Category Archives: Life & Light

All Things Considered by G. K. Chesterton

The Case for the Ephemeral

I cannot understand the people who take literature seriously; but I can love them, and I do. Out of my love I warn them to keep clear of this book. It is a collection of crude and shapeless papers upon current or rather flying subjects; and they must be published pretty much as they stand. They were written, as a rule, at the last moment; they were handed in the moment before it was too late, and I do not think that our commonwealth would have been shaken to its foundations if they had been handed in the moment after. They must go out now, with all their imperfections on their head, or rather on mine; for their vices are too vital to be improved with a blue pencil, or with anything I can think of, except dynamite.

Their chief vice is that so many of them are very serious; because I had no time to make them flippant. It is so easy to be solemn; it is so hard to be frivolous. Let any honest reader shut his eyes for a few moments, and approaching the secret tribunal of his soul, ask himself whether he would really rather be asked in the next two hours to write the front page of the Times, which is full of long leading articles, or the front page of Tit-Bits, which is full of short jokes. If the reader is the fine conscientious fellow I take him for, he will at once reply that he would rather on the spur of the moment write ten Times articles than one Tit-Bits joke. Responsibility, a heavy and cautious responsibility of speech, is the easiest thing in the world; anybody can do it. That is why so many tired, elderly, and wealthy men go in for politics. They are responsible, because they have not the strength of mind left to be irresponsible. It is more dignified to sit still than to dance the Barn Dance. It is also easier. So in these easy pages I keep myself on the whole on the level of the Times: it is only occasionally that I leap upwards almost to the level of Tit-Bits.

I resume the defence of this indefensible book. These articles have another disadvantage arising from the scurry in which they were written; they are too long-winded and elaborate. One of the great disadvantages of hurry is that it takes such a long time. If I have to start for High-gate this day week, I may perhaps go the shortest way. If I have to start this minute, I shall almost certainly go the longest. In these essays (as I read them over) I feel frightfully annoyed with myself for not getting to the point more quickly; but I had not enough leisure to be quick. There are several maddening cases in which I took two or three pages in attempting to describe an attitude of which the essence could be expressed in an epigram; only there was no time for epigrams. I do not repent of one shade of opinion here expressed; but I feel that they might have been expressed so much more briefly and precisely. For instance, these pages contain a sort of recurring protest against the boast of certain writers that they are merely recent. They brag that their philosophy of the universe is the last philosophy or the new philosophy, or the advanced and progressive philosophy. I have said much against a mere modernism. When I use the word “modernism,” I am not alluding specially to the current quarrel in the Roman Catholic Church, though I am certainly astonished at any intellectual group accepting so weak and unphilosophical a name. It is incomprehensible to me that any thinker can calmly call himself a modernist; he might as well call himself a Thursdayite. But apart altogether from that particular disturbance, I am conscious of a general irritation expressed against the people who boast of their advancement and modernity in the discussion of religion. But I never succeeded in saying the quite clear and obvious thing that is really the matter with modernism. The real objection to modernism is simply that it is a form of snobbishness. It is an attempt to crush a rational opponent not by reason, but by some mystery of superiority, by hinting that one is specially up to date or particularly “in the know.” To flaunt the fact that we have had all the last books from Germany is simply vulgar; like flaunting the fact that we have had all the last bonnets from Paris. To introduce into philosophical discussions a sneer at a creed’s antiquity is like introducing a sneer at a lady’s age. It is caddish because it is irrelevant. The pure modernist is merely a snob; he cannot bear to be a month behind the fashion Similarly I find that I have tried in these pages to express the real objection to philanthropists and have not succeeded. I have not seen the quite simple objection to the causes advocated by certain wealthy idealists; causes of which the cause called teetotalism is the strongest case. I have used many abusive terms about the thing, calling it Puritanism, or superciliousness, or aristocracy; but I have not seen and stated the quite simple objection to philanthropy; which is that it is religious persecution. Religious persecution does not consist in thumbscrews or fires of Smithfield; the essence of religious persecution is this: that the man who happens to have material power in the State, either by wealth or by official position, should govern his fellow-citizens not according to their religion or philosophy, but according to his own. If, for instance, there is such a thing as a vegetarian nation; if there is a great united mass of men who wish to live by the vegetarian morality, then I say in the emphatic words of the arrogant French marquis before the French Revolution, “Let them eat grass.” Perhaps that French oligarch was a humanitarian; most oligarchs are. Perhaps when he told the peasants to eat grass he was recommending to them the hygienic simplicity of a vegetarian restaurant. But that is an irrelevant, though most fascinating, speculation. The point here is that if a nation is really vegetarian let its government force upon it the whole horrible weight of vegetarianism. Let its government give the national guests a State vegetarian banquet. Let its government, in the most literal and awful sense of the words, give them beans. That sort of tyranny is all very well; for it is the people tyrannising over all the persons. But “temperance reformers” are like a small group of vegetarians who should silently and systematically act on an ethical assumption entirely unfamiliar to the mass of the people. They would always be giving peerages to greengrocers. They would always be appointing Parliamentary Commissions to enquire into the private life of butchers. Whenever they found a man quite at their mercy, as a pauper or a convict or a lunatic, they would force him to add the final touch to his inhuman isolation by becoming a vegetarian. All the meals for school children will be vegetarian meals. All the State public houses will be vegetarian public houses. There is a very strong case for vegetarianism as compared with teetotalism. Drinking one glass of beer cannot by any philosophy be drunkenness; but killing one animal can, by this philosophy, be murder. The objection to both processes is not that the two creeds, teetotal and vegetarian, are not admissible; it is simply that they are not admitted. The thing is religious persecution because it is not based on the existing religion of the democracy. These people ask the poor to accept in practice what they know perfectly well that the poor would not accept in theory. That is the very definition of religious persecution. I was against the Tory attempt to force upon ordinary Englishmen a Catholic theology in which they do not believe. I am even more against the attempt to force upon them a Mohamedan morality which they actively deny.

Again, in the case of anonymous journalism I seem to have said a great deal without getting out the point very clearly. Anonymous journalism is dangerous, and is poisonous in our existing life simply because it is so rapidly becoming an anonymous life. That is the horrible thing about our contemporary atmosphere. Society is becoming a secret society. The modern tyrant is evil because of his elusiveness. He is more nameless than his slave. He is not more of a bully than the tyrants of the past; but he is more of a coward. The rich publisher may treat the poor poet better or worse than the old master workman treated the old apprentice. But the apprentice ran away and the master ran after him. Nowadays it is the poet who pursues and tries in vain to fix the fact of responsibility. It is the publisher who runs away. The clerk of Mr. Solomon gets the sack: the beautiful Greek slave of the Sultan Suliman also gets the sack; or the sack gets her. But though she is concealed under the black waves of the Bosphorus, at least her destroyer is not concealed. He goes behind golden trumpets riding on a white elephant. But in the case of the clerk it is almost as difficult to know where the dismissal comes from as to know where the clerk goes to. It may be Mr. Solomon or Mr. Solomon’s manager, or Mr. Solomon’s rich aunt in Cheltenham, or Mr. Soloman’s rich creditor in Berlin. The elaborate machinery which was once used to make men responsible is now used solely in order to shift the responsibility. People talk about the pride of tyrants; but we in this age are not suffering from the pride of tyrants. We are suffering from the shyness of tyrants; from the shrinking modesty of tyrants. Therefore, we must not encourage leader-writers to be shy; we must not inflame their already exaggerated modesty. Rather we must attempt to lure them to be vain and ostentatious; so that through ostentation they may at last find their way to honesty.

The last indictment against this book is the worst of all. It is simply this: that if all goes well this book will be unintelligible gibberish. For it is mostly concerned with attacking attitudes which are in their nature accidental and incapable of enduring. Brief as is the career of such a book as this, it may last just twenty minutes longer than most of the philosophies that it attacks. In the end it will not matter to us whether we wrote well or ill; whether we fought with flails or reeds. It will matter to us greatly on what side we fought.


From Gutenberg: All Things Considered

What’s Wrong with the World by G.K. Chesterton


The Medical Mistake

A book of modern social inquiry has a shape that is somewhat sharply defined. It begins as a rule with an analysis, with statistics, tables of population, decrease of crime among Congregationalists, growth of hysteria among policemen, and similar ascertained facts; it ends with a chapter that is generally called “The Remedy.” It is almost wholly due to this careful, solid, and scientific method that “The Remedy” is never found. For this scheme of medical question and answer is a blunder; the first great blunder of sociology. It is always called stating the disease before we find the cure. But it is the whole definition and dignity of man that in social matters we must actually find the cure before we find the disease.

The fallacy is one of the fifty fallacies that come from the modern madness for biological or bodily metaphors. It is convenient to speak of the Social Organism, just as it is convenient to speak of the British Lion. But Britain is no more an organism than Britain is a lion. The moment we begin to give a nation the unity and simplicity of an animal, we begin to think wildly. Because every man is a biped, fifty men are not a centipede. This has produced, for instance, the gaping absurdity of perpetually talking about “young nations” and “dying nations,” as if a nation had a fixed and physical span of life. Thus people will say that Spain has entered a final senility; they might as well say that Spain is losing all her teeth. Or people will say that Canada should soon produce a literature; which is like saying that Canada must soon grow a new moustache. Nations consist of people; the first generation may be decrepit, or the ten thousandth may be vigorous. Similar applications of the fallacy are made by those who see in the increasing size of national possessions, a simple increase in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man. These people, indeed, even fall short in subtlety of the parallel of a human body. They do not even ask whether an empire is growing taller in its youth, or only growing fatter in its old age. But of all the instances of error arising from this physical fancy, the worst is that we have before us: the habit of exhaustively describing a social sickness, and then propounding a social drug.

Now we do talk first about the disease in cases of bodily breakdown; and that for an excellent reason. Because, though there may be doubt about the way in which the body broke down, there is no doubt at all about the shape in which it should be built up again. No doctor proposes to produce a new kind of man, with a new arrangement of eyes or limbs. The hospital, by necessity, may send a man home with one leg less: but it will not (in a creative rapture) send him home with one leg extra. Medical science is content with the normal human body, and only seeks to restore it.

But social science is by no means always content with the normal human soul; it has all sorts of fancy souls for sale. Man as a social idealist will say “I am tired of being a Puritan; I want to be a Pagan,” or “Beyond this dark probation of Individualism I see the shining paradise of Collectivism.” Now in bodily ills there is none of this difference about the ultimate ideal. The patient may or may not want quinine; but he certainly wants health. No one says “I am tired of this headache; I want some toothache,” or “The only thing for this Russian influenza is a few German measles,” or “Through this dark probation of catarrh I see the shining paradise of rheumatism.” But exactly the whole difficulty in our public problems is that some men are aiming at cures which other men would regard as worse maladies; are offering ultimate conditions as states of health which others would uncompromisingly call states of disease. Mr. Belloc once said that he would no more part with the idea of property than with his teeth; yet to Mr. Bernard Shaw property is not a tooth, but a toothache. Lord Milner has sincerely attempted to introduce German efficiency; and many of us would as soon welcome German measles. Dr. Saleeby would honestly like to have Eugenics; but I would rather have rheumatics.

This is the arresting and dominant fact about modern social discussion; that the quarrel is not merely about the difficulties, but about the aim. We agree about the evil; it is about the good that we should tear each other’s eyes out. We all admit that a lazy aristocracy is a bad thing. We should not by any means all admit that an active aristocracy would be a good thing. We all feel angry with an irreligious priesthood; but some of us would go mad with disgust at a really religious one. Everyone is indignant if our army is weak, including the people who would be even more indignant if it were strong. The social case is exactly the opposite of the medical case. We do not disagree, like doctors, about the precise nature of the illness, while agreeing about the nature of health. On the contrary, we all agree that England is unhealthy, but half of us would not look at her in what the other half would call blooming health. Public abuses are so prominent and pestilent that they sweep all generous people into a sort of fictitious unanimity. We forget that, while we agree about the abuses of things, we should differ very much about the uses of them. Mr. Cadbury and I would agree about the bad public house. It would be precisely in front of the good public-house that our painful personal fracas would occur.

I maintain, therefore, that the common sociological method is quite useless: that of first dissecting abject poverty or cataloguing prostitution. We all dislike abject poverty; but it might be another business if we began to discuss independent and dignified poverty. We all disapprove of prostitution; but we do not all approve of purity. The only way to discuss the social evil is to get at once to the social ideal. We can all see the national madness; but what is national sanity? I have called this book “What Is Wrong with the World?” and the upshot of the title can be easily and clearly stated. What is wrong is that we do not ask what is right.

Wanted, An Unpractical Man

There is a popular philosophical joke intended to typify the endless and useless arguments of philosophers; I mean the joke about which came first, the chicken or the egg? I am not sure that properly understood, it is so futile an inquiry after all. I am not concerned here to enter on those deep metaphysical and theological differences of which the chicken and egg debate is a frivolous, but a very felicitous, type. The evolutionary materialists are appropriately enough represented in the vision of all things coming from an egg, a dim and monstrous oval germ that had laid itself by accident. That other supernatural school of thought (to which I personally adhere) would be not unworthily typified in the fancy that this round world of ours is but an egg brooded upon by a sacred unbegotten bird; the mystic dove of the prophets. But it is to much humbler functions that I here call the awful power of such a distinction. Whether or no the living bird is at the beginning of our mental chain, it is absolutely necessary that it should be at the end of our mental chain. The bird is the thing to be aimed at—not with a gun, but a life-bestowing wand. What is essential to our right thinking is this: that the egg and the bird must not be thought of as equal cosmic occurrences recurring alternatively forever. They must not become a mere egg and bird pattern, like the egg and dart pattern. One is a means and the other an end; they are in different mental worlds. Leaving the complications of the human breakfast-table out of account, in an elemental sense, the egg only exists to produce the chicken. But the chicken does not exist only in order to produce another egg. He may also exist to amuse himself, to praise God, and even to suggest ideas to a French dramatist. Being a conscious life, he is, or may be, valuable in himself. Now our modern politics are full of a noisy forgetfulness; forgetfulness that the production of this happy and conscious life is after all the aim of all complexities and compromises. We talk of nothing but useful men and working institutions; that is, we only think of the chickens as things that will lay more eggs. Instead of seeking to breed our ideal bird, the eagle of Zeus or the Swan of Avon, or whatever we happen to want, we talk entirely in terms of the process and the embryo. The process itself, divorced from its divine object, becomes doubtful and even morbid; poison enters the embryo of everything; and our politics are rotten eggs.

Idealism is only considering everything in its practical essence. Idealism only means that we should consider a poker in reference to poking before we discuss its suitability for wife-beating; that we should ask if an egg is good enough for practical poultry-rearing before we decide that the egg is bad enough for practical politics. But I know that this primary pursuit of the theory (which is but pursuit of the aim) exposes one to the cheap charge of fiddling while Rome is burning. A school, of which Lord Rosebery is representative, has endeavored to substitute for the moral or social ideals which have hitherto been the motive of politics a general coherency or completeness in the social system which has gained the nick-name of “efficiency.” I am not very certain of the secret doctrine of this sect in the matter. But, as far as I can make out, “efficiency” means that we ought to discover everything about a machine except what it is for. There has arisen in our time a most singular fancy: the fancy that when things go very wrong we need a practical man. It would be far truer to say, that when things go very wrong we need an unpractical man. Certainly, at least, we need a theorist. A practical man means a man accustomed to mere daily practice, to the way things commonly work. When things will not work, you must have the thinker, the man who has some doctrine about why they work at all. It is wrong to fiddle while Rome is burning; but it is quite right to study the theory of hydraulics while Rome is burning.

It is then necessary to drop one’s daily agnosticism and attempt rerum cognoscere causas. If your aeroplane has a slight indisposition, a handy man may mend it. But, if it is seriously ill, it is all the more likely that some absent-minded old professor with wild white hair will have to be dragged out of a college or laboratory to analyze the evil. The more complicated the smash, the whiter-haired and more absent-minded will be the theorist who is needed to deal with it; and in some extreme cases, no one but the man (probably insane) who invented your flying-ship could possibly say what was the matter with it.

“Efficiency,” of course, is futile for the same reason that strong men, will-power and the superman are futile. That is, it is futile because it only deals with actions after they have been performed. It has no philosophy for incidents before they happen; therefore it has no power of choice. An act can only be successful or unsuccessful when it is over; if it is to begin, it must be, in the abstract, right or wrong. There is no such thing as backing a winner; for he cannot be a winner when he is backed. There is no such thing as fighting on the winning side; one fights to find out which is the winning side. If any operation has occurred, that operation was efficient. If a man is murdered, the murder was efficient. A tropical sun is as efficient in making people lazy as a Lancashire foreman bully in making them energetic. Maeterlinck is as efficient in filling a man with strange spiritual tremors as Messrs. Crosse and Blackwell are in filling a man with jam. But it all depends on what you want to be filled with. Lord Rosebery, being a modern skeptic, probably prefers the spiritual tremors. I, being an orthodox Christian, prefer the jam. But both are efficient when they have been effected; and inefficient until they are effected. A man who thinks much about success must be the drowsiest sentimentalist; for he must be always looking back. If he only likes victory he must always come late for the battle. For the man of action there is nothing but idealism.

This definite ideal is a far more urgent and practical matter in our existing English trouble than any immediate plans or proposals. For the present chaos is due to a sort of general oblivion of all that men were originally aiming at. No man demands what he desires; each man demands what he fancies he can get. Soon people forget what the man really wanted first; and after a successful and vigorous political life, he forgets it himself. The whole is an extravagant riot of second bests, a pandemonium of pis-aller. Now this sort of pliability does not merely prevent any heroic consistency, it also prevents any really practical compromise. One can only find the middle distance between two points if the two points will stand still. We may make an arrangement between two litigants who cannot both get what they want; but not if they will not even tell us what they want. The keeper of a restaurant would much prefer that each customer should give his order smartly, though it were for stewed ibis or boiled elephant, rather than that each customer should sit holding his head in his hands, plunged in arithmetical calculations about how much food there can be on the premises. Most of us have suffered from a certain sort of ladies who, by their perverse unselfishness, give more trouble than the selfish; who almost clamor for the unpopular dish and scramble for the worst seat. Most of us have known parties or expeditions full of this seething fuss of self-effacement. From much meaner motives than those of such admirable women, our practical politicians keep things in the same confusion through the same doubt about their real demands. There is nothing that so much prevents a settlement as a tangle of small surrenders. We are bewildered on every side by politicians who are in favor of secular education, but think it hopeless to work for it; who desire total prohibition, but are certain they should not demand it; who regret compulsory education, but resignedly continue it; or who want peasant proprietorship and therefore vote for something else. It is this dazed and floundering opportunism that gets in the way of everything. If our statesmen were visionaries something practical might be done. If we ask for something in the abstract we might get something in the concrete. As it is, it is not only impossible to get what one wants, but it is impossible to get any part of it, because nobody can mark it out plainly like a map. That clear and even hard quality that there was in the old bargaining has wholly vanished. We forget that the word “compromise” contains, among other things, the rigid and ringing word “promise.” Moderation is not vague; it is as definite as perfection. The middle point is as fixed as the extreme point.

If I am made to walk the plank by a pirate, it is vain for me to offer, as a common-sense compromise, to walk along the plank for a reasonable distance. It is exactly about the reasonable distance that the pirate and I differ. There is an exquisite mathematical split second at which the plank tips up. My common-sense ends just before that instant; the pirate’s common-sense begins just beyond it. But the point itself is as hard as any geometrical diagram; as abstract as any theological dogma.

The New Hypocrite

But this new cloudy political cowardice has rendered useless the old English compromise. People have begun to be terrified of an improvement merely because it is complete. They call it utopian and revolutionary that anyone should really have his own way, or anything be really done, and done with. Compromise used to mean that half a loaf was better than no bread. Among modern statesmen it really seems to mean that half a loaf is better than a whole loaf.

As an instance to sharpen the argument, I take the one case of our everlasting education bills. We have actually contrived to invent a new kind of hypocrite. The old hypocrite, Tartuffe or Pecksniff, was a man whose aims were really worldly and practical, while he pretended that they were religious. The new hypocrite is one whose aims are really religious, while he pretends that they are worldly and practical. The Rev. Brown, the Wesleyan minister, sturdily declares that he cares nothing for creeds, but only for education; meanwhile, in truth, the wildest Wesleyanism is tearing his soul. The Rev. Smith, of the Church of England, explains gracefully, with the Oxford manner, that the only question for him is the prosperity and efficiency of the schools; while in truth all the evil passions of a curate are roaring within him. It is a fight of creeds masquerading as policies. I think these reverend gentlemen do themselves wrong; I think they are more pious than they will admit. Theology is not (as some suppose) expunged as an error. It is merely concealed, like a sin. Dr. Clifford really wants a theological atmosphere as much as Lord Halifax; only it is a different one. If Dr. Clifford would ask plainly for Puritanism and Lord Halifax ask plainly for Catholicism, something might be done for them. We are all, one hopes, imaginative enough to recognize the dignity and distinctness of another religion, like Islam or the cult of Apollo. I am quite ready to respect another man’s faith; but it is too much to ask that I should respect his doubt, his worldly hesitations and fictions, his political bargain and make-believe. Most Nonconformists with an instinct for English history could see something poetic and national about the Archbishop of Canterbury as an Archbishop of Canterbury. It is when he does the rational British statesman that they very justifiably get annoyed. Most Anglicans with an eye for pluck and simplicity could admire Dr. Clifford as a Baptist minister. It is when he says that he is simply a citizen that nobody can possibly believe him.

But indeed the case is yet more curious than this. The one argument that used to be urged for our creedless vagueness was that at least it saved us from fanaticism. But it does not even do that. On the contrary, it creates and renews fanaticism with a force quite peculiar to itself. This is at once so strange and so true that I will ask the reader’s attention to it with a little more precision.

Some people do not like the word “dogma.” Fortunately they are free, and there is an alternative for them. There are two things, and two things only, for the human mind, a dogma and a prejudice. The Middle Ages were a rational epoch, an age of doctrine. Our age is, at its best, a poetical epoch, an age of prejudice. A doctrine is a definite point; a prejudice is a direction. That an ox may be eaten, while a man should not be eaten, is a doctrine. That as little as possible of anything should be eaten is a prejudice; which is also sometimes called an ideal. Now a direction is always far more fantastic than a plan. I would rather have the most archaic map of the road to Brighton than a general recommendation to turn to the left. Straight lines that are not parallel must meet at last; but curves may recoil forever. A pair of lovers might walk along the frontier of France and Germany, one on the one side and one on the other, so long as they were not vaguely told to keep away from each other. And this is a strictly true parable of the effect of our modern vagueness in losing and separating men as in a mist.

It is not merely true that a creed unites men. Nay, a difference of creed unites men—so long as it is a clear difference. A boundary unites. Many a magnanimous Moslem and chivalrous Crusader must have been nearer to each other, because they were both dogmatists, than any two homeless agnostics in a pew of Mr. Campbell’s chapel. “I say God is One,” and “I say God is One but also Three,” that is the beginning of a good quarrelsome, manly friendship. But our age would turn these creeds into tendencies. It would tell the Trinitarian to follow multiplicity as such (because it was his “temperament”), and he would turn up later with three hundred and thirty-three persons in the Trinity. Meanwhile, it would turn the Moslem into a Monist: a frightful intellectual fall. It would force that previously healthy person not only to admit that there was one God, but to admit that there was nobody else. When each had, for a long enough period, followed the gleam of his own nose (like the Dong) they would appear again; the Christian a Polytheist, and the Moslem a Panegoist, both quite mad, and far more unfit to understand each other than before.

It is exactly the same with politics. Our political vagueness divides men, it does not fuse them. Men will walk along the edge of a chasm in clear weather, but they will edge miles away from it in a fog. So a Tory can walk up to the very edge of Socialism, if he knows what is Socialism. But if he is told that Socialism is a spirit, a sublime atmosphere, a noble, indefinable tendency, why, then he keeps out of its way; and quite right too. One can meet an assertion with argument; but healthy bigotry is the only way in which one can meet a tendency. I am told that the Japanese method of wrestling consists not of suddenly pressing, but of suddenly giving way. This is one of my many reasons for disliking the Japanese civilization. To use surrender as a weapon is the very worst spirit of the East. But certainly there is no force so hard to fight as the force which it is easy to conquer; the force that always yields and then returns. Such is the force of a great impersonal prejudice, such as possesses the modern world on so many points. Against this there is no weapon at all except a rigid and steely sanity, a resolution not to listen to fads, and not to be infected by diseases.

In short, the rational human faith must armor itself with prejudice in an age of prejudices, just as it armoured itself with logic in an age of logic. But the difference between the two mental methods is marked and unmistakable. The essential of the difference is this: that prejudices are divergent, whereas creeds are always in collision. Believers bump into each other; whereas bigots keep out of each other’s way. A creed is a collective thing, and even its sins are sociable. A prejudice is a private thing, and even its tolerance is misanthropic. So it is with our existing divisions. They keep out of each other’s way; the Tory paper and the Radical paper do not answer each other; they ignore each other. Genuine controversy, fair cut and thrust before a common audience, has become in our special epoch very rare. For the sincere controversialist is above all things a good listener. The really burning enthusiast never interrupts; he listens to the enemy’s arguments as eagerly as a spy would listen to the enemy’s arrangements. But if you attempt an actual argument with a modern paper of opposite politics, you will find that no medium is admitted between violence and evasion. You will have no answer except slanging or silence. A modern editor must not have that eager ear that goes with the honest tongue. He may be deaf and silent; and that is called dignity. Or he may be deaf and noisy; and that is called slashing journalism. In neither case is there any controversy; for the whole object of modern party combatants is to charge out of earshot.

The only logical cure for all this is the assertion of a human ideal. In dealing with this, I will try to be as little transcendental as is consistent with reason; it is enough to say that unless we have some doctrine of a divine man, all abuses may be excused, since evolution may turn them into uses. It will be easy for the scientific plutocrat to maintain that humanity will adapt itself to any conditions which we now consider evil. The old tyrants invoked the past; the new tyrants will invoke the future evolution has produced the snail and the owl; evolution can produce a workman who wants no more space than a snail, and no more light than an owl. The employer need not mind sending a Kaffir to work underground; he will soon become an underground animal, like a mole. He need not mind sending a diver to hold his breath in the deep seas; he will soon be a deep-sea animal. Men need not trouble to alter conditions, conditions will so soon alter men. The head can be beaten small enough to fit the hat. Do not knock the fetters off the slave; knock the slave until he forgets the fetters. To all this plausible modern argument for oppression, the only adequate answer is, that there is a permanent human ideal that must not be either confused or destroyed. The most important man on earth is the perfect man who is not there. The Christian religion has specially uttered the ultimate sanity of Man, says Scripture, who shall judge the incarnate and human truth. Our lives and laws are not judged by divine superiority, but simply by human perfection. It is man, says Aristotle, who is the measure. It is the Son of Man, says Scripture, who shall judge the quick and the dead.

Doctrine, therefore, does not cause dissensions; rather a doctrine alone can cure our dissensions. It is necessary to ask, however, roughly, what abstract and ideal shape in state or family would fulfil the human hunger; and this apart from whether we can completely obtain it or not. But when we come to ask what is the need of normal men, what is the desire of all nations, what is the ideal house, or road, or rule, or republic, or king, or priesthood, then we are confronted with a strange and irritating difficulty peculiar to the present time; and we must call a temporary halt and examine that obstacle.


From Gutenberg: What’s Wrong with the World



We are in a dangerous time, one in which even the oldest bonds will be tested.

Stay focused and measure every claim on its merits, and not how it makes you feel.

The majority of people claim they are thinking when they are really feeling.

Even some of the most self-proclaimed “rationalists” are very untrained in logic or the ordered examination of their propositions, and cannot debate in a calm and ordered manner. They always get mad, start shouting, hurling insults and break bonds. This conduct proves they do not believe what they are pushing.

Most people, especially the delicate egos of men, believe they are right simply because they want to be right, and will ignore any evidence that disquiets them or challenges their frail beliefs—they will not have it.

This is particularly true with people who fuse their identity to transient things like politics or presidential figures.

In this presidential cycle, just like the one before it, and the one before that, and the one before that…

Some people are wholly devoted disciples of “their man” or “their team” and will not countenance any slight whatsoever against their candidate. And the opposite is true: they will in no way accept any achievement, no matter how small, of any opponent to their side.

You must be able to judge every man moment by moment, deed by deed, word and word and not just swoon every time they walk in.

Analysis and a fair review is a live feed.

If you have one set of rules and expectations for “your side” and an entirely different set of rules and expectations for “their side” — congratulations! You are a fraud.

Worse, people will reflexively sing the virtues of “their man” or “their woman” even when it is patently clear something illegal is going on.

Not everything can be known, but the veracity of a claim can be grasped in the main with just a little bit of work. Sure, there are some hard questions and some mysteries that will never be solved, but to reject anything solely on the grounds some shade of its essence cannot be grasped is indicative of extreme idiocy and fear.

That is the first sign someone is profoundly terrified of a new premise.

Just like every guy thinks he’s the best fighter since Muhammad Ali or Bruce Lee, or the best lover since Don Juan, they believe they are the most logical mind to set foot on the Earth since Isaac Newton…

And just like the rest of the comparisons, they are dead wrong.

It is the hardest thing—without exception—to keep your intellectual reticle in the dead center.

Everything is trying to make it drift, including your own unresolved biases.

Stay sharp.

Treatise on Thermodynamics by Dr. Max Planck (1903)






Translated with the Author’s Sanction by
Alexander Ogg, M.A., B.Sc., Ph.D.

Late 1851

Exhibition Scholar and University Assistant, Aberdeen University Assistant Master, Royal Naval Engineering College, Devonport

Longmans, Green, & Co.

39 Paternoster Row, London
New York & Bombay

All rights reserved

Translator’s Notice

The modern developments of Thermodynamics, and the applications to physical and chemical problems, have become so important, that I have ventured to translate Professor Planck’s book, which presents the whole subject from a uniform point of view.

A few notes have been added to the present English edition by Professor Planck. He has not found it necessary to change the original text in any way.

To bring the notation into conformity with the usual English notation, several symbols have been changed. This has been done with the author’s sanction. Here I have followed J. J. van Laar and taken Ψ to signify what he calls the Planck’sches Potential, i.e. the thermodynamic potential of Gibbs and Duhem divided by −θ.

Professor Planck’s recent paper, “Uber die Grundlage der ¨ L¨osungstheorie” (Ann. d. Phys. 10, p. 436, 1903), ought to be read in connection with his thermodynamical theory of solution.

I am indebted to Herren Veit & Co., Leipzig, for kindly supplying the blocks of the five figures in the text.

A. O. Devonport — June, 1903.


The oft-repeated requests either to publish my collected papers on Thermodynamics, or to work them up into a comprehensive treatise, first suggested the writing of this book. Although the first plan would have been the simpler, especially as I found no occasion to make any important changes in the line of thought of my original papers, yet I decided to rewrite the whole subject matter, with the intention of giving at greater length, and with more detail, certain general considerations and demonstrations too concisely expressed in these papers. My chief reason, however, was that an opportunity was thus offered of presenting the entire field of Thermodynamics from a uniform point of view. This, to be sure, deprives the work of the character of an original contribution to science, and stamps it rather as an introductory text-book on Thermodynamics for students who have taken elementary courses in Physics and Chemistry, and are familiar with the elements of the Differential and Integral Calculus.

Still, I do not think that this book will entirely supersede my former publications on the same subject. Apart from the fact that these contain, in a sense, a more original presentation, there may be found in them a number of details expanded at greater length than seemed advisable in the more comprehensive treatment here required. To enable the reader to revert in particular cases to the original form for comparison, a list of my publications on Thermodynamics has been appended, with a reference in each case to the section of the book which deals with the same point.

The numerical values in the examples, which have been worked, as applications of the theory, have, almost all of them, been taken from the original papers; only a few, that have been determined by frequent measurement, have been taken from the tables in Kohlrausch’s “Leitfaden der praktischen Physik.” It should be emphasized, however, that the numbers used, notwithstanding the care taken, have not undergone the same amount of critical sifting as the more general propositions and deductions.

Three distinct methods of investigation may be clearly recognized in the previous development of Thermodynamics. The first penetrates deepest into the nature of the processes considered, and, were it possible to carry it out exactly, would be designated as the most perfect. Heat, according to it, is due to the definite motions of the chemical molecules and atoms considered as distinct masses, which in the case of gases possess comparatively simple properties, but in the case of solids and liquids can be only very roughly sketched. This kinetic theory, founded by Joule, Waterston, Kr¨onig and Clausius, has been greatly extended mainly by Maxwell and Boltzmann. Obstacles, at present unsurmountable, however, seem to stand in the way of its further progress. These are due not only to the highly complicated mathematical treatment, but principally to essential difficulties, not to be discussed here, in the mechanical interpretation of the fundamental principles of Thermodynamics.

Such difficulties are avoided by the second method, developed by Helmholtz. It confines itself to the most important hypothesis of the mechanical theory of heat, that heat is due to motion, but refuses on principle to specialize as to the character of this motion. This is a safer point of view than the first, and philosophically quite as satisfactory as the mechanical interpretation of nature in general, but it does not as yet offer a foundation of sufficient breadth upon which to build a detailed theory. Starting from this point of view, all that can be obtained is the verification of some general laws which have already been deduced in other ways direct from experience.

A third treatment of Thermodynamics has hitherto proved the most fruitful. This method is distinct from the other two, in that it does not advance the mechanical theory of heat, but, keeping aloof from definite assumptions as to its nature, starts direct from a few very general empirical facts, mainly the two fundamental principles of Thermodynamics. From these, by pure logical reasoning, a large number of new physical and chemical laws are deduced, which are capable of extensive application, and have hitherto stood the test without exception.

This last, more inductive, treatment, which is used exclusively in this book, corresponds best to the present state of the science. It cannot be considered as final, however, but may have in time to yield to a mechanical, or perhaps an electromagnetic theory. Although it may be of advantage for a time to consider the activities of nature—Heat, Motion, Electricity, etc.—as different in quality, and to suppress the question as to their common nature, still our aspiration after a uniform theory of nature, on a mechanical basis or otherwise, which has derived such powerful encouragement from the discovery of the principle of the conservation of energy, can never be permanently repressed. Even at the present day, a recession from the assumption that all physical phenomena are of a common nature would be tantamount to renouncing the comprehension of a number of recognized laws of interaction between different spheres of natural phenomena. Of course, even then, the results we have deduced from the two laws of Thermodynamics would not be invalidated, but these two laws would not be introduced as independent, but would be deduced from other more general propositions. At present, however, no probable limit can be set to the time which it will take to reach this goal.

The Author
Berlin, April, 1897


From Gutenberg: Treatise on Thermodynamics


The original, stunning treatise by Max Planck. A fascinating read by one of the best minds of the late 19th century and early 20th century.

We owe much to this man.

Paradise – Canto I

The Vision of Hell, Purgatory and Paradise


Dante Alighieri

His glory, by whose might all things are mov’d,
Pierces the universe, and in one part
Sheds more resplendence, elsewhere less.  In heav’n,
That largeliest of his light partakes, was I,
Witness of things, which to relate again
Surpasseth power of him who comes from thence;
For that, so near approaching its desire
Our intellect is to such depth absorb’d,
That memory cannot follow.  Nathless all,
That in my thoughts I of that sacred realm
Could store, shall now be matter of my song.

Benign Apollo! this last labour aid,
And make me such a vessel of thy worth,
As thy own laurel claims of me belov’d.
Thus far hath one of steep Parnassus’ brows
Suffic’d me; henceforth there is need of both
For my remaining enterprise Do thou
Enter into my bosom, and there breathe
So, as when Marsyas by thy hand was dragg’d
Forth from his limbs unsheath’d.  O power divine!
If thou to me of shine impart so much,
That of that happy realm the shadow’d form
Trac’d in my thoughts I may set forth to view,
Thou shalt behold me of thy favour’d tree
Come to the foot, and crown myself with leaves;
For to that honour thou, and my high theme
Will fit me.  If but seldom, mighty Sire!
To grace his triumph gathers thence a wreath
Caesar or bard (more shame for human wills
Deprav’d) joy to the Delphic god must spring
From the Pierian foliage, when one breast
Is with such thirst inspir’d.  From a small spark
Great flame hath risen: after me perchance
Others with better voice may pray, and gain
From the Cirrhaean city answer kind.

Through diver passages, the world’s bright lamp
Rises to mortals, but through that which joins
Four circles with the threefold cross, in best
Course, and in happiest constellation set
He comes, and to the worldly wax best gives
Its temper and impression.  Morning there,
Here eve was by almost such passage made;
And whiteness had o’erspread that hemisphere,
Blackness the other part; when to the left
I saw Beatrice turn’d, and on the sun
Gazing, as never eagle fix’d his ken.
As from the first a second beam is wont
To issue, and reflected upwards rise,
E’en as a pilgrim bent on his return,
So of her act, that through the eyesight pass’d
Into my fancy, mine was form’d; and straight,
Beyond our mortal wont, I fix’d mine eyes
Upon the sun.  Much is allowed us there,
That here exceeds our pow’r; thanks to the place
Made for the dwelling of the human kind

I suffer’d it not long, and yet so long
That I beheld it bick’ring sparks around,
As iron that comes boiling from the fire.
And suddenly upon the day appear’d
A day new-ris’n, as he, who hath the power,
Had with another sun bedeck’d the sky.

Her eyes fast fix’d on the eternal wheels,
Beatrice stood unmov’d; and I with ken
Fix’d upon her, from upward gaze remov’d
At her aspect, such inwardly became
As Glaucus, when he tasted of the herb,
That made him peer among the ocean gods;
Words may not tell of that transhuman change:
And therefore let the example serve, though weak,
For those whom grace hath better proof in store

If I were only what thou didst create,
Then newly, Love! by whom the heav’n is rul’d,
Thou know’st, who by thy light didst bear me up.
Whenas the wheel which thou dost ever guide,
Desired Spirit! with its harmony
Temper’d of thee and measur’d, charm’d mine ear,
Then seem’d to me so much of heav’n to blaze
With the sun’s flame, that rain or flood ne’er made
A lake so broad.  The newness of the sound,
And that great light, inflam’d me with desire,
Keener than e’er was felt, to know their cause.

Whence she who saw me, clearly as myself,
To calm my troubled mind, before I ask’d,
Open’d her lips, and gracious thus began:
“With false imagination thou thyself
Mak’st dull, so that thou seest not the thing,
Which thou hadst seen, had that been shaken off.
Thou art not on the earth as thou believ’st;
For light’ning scap’d from its own proper place
Ne’er ran, as thou hast hither now return’d.”

Although divested of my first-rais’d doubt,
By those brief words, accompanied with smiles,
Yet in new doubt was I entangled more,
And said: “Already satisfied, I rest
From admiration deep, but now admire
How I above those lighter bodies rise.”

Whence, after utt’rance of a piteous sigh,
She tow’rds me bent her eyes, with such a look,
As on her frenzied child a mother casts;
Then thus began: “Among themselves all things
Have order; and from hence the form, which makes
The universe resemble God.  In this
The higher creatures see the printed steps
Of that eternal worth, which is the end
Whither the line is drawn.  All natures lean,
In this their order, diversely, some more,
Some less approaching to their primal source.
Thus they to different havens are mov’d on
Through the vast sea of being, and each one
With instinct giv’n, that bears it in its course;
This to the lunar sphere directs the fire,
This prompts the hearts of mortal animals,
This the brute earth together knits, and binds.
Nor only creatures, void of intellect,
Are aim’d at by this bow; but even those,
That have intelligence and love, are pierc’d.
That Providence, who so well orders all,
With her own light makes ever calm the heaven,
In which the substance, that hath greatest speed,
Is turn’d: and thither now, as to our seat
Predestin’d, we are carried by the force
Of that strong cord, that never looses dart,
But at fair aim and glad.  Yet is it true,
That as ofttimes but ill accords the form
To the design of art, through sluggishness
Of unreplying matter, so this course
Is sometimes quitted by the creature, who
Hath power, directed thus, to bend elsewhere;
As from a cloud the fire is seen to fall,
From its original impulse warp’d, to earth,
By vicious fondness.  Thou no more admire
Thy soaring, (if I rightly deem,) than lapse
Of torrent downwards from a mountain’s height.
There would in thee for wonder be more cause,
If, free of hind’rance, thou hadst fix’d thyself
Below, like fire unmoving on the earth.”

So said, she turn’d toward the heav’n her face.

From Gutenberg: Paradise by Dante