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Waiting for Daylight,
H. M. Tomlinson, 1922


Great Statesmen

May 31, 1919. What is wrong with our statesmen? I think the answer is simple. Success in a political career can be understood by all of us. It attracts the attention which applauds the owner of a Derby winner, or the Bishop who began as a poor, industrious, but tactful child. John the Baptist failed to attract the publicity he desired; and Christ drew it as a criminal, for the religious and political leaders of his day recognized what his teaching would lead to as easily as would any magistrate to-day who had before him a carpenter accused of persuading soldiers that killing is murder. Politicians move on the level of the common intelligence, and compete there with each other in charging the ignorance of the commonalty with emotion. A politician need be no more than something between a curate and a card-sharper. If he knows anything of the arts, of history, of economics, or of science, he had better forget it, or else use it as a forestaller would a knowledge of the time when prices should be raised. A confident man with a bloodshot voice and a gift for repartee is sure to make a success of politics, especially if he is not too particular. This did not matter once, perhaps, when politics merely afforded excitement for taverns and a career for the avid and meddlesome. The country was prosperous, and so it was difficult to do it serious harm.

But to-day, just when we must have the leading of moral, judicious, and well-informed minds, or perish, we have only our statesmen. It never occurs to the crowd that its business would be more successfully transacted by a chance group, say of headmasters of elementary schools, than by the statesmen who, at Versailles recently, dared not face the shocking realities because these could not be squared with a Treaty which had to frame the figments of the hustings. The trouble with our statesmen is that they have been concerned hitherto merely to attend to the machinery, running freely and with little friction, of industrial society. They did not create that machinery. They but took it over. They knew nothing of the principles which motived it. Our statesmen were only practical politicians and business men. They held in contempt the fine abstract theories of physics, mechanics, and dynamics. It was safe for them to do so. The machinery went on running, apparently of its own volition. All went well until the War. Now the propeller-shaft of industrial society is fractured, our ship is wallowing in the trough of the seas, and the men who should put things right for us do not even know that it is the main shaft on which they should concentrate. They are irritating the passengers by changing the cabins, confiscating luggage, insisting on higher fares, cutting down the rations, and instructing the sailors in the goose-step but the ship has no way on her, and the sound of breakers grows louder from a sombre, precipitous, and unknown coast.

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