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September 11, 1906.



What is a Conservative?

54, Hornsea-rise, N.

Sir, I have read Mr. G. K. Chestertons article with pleasure and profit. In detail I agree with him; but surely his attack upon the use of the terms Conservative and Progressive is too subtle, and obscures something of importance. It is true that at all times both parties desire to change some things and to retain others, but the real policy of each is constant, and is well expressed by their respective names. When a Conservative wants a change it is because times have altered, and some new device is necessary to preserve what he has and approves of. That is what he wants it is no desire to move foward. For example, many of the party recently desired Tariff Reform because they conceived it would support capital, not with any object of altering our system of political economy or of effecting any change at all. When Progressives want a change it is with an entirely different object; it is to make an advance, not to patch up existing conditions. Progressives will always be Progressives. We can never do more than approach perfection so we shall continually want change. Surely, then, the terms Progressive and Conservative have real meaning and express it well. I insist on this, because Mr. Chestertons article seems to me to obscure something important i.e. the real policy of each party. That should be avoided. We must keep our ideal clearly before us and courageously continue along our path. Yours, etc., MARK SALISBURY.


September 15, 1906.


________ I cannot consent to be held up by one of your most intelligent correspondents as a sort of Conservative.1 I must explain my view of progress. There is one kind of progress in which all wise men believe; indeed in which all men have always believed, though they have sometimes in rude times been too lazy and in cultured times too weary to pursue it. If we, in our age, really do believe in this progress, so much the better for us; we may do something great even yet. But this progress which may move us to do great things must be very carefully distinguished from that other idea of progress which is at this moment the main obstacle to our doing anything at all. The principle of progress in which all sane men believe is mainly this: that we are engaged and ought to be engaged in a persistent effort to change the external world into the image of something that is within ourselves; to turn what is, as far as we are concerned, a chaos, into what shall be, as far as we are concerned, a cosmos. God did not give us a universe, but rather, the materials of a universe. The world is not a picture, it is a palette. Most of us who can remember our childhood at all will agree that the best present that can be given to a child on his birthday is in all probability a paint box. Many fathers know this; the Father of us all knew it well. He gave man a paint box. He gave him the crude materials of something; the crude materials of everything. That brown earth beneath you is only raw umber, which you are destined to turn into cooked umber. That blue sea, which you think spherical and perfect is only the element and beginning of something beyond the sea. How gratifying it is to reflect that the word ultramarine literally means something beyond the sea. That green grass is only the material out of which you may make elves and foresters and the figure of Robin Hood. That blood-red sunset which you unwisely call perfect is nothing but a lake of crimson (called for the sake of brevity crimson lake), from which you may fish up the flaming images of purple seraphims and scarlet devils. Heaven gave



G. K. Chesterton at the Daily News, Volume 4


us this splendid chaos of colours and materials. Heaven gave us a few instinctive rules of practice and caution corresponding to do not put the brush in the mouth. And Heaven gave us a vision. Now, to make the real world in any way like our vision of it requires an agony of toil, extended over many years and centuries. My own sympathies are all with sudden and decisive change, when it can possibly be obtained; but the complete transformation of nature into the vision of man can only be obtained slowly, if, indeed it can be obtained at all. Therefore there does come into the realm of ideas the thing called progress. Your correspondent puts the matter perfectly well when he says that it may be that we shall never reach perfection, but we may continue to approach it. But even if we only approach it we must believe that it exists, we must believe that there is some comprehensible statement of what it is and where it is. It is important to know where Brighton is, whether I want to go to Brighton or only towards Brighton. If Brighton has no place or meaning at all, how can I even aim at it? It may be that my human strength will be exhausted before I reach Brighton. It may be that the earth will be burnt up in the sun long before I reach Brighton. It may be that inexorable and awful laws of human limitation keep an armed watch round Brighton, and that I can never see the shining gates of that city until I become more than man. But certainly it is just as important to know what Brighton is in order to try to get there as it is in order to get there after all. And the human race (in the main) has always believed that it knew the broad facts about the site and approachability of Brighton. When I say Brighton I use a close metaphor for the New Jerusalem. Men have always believed that however long or however short might be the time required to reach perfection, perfection had certain clear recognizable lines about it: it would involve justice, it would involve mercy, it would involve truth; it would involve courage. Our attempts to reach this might jump about. But Brighton would not jump about. We should now use this colour, now that colour of our cosmic paint-box to produce the proper effect. But our vision would not alter. We should always have in our minds the picture that we wanted. Thousands of years ago a great poet put the perfect vision of mercy, The lion shall lie down with the lamb.2 It will take us a long time to induce him to do it. But in our own time another and quite different thing has happened. The vision has been attacked, not the picture. The thing we are aiming at is everywhere challenged. Mercy is denied by Mr. Nietzsche.3 Justice is denied by Mr. Blatchford.4 The object of all our sacrifices is being talked of as dubious. Brighton is jumping about. It would take many generations (perhaps) of philosophical lion-tamers to induce the lion to lie down with the lamb. But it clearly cannot be done at all if every other generation of lion-tamers thinks that it is not worth doing. The whole matter, then, can be put in one statement. So long as there is constancy in ideals, there can be progress towards those ideals. The

The Changing Vision


moment there is change in those ideals, the progress, already difficult, becomes impossible. If there is progress in ideals, there cannot be progress in anything else. A man wears a top hat and a frock coat and worships classic beauty. So long as he worships classic beauty he may slowly, but surely, mould the top hat upon the lines of the Parthenon. But if he has a different theory every week, then we can only say one thing with certainty. He will not have a new top hat every week. So he will grow more and more to leave his changing ideals out of his life altogether. He is an Atheist this week and a Theosophist next week. He cannot get a complete costume for each philosophy. What will happen will be this: that brute habit will conquer all these crude philosophies. Our views will change for ever. The world will remain the same for ever. A sweater5 will believe on Monday that he is a Socialist. He will believe on Saturday that he is the Super man. He will believe on Monday that he is a Socialist again. But he will remain one thing all the time he will remain a sweater. Our ideals are not fixed enough to make us break our fixed habits. No more cunning way of preventing real reform has ever been conceived than this exaltation of philosophical novelty. As long as men have plenty of new views they will never have any new revolutions. The greatest enemy of progress ever created is the thing called free thought. Notes
1. 2.


4. 5.

one of your most intelligent correspondents Conservative: a response to M. Salisbury, What is a Conservative, DN, 11 September 1906, p. 50 above. The lion lamb: Chesterton is not alone in slightly misquoting Isaiah 11:6: The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid; and the calf and the young lion and the fatling together; and a little child shall lead them. Mercy is denied by Mr. Nietzsche: see The Sentimentalism of Zarathustra, DN, 15 December 1906, pp. 11215 below; and On Largeness, DN, 29 December 1906, pp. 1247 below. Justice is denied by Mr. Blatchford: see Mr. Blatchford and My Neighbour, DN, 14 November 1903, Volume 2, pp. 1505 above. sweater: i.e. an employer of sweated underpaid and exploited labour.