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Source global Wall Street Journal     time 2022-01-14 21:33:30
Typefacelarge in Small
In social organization there were differences between imperial Russia and imperial China. In Russia the heroic attempt to create a communist state had finally gone astray through the moral deterioration of the Communist Party. What had started as a devoted revolutionary corps had developed as a bureaucracy which in effect owned the whole wealth of the empire. Common ownership theoretically existed, but in effect it was confined to the Party, which thus became a sort of fabulously wealthy monastic order. In its earlier phase the Party was recruited by strict social and moral testing, but latterly the hereditary principle had crept in, so that the Party became an exclusive ruling caste. In China, under the influence partly of Russian communism, partly of European capitalism, a similar system evolved, but one in which the common ownership of the ruling caste as a whole was complicated by the fact that the great families of the caste secured a large measure of economic autonomy. As in Japan at an earlier stage, but more completely and definitely, each great department of production became the perquisite of a particular aristocratic, or rather plutocratic, family. Within each family, common ownership was strictly maintained.

iii. Russia and China

There were other hopeful movements of regeneration. Obscurely I can remember a great and promising renaissance in North America. Adversity had purged Americans of their romantic commercialism. No longer could the millionaire, the demi-god of money power, command admiration and flattering imitation from the humble masses. Millionaires no longer existed. And the population was becoming conscious that personal money power had been the main cause of the perversion of the old civilization. For a while the Americans refused to admit to themselves that their ‘hundred per cent Americanism’ had been a failure; but suddenly the mental barrier against this realization collapsed. Within a couple of years the whole mental climate of the American people was changed. Up and down the continent men began to re-examine the principles on which American civilization had been based, and to sort out the essential values from the false accretions. Their cherished formulation of the Rights of Man was now supplemented by an emphatic statement of man’s duties. Their insistence on freedom was balanced by a new stress on discipline in service of the community. At the same time, in the school of adversity the former tendency to extravagance in ideas, either in the direction of hard-baked materialism or towards sentimental new-fangled religion, was largely overcome. The Society of Friends, who had always been a powerful sect in North America, now came into their own. They had been prominent long ago during the earliest phase of colonization from England, and had stood not only for gentleness and reasonableness towards the natives but also for individual courage, devotion, and initiative in all practical affairs. At their best they had always combined hard-headed business capacity with mystical quietism. At their worst, undoubtedly, this combination resulted in self-deception of a particularly odious kind. A ruthless though ‘paternal’ tyranny over employees was practised on weekdays, and on Sundays compensation and self-indulgence was found in a dream-world of religious quietism. But changed times had now brought about a revival and a purging. The undoctrinal mysticism of the Young Friends and their practical devotion to good works became a notable example to a people who were by now keenly aware of the need for this very combination.

The transition from a very complex and close-knit world-economy to a medley of isolated societies was very significant of the condition of the species. So long as some meagre communication persisted, it was impossible for people not to realize that foreign countries existed, and to be perturbed by the failure of the empire. When mechanical transport had collapsed altogether, attempts were made to maintain contact by sailing-ships and caravans. But both these occupations depended on techniques long since abandoned. The half-wit populations could not effectively recover them. The radio still for a while maintained contact between peoples, for this technique, though fairly complex, was preserved in the tradition. Radio communication with foreign lands, however, came to seem very objectionable to the provincial governments, which, of course, controlled the whole of each provincial radio system. Radio news kept reminding people of the existence of a world which, from the government’s point of view, they should forget; since the recollection of it filled them with restlessness and awkward questioning. One by one the governments therefore broke off all radio communication with foreign countries. Any attempt to make contact by radio with ‘imaginary other lands’ was henceforth punished by death. This state of affairs lasted until the final loss of radio through the further deterioration of intelligence.

The psychologist urged that the two governments should secretly select and train the future prophets of this faith, and launch them out as spontaneous religious enthusiasts throughout the two empires. It would be well that these agitators should be critical of the existing imperial governments, condemning them as but feeble embodiments of the truth. Indeed these state-aided revolutionaries should be encouraged to demand a new regime. Let them go so far as to incur persecution by the existing governments. Some of them would then have to be sacrificed, but the survivors must be heavily financed to rouse a revolutionary fervour among the populace, the object of which would be not the milk-sop liberal-socialist Utopia achieved by Tibet but the fulfilment of the potentialities of the existing order. Only when the true divine state had been established would the virtue of absolute acquiescence be possible.

This ideographic art I could at least comprehend sufficiently to grasp its general nature, but it must also have symbolized ranges of experience beyond my reach. It played a great part in the decoration of the temples; and certain ideograms, which remained meaningless to me, seemed to have a mystical power over anyone that earnestly contemplated them.


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