Chapter 7

WHEN SOME EVENT takes place, men express their opinions and desires in regard to the event, and as the event proceeds from the combined action of many men, some one of the opinions or desires expressed is certain to be at least approximately fulfilled. When one of the opinions expressed is fulfilled, that opinion is connected with the event as the command preceding it.

Men are dragging a log. Every man expresses his opinion as to how and where to drag it. The men drag the log off; and it turns out that it has been done just as one of them advised. He gave the command then. This is commanding and power in its primitive aspect.

The man who did most work with his arms could think least what he was doing, reflect least what might come of the common action, and so command least. The man who commanded most could obviously, from his greater verbal activity, act less vigorously with his arms. In a larger assembly of men, combining their energies to one end, the class of those persons who take the less direct share in the common work the more their energy is turned to command, is still more sharply defined.

When a man acts alone, he always carries within him a certain series of considerations, that have, as he supposes, directed his past conduct, and that serve to justify to him his present action, and to lead him to make projects for his future activity.

Assemblies of men act in the same way, only leaving to those who do not take direct part in the action to invent considerations, justifications, and projects concerning their combined activity.

For causes, known or unknown to us, the French begin to chop and hack at each other. And to match the event, it is accompanied by its justification in the expressed wills of certain men, who declare it essential for the good of France, for the cause of freedom, of equality. Men cease slaughtering one another, and that event is accompanied by the justification of the necessity of centralisation of power, of resistance to Europe, and so on. Men march from west to east, killing their fellow-creatures, and this event is accompanied by phrases about the glory of France, the baseness of England, and so on. History teaches us that those justifications for the event are devoid of all common-sense, that they are inconsistent with one another, as, for instance, the murder of a man as a result of the declaration of his rights, and the murder of millions in Russia for the abasement of England. But those justifications have an incontestable value in their own day.

They remove moral responsibility from those men who produce the events. At the time they do the work of brooms, that go in front to clear the rails for the train: they clear the path of men’s moral responsibility. Apart from those justifications, no solution could be found for the most obvious question that occurs to one at once on examining any historical event; that is, How did millions of men come to combine to commit crimes, murders, wars, and so on?

Under the existing complex forms of political social life in Europe, can any event be imagined which would not have been prescribed, decreed, commanded by some sovereigns, ministers, parliaments, or newspapers? Is there any sort of combined action which could not find justification in political unity, or in patriotism, or in the balance of power, or in civilisation? So that every event that occurs inevitably coincides with some expressed desire, and receiving justification, is regarded as the result of the will of one or more persons.

Whichever way the ship steers its course, there will always be seen ahead of it the flow of the waves it cleaves. To the men in the ship the movement of those waves will be the only motion perceptible.

It is only by watching closely, moment by moment, the movement of that flow, and comparing it with the movement of the ship, that we are convinced that every moment that flowing by of the waves is due to the forward movement of the ship, and that we have been led into error by the fact that we are ourselves moving too.

  By PanEris using Melati.

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