a thing as an atheistic literary style; that materialism may appear in the mere diction of
a man, though he be speaking of clocks or cats or anything quite remote from theology. The mark of the
atheistic style is that it instinctively chooses the word which suggests that things are dead things; that
things have no souls. Thus they will not speak of waging war, which means willing it; they speak of the
"outbreak of war," as if all the guns blew up without the men touching them. Thus those Socialists that
are atheist will not call their international sympathy, sympathy; they will call it "solidarity," as if the
poor men of France and Germany were physically stuck together like dates in a grocer's shop. The same
Marxian Socialists are accused of cursing the Capitalists inordinately; but the truth is that they let the
Capitalists off much too easily. For instead of saying that employers pay less wages, which might pin
the employers to some moral responsibility, they insist on talking about the "rise and fall" of wages; as if
a vast silver sea of sixpences and shillings was always going up and down automatically like the real sea
at Margate. Thus they will not speak of reform, but of development; and they spoil their one honest and
virile phrase, "the class war" by talking of it as no one in his wits can talk of a war, predicting its finish
and final result as one calculates the coming of Christmas Day or the taxes. Thus, lastly (as we shall see
touching our special subject-matter here) the atheist style in letters always avoids talking of love or lust,
which are things alive, and calls marriage or concubinage "the relations of the sexes"; as if a man and a
woman were two wooden objects standing in a certain angle and attitude to each other like a table and a

Now the same anarchic mystery that clings round the phrase, "il pleut," clings round the phrase, "il fait"
In English it is generally represented by the passive mood in grammar, and the Eugenists and their like
deal especially in it; they are as passive in their statements as they are active in their experiments. Their
sentences always enter tail first, and have no subject, like animals without heads. It is never "the doctor
should cut off this leg" or "the policeman should collar that man." It is always "Such limbs should be
amputated," or "Such men should be under restraint." Hamlet said, "I should have fatted all the region
kites with this slave's offal." The Eugenist would say, "The region kites should, if possible, be fattened;
and the offal of this slave is available for the dietetic experiment." Lady Macbeth said, "Give me the
daggers; I'll let his bowels out." The Eugenist would say, "In such cases the bowels should, etc." Do not
blame me for the repulsiveness of the comparisons. I have searched English literature for the most
decent parallels to Eugenist language.

The formless god that broods over the East is called "Om." The formless god who has begun to brood
over the West is called "On." But here we must make a distinction. The impersonal word on is French,
and the French have a right to use it, because they are a democracy. And when a Frenchman says "one"
he does not mean himself, but the normal citizen. He does not mean merely "one," but one and all. "On
n'a que sa parole" does not mean "Noblesse oblige," or "I am the Duke of Billingsgate and must keep
my word." It means: "One has a sense of honour as one has a backbone: every man, rich or poor, should
feel honourable"; and this, whether possible or no, is the purest ambition of the republic. But when the
Eugenists say, "Conditions must be altered", or "Ancestry should be investigated," or what not, it seems
clear that they do not mean that the democracy must do it, whatever else they may mean. They do not
mean that any man not evidently mad may be trusted with these tests and rearrangements as the French
democratic system trusts such a man with a vote or a farm or the control of a family. That would mean
that Jones and Brown, being both ordinary men, would set about arranging each other's marriages. And
this state of affairs would seem a little elaborate, and it might occur even to the Eugenic mind that if
Jones and Brown are quite capable of arranging each other's marriages, it is just possible that they might
be capable of arranging their own.

This dilemma, which applies in so simple a case, applies equally to any wide and sweeping system of
Eugenist voting; for though it is true that the community can judge more dispassionately than a man can
judge in his own case, this particular question of the choice of a wife is so full of disputable shades in
every conceivable case, that it is surely obvious that almost any democracy would simply vote the thing
out of the sphere of voting, as they would any proposal of police interference in the choice of walking
weather or of children's names. I should not like to be the politician who should propose a particular
instance of Eugenics to be voted on by the French people. Democracy dismissed, it is here hardly
needful to consider the other old models. Modern scientists will not say that George III, in his lucid
intervals, should settle who is mad; or that the aristocracy that introduced gout shall supervise diet.
I hold it clear, therefore, if anything is clear about the business, that the Eugenists do not merely mean
that the mass of common men should settle each other's marriages between them; the question remains,
therefore, whom they do instinctively trust when they say that this or that ought to be done. What is this
flying and evanescent authority that vanishes wherever we seek to fix it? Who is the man who is the lost
subject that governs the Eugenist's verb? In a large number of cases I think we can simply say that the
individual Eugenist means himself and nobody else. Indeed one Eugenist, Mr. A. H. Huth, actually had
a sense of humour, and admitted this. He thinks a great deal of good could be done with a surgical knife,
if we would only turn him loose with one. And this may be true. A great deal of good could be done
with a loaded revolver, in the hands of a judicious student of human nature. But it is imperative that the
Eugenist should perceive that on that principle we can never get beyond a perfect balance of different
sympathies and antipathies. I mean that I should differ from Dr. Saleeby or Dr. Karl Pearson not only in
a vast majority of individual cases, but in a vast majority of cases in which they would be bound to
admit that such a difference was natural and reasonable. The chief victim of these famous doctors would
be a yet more famous doctor: that eminent though unpopular practitioner, Dr. Fell.

To show that such rational and serious differences do exist, I will take one instance from that Bill which
proposed to protect families and the public generally from the burden of feeble-minded persons. Now,
even if I could share the Eugenic contempt for human rights, even if I could start gaily on the Eugenic
campaign, I should not begin by removing feeble-minded persons. I have known as many families in as
many classes as most men; and I cannot remember meeting any very monstrous human suffering arising
out of the presence of such insufficient and negative types. There seems to be comparatively few of
them; and those few by no means the worst burdens upon domestic happiness. I do not hear of them
often; I do not hear of them doing much more harm than good; and in the few cases I know well they are
not only regarded with human affection, but can be put to certain limited forms of human use. Even if I
were a Eugenist, then I should not personally elect to waste my time locking up the feeble-minded. The
people I should lock up would be the strong-minded. I have known hardly any cases of mere mental
weakness making a family a failure; I have known eight or nine cases of violent and exaggerated force
of character making a family a hell. If the strong-minded could be segregated it would quite certainly be
better for their friends and families. And if there is really anything in heredity, it would be better for
posterity too. For the kind of egoist I mean is a madman in a much more plausible sense than the mere
harmless "deficient"; and to hand on the horrors of his anarchic and insatiable temperament is a much
graver responsibility than to leave a mere inheritance of childishness. I would not arrest such tyrants,
because I think that even moral tyranny in a few homes is better than a medical tyranny turning the state
into a madhouse. I would not segregate them, because I respect a man's free-will and his front door and
his right to be tried by his peers. But since free-will is believed by Eugenists no more than by Calvinists,
since front-doors are respected by Eugenists no more than by house-breakers, and since the Habeas
Corpus is about as sacred to Eugenists as it would be to King John, why do not they bring light and
peace into so many human homes by removing a demoniac from each of them? Why do not the
promoters of the Feeble-Minded Bill call at the many grand houses in town or county where such
nightmares notoriously are? Why do they not knock at the door and take the bad squire away? Why do
they not ring the bell and remove the dipsomaniac prize fighter? I do not know; and there is only one
reason I can think of, which must remain a matter of speculation. When 1 was at school, the kind of boy
who liked teasing halfwits was not the sort that stood up to bullies.

That, however it may be, does not concern my argument. I mention the case of the strong-minded
variety of the monstrous merely to give one out of the hundred cases of the instant divergence of
individual opinions the moment we begin to discuss who is fit or unfit to propagate. If Dr. Saleeby and I
were setting out on a segregating trip together, we should separate at the very door; and if he had a
thousand doctors with him, they would all go different ways. Everyone who has known as many kind
and capable doctors as I have, knows that the ablest and sanest of them have a tendency to possess some
little hobby or half-discovery of their own, as that oranges are bad for children, or that trees are
dangerous in gardens, or that many more people ought to wear spectacles. It is asking too much of
human nature to expect them not to cherish such scraps of originality in a hard, dull, and often heroic
trade. But the inevitable result of it, as exercised by the individual Saleebys, would be that each man
would have his favourite kind of idiot. Each doctor would be mad on his own madman. One would have
his eyes on devotional Curates; another would wander about collecting obstreperous majors; a third
would be the terror of animal-loving spinsters, who would flee with all their cats and dogs before him.
Short of sheer literal anarchy, therefore, it seems plain that the Eugenist must find some authority other
than his own implied personality. He must, once and for all, learn the lesson which is hardest for him
and me and for all our fallen race --- the fact that he is only himself.

We now pass from mere individual men who obviously cannot be trusted, even if they are individual
medical men, with such despotism over their neighbours; and we come to consider whether the
Eugenists have at all clearly traced any more imaginable public authority, any apparatus of great experts
or great examinations to which such risks of tyranny could be trusted. They are not very precise about
this either; indeed, the great difficulty I have throughout in considering what are the Eugenist's proposals
is that they do not seem to know themselves. Some philosophic attitude which I cannot myself connect
with human reason seems to make them actually proud of the dimness of their definitions and the
uncompleteness of their plans. The Eugenic optimism seems to partake generally of the nature of that
dazzled and confused confidence, so common in private theatricals, that it will be all right on the night.
They have all the ancient despotism, but none of the ancient dogmatism. If they are ready to reproduce
the secrecies and cruelties of the Inquisition, at least we cannot accuse them of offending us with any of
that close and complicated thought, that arid and exact logic which narrowed the minds of the Middle
Ages, they have discovered how to combine the hardening of the heart with a sympathetic softening of
the head. Nevertheless, there is one large, though vague, idea of the Eugenists, which is an idea, and
which we reach when we reach this problem of a more general supervision.

It was best presented perhaps by the distinguished doctor who wrote the article on these matters in that
composite book which Mr. Wells edited, and called "The Great State." He said the doctor should no
longer be a mere plasterer of paltry maladies, but should be, in his own words, "the health adviser of the
community." The same can be expressed with even more point and simplicity in the proverb that
prevention is better than cure. Commenting on this, I said that it amounted to treating all people who are
well as if they were ill. This the writer admitted to be true, only adding that everyone is ill. To which I
rejoin that if everyone is ill the health advisor is ill too, and therefore cannot know how to cure that
minimum of illness. This is the fundamental fallacy in the whole business of preventive medicine.
Prevention is not better than cure. Cutting off a man's head is not better than curing his headache; it is
not even better than failing to cure it. And it is the same if a man is in revolt, even a morbid revolt.
Taking the heart out of him by slavery is not better than leaving the heart in him, even if you leave it a
broken heart. Prevention is not only not better than cure; prevention is even worse than disease.

Prevention means being an invalid for life, with the extra exasperation of being quite well. I will ask
God, but certainly not man, to prevent me in all my doings. But the decisive and discussable form of this
is well summed up in that phrase about the health adviser of society. I am sure that those who speak thus
have something in their minds larger and more illuminating than the other two propositions we have
considered. They do not mean that all citizens should decide, which would mean merely the present
vague and dubious balance. They do not mean that all medical men should decide, which would mean a
much more unbalanced balance. They mean that a few men might be found who had a consistent scheme
and vision of a healthy nation, as Napoleon had a consistent scheme and vision of an army. It is cold
anarchy to say that all men are to meddle in all men's marriages. It is cold anarchy to say that any doctor
may seize and segregate anyone he likes. But it is not anarchy to say that a few great hygienists might
enclose or limit the life of all citizens, as nurses do with a family of children. It is not anarchy, it is
tyranny; but tyranny is a workable thing. When we ask by what process such men could be certainly
chosen, we are back again on the old dilemma of despotism, which means a man, or democracy which
means men, or aristocracy which means favouritism. But as a vision the thing is plausible and even
rational. It is rational, and it is wrong.

It is wrong, quite apart from the suggestion that an expert on health cannot be chosen. It is wrong
because an expert on health cannot exist. An expert on disease can exist, for the very reason we have
already considered in the case of madness, because experts can only arise out of exceptional things. A
parallel with any of the other learned professions will make the point plain. If I am prosecuted for
trespass, I will ask my solicitor which of the local lanes I am forbidden to walk in. But if my solicitor,
having gained my case, were so elated that he insisted on settling what lanes I should walk in; if he
asked me to let him map out all my country walks, because he was the perambulatory adviser of the
community --- then that Solicitor would solicit in vain. If he will insist on walking behind me through
woodland ways, pointing out with his walking-stick likely avenues and attractive short-cuts, I shall turn
on him with passion, saying "Sir, I pay you to know one particular puzzle in Latin and Norman French,
which they call the law of England; and you do know the law of England. I have never had any earthly
reason to suppose that you know England. If you did, you would leave a man alone when he was
looking at it." As are the limits of the lawyer's special knowledge about walking, so are the limits of the
doctor's. If I fall over the stump of a tree and break my leg, as is likely enough, I shall say to the lawyer,
"Please go and fetch the doctor." I shall do it because the doctor really has a larger knowledge of a
narrower area. There are only a certain number of ways in which a leg can be broken; I know none of
them, and he knows all of them. There is such a thing as being a specialist in broken legs. There is no
such thing as being a specialist in legs. When unbroken, legs are a matter of taste. If the doctor has really
mended my leg, he may merit a colossal equestrian statue on the top of an eternal tower of brass. But if
the doctor has really mended my leg he has no more rights over it. He must not come and teach me how
to walk; because he and I learnt that in the same school, the nursery. And there is no more abstract
likelihood of the doctor walking more elegantly than I do than there is of the barber or the bishop or the
burglar walking more elegantly than I do. There cannot be a general specialist; the specialist can have no
kind of authority, unless he has avowedly limited his range. There cannot be such a thing as the health
adviser of the community, because there cannot be such a thing as one who specialises in the universe.
Thus when Dr. Saleeby says that a young man about to be married should be obliged to produce his
health-book as he does his bank-book, the expression is neat; but it does not convey the real respects in
which the two things agree, and in which they differ. To begin with, of course, there is a great deal too
much of the bank-book for the sanity of our commonwealth; and it is highly probable that the healthbook,
as conducted in modern conditions, would rapidly become as timid, as snobbish, and as sterile as
the money side of marriage has become. In the moral atmosphere of modernity the poor and the honest
would probably get as much the worst of it if we fought with health-books as they do when we fight
with bank-books. But that is a more general matter; the real point is in the difference between the two.
The difference is in this vital fact; that a monied man generally thinks about money, whereas a healthy
man does not think about health. If the strong young man cannot produce his health-book, it is for the
perfectly simple reason that he has not got one. He can mention some extraordinary malady he has; but
every man of honour is expected to do that now, whatever may be the decision that follows on the

Health is simply Nature, and no naturalist ought to have the impudence to understand it. Health, one
may say, is God; and no agnostic has any right to claim His acquaintance. For God must mean, among
other things, that mystical and multitudinous balance of all things, by which they are at least able to
stand up straight and endure; and any scientist who pretends to have exhausted this subject of ultimate
sanity, I will call the lowest of religious fanatics. I will allow him to understand the madman, for the
madman is an exception. But if he says he understands the sane man, then he says he has the secret of
the Creator. For whenever you and I feel fully sane, we are quite incapable of naming the elements that
make up that mysterious simplicity. We can no more analyse such peace in the soul than we can
conceive in our heads the whole enormous and dizzy equilibrium by which, out of suns roaring like
infernos and heavens toppling like precipices, He has hanged the world upon nothing.
We conclude, therefore, that unless Eugenic activity be restricted to monstrous things like mania, there
is no constituted or constitutable authority that can really over-rule men in a matter in which they are so
largely on a level. In the matter of fundamental human rights, nothing can be above Man, except God.
An institution claiming to come from God might have such authority; but this is the last claim the
Eugenists are likely to make. One caste or one profession seeking to rule men in such matters is like a
man's right eye claiming to rule him, or his left leg to run away with him. It is madness. We now pass on
to consider whether there is really anything in the way of Eugenics to be done, with such cheerfulness as
we may possess after discovering that there is nobody to do it.


Dr. Saleeby did me the honour of referring to me in one of his addresses on this subject, and said that
even I cannot produce any but a feeble-minded child from a feeble-minded ancestry. To which I reply,
first of all, that he cannot produce a feeble-minded child. The whole point of our contention is that this
phrase conveys nothing fixed and outside opinion. There is such a thing as mania, which has always
been segregated; there is such a thing as idiocy, which has always been segregated; but feeblemindedness
is a new phrase under which you might segregate anybody. It is essential that this
fundamental fallacy in the use of statistics should be got somehow into the modern mind. Such people
must be made to see the point, which is surely plain enough, that it is useless to have exact figures if
they are exact figures about an inexact phrase. If I say, "There are five fools in Action," it is surely quite
clear that, though no mathematician can make five the same as four or six, that will not stop you or
anyone else from finding a few more fools in Action. Now weak-mindedness, like folly, is a term
divided from madness in this vital manner --- that in one sense it applies to all men, in another to most
men, in another to very many men, and so on. It is as if Dr. Saleeby were to say, "Vanity, I find, is
undoubtedly hereditary. Here is Mrs. Jones, who was very sensitive about her sonnets being criticized,
and I found her little daughter in a new frock looking in the glass. The experiment is conclusive, the
demonstration is complete; there in the first generation is the artistic temperament --- that is vanity; and
there in the second generation is dress --- and that is vanity." We should answer, "My friend, all is
vanity, vanity and vexation of spirit --- especially when one has to listen to logic of your favourite kind.
Obviously all human beings must value themselves; and obviously there is in all such evaluation an
element of weakness, since it is not the valuation of eternal justice. What is the use of your finding by
experiment in some people a thing we know by reason must be in all of them?"

Here it will be as well to pause a moment and avert one possible misunderstanding. I do not mean that
you and I cannot and do not practically see and personally remark on this or that eccentric or
intermediate type, for which the word "feeble-minded" might be a very convenient word, and might
correspond to a genuine though indefinable fact of experience. In the same way we might speak, and do
speak, of such and such a person being "mad with vanity" without wanting two keepers to walk in and
take the person off. But I ask the reader to remember always that I am talking of words, not as they are
used in talk or novels, but as they will be used, and have been used, in warrants and certificates, and
Acts of Parliament. The distinction between the two is perfectly clear and practical. The difference is
that a novelist or a talker can be trusted to try and hit the mark; it is all to his glory that the cap should
fit, that the type should be recognized; that he should, in a literary sense, hang the right man. But it is by
no means always to the interest of governments or officials to hang the right man. The fact that they
often do stretch words in order to cover cases is the whole foundation of having any fixed laws or free
institutions at all. My point is not that I have never met anyone whom I should call feeble-minded, rather
than mad or imbecile. My point is that if I want to dispossess a nephew, oust a rival, silence a
blackmailer, or get rid of an importunate widow, there is nothing in logic to prevent my calling them
feeble-minded too. And the vaguer the charge is the less they will be able to disprove it.

One does not, as I have said, need to deny heredity in order to resist legislation, any more than one needs
to deny the spiritual world in order to resist an epidemic of witch-burning. I admit there may be such a
thing as hereditary feeble-mindedness; I believe there is such a thing as witchcraft. Believing that there
are spirits, I am bound in mere reason to suppose that there are probably evil spirits; believing that there
are evil spirits, I am bound in mere reason to suppose that some men grow evil by dealing with them.
All that is mere rationalism; the superstition (that is the unreasoning repugnance and terror) is in the
person who admits there can be angels but denies there can be devils. The superstition is in the person
who admits there can be devils but denies there can be diabolists. Yet I should certainly resist any effort
to search for witches, for a perfectly simple reason, which is the key of the whole of this controversy.
The reason is that it is one thing to believe in witches and quite another to believe in witch smellers. I
have more respect for the Eugenists, who go about persecuting the fool of the family; because the witchfinders,
according to their own conviction, ran a risk. Witches were not the feeble-minded, but the
strong-minded --- the evil mesmerists, the rulers of the elements. Many a raid on a witch, right or wrong,
seemed to the villagers who did it a righteous popular rising against a vast spiritual tyranny, a papacy of
sin. Yet we know that the thing degenerated into a rabid and despicable persecution of the feeble or the
old. It ended by being a war upon the weak. It ended by being what Eugenics begins by being. When I
said above that I believed in witches, but not in witch-smellers, I stated my full position about that
conception of heredity, that half-formed philosophy of fears and omens; of curses and weird recurrence
and darkness and the doom of blood, which, as preached to humanity to-day, is often more inhuman
than witchcraft itself. I do not deny that this dark element exists; I only affirm that it is dark; or, in other
words, that its most strenuous students are evidently in the dark about it. I would no more trust Dr. Karl
Pearson on a heredity-hunt than on a heresy-hunt. I am perfectly ready to give my reasons for thinking
this; and I believe any well-balanced person, if he reflects on them, will think as I do. There are two
senses in which a man may be said to know or not know a subject. I know the subject of arithmetic, for
instance; that is, I am not good at it, but I know what it is. I am sufficiently familiar with its use to see
the absurdity of anyone who says, "So vulgar a fraction cannot be mentioned before ladies," or "This
unit is Unionist, I hope." Considering myself for one moment as an arithmetician, I may say that I know
next to nothing about my subject: but I know my subject. I know it in the street. There is the other kind
of man, like Dr. Karl Pearson, who undoubtedly knows a vast amount about his subject; who
undoubtedly lives in great forests of facts concerning kinship and inheritance. But it is not, by any
means, the same thing to have searched the forests and to have recognized the frontiers. Indeed, the two
things generally belong to two very different types of mind. I gravely doubt whether the Astronomer-
Royal would write the best essay on the relations between astronomy and astrology. I doubt whether the
President of the Geographical Society could give the best definition and the history of the words
"geography" and "geology."

Now the students of heredity, especially, understand all of their subject except their subject. They were,
I suppose, bred and born in that brier-patch, and have really explored it without coming to the end of it.
That is, they have studied everything but the question of what they are studying. Now I do not propose
to rely merely on myself to tell them what they are studying. I propose, as will be seen in a moment, to
call the testimony of a great man who has himself studied it. But to begin with, the domain of heredity
(for those who see its frontiers) is a sort of triangle, enclosed on its three sides by three facts. The first is
that heredity undoubtedly exists, or there would be no such thing as a family likeness, and every
marriage might suddenly produce a small negro. The second is that even simple heredity can never be
simple; its complexity must be literally, unfathomable, for in that field fight unthinkable millions. But
yet again it never is simple heredity: for the instant anyone is, he experiences. The third is that these
innumerable ancient influences, these instant inundations of experiences, come together according to a
combination that is unlike anything else on this earth. It is a combination that does combine. It cannot be
sorted out again, even on the Day of Judgment. Two totally different people have become in the sense
most sacred, frightful, and unanswerable, one flesh. If a golden-haired Scandinavian girl has married a
very swarthy Jew, the Scandinavian side of the family may say till they are blue in the face that the baby
has his mother's nose or his mother's eyes. They can never be certain the black-haired Bedouin is not
present in every feature, in every inch. In the person of the baby he may have gently pulled his wife's
nose. In the person of the baby he may have partly blacked his wife's eyes.

Those are the three first facts of heredity. That it exists; that it is subtle and made of a million elements;
that it is simple, and cannot be unmade into those elements. To summarize: you know there is wine in
the soup. You do not know how many wines there are in the soup, because you do not know how many
wines there are in the world. And you never will know, because all chemists, all cooks, and all commonsense
people tell you that the soup is of such a sort that it can never be chemically analysed. That is a
perfectly fair parallel to the hereditary element in the human soul. There are many ways in which one
can feel that there is wine in the soup, as in suddenly tasting a wine specially favoured; that corresponds
to seeing suddenly flash on a young face the image of some ancestor you have known. But even then the
taster cannot be certain he is not tasting one familiar wine among many unfamiliar ones --- or seeing one
known ancestor among a million unknown ancestors. Another way is to get drunk on the soup, which
corresponds to the case of those who say they are driven to sin and death by hereditary doom. But even
then the drunkard cannot be certain it was the soup, any more than the traditional drunkard who is
certain it was the salmon.

Those are the facts about heredity which anyone can see. The upshot of them is not only that a miss is as
good as a mile, but a miss is as good as a win. If the child has his parents' nose (or noses) that may be
heredity. But if he has not, that may be heredity too. And as we need not take heredity lightly because
two generations differ --- so we need not take heredity a scrap more seriously because two generations
are similar. The thing is there, in what cases we know not, in what proportion we know not, and we
cannot know.

Now it is just here that the decent difference of function between Dr. Saleeby's trade and mine comes in.
It is his business to study human health and sickness as a whole, in a spirit of more or less enlightened
guesswork; and it is perfectly natural that he should allow for heredity here, there, and everywhere, as a
man climbing a mountain or sailing a boat will allow for weather without even explaining it to himself.
An utterly different attitude is incumbent on any conscientious man writing about what laws should be
enforced or about how commonwealths should be governed. And when we consider how plain a fact is
murder, and yet how hesitant and even hazy we all grow about the guilt of a murderer, when we
consider how simple an act is stealing, and yet how hard it is to convict and punish those rich
commercial pirates who steal the most, when we consider how cruel and clumsy the law can be even
about things as old and plain as the Ten Commandments --- I simply cannot conceive any responsible
person proposing to legislate on our broken knowledge and bottomless ignorance of heredity.
But though I have to consider this dull matter in its due logical order, it appears to me that this part of
the matter has been settled, and settled in a most masterly way, by somebody who has infinitely more
right to speak on it than I have. Our press seems to have a perfect genius for fitting people with caps that
don't fit; and affixing the wrong terms of eulogy and even the wrong terms of abuse. And just as people
will talk of Bernard Shaw as a naughty winking Pierrot, when he is the last great Puritan and really
believes in respectability; just as (si parva licet, etc.) they will talk of my own paradoxes, when I pass
my life in preaching that the truisms are true; so an enormous number of newspaper readers seem to
have it fixed firmly in their heads that Mr. H. G. Wells is a harsh and horrible Eugenist in great goblin
spectacles who wants to put us all into metallic microscopes and dissect us with metallic tools. As a
matter of fact, of course, Mr. Wells, so far from being too definite, is generally not definite enough. He
is an absolute wizard in the appreciation of atmospheres and the opening of vistas; but his answers are
more agnostic than his questions. His books will do everything except shut. And so far from being the
sort of man who would stop a man from propagating, he cannot even stop a full stop. He is not Eugenic
enough to prevent the black dot at the end of a sentence from breeding a line of little dots.

But this is not the clear-cut blunder of which I spoke. The real blunder is this. Mr. Wells deserves a tiara
of crowns and a garland of medals for all kinds of reasons. But if I were restricted, on grounds of public
economy, to giving Mr. Wells only one medal ob cives servatos, I would give him a medal as the
Eugenist who destroyed Eugenics. For everyone spoke of him rightly or wrongly, as a Eugenist; and he
certainly had, as I have not, the training and type of culture required to consider the matter merely in a
biological and not in a generally moral sense. The result was that in that fine book, "Mankind in the
Making," where he inevitably came to grips with the problem, he threw down to the Eugenists an
intellectual challenge which seems to me unanswerable, but which, at any rate, is unanswered. I do not
mean that no remote Eugenist wrote upon the subject; for it is impossible to read all writings, especially
Eugenist writings. I do not mean that the leading Eugenists write as if this challenge had never been
offered. The gauntlet lies unlifted on the ground.

Having given honour for the idea where it is due, I may be permitted to summarize it myself for the sake
of brevity. Mr. Wells' point was this. That we cannot be certain about the inheritance of health, because
health is not a quality. It is not a thing like darkness in the hair or length in the limbs. It is a relation, a
balance. You have a tall, strong man; but his very strength depends on his not being too tall for his
strength. You catch a healthy, full-blooded fellow; but his very health depends on his being not too full
of blood. A heart that is strong for a dwarf will be weak for a giant; a nervous system that would kill a
man with a trace of a certain illness will sustain him to ninety if he has no trace of that illness. Nay, the
same nervous system might kill him if he had an excess of some other comparatively healthy thing.
Seeing, therefore, that there are apparently healthy people of all types, it is obvious that if you mate two
of them, you may even then produce a discord out of two inconsistent harmonies. It is obvious that you
can no more be certain of a good offspring than you can be certain of a good tune if you play two fine
airs at once on the same piano. You can be even less certain of it in the more delicate case of beauty, of
which the Eugenists talk a great deal. Marry two handsome people whose noses tend to the aquiline, and
their baby (for all you know) may be a goblin with a nose like an enormous parrot's. Indeed, I actually
know a case of this kind. The Eugenist has to settle, not the result of fixing one steady thing to a second
steady thing; but what will happen when one toppling and dizzy equilibrium crashes into another.
This is the interesting conclusion. It is on this degree of knowledge that we are asked to abandon the
universal morality of mankind. When we have stopped the lover from marrying the unfortunate woman
he loves, when we have found him another uproariously healthy female whom he does not love in the
least, even then we have no logical evidence that the result may not be as horrid and dangerous as if he
had behaved like a man of honour.


Let us now finally consider what the honest Eugenists do mean, since it has become increasingly evident
that they cannot mean what they say. Unfortunately, the obstacles to any explanation of this are such as
to insist on a circuitous approach. The tendency of all that is printed and much that is spoken to-day is to
be, in the only true sense, behind the times. It is because it is always in a hurry that it is always too late.
Give an ordinary man a day to write an article, and he will remember the things he has really heard
latest; and may even, in the last glory of the sunset, begin to think of what he thinks himself. Give him
an hour to write it, and he will think of the nearest text-book on the topic, and make the best mosaic he
may out of classical quotations and old authorities. Give him ten minutes to write it and he will run
screaming for refuge to the old nursery where he learnt his stalest proverbs, or the old school where he
learnt his stalest politics. The quicker goes the journalist the slower go his thoughts. The result is the
newspaper of our time, which every day can be delivered earlier and earlier, and which, every day, is
less worth delivering at all. The poor panting critic falls farther behind the motor-car of modern fact.
Fifty years ago he was barely fifteen years behind the times. Fifteen years ago he was not more than fifty
years behind the times. Just now he is rather more than a hundred years behind the times: and the proof
of it is that the things he says, though manifest nonsense about our society to-day, really were true about
our society some hundred and thirty years ago. The best instance of his belated state is his perpetual
assertion that the supernatural is less and less believed. It is a perfectly true and realistic account --- of
the eighteenth century. It is the worst possible account of this age of psychics and spirit-healers and
fakirs and fashionable fortune-tellers. In fact, I generally reply in eighteenth century language to this
eighteenth century language to this eighteenth century illusion. If somebody says to me, "The creeds are
crumbling," I reply, "And the King of Prussia, who is himself a Freethinker, is certainly capturing
Silesia from the Catholic Empress." If somebody says "Miracles must be reconsidered in the light of
rational experience," I answer affably, "But I hope that our enlightened leader, H?bert, will not insist on
guillotining that poor French queen." If somebody says, "We must watch for the rise of some new
religion which can commend itself to reason," I reply, "But how much more necessary is it to watch for
the rise of some military adventurer who may destroy the Republic; and, to my mind, that young Major
Bonaparte has rather a restless air." It is only in such language from the Age of Reason that we can
answer such things. The age we live in is something more than an age of superstition --- it is an age of
innumerable superstitions. But it is only with one example of this that I am concerned here.

I mean the error that still sends men marching about disestablishing churches and talking of the tyranny
of compulsory church teaching or compulsory church tithes. I do not wish for an irrelevant
misunderstanding here; I would myself certainly disestablish any church that had a numerical minority,
like the Irish or the Welsh; and I think it would do a great deal of good to genuine churches that have a
partly conventional majority, like the English, or even the Russian. But I should only do this if I had
nothing else to do; and just now there is very much else to do. For religion, orthodox, or unorthodox, is
not just now relying on the weapon of State establishment at all. The Pope practically made no attempt
to preserve the Concordat; but seemed rather relieved at the independence his Church gained by the
destruction of it: and it is common talk among the French clericalists that the Church has gained by the
change. In Russia the one real charge brought by religious people (especially Roman Catholics) against
the Orthodox Church is not its orthodoxy or heterodoxy, but its abject dependence on the State. In
England we can almost measure an Anglican's fervour for his Church by his comparative coolness about
its establishment --- that is, its control by a Parliament of Scotch Presbyterians like Balfour, or Welsh
Congregationalists like Lloyd George. In Scotland the powerful combination of the two great sects
outside the establishment have left it in a position in which it feels no disposition to boast of being called
by mere lawyers the Church of Scotland. I am not here arguing that Churches should not depend on the
State; nor that they do not depend upon much worse things. It may be reasonably maintained that the
strength of Romanism, though it be not in any national police, is in a moral police more rigid and
vigilant. It may be reasonably maintained that the strength of Anglicanism, though it be not in
establishment, is in aristocracy, and its shadow, which is called snobbishness. All I assert here is that the
Churches are not now leaning heavily on their political establishment; they are not using heavily the
secular arm. Almost everywhere their legal tithes have been modified, their legal boards of control have
been mixed. They may still employ tyranny, and worse tyranny: I am not considering that. They are not
specially using that special tyranny which consists in using the government.

The thing that really is trying to tyrannize through government is Science. The thing that really does use
the secular arm is Science. And the creed that really is levying tithes and capturing schools, the creed
that really is enforced by fine and imprisonment, the creed that really is proclaimed not in sermons but
in statutes, and spread not by pilgrims but by policemen --- that creed is the great but disputed system of
thought which began with Evolution and has ended in Eugenics. Materialism is really our established
Church; for the Government will really help it to persecute its heretics. Vaccination, in its hundred years
of experiment, has been disputed almost as much as baptism in its approximate two thousand. But it
seems quite natural to our politicians to enforce vaccination; and it would seem to them madness to
enforce baptism.

I am not frightened of the word "persecution" when it is attributed to the churches; nor is it in the least
as a term of reproach that I attribute it to the men of science. It is as a term of legal fact. If it means the
imposition by the police of a widely disputed theory, incapable of final proof --- then our priests are not
now persecuting, but our doctors are. The imposition of such dogmas constitutes a State Church --- in an
older and stronger sense than any that can be applied to any supernatural Church to-day. There are still
places where the religious minority is forbidden to assemble or to teach in this way or that; and yet more
where it is excluded from this or that public post. But I cannot now recall any place where it is
compelled by the criminal law to go through the rite of the official religion. Even the Young Turks did
not insist on all Macedonians being circumcised.

Now here we find ourselves confronted with an amazing fact. When, in the past, opinions so arguable
have been enforced by State violence, it has been at the instigation of fanatics who held them for fixed
and flaming certainties. If truths could not be evaded by their enemies, neither could they be altered
even by their friends. But what are the certain truths that the secular arm must now lift the sword to
enforce? Why, they are that very mass of bottomless questions and bewildered answers that we have
been studying in the last chapters --- questions whose only interest is that they are trackless and
mysterious; answers whose only glory is that they are tentative and new. The devotee boasted that he
would never abandon the faith; and therefore he persecuted for the faith. But the doctor of science
actually boasts that he will always abandon a hypothesis; and yet he persecutes for the hypothesis. The
Inquisitor violently enforced his creed, because it was unchangeable. The savant enforces it violently
because he may change it the next day.

Now this is a new sort of persecution; and one may be permitted to ask if it is an improvement on the
old. The difference, so far as one can see at first, seems rather favourable to the old. If we are to be at the
merciless mercy of man, most of us would rather be racked for a creed that existed intensely in
somebody's head, rather than vivisected for a discovery that had not yet come into anyone's head, and
possibly never would. A man would rather be tortured with a thumbscrew until he chose to see reason
than tortured with a vivisecting knife until the vivisector chose to see reason. Yet that is the real
difference between the two types of legal enforcement. If I give in to the Inquisitors, I should at least
know what creed to profess. But even if I yelled out a credo when the Eugenists had me on the rack, I
should not know what creed to yell. I might get an extra turn of the rack for confessing to the creed they
confessed quite a week ago.

Now let not light-minded persons say that I am here taking extravagant parallels; for the parallel is not
only perfect, but plain. For this reason: that the difference between torture and vivisection is not in any
way affected by the fierceness or mildness of either. Whether they gave the rack half a turn or half a
hundred, they were, by hypothesis, dealing with a truth which they knew to be there. Whether they
vivisect painfully or painlessly, they are trying to find out whether the truth is there or not. The old
inquisitors tortured to put their own opinions into somebody. But the new Inquisitors torture to get their
own opinions out of him. They do not know what their own opinions are, until the victim of vivisection
tells them. The division of thought is a complete chasm for anyone who cares about thinking. The old
persecutor was trying to teach the citizen, with fire and sword. The new persecutor is trying to learn
from the citizen, with scalpel and germ-injector. The master was meeker than the pupil will be.
I could prove by many practical instances that even my illustrations are not exaggerated, by many placid
proposals I have heard for the vivisection of criminals, or by the filthy incident of Dr. Neisser. But I
prefer here to stick to a strictly logical line of distinction, and insist that whereas in all previous
persecutions the violence was used to end our indecision, the whole point here is that the violence is
used to end the indecision of the persecutors. This is what the honest Eugenists really mean, so far as
they mean anything. They mean that the public is to be given up, not as a heathen land for conversion,
but simply as a pabulum for a experiment. That is the real, rude, barbaric sense behind this Eugenic
legislation. The Eugenist doctors are not such fools as they look in the light of any logical inquiry about
what they want. They do not know what they want, except that they want your soul and body and mine
in order to find out. They are quite seriously, as they themselves might say, the first religion to be
experimental instead of doctrinal. All other established Churches have been based on somebody having
found the truth. This is the first Church that was ever based on not having found it.

There is in them a perfectly sincere hope and enthusiasm; but it is not for us, but for what they might
learn from us, if they could rule us as they can rabbits. They cannot tell us anything about heredity,
because they do not know anything about it. But they do quite honestly believe that they would know
something about it, when they had married and mismarried us for a few hundred years. They cannot tell
us who is fit to wield such authority, for they know that nobody is; but they do quite honestly believe
that when that authority has been abused for a very long time, somebody somehow will be evolved who
is fit for the job. I am no Puritan, and no one who knows my opinions will consider it a mere criminal
charge if I say that they are simply gambling. The reckless gambler has no money in his pockets; he has
only the ideas in his head. These gamblers have no idea in their heads; they have only the money in their
pockets. But they think that if they could use the money to buy a big society to experiment on,
something like an idea might come to them at last. That is Eugenics.

I confine myself here to remarking that I do not like it. I may be very stingy, but I am willing to pay the
scientist for what he does know; I draw the line at paying him for everything he doesn't know. I may be
very cowardly, but I am willing to be hurt for what I think or what he thinks --- I am not willing to be
hurt, or even inconvenienced, for whatever he might happen to think after he had hurt me. The ordinary
citizen may easily be more magnanimous than I, and take the whole thing on trust; in which case his
career may be happier in the next world. But (I think) sadder in this. At least, I wish to point out to him
that he will not be giving his glorious body as soldiers give it, to the glory of a fixed flag, or martyrs to
the glory of a deathless God. He will be, in the strict sense of the Latin phrase, giving his vile body for
an experiment --- an experiment of which even the experimentalist knows neither the significance nor
the end.


I have up to this point treated the Eugenists, I hope, as seriously as they treat themselves. I have
attempted an analysis of their theory as if it were an utterly abstract and disinterested theory; and so
considered, there seems to be very little left of it. But before I go on, in the second part of this book, to
talk of the ugly things that really are left, I wish to recapitulate the essential points in their essential
order, lest any personal irrelevance or over-emphasis (to which I know myself to be prone) should have
confused the course of what I believe to be a perfectly fair and consistent argument. To make it yet
clearer, I will summarize the thing under chapters, and in quite short paragraphs.
In the first chapter I attempted to define the essential point in which Eugenics can claim, and does claim,
to be a new morality. That point is that it is possible to consider the baby in considering the bride. I do
not adopt the ideal irresponsibility of the man who said, "What has posterity done for us?" But I do say,
to start with, "What can we do for posterity, except deal fairly with our contemporaries?" Unless a man
love his wife whom he has seen, how shall he love his child whom he has not seen?
In the second chapter I point out that this division in the conscience cannot be met by mere mental
confusions, which would make any woman refusing any man a Eugenist. There will always be
something in the world which tends to keep outrageous unions exceptional; that influence is not
Eugenics, but laughter.

In the third chapter I seek to describe the quite extraordinary atmosphere in which such things have
become possible. I call that atmosphere anarchy; but insist that it is an anarchy in the centres where there
should be authority. Government has become ungovernable; that is, it cannot leave off governing. Law
has become lawless; that is, it cannot see where laws should stop. The chief feature of our time is the
meekness of the mob and the madness of the government. In this atmosphere it is natural enough that
medical experts, being authorities, should go mad, and attempt so crude and random and immature
dream as this of petting and patting (and rather spoiling) the babe unborn.

In chapter four I point out how this impatience has burst through the narrow channel of the Lunacy
Laws, and has obliterated them by extending them. The whole point of the madman is that he is the
exception that prove the rule. But Eugenics seeks to treat the whole rule as a series of exceptions --- to
make all men mad. And on that ground there is hope for nobody; for all opinions have an author, and all
authors have a heredity. The mentality of the Eugenist makes him believe in Eugenics as much as the
mentality of the reckless lover makes him violate Eugenics; and both mentalities are, on the materialist
hypothesis, equally the irresponsible product of more or less unknown physical causes. The real security
of the man against any logical Eugenics is like the false security of Macbeth. The only Eugenist that
could rationally attack him must be a man of no woman born.

In the chapter following this, which is called "The Flying Authority," I try in vain to locate and fix any
authority that could rationally rule men in so rooted and universal a matter; little would be gained by
ordinary men doing it to each other; and if ordinary practitioners did it they would very soon show, by a
thousand whims and quarrels, that they were ordinary men. I then discussed the enlightened despotism
of a few general professors of hygiene, and found it unworkable, for an essential reason: that while we
can always get men intelligent enough to know more than the rest of us about this or that accident or
pain or pest, we cannot count on the appearance of great cosmic philosophers; and only such men can be
even supposed to know more than we do about normal conduct and common sanity. Every sort of man,
in short, would shirk such a responsibility, except the worst sort of man, who would accept it.
I pass on, in the next chapter, to consider whether we know enough about heredity to act decisively,
even if we were certain who ought to act. Here I refer the Eugenists to the reply of Mr. Wells, which
they have never dealt with to my knowledge or satisfaction --- the important and primary objection that
health is not a quality but a proportion of qualities; so that even health married to health might produce
the exaggeration called disease. It should be noted here, of course, that an individual biologist may quite
honestly believe that he has found a fixed principle with the help of Weissmann or Mendel. But we are
not discussing whether he knows enough to be justified in thinking (as is somewhat the habit of the
anthropoid Homo) that he is right. We are discussing whether we know enough, as responsible citizens,
to put such powers into the hands of men who may be deceived or who may be deceivers. I conclude
that we do not.

In the last chapter of the first half of the book I give what is, I believe, the real secret of this confusion,
the secret of what the Eugenists really want. They want to be allowed to find out what they want. Not
content with the endowment of research, they desire the establishment of research; that is the making of
it a thing official and compulsory, like education or state insurance; but still it is only research and not
discovery. In short, they want a new kind of State Church, which shall be an Established Church of
Doubt --- instead of Faith. They have no Science of Eugenics at all, but they do really mean that if we
will give ourselves up to be vivisected they may very probably have one some day. I point out, in more
dignified diction, that this is a bit thick.

And now, in the second half of this book, we will proceed to the consideration of things that really exist.
It is, I deeply regret to say, necessary to return to realities, as they are in your daily life and mine. Our
happy holiday in the land of nonsense is over; we shall see no more its beautiful city, with the almost
Biblical name of Bosh, nor the forests full of mares' nests, nor the fields of tares that are ripened only by
moonshine. We shall meet no longer those delicious monsters that might have talked in the same wild
club with the Snark and the Jabberwock or the Pobble or the Dong with the Luminous Nose; the father
who can't make head or tail of the mother, but thoroughly understands the child she will some day bear;
the lawyer who has to run after his own laws almost as fast as the criminals run away from them; the
two mad doctors who might discuss for a million years which of them has the right to lock up the other;
the grammarian who clings convulsively to the Passive Mood, and says it is the duty of something to get
itself done without any human assistance, the man who would marry giants to giants until the back
breaks, as children pile brick upon brick for the pleasure of seeing the staggering tower tumble down;
and, above all, the superb man of science who wants you to pay him and crown him because he has so
far found out nothing. These fairy-tale comrades must leave us. They exist, but they have no influence in
what is really going on. They are honest dupes and tools, as you and I were very nearly being honest
dupes and tools. If we come to think coolly of the world we live in, if we consider how very practical is
the practical politician, at least where cash is concerned, how very dull and earthy are most of the men
who own millions and manage the newspaper trusts, how very cautious and averse from idealist
upheaval are those that control this capitalist society --- when we consider all this, it is frankly incredible
that Eugenics should be a front bench fashionable topic and almost an Act of Parliament, if it were in
practice only the unfinished fantasy which it is, as I have shown, in pure reason. Even if it were a just
revolution, it would be much too revolutionary a revolution for modern statesmen, if there were not
something else behind. Even if it were a true ideal, it would be much too idealistic an ideal for our
"practical men," if there were not something real as well. Well, there is something real as well. There is
no reason in Eugenics, but there is plenty of motive. Its supporters are highly vague about its theory, but
they will be painfully practical about its practice. And while I reiterate that many of its more eloquent
agents are probably quite innocent instruments, there are some, even among Eugenists, who by this time
know what they are doing. To them we shall not say, "What is Eugenics?" or "Where on earth are you
going?" but only "Woe unto you, hypocrite that devour widows' houses and for a pretence use long


The root formula of an epoch is always an unwritten law, just as the law that is the first of all laws, that
which protects life from the murderer, is written nowhere in the Statute Book. Nevertheless there is all
the difference between having and not having a notion of this basic assumption in an epoch. For
instance, the Middle Ages will simply puzzle us with their charities and cruelties, their asceticism and
bright colours, unless we catch their general eagerness for building and planning, dividing this from that
by walls and fences --- the spirit that made architecture their most successful art. Thus even a slave
seemed sacred; the divinity that did hedge a king, did also, in one sense, hedge a serf, for he could not be
driven out from behind his hedges. Thus even liberty became a positive thing like a privilege; and even,
when most men had it, it was not opened like the freedom of a wilderness, but bestowed, like the
freedom of a city. Or again, the seventeenth century may seem a chaos of contradictions, with its almost
priggish praise of parliaments and its quite barbaric massacre of prisoners, until we realize that, if the
Middle Ages was a house half built, the seventeenth century was a house on fire. Panic was the note of
it, and that fierce fastidiousness and exclusiveness that comes from fear. Calvinism was its characteristic
religion, even in the Catholic Church, the insistence on the narrowness of the way and the fewness of the
chosen. Suspicion was the note of its politics---"put not you trust in princes." It tried to thrash everything
out by learned, virulent, and ceaseless controversy; and it weeded its population by witch-burning. Or
yet again: the eighteenth century will present pictures that seem utterly opposite, and yet seem singularly
typical of the time: the sack of Versailles and the "Vicar of Wakefield"; the pastorals of Watteau and the
dynamite speeches of Danton. But we shall understand them all better if we once catch sight of the idea
of tidying up which ran through the whole period, the quietest people being prouder of their tidiness,
civilization, and sound taste than of any of their virtues; and the wildest people having (and this is the
most important point) no love of wildness for its own sake, like Nietzsche or the anarchic poets, but only
a readiness to employ it to get rid of unreason or disorder. With these epochs it is not altogether
impossible to say that some such form of words is a key. The epoch for which it is almost impossible to
find a form of words is our own.

Nevertheless, I think that with us the key-word is "inevitability," or, as I should be inclined to call it,
"impenitence." We are subconsciously dominated in all departments by the notion that there is no
turning back, and it is rooted in materialism and the denial of free will. Take any handful of modern
facts and compare them with the corresponding facts a few hundred years ago. Compare the modern
Party System with the political factions of the seventeenth century. The difference is that in the older
time the party leaders not only really cut off each other's heads, but (what is much more alarming) really
repealed each other's laws. With us it has become traditional for one party to inherit and leave untouched
the acts of the other when made, however bitterly they were attacked in the making. James II and his
nephew William were neither of them very gay specimens; but they would both have laughed at the idea
of "a continuous foreign policy." The Tories were not Conservatives; they were, in the literal sense,
reactionaries. They did not merely want to keep the Stuarts; they wanted to bring them back.

Or again, consider how obstinately the English mediaeval monarchy returned again and again to its
vision of French possessions, trying to reverse the decision of fate; how Edward III returned to the
charge after the defeats of John and Henry III, and Henry V after the failure of Edward III; and how
even Mary had that written on her heart which was neither her husband nor her religion. And then
consider this: that we have comparatively lately known a universal orgy of the thing called imperialism,
the unity of the Empire the only topic, colonies counted like crown jewels, and the Union Jack waved
across the world. And yet no one so much as dreamed, I will not say of recovering, the American
colonies for the Imperial unity (which would have been too dangerous a task for modern empirebuilders),
but even of re-telling the story from an Imperial standpoint. Henry V justified the claims of
Edward III. Joseph Chamberlain would not have dreamed of justifying the claims of George III. Nay,
Shakespeare justifies the French War, and sticks to Talbot and defies the legend of Joan of Arc. Mr.
Kipling would not dare to justify the American War, stick to Burgoyne, and defy the legend of
Washington. Yet there really was much more to be said for George III than there ever was for Henry V.
It was not said, much less acted upon, by the modern Imperialists; because of this basic modern sense,
that as the future is inevitable, so is the past irrevocable. Any fact so complete as the American exodus
from the Empire must be considered as final for aeons, though it hardly happened more than a hundred
years ago. Merely because it has managed to occur it must be called first, a necessary evil, and then an
indispensable good. I need not add that I do not want to reconquer America; but then I am not an

Then there is another way of testing it: ask yourself how many people you have met who grumbled at a
thing as incurable, and how many who attacked it as curable? How many people we have heard abuse
the British elementary schools, as they would abuse the British climate? How few have we met who
realized that British education can be altered, but British weather cannot? How few there were that knew
that the clouds were more immortal and more solid than the schools? For a thousand that regret
compulsory education, where is the hundred, or the ten, or the one, who would repeal compulsory
education? Indeed, the very word proves my case by its unpromising and unfamiliar sound. At the
beginning of our epoch men talked with equal ease about Reform and Repeal. Now everybody talks
about reform; but nobody talks about repeal. Our fathers did not talk of Free Trade, but of the Repeal of
the Corn Laws. They did not talk of Home Rule, but of the Repeal of the Union. In those days people
talked of a "Repealer" as the most practical of all politicians, the kind of politician that carries a club.
Now the Repealer is flung far into the province of an impossible idealism: and the leader of one of our
great parties, having said, in a heat of temporary sincerity, that he would repeal an Act, actually had to
write to all the papers to assure them that he would only amend it. I need not multiply instances, though
they might be multiplied almost to a million. The note of the age is to suggest that the past may just as
well be praised, since it cannot be mended. Men actually in that past have toiled like ants and died like
locusts to undo some previous settlement that seemed secure; but we cannot do so much as repeal an Act
of Parliament. We entertain the weak-minded notion that what is done can't be undone. Our view was
well summarized in a typical Victorian song with the refrain: "The mill will never grind with the water
that is past." There are many answers to this. One (which would involve a disquisition on the
phenomena of evaporation and dew) we will here avoid. Another is, that to the minds of simple country
folk, the object of a mill is not to grind water, but to grind corn, and that (strange as it may seem) there
really have been societies sufficiently vigilant and valiant to prevent their corn perpetually flowing away
from them, to the tune of a sentimental song.

Now this modern refusal to undo what has been done is not only an intellectual fault, it is a moral fault
also. It is not merely our mental inability to understand the mistake we have made. It is also our spiritual
refusal to admit that we have made a mistake. It was mere vanity in Mr. Brummell when he sent away
trays full of imperfectly knotted neck cloths, lightly remarking, "These are our failures." It is a good
instance of the nearness of vanity to humility, for at least he had to admit that they were failures. But it
would have been spiritual pride in Mr. Brummell if he had tied on all the cravats, one on top of the
other, lest his valet should discover that he had ever tied one badly. For in spiritual pride there is always
an element of secrecy and solitude. Mr. Brummell would be satanic; also (which I fear would affect him
more) he would be badly dressed. But he would be a perfect presentation of the modern publicist, who
cannot do anything right, because he must not admit that he ever did anything wrong.

This strange, weak obstinacy, this persistence in the wrong path of progress, grows weaker and worse, as
do all such weak things. And by the time in which I write its moral attitude has taken on something of
the sinister and even the horrible. Our mistakes have become our secrets. Editors and journalists tear up
with a guilty air all that reminds them of the party promises unfulfilled, or the party ideals reproaching
them. It is true of our statesmen (much more than of our bishops, of whom Mr. Wells said it), that
socially in evidence they are intellectually in hiding. The society is heavy with unconfessed sins; its
mind is sore and silent with painful subjects; it has a constipation of conscience. There are many things
it has done and allowed to be done which it does not really dare to think about; it calls them by other
names and tries to talk itself into faith in a false past, as men make up the things they would have said in
a quarrel. Of these sins one lies buried deepest but most noisome, and though it is stifled, stinks, the true
story of the relations of the rich man and the poor in England. The half-starved English proletarian is not
only nearly a skeleton, but he is a skeleton in a cupboard.

It may be said, in some surprise, that surely we hear to-day on every side the same story of the destitute
proletariat and the social problem, of the sweating in the unskilled trades or the overcrowding in the
slums. It is granted, but I said the true story. Untrue stories there are in plenty, on all sides of the
discussion. There is the interesting story of the Class Conscious Proletarian of All Lands, the chap who
has "solidarity," and is always just going to abolish war. The Marxian Socialists will tell you all about
him; only he isn't there. A common English workman is just as incapable of thinking of a German as
anything but a German as he is of thinking of himself as anything but an Englishman. Then there is the
opposite story; the story of the horrid man who is an atheist and wants to destroy the home, but who, for
some private reason, prefers to call this Socialism. He isn't there either. The prosperous Socialists have
homes exactly like yours and mine; and the poor Socialists are not allowed by the Individualists to have
any at all. There is the story of the Two Workmen, which is a very nice and exciting story, about how
one passed all the public houses in Cheapside and was made Lord Mayor on arriving at the Guildhall,
while the other went into all the public houses and emerged quite ineligible for such a dignity. Alas! for
this also is vanity. A thief might become Lord Mayor, but an honest workman certainly couldn't. Then
there is the story of "The Relentless Doom" by which rich men were, by economic laws, forced to go on
taking away money from poor men, although they simply longed to leave off: this is an unendurable
thought to a free and Christian man, and the reader will be relieved to hear that it never happened. The
rich could have left off stealing whenever they wanted to leave off, only this never happened either.
Then there is the story of the cunning Fabian who sat on six committees at once and so coaxed the rich
man to become quite poor. By simply repeating in a whisper, that there are "wheels within wheels," this
talented man managed to take away the millionaire's motor car, one wheel at a time, till the millionaire
had quite forgotten that he ever had one. It was very clever of him to do this, only he has not done it.
There is not a screw loose in the millionaire's motor, which is capable of running over the Fabian and
leaving him a flat corpse in the road at a moment's notice. All these stories are very fascinating stories to
be told by the Individualist and Socialist in turn to the great Sultan of Capitalism, because if they left off
amusing him for an instant he would cut off their heads. But if they once began to tell the true story of
the Sultan to the Sultan, he would boil them in oil, and this they wish to avoid.

The true story of the sin of the Sultan he is always trying, by listening to these stories, to forget. As we
have said before in this chapter, he would prefer not to remember, because he has made up his mind not
to repent. It is a curious story, and I shall try to tell it truly in the two chapters that follow. In all ages the
tyrant is hard because he is soft. If his car crashes over bleeding and accusing crowds, it is because he
has chosen the path of least resistance. It is because it is much easier to ride down a human race than
ride up a moderately steep hill. The fight of the oppressor is always a pillow fight; commonly a war with
cushions --- always a war for cushions. Saladin, the great Sultan, if I remember rightly, accounted it the
greatest feat of swordsmanship to cut a cushion. And so indeed it is, as all of us can attest who have
been for years past trying to cut into the swollen and windy corpulence of the modern compromise, that
is at once cosy and cruel. For there is really in our world to-day the colour and silence of the cushioned
divan; and that sense of palace within palace and garden within garden which makes the rich
irresponsibility of the East. Have we not already the wordless dance, the wineless banquet, and all that
strange unchristian conception of luxury without laughter? Are we not already in an evil Arabian Nights,
and walking the nightmare cities of an invisible despot? Does not our hangman strangle secretly, the
bearer of the bow string? Are we not already eugenists --- that is, eunuch-makers? Do we not see the
bright eyes, the motionless faces, and all the presence of something that is dead and yet sleepless? It is
the presence of the sin that is sealed with pride and impenitence; the story of how the Sultan got his
throne. But it is not the story he is listening to just now, but another story which has been invented to
cover it --- the story called "Eugenius: or the Adventures of One Not Born," a most varied and
entrancing tale, which never fails to send him to sleep.


He awoke in the Dark Ages and smelt dawn in the dark, and knew he was not wholly a slave. It was as
if, in some tale of Hans Andersen, a stick or a stool had been left in the garden all night and had grown
alive and struck root like a tree. For this is the truth behind the old legal fiction of the servile countries,
that the slave is a "chattel," that is a piece of furniture like a stick or a stool. In the spiritual sense, I am
certain it was never so unwholesome a fancy as the spawn of Nietzsche suppose to-day. No human
being, pagan or Christian, I am certain, ever thought of another human being as a chair or a table. The
mind cannot base itself on the idea that a comet is a cabbage; not can it on the idea that a man is a stool.
No man was ever unconscious of another's presence --- or even indifferent to another's opinion. The lady
who is said to have boasted her indifference to being naked before male slaves was showing off --- or
she meant something different. The lord who fed fishes by killing a slave was indulging in what most
cannibals indulge in --- a satanist affectation. The lady was consciously shameless and the lord was
consciously cruel. But it simply is not in the human reason to carve men like wood or examine women
like ivory, just as it is not the human reason to think that two and two make five.

But there was this truth in the legal simile of furniture: that the slave, though certainly a man, was in one
sense a dead man; in the sense that he was moveable. His locomotion was not his own: his master
moved his arms and legs for him as if he were a marionette. Now it is important in the first degree to
realize here what would be involved in such a fable as I have imagined, of a stool rooting it self like a
shrub. For the general modern notion certainly is that life and liberty are in some way to be associated
with novelty and not standing still. But it is just because the stool is lifeless that it moves about. It is just
because the tree is alive that it does stand still. That was the main difference between the pagan slave
and the Christian serf. The serf still belonged to the lord, as the stick that struck root in the garden;
would have still belonged to the owner of the garden; but it would have become a live possession.
Therefore the owner is forced, by the laws of nature, to treat it with some respect; something becomes
due from him. He cannot pull it up without killing it; it has gained a place in the garden --- or the
society. But the moderns are quite wrong in supposing that mere change and holiday and variety have
necessarily any element of this life that is the only seed of liberty. You may say if you like that an
employer, taking all his work people to a new factory in a Garden City, is giving them the greater
freedom of forest landscapes and smokeless skies. If it comes to that, you can say that the slave-traders
took negroes from their narrow and brutish African hamlets, and gave them the polish of foreign travel
and medicinal breezes of a sea-voyage. But the tiny seed of citizenship and independence there already
was in the serfdom of the Dark Ages, had nothing to do with what nice things the lord might do to the
serf. It lay in the fact that there were some nasty things he could not do to the serf --- there were not
many, but there were some, and one of them was eviction. He could not make the serf utterly landless
and desperate utterly without access to the means of production, though doubtless it was rather the field
that owned the serf, than the serf that owned the field. But even if you call the serf a beast of the field, he
was not what we have tried to make the town workman --- a beast with no field. Foulon said of the
French peasants, "Let them eat grass." If he had said it of the modern London proletariat, they might
well reply, "You have not left us even grass to eat."

There was, therefore, both in theory and practice, some security for the serf, because he had come to life
and rooted. The seigneur could not wait in the field in all weathers with a battle-ax to prevent the serf
scratching any living out of the ground, any more than the man in my fairy-tale could sit out in the
garden all night with an umbrella to prevent the shrub getting any rain. The relation of lord and serf,
therefore, involves a combination of two things: inequality and security. I know there are people who
will at once point wildly to all sorts of examples, true and false, of insecurity of life in the Middle Ages;
but these are people who do not grasp what we mean by the characteristic institutions of a society. For
the matter of that, there are plenty of examples of equality in the Middle Ages, as the craftsmen in their
guild or the monks electing their abbot. But just as modern England is not a feudal country, though there
is a quaint survival called Heralds' College --- or Ireland is not a commercial country, though there is a
quaint survival called Belfast --- it is true of the bulk and shape of that society that came out of the Dark
Ages and ended at the Reformation, that it did not care about giving everybody an equal position, but
did care about giving everybody a position. So that by the very beginning of that time even the slave had
become a slave one could not get rid of, like the Scotch servant who stubbornly asserted that if his
master didn't know a good servant he knew a good master. The free peasant, in ancient or modern times,
is free to go or stay. The slave, in ancient times, was free neither to go nor stay. The serf was not free to
go; but he was free to stay.

Now what have we done with this man? It is quite simple. There is no historical complexity about it in
that respect. We have taken away his freedom to stay. We have turned him out of his field, and whether
it was injustice, like turning a free farmer out of his field, or only cruelty to animals, like turning a cow
out of its field, the fact remains that he is out in the road. First and last, we have simply destroyed the
security. We have not in the least destroyed the inequality. All classes, all creatures, kind or cruel, still
see this lowest stratum of society as separate from the upper strata and even the middle strata; he is as
separate as the serf. A monster fallen from Mars, ignorant of our simplest word, would know the tramp
was at the bottom of the ladder, as well as he would have known it of the serf. The walls of mud are no
longer round his boundaries, but only round his boots. The coarse bristling hedge is at the end of his
chin, and not of his garden. But mud and bristles still stand out round him like a horrific halo, and
separate him from his kind. The Martian would have no difficulty in seeing he was the poorest person in
the nation. It is just as impossible that he should marry an heiress, or fight a duel with a duke, or contest
a seat at Westminster, or enter a club in Pall Mall, or take a scholarship at Balliol, or take a seat at an
opera, or propose a good law, or protest against a bad one, as it was impossible to the serf. Where he
differs is in something very different. He has lost what was possible to the serf. He can no longer scratch
the bare earth by day or sleep on the bare earth by night, without being collared by a policeman.

Now when I say this man has been oppressed as hardly any other man on this earth has been oppressed,
I am not using rhetoric: I have a clear meaning which I am confident of explaining to any honest reader.
I do not say he has been treated worse: I say he has been treated differently from the unfortunate in all
ages. And the difference is this: that all the others were told to do something, and killed or tortured if
they did anything else. This man is not told to do something: he is merely forbidden to do anything.
When he was a slave, they said to him, "Sleep in this shed; I will beat you if you sleep anywhere else."
When he was a serf, they said to him, "Let me find you in this field: I will hang you if I find you in
anyone else's field." But now he is a tramp they say to him, "You shall be jailed if I find you in anyone
else's field: but I will not give you a field." They say, "You shall be punished if you are caught sleeping
outside your shed: but there is no shed." If you say that modern magistracies could never say such mad
contradictions, I answer with entire certainty that they do say them. A little while ago two tramps were
summoned before a magistrate, charged with sleeping in the open air when they had nowhere else to
sleep. But this is not the full fun of the incident. The real fun is that each of them eagerly produced about
twopence, to prove that they could have got a bed, but deliberately didn't. To which the policeman
replied that two pence would not have got them a bed: they could not possibly have got a bed: and
therefore (argued that thoughtful officer) they ought to be punished for not getting one. The intelligent
magistrate was much struck with the argument: and proceeded to imprison these two men for not doing
a thing they could not do. But he was careful to explain that if they had sinned needlessly and in wanton
lawlessness, they would have left the court without a stain on their characters; but as they could not
avoid it, they were very much to blame. These things are being done in every part of England every day.
They have their parallels even in every daily paper; but they have no parallel in any other earthly people
or period; except in that insane command to make bricks without straw which brought down all the
plagues of Egypt. For the common historical joke about Henry VIII hanging a man for being Catholic
and burning him for being Protestant is a symbolic joke only. The sceptic in the Tudor time could do
something: he could always agree with Henry VIII. The desperate man to-day can do nothing. For you
cannot agree with a maniac who sits on the bench with the straws sticking out of his hair and says,
"Procure three-pence from nowhere and I will give you leave to do without it."
If it be answered that he can go to the work-house, I reply that such an answer is founded on confused
thinking. It is true that he is free to go to the workhouse, but only in the same sense in which he is free to
go to jail, only in the same sense in which the serf under the gibbet was free to find peace in the grave.
Many of the poor greatly prefer the grave to the workhouse, but that is not at all my argument here.

The point is this: that it could not have been the general policy of a lord towards serfs to kill them all like
wasps. It could not have been his standing "Advice to Serfs" to say, "Get hanged." It cannot be the
standing advice of magistrates to citizens to go to prison. And, precisely as plainly, it cannot be the
standing advice of rich men to very poor men to go to the workhouses. For that would mean the rich
raising their own poor rates enormously to keep a vast and expensive establishment of slaves. Now it
may come to this, as Mr. Belloc maintains, but it is not the theory on which what we call the workhouse
does in fact rest. The very shape (and even the very size) of a workhouse expresses the fact that it was
found for certain quite exceptional human failures --- like the lunatic asylum. Say to a man, "Go to the
madhouse," and he will say, "Wherein am I mad?" Say to a tramp under a hedge, "Go to the house of
exceptional failures," and he will say with equal reason, "I travel because I have no house; I walk
because I have no horse; I sleep out because I have no bed. Wherein have I failed?" And he may have
the intelligence to add, "Indeed, your worship, if somebody has failed, I think it is not I." I concede, with
all due haste, that he might perhaps say "me."
The specialty then of this man's wrong is that it is the only historic wrong that has in it the quality of
nonsense. It could only happen in a nightmare, not in a clear and rational hell. It is the top point of that
anarchy in the governing mind which, as I said at the beginning, is the main trait of modernity,
especially in England. But if the first note in our policy is madness, the next note is certainly meanness.
There are two peculiarly mean and unmanly legal mantraps in which this wretched man is tripped up.
The first is that which prevents him from doing what any ordinary savage or nomad would do --- take
his chance of an uneven subsistence on the rude bounty of nature.

There is something very abject about forbidding this; because it is precisely this adventurous and
vagabond spirit which the educated classes praise most in their books, poems and speeches. To feel the
drag of the roads, to hunt in nameless hills and fish in secret streams, to have no address save "Over the
Hills and Far Away," to be ready to breakfast on berries and the daybreak and sup on the sunset and a
sodden crust, to feed on wild things and be a boy again, all this is the heartiest and sincerest impulse in
recent culture, in the songs and tales of Stevenson, in the cult of George Borrow and in the delightful
little books published by Mr. E. V. Lucas. It is the one true excuse in the core of Imperialism; and it
faintly softens the squalid prose and wooden-headed wickedness of the Self-Made Man who "came up to
London with twopence in his pocket." But when a poorer but braver man with less that twopence in his
pocket does the very thing we are always praising, makes the blue heavens his house, we send him to a
house built for infamy and flogging. We take poverty itself and only permit it with a property
qualification; we only allow a man to be poor if he is rich. And we do this most savagely if he has
sought to snatch his life by that particular thing of which our boyish adventure stories are fullest ---
hunting and fishing. The extremely severe English game laws hit most heavily what the highly reckless
English romances praise most irresponsibly. All our literature is full of praise of the chase --- especially
of the wild goose chase. But if a poor man followed, as Tennyson says, "far as the wild swan wings to
where the world dips down to sea and sands," Tennyson would scarcely allow him to catch it. If he
found the wildest goose in the wildest fenland in the wildest regions of the sunset, he would very
probably discover that the rich never sleep and that there are no wild things in England.

In short, the English ruler is always appealing to a nation of sportsmen and concentrating all his efforts
on preventing them from having any sport. The Imperialist is always pointing out with exultation that
the common Englishman can live by adventure anywhere on the globe. But if the common Englishmen
tries to live by adventure in England, he is treated as harshly as a thief, and almost as harshly as an
honest journalist. This is hypocrisy: the magistrate who gives his son "Treasure Island" and then
imprisons a tramp is a hypocrite; the squire who is proud of English colonists and indulgent to English
schoolboys, but cruel to English poachers, is drawing near that deep place wherein all liars have their
part. But our point here is that the baseness is in the idea of bewildering the tramp; of leaving him no
place for repentance. It is quite true, of course, that in the days of slavery or of serfdom the needy were
fenced by yet fiercer penalties from spoiling the hunting of the rich. But in the older case there were two
very important differences, the second of which is our main subject in this chapter. The first is that in a
comparatively wild society, however fond of hunting, it seems impossible that enclosing and game
keeping can have been so omnipresent and efficient as in a society full of maps and policemen.

The second difference is the one already noted: that if the slave or semi-slave was forbidden to get his food
in the green wood, he was told to get it somewhere else. The note of unreason was absent.
This is the first meanness; and the second is like unto it. If there is one thing of which cultivated modern
letters is full besides adventure it is altruism. We are always being told to help others, to regard our
wealth as theirs, to do what good we can, for we shall not pass this way again. We are everywhere urged
by humanitarians to help lame dogs over stiles --- though some humanitarians, it is true, seem to feel a
colder interest in the case of lame men and women. Still, the chief fact of our literature, among all
historic literatures, is human charity. But what is the chief fact of our legislation? The great outstanding
fact of modern legislation, among all historic legislations, is the forbidding of human charity. It is this
astonishing paradox, a thing in the teeth of all logic and conscience, that a man that takes another man's
money with his leave can be punished as if he had taken it without his leave. All through those dark or
dim ages behind us, through times of senile stagnation, of feudal insolence, of pestilence and civil strife
and all else that can wear down the weak, for the weak to ask for charity was counted lawful, and to give
that charity, admirable. In all other centuries, in short, the casual bad deeds of bad men could be partly
patched and mended by the casual good deeds of good men. But this is now forbidden; for it would
leave the tramp a last chance if he could beg.

Now it will be evident by this time that the interesting scientific experiment on the tramp entirely
depends on leaving him no chance, and not (like the slave) one chance. Of the economic excuses offered
for the persecution of beggars it will be more natural to speak in the next chapter. It will suffice here to
say that they are mere excuses, for a policy that has been persistent while probably largely unconscious,
with a selfish and atheistic unconsciousness. That policy was directed towards something --- or it could
never have cut so cleanly and cruelly across the sentimental but sincere modern trends to adventure and
altruism. Its object is soon stated. It was directed towards making the very poor man work for the
capitalist, for any wages or none. But all this, which I shall also deal with in the next chapter, is here
only important as introducing the last truth touching the man of despair. The game laws have taken from
him his human command of Nature. The mendicancy laws have taken from him his human demand on
Man. There is one human thing left it is much harder to take from him. Debased by him and his betters,
it is still something brought out of Eden, where God made him a demigod; it does not depend on money
and but little on time. He can create in his own image. The terrible truth is in the heart of a hundred
legends and mysteries. As Jupiter could be hidden from all-devouring Time, as the Christ Child could be
hidden from Herod --- so the child unborn is still hidden from the omniscient oppressor. He who lives
not yet, he and he alone is left; and they seek his life to take it away.

Continue Reading:
Return To Directory:
Free Website Translator