On Human Unity; E. E. Hirschmann; Gollancz 25s.
‘Half a century ago, there existed in the Socialist International a living movement growing freely in the political centres of the world, oriented towards the ideal of a classless united humanity. Today there is no such movement. Whatever may remain of this ideal in post-Stalin Communism or in what is left of Social Democracy, neither is likely ever to have such a claim again as the Socialist International once had to stand for the unification of mankind in justice and brotherhood. The one has too much violated the values it was intended to serve, the other has allowed the aim to recede too far behind its short-term preoccupations . . . This failure might seem to demonstrate the rejection by the human spirit of this ideal. But it may instead be the case that so great an aim requires a greater spiritual preparation . . .’
Mr. Hirschmann’s work is intended as a contribution towards such ‘greater spiritual preparation’, and even those with a constitutional or dogmatic objection against Mr. Hirschmann’s style will find this not overly-well written and loosely constructed book to possess considerable interest.
The author begins by establishing a considerable degree of consensus among the religions and ideologies of mankind as to the desirability of the brotherhood of all men and even (particularly among the religions of India) of the brotherhood of all living beings. The Jain must use continual caution not to harm even microscopic life. ‘The contents of what is thought good may differ, but the principle is held in common that men should seek the good for all men or all living beings in the same way that they seek it for themselves or for those they love . . . It is not for lack of knowledge of the general
However, the most notable feature of human history is men’s failure at most times and places to put such common ideals into practice. This is the fundamental problem of the idealist. ‘They are violated in a manner so extreme that to speak of folly gives us little aid to understanding, so naked that we cannot even speak of hypocrisy’. Does this reduce us to the ‘necessity’ of believing that there are some men whose declared goals have no connection with their actions and the ends they actually pursue?
This is not the author’s conclusion. His most urgent plea is for us to extend our powers of sympathetic comprehension so that we may come to understand why it is that our enemies believe what they do with the intensity that they do and with the degree of good faith that they have. ‘Some effort to reach the psychological inwardness of differing trends (of thought) seems to me vital’, he writes, and On Human Unity contains a thoughtful, if not particularly systematic, confrontation with many of the arguments embodied in the conventional socio-political wisdom of our period. Sometimes he merely has to touch lightly on a hidden implication in order to expose it— thus in surveying the series of revolutions since the sixteenth century, he writes ‘Whatever happens to the myth of progress, the myth of non-progress will never have the same power again’; sometimes he goes into considerable detail to indicating both the truth and the ‘essential perversity’ of a particular position of the Right, but he always manages to do so with a basic respect for the opponent’s argument which makes his own arguments the more persuasive. He is concerned to appreciate how much genuine good faith can be involved in ‘bad’ positions:
‘. . . Whether or not Max Weber’s theories about the spirit of capitalism and its relation to Protestantism are correct, the very recognition that the “spirit of capitalism” is not immediately accounted for by some innate trait of greediness or acquisitiveness represents a considerable insight. Such distinctions help us to see more clearly how (different and opposing) types of conduct can become embodied in the ideals men have of themselves, associated with high virtues, the revenge duty with courage and filial piety or with family attachment more generally, can seem to be indissolubly united with the essential needs of human society or the nature or final end of the universe . . .’