A Thing of Beauty. Some Reflections on Bourgeois Morality
The subject of what are known as war babies was recently agitating the Press of this country, the excitement at one time being so great that one journal was shaken into a confession. On the 29th April the leading article in the “Evening News” was headed “Baby-Talk.” In spite, however, of the enormous interest attaching to this question it is the discussion arising from it, rather than the subject itself, which it is here intended to review.
The Bishops Lead the Hooting
Convocation, we find, discusses the question and individual bishops become tremendously concerned about it. The Bishop of Oxford condemns the laxity cf tone in which the matter has been discussed in some quarters, and the Bishop of Chelmsford attacks the Press and says that newspapers with immense circulations have been advocating what is practically free love. That such a state of things can even be alleged is evidence, surely, that far more seri¬ousness is needed.
So smile not, reader, even at the bishops who discuss this matter in Convocation. Even if, in the course of your ramblings among statistics, you may have found that certain University towns do not figure among those with the small¬est percentages of illegitimate births ; and even if you should reflect on the academic distinction of the learned gentlemen in Convocation, still, draw no hasty and erroneous conclusions. Smile not at the solemnity of these bishops. Remember that if for the dominant class as a whole the maintenance of war babies will only be a matter of rates or taxes, for the clergy, on the other hand, the maintenance of bourgeois morality is a matter of life and death. An individual bourgeois—a contractor, for example, grown rich on the profits derived from the traffic in foodstuffs or other death-dealing materials—might conceivably dismiss this question of war babies with a remark like Heinrich Heine’s :
“Oh, the women ! we must forgive them much, for they love much—and many.”
But for the clergy it is different. The master whom they serve is the capitalist class, and when it shall have become evident that their (the clergy’s) ever-feebler influence over the proletariat has vanished entirely, their reward will be that of the superannuated wage-slave—the sack. Besides, if marriages are to be celebrated without the help of the parsons, what about the gate-money ?
Of Kids who haven’t paid their footing
Hence these parasites now-a-days must take themselves very seriously (in public) ; the more their influence wanes the more importance and solemnity must they assume. So much for the clergy and their comic, if comprehensible, seriousness.
But before leaving these survivals and turning to the views of the comparatively responsible bourgeois, it is necessary to record one remark made to Convocation by the Archbishop of Canterbury. “‘It was quite apparent,’ the Archbishop added, ‘that apprehensions were very much better founded in some few places in England than in others.'” (“Daily Chronicle,” 28th April, 1915 ) The depth of thought responsible for this remark may be paralleled, perhaps, in the works of our orthodox economists, but where shall we, find a finer example of caution ? If only such a degree of thie quality had been possessed by those girls who now threaten to increase—the rates or taxes of our masters !
Yes, the rates or taxes. For if these masters of ours pay for the education of the proletariat in capitalist morality, that is only because its adoption by the workers is so helpful to the exploiting class. Therefore, when the moral welfare of the working class is receiving special attention from our superiors it is worth our while to see how the pocket of the latter is being threatened. And it is the bourgeois himself who will help us here.
While Boss Loquacious Waxes On the Theme of Rates and Taxes
Take for example the letter addressed by Mr. Ronald M’Neill to the “Morning Post” (quoted in “Reynolds’s,” 18th April, 1915). Mr. M’Neill is not altogether certain what action should be taken in the matter of war babies, but endeavours to show reasons for some slight changes.
“It also has to be considered,” he says, “how provision is to be made for the fatherless children, whose girl mothers have no separation allowance, no separate homes of their own, and no means of support. If nothing is done, thousands of them will fall upon the rates. Better that they should be boldly adopted as the honourable children of the State than that they should slink through life as the children of shame and the parish.”
Of course. Has it not been shown quite recently how much can be saved by partially supporting old people outside the workhouse instead of maintaining them inside ? Why not make use of the knowledge gained from the results of the Old Age Pensions Acts ? If the existing morality stands in the way, then some modification is necessary. As Mr. M’Neill says,
“What is wanted is for the religious leaders of the country to come forward with an honest and courageous pronouncement that under existing circumstances the mothers of our soldiers’ children are to be treated with no scorn or dishonour, and that the infants themselves should receive a loyal and unashamed welcome.”
They will to Save their Precious Tin
Just so. The religious leaders of the past knew to adapt their teaching to altered circumstances. It was necessary at one time to thunder against that “immorality,” lending money for interest. But the rise to power of the capitalist class gave the Church a new master, a new ruling class to serve. Denunciations of usury are quite in order while the feudal barons remain powerful, but would be horribly out of place in modern society. The Church of to-day must adapt its teachings to the needs of the ruling class of to-day. What is necessary to-day is to distinguish between the temporary and the more lasting interests of that class. This fact, slightly disguised, is pointed out by A.G G. in the “Daily News” of the 24th April. Referring to Mr. M’Neill’s suggestions he writes:
“He [Mr. M’Neill] does not seem to see that if you popularise illegitimacy now, if you grow dithyrambic about it, you will popularise it permanently. You cannot have two standards on this subject, a war standard of morality and a peace standard. . . it is not easy to see that, once having removed the ‘bar sinister’ from our social system, it could ever be restored. . But a change of this sort should not be made incidentally and in a paroxysm of sentiment, but with a full consideration of all that is involved in it. We must not do it to-day under the impulse of patriotism and undo it to-morrow under the impulse of selfish interest.”
Revise the Catalogue of Sin
Two things, however, appear to be agreed upon by most of our bourgeois writers on this topic. One is that the bearing of illegitimate children is an evil ; the other is that the bastardy laws must be reformed. On the latter point one writer became so excited that he nearly repeated himself to death in the pages of the “English Review.” The gentleman in ques¬tion is Mr. Austin Harrison, he who recently rose to fame as an authority on Marx’s Materialist Conception of History without having devoted a moment’s study to that subject. “The law,” he writes,
“is unspeakably cruel. It says the illegitimate child has to remain illegitimate. It has no kin, no right of inheritance. … I say, with all the earnestness of which I am capable, it will be a lasting disgrace if we do not repeal our wicked Bastardy Laws, so that these children may be suffered to come into the world free from ban and social degradation.”
Terrible ! Think of it, you happy, legitimate wage-slaves, who came into the world “free from ban and social degradation.” And how sad that these children of the disinherited should be deprived of the right of inheritance !
In the numerous articles written on the subject of war babies the views that one finds expressed are mostly of the character of those above quoted, and it is difficult to believe the statement of the Bishop of Chelmsford that “what was practically free love” was advocated by newspapers with immense circulations. For it is the Socialists alone who advocate and work for the establishment of those social conditions which will remove the obstacles in the way of free love. “The full freedom of marriage,” as Frederick Engels wrote, “can become general only after all minor economic considerations, that still exert such a powerful influence on the choice of a mate for life, have been removed by the abolition of capitalistic production and of the property relations created by it. Then no other motive will remain but mutual fondness.”
A. C. A.