Editorial from the November 1940 issue of the Socialist Standard
The main object of life is surely to be happy. Yet there are quite a number of people in the world to-day who forget this obvious fact or are so distorted in outlook that the mere being happy appears to them as a sign of weakness.
For instance, Dean Inge, in an article on the present war entitled “Blessing in Disguise" (Evening Standard, October 31st, 1940), opens up as follows: —
Every nation that has remained strong and healthy has been obliged periodically to light for its life. This is not an agreeable conclusion for a Pacifist, but such, I am afraid, must be the verdict of history. . . . The amiable but feckless Polynesians are descended from hardy mariners who performed the astonishing feat of crossing half the Pacific in open boats.
There is a fatal flaw in both of the above statements.
Let us, in the first place, glance at the nations that fought for their lives.
The Athenians, at the summit of their wealth and power, fought for their existence against the Spartans. They went down and never recovered. The Romans, at the time their frontiers were most extensive, found their existence challenged by the barbarians upon their borders. The latter over-ran the Empire and Rome went down never to rise again. The same story is true of the succeeding Empires of the Arabs and the Turks. France, under Napoleon, fought for its existence and went down, and in recent years Czechoslovakia and Finland have shared the same fate.
No, it is something else than lighting that is necessary to keep a nation permanently strong and healthy.
Turn now to the “feckless Polynesians." When first visited by the white man they were free of disease, long-lived, and healthy and happy. All travellers who visited them in the early days bear witness, without exception, to the fine physique, beauty, and happiness of the Polynesians. They have been described again and again as childlike in the joyousness of their lives, which were chiefly occupied with swimming and decking themselves out with flowers. It was the coming of the white man that altered all this, turning them into joyless beasts of burden, subject to the strange diseases that afflict the civilised white people all over the earth.
The Polynesian was happy because nature and the climate enabled them to get the means of life with little labour and he had plenty of leisure to be happy. Civilisation deprived him of his former leisure and compelled him to labour painfully to satisfy his needs. It did this because it brought a new idea into the simple life of the native, the idea of private ownership and the pursuit of profit. How the present native population of Polynesia must sigh for the good, old “feckless” days!
But even Dean Inge seems to be dubious about the strong and healthy result of fighting for our existence, for later on in the article he writes: —
Those who prate about a better social order after the war are talking mischievous nonsense. However the war ends, we shall be an impoverished nation. We shall all have to work harder and spend less.
What a future for the mass of the population who always have to work hard and have little to spend at the best of times. Better, perhaps, the life of the “feckless” Polynesian, which was full to the brim with happiness, though it lacked all the civilised adjuncts which have cost so much effort to acquire, and yet in the main give so little joy under the present social system.