Revolt Against the Smart Crowd
Three books on order and unrest-reviewed
by DONALD NICHOLL
A NEW PATTERN FOR A TIRED WORLD, by Louis Bromfield (Cassell, 16s.).
T111.; HERESY OF DEMOCRACY, by Lord Percy a Newcastle (Eyre & Spottiswoode, 18s.).
FAITH AND FREEDOM. by Barbara Ward (Hamish Hamilton, 16s.).
'THERE are signs everywhere
-Iin the world today that the simple people are beginning to revolt against the 'liberal,' the 'intellectual,' the scientist of cold blood, the generals, the ambitions, demagogic politicians. It would not be the first time in the history of the world when the simple people took over and
changed all history. . . By the simple people I mean . . men who are human and unspecialised, whose wisdom and kindliness grows out of their daily lives and experience. They possess a wisdom that is somehow rooted in God and the universe. They are without vanity, without pretension or without the distorted and psychopathic ambitions which have created so much misery in the world
during the past generation. . . it is time for the simple people to revolt. They could scarcely provide a worse record than that of the specialists, the
'intellectuals,' the 'liberals' . ."
Somewhere in the middle of this rhetoric Mr. Bromfield has got hold of something. And his own book is a symptom of what he has got hold of : that the grilling of "eggheads" now going on in the U.S.A. is part of a revolt of the backwoodsman against the smart crowd at the top who seem to have few scruples and no loyalties. (The unpleasing term "egghead" refers. apparently, to pretentious pseudo-intellectuals "spiritual byblows of Lord Keynes" as they are described on one occasion.) Mr. Bromfield is a backwoodsman.
Lesson for today
THE pattern of the conservative
backwoodsman revolting against the "progressive," slick courtier and bureaucrat, has, it is true, been repeated frequently in history. Indeed, the most tense and ominous moment of English history saw the tragic failure of one such revolt. It was in 15a6, when the Catholic men of the North Country set out from their farmsteads to crush the slick, "progressive" set gathered around Thomas Cromwell in the capital.
And the tragedy is that these simple backwoodsmen could have cleared out the whole gang if only they had not trusted the King's word-if only they had realised that it is having broken his word, to God. to his parents, or to his wife, that gives a man entrance to such smart sets. (The lesson is perhaps being learned 400 years later in this country where the Burgess -Maclean episode has set many ordinary folk thinking-and wondering, amongst other things, whether the clean getaway of those two gentlemen was engineered so as to prevent an open enquiry.)
SJOAN OF ARC, coming "from the woods and the silence of Domrerny, provides another instance of the simple folk's protest against the corruption of courtiers and their hangers-on.
So does Luther. Reared in the frontier atmosphere of the harsh Saxon mountains, he could scarcely fail to regard the Renaissance Papacy as the Scarlet Woman. And the agreement over indulgences between Albert of Mainz, the banking-house of Fugger, and Rome, must have roused in Luther very much the same reactions as Belloc felt in face of the Marconi scandal.
In fact, this tension between court and country is a constant factor in society, ever present in one degree or another. "Needs 'is bottom spanking." commented a country type after reading the theatre notes written by one of the bright young things for a quality Sunday paper. And similar remarks may be heard on all sides; when, for instance. certain "personalities" start their capers on television. one great virtue of television being that it often shows up the phoney characters-and many who imagine that television is boosting their popularity are being curtly dismissed by their viewers, thus: "Wouldn't trust 'ins as far as I could throw 'im."
For there is, it will be noticed, a regular appeal to physical violence on the part of the backwoodsman. And it is easy to understand why : he feels angry and frustrated by a society which rewards the facile pen and the barbed tongue (the weapons of what he would call the "eggheads") hut sends people to gaol for using their fists (his own most natural wea pons).
ET popular anger and frustra tion, undirected by intellectual judgment, have so often led to disaster that I cannot tell when it was that Mr. Bromfield thinks the simple people took over and changed history for the good.
The most recent revolt happened when a simple backwoodsman from
Bohemia set out to smash the eggheads. liberals, intellectuals, Jews and Jesuits of Germany. The result was Elitierite Germany; and we are all too close to that shaking event to wish for a repetition of it even in the name of the simple people. In fairness to Mr. Bromfield. one must point out that this danger (in the shape of McCarthy) has occurred to him. But it has not struck him, and that is why I refer him to the unhappy consequences of -successful" revolts by backwoodsmen. By the time the leaders are "successful" they are usually in bed with someone else's wife, in somebody else's mansion; and their spokesmanship for the common man is as hollow as the eggheads. It is the failures who command our respect-St. Joan of Arc, the Pilgrims of Grace. the Cornishmen of the Prayer Book Revolt. God preserves His simple ones from succes.s.
I F Mr. Bromfield were more aware of how dangerous it is to advocate insufficiently intellectual programmes he would have taken greater care to think over the posi. five side of his book.
Briefly, so it seems to me, he says that there are two kinds of capitalism. European and American; the European type is pernicious and the American type wonderful.
There are also two kinds of imperialism-the pernicious European and the beneficent American. The salvation of the world appears to depend on the propagation of these American discoveries. Stricter intellectual discipline would lead Mr. Bromfield to a different conclusion.
One pleasant way of starting such discipline would be to read Lord Eustace Percy's book, which argues that the democratic heresy (the Voice of the People is absolute) is corrupting our civilisation.
It is not a difficult thesis to sustain at the moment, and Lord Percy sustains it with some learning and much wisdom; but one would be happier if he had at the same time indicated the truth that is being concealed by the heresy. Not all the evils in the world stem from the French Revolution; and there have been great improvements in man's condition during the last 150 years. A more balanced assessment of the loss and gain will be found in Barbara Ward's hook, which treats European History as an experiment in freedom inspired by faith. Her treatment of the question is more balanced because her sympathies are with the down-trodden, yet she remains a genuine intellectual. She has a warm heart and a clear head-rare conjunction these days.