is an analysis of the front page of my morning news-paper, on an ordinary,
uneventful day in November 1946.
The big headline goes to the U.N. conference, at
which the U.S.S.R. is putting forward demands for an inquiry into the
strength of Anglo-American forces in ex-enemy or allied countries. This is
obviously intended to forestall a demand for inspection of forces inside the
U.S.S.R., and it is plain to see that the resulting discussion will lead to
nothing except recriminations and a prestige victory for this side or that,
with no advance, and no attempt at any advance, towards genuine
The fighting in Greece is growing more serious. The
constitutional opposition is swinging more and more towards support of the
rebels, while the Government is alleging that the so-called rebels are in
fact guerrillas operating from across the frontier.
There is further delay in calling the Indian
Constituent Assembly (this column has a footnote: ‘Blood-bath in India:
Page Two’), and Mr Gandhi
has starved himself into a condition which is causing anxiety.
The American coal strike is continuing, and is
likely to ‘have disastrous effects on world grain supplies’. Owing to
other recent strikes, the United States has cancelled delivery of two
million tons of steel to Britain, which will further complicate the British
housing problem. There is also an unofficial ‘go slow’ movement on the
Great Western Railway.
Another bomb has gone off in Jerusalem, with a
number of casualties. There is also news of various minor unavoidable
calamities, such as a plane crash, the likelihood of floods all over
England, and a collision of ships in the Mersey, with the apparent loss of
100 head of cattle, which I suppose would represent one week’s meat ration
for about 40,000 people.
There is no definitely good news at all on the
front page. There are items, such as a rise in British exports during
October, which look as if they might be good, but which might turn out to be
bad if one had sufficient knowledge to interpret them. There is also a short
statement to the effect that the occupying powers in Germany ‘may’
shortly reach a better agreement. But this is hardly more than the
expression of a pious wish, unsupported by evidence.
I repeat that this pageful of disasters is merely
the record of an average day, when nothing much is happening: and
incidentally it occurs in a newspaper which, rather than most, tries to put
a good face on things.
When one considers how things have gone since 1930
or thereabouts, it is not easy to believe in the survival of civilization. I
do not argue from this that the only thing to do is to adjure practical
politics, retire to some remote place and concentrate either on individual
salvation or on building up self-supporting communities against the day when
the atom bombs have done their work. I think one must continue the political
struggle, just as a doctor must try to save the life of a patient who is
probably going to die. But I do suggest that we shall get nowhere unless we
start by recognizing that political behaviour is largely non-rational, that
the world is suffering from some kind of mental disease which must be
diagnosed before it can be cured. The significant point is that nearly all
the calamities that happen to us are quite unnecessary. It is commonly
assumed that what human beings want is to be comfortable. Well, we now have
it in our power to be comfortable, as our ancestors had not. Nature may
occasionally hit back with an earthquake or a cyclone, but by and large she
is beaten. And yet exactly at the moment when there is, or could be, plenty
of everything for everybody, nearly our whole energies have to be taken up
in trying to grab territories, markets and raw materials from one another.
Exactly at the moment when wealth might be so generally diffused that no
government need fear serious opposition, political liberty is declared to be
impossible and half the world is ruled by secret police forces. Exactly at
the moment when superstition crumbles and a rational attitude towards the
universe becomes feasible, the right to think one’s own thoughts is denied
as never before. The fact is that human beings only started fighting one
another in earnest when there was no longer anything to fight about.
It is not easy to find a direct economic
explanation of the behaviour of the people who now rule the world. The
desire for pure power seems to be much more dominant than the desire for
wealth. This has often been pointed out, but curiously enough the desire for
power seems to be taken for granted as a natural instinct, equally prevalent
in all ages, like the desire for food. Actually it is no more natural, in
the sense of being biologically necessary, than drunkenness or gambling. And
if it has reached new levels of lunacy in our own age, as I think it has,
then the question becomes: What is the special quality in modern life that
makes a major human motive out of the impulse to bully others? If we could
answer that question – seldom asked, never followed up – there might
occasionally be a bit of good news on the front page of your morning paper.
However, it is always possible, in spite of
appearances, that the age we live in is not worse than the other
ages that have preceded it, nor perhaps even greatly different. At least
this possibility occurs to me when I think of an Indian proverb which a
friend of mine once translated:
April was the jackal born,
In June the rain-fed rivers swelled:
‘Never in all my life,’ said he,
‘Have I so great a flood beheld.
suppose the shortage of clocks and watches is nobody’s fault, but is it
necessary to let their prices rocket as they have done in the last year or
Early this year I saw ex-army watches exhibited in
a showcase at a little under £4 each. A week or two later I succeeded in
buying one of them for £5. Recently their price seems to have risen to £8.
A year or two ago, alarm clocks, which at that time could not be bought
without a permit, were on sale at 16 shillings each. This was the controlled
price, and presumably it did not represent an actual loss to the
manufacturer. The other day I saw precisely similar clocks at 45 shillings
– a jump of 180 per cent. Is it really conceivable that the cost price has
Incidentally, for 45 shillings you can, if you are
on the phone, arrange for the telephone operator to call you every morning
for nearly 18 months, which is a lot longer than the life of the average
the heading, ‘The Return of the Jews to Palestine’, Samuel
Butler records in his Note-Books:
man called on me last week and proposed gravely that I should write a book
upon an idea which had occurred to a friend of his, a Jew living in New Bond
Street . . . . If only I would help, the return of the Jews to Palestine
would be rendered certain and easy. There was no trouble about the poor Jews,
he knew how he could get them back at any time; the difficulty lay with the
Rothschilds, the Oppenheims and such; with my assistance, however, the thing
could be done.
I am afraid I was rude enough to decline to go into
the scheme on the ground that I did not care twopence whether the
Rothschilds and Oppenheims went back to Palestine or not. This was felt to
be an obstacle; but then he began to try and make me care, whereupon, of
course, I had to get rid of him.
This was written in 1883. And who
would have foreseen that only about sixty years later nearly all the Jews in
Europe would be trying to get back to Palestine of their own accord, while
nearly everybody else would be trying to stop them?