Hero Worship: A Conversation with a Visitor from Mars.
(continued from last month).
“Under modern conditions,” I replied, ” ‘hero worship’ is no longer a vital factor in social life. Capitalist society has the semblance of stability, and the devastating elements of feudal times, war, plague and famine, rarely shatter its equilibrium. The members of capitalist society, therefore, are, in the main, more calm and reflective than men of previous and more unsettled times; reason tends to curb sentiment, and personal fascination has, in consequence, little hold. Moreover, this apparent stability rests on a system of Democracy, which is not conducive to ‘hero worship.’ The present ruling class (the capitalists) are few in number, and with the development of their economic system, their numerical strength is constantly decreasing relatively to the other class in society (the workers). The stability of the capitalists’ system depends, therefore, on the consent of the majority of the community. The workers consequently are invested with great potential power; they are beginning to realise vaguely that the ‘masters’ are not omnipotent, but rely upon their support, and this realisation tends to create assertion and shrewdness—qualities which spell death to ‘hero worship.’ In the words of De Toqueville, Marty, ‘all men who live in democratic ages . . , are apt to relinquish the ideal, in order to pursue some visible and proximate object.’ (*)
“Also, the tremendous populations in industrial countries have rendered government by a few individuals impossible ; thus the committee system of government and administration lias evolved, and this tends to check the undue prominence of any one particular man, and personal magnetism is subordinated to avowed principles. Thus, too, the members of the community, generally speaking, no longer vote for individuals but for political parties and the principles they enunciate ; men vote, for instance, not for Mr. Spellbinder as an individual, but for Spellbinder as a member (for example) of the (alleged) Labour Party, and if Spellbinder joined the ‘Land of Dope and Glory’ Party he would speedily lose his old adherents and receive the support (possibly) of men holding Conservative views. It is evident, therefore, that apparent stability, extensive population, and Democracy, have all contributed to the death-blow of the ‘heroic ideal.’ But, like a small boy who keeps back the best portion of his dinner to the end, I likewise have reserved the most powerful reaction till now. Lafargue, in his ‘Origin of Abstract Ideas,’ points out that the barbarian social environment engendered by war and loyalty within the clan, stretched the heroic qualities—physical strength, courage, and moral stoicism—to their limit, whilst the capitalist environment, based on private property, has destroyed the ‘heroic ideal’ and has made egotism, intrigue, and cunning, cardinal virtues. The driving force of bourgeois society is the desire to make profit, and so (except in close personal relations) men unconsciously regard their fellows with favour or disdain in proportion to whether they think they can get little or much out of them. Likewise, the motives of even the most disinterested people are suspect; the opinion that ‘so-and-so has an axe to grind’ is, I believe, one of the most potent barriers to ‘hero worship’ at the present time. Incidentally, Marty, it is interesting to know that Marx and Engels, the first exponents of ‘scientific’ socialism, were probably the first men to recognise this fact that bourgeois society is incompatible with the heroic ideals, for in their Communist Manifesto they state ‘the bourgeois has stripped of its halo every occupation hitherto honoured and looked up to with reverent awe. It has converted the physician, the lawyer, the priest, the poet, the man of science, into its paid wage labourers.’ “
(*) “Democracy in America.”