Sacred Texts  Miscellaneous  Index  Previous  Next 

The New Word, by Allen Upward, [1910], at

p. 85



Public Opinion.—1. A Disciple of Tolstoy.—2. Strong Language about Humanity.—3. Brotherhood and Bombs.—4. Man his own God.

AS soon as I found that I could not learn the meaning of the Testator's word from lexicons, I did what lexicographers are too proud to do; I went out into the streets to find out how the word was being used from day to day.

I questioned men of many divers minds and occupations, I questioned the poet, the lawyer and the journalist, and from no two did I receive the same explanation. Some answered readily, others hesitatingly, but only one was wise enough to use the words—"I do not know."

In the light that we have gained already it will be worth while to look again at these replies. And I have not invented them.—

"Something to do with the imaginative powers."
"Not practical."
"Intangible." p. 86
"That which cannot be proved."
"The opposite to materialistic."


The only one who showed confidence in his answer was the altruist. Partly on that account, and partly because I had heard of altruism before, and did not know that it might not be what the Testator had in mind, I set myself to look into this word.

It must not be supposed that the friend who gave me this explanation was one of those ignorant fanatics who mask their envy of the rich under high-sounding words like Humanity and Brotherhood. My friend was a man of education, in the front rank of his profession as a barrister, with every prospect of becoming a judge. He had a house in a London square, and a villa on the Riviera; he drove a carriage and pair, and was a connoisseur in champagne and cigars. Evidently such a man had nothing to gain, and very much to lose, by embracing the religion of unselfishness; so that I was able to learn from him as from one who was transparently sincere in his belief.

I began by putting my question in a more practical form.

"Suppose I should wish to write a work of an

p. 87

idealist tendency, what would such a book have to be like, in your opinion?"

"I have told you. It must be of an altruistic tendency. It must preach unselfishness."

Here was a word I could not quarrel with. If I do not understand the word self, I shall never understand any word. The ground was becoming firm under my feet. I said to my friend,-

"I want to be very clear. When you say that, you don't mean that I need write unselfishly,—for instance, against my own opinions?"

My friend smiled good-naturedly.

"Now you are quibbling. You know very well what I mean. You must write against greed and cruelty and lust—against selfishness in every form."

I felt a little disappointed.

"I am afraid you will think me very stupid; but do you mean that any book that writes against these things is altruistic?"

"Certainly," my friend said; but it seemed to me that he did not say it as if he felt quite certain.

"But, then, let me see if I understand you. I have never read any book that did not write against the things you speak of. The newspapers write against them every day. I have never seen any book that praised greed and cruelty and lust. Do you mean that all literature is of an idealistic tendency?

My friend shook his head.

"You go too fast. Altruism is a great principle,

p. 88

the principle that man is born to serve his fellow men. The question is whether a book asserts that principle. Read Tolstoy's works, and you will under. stand what I mean. He is our greatest idealist today."

This answer was all that I could have asked for. At last I had got from the name to the mixture. My friend had done what the Testator has failed to do, he had pointed out a work of an idealist tendency. The only question left was whether he had pointed out the right one.

I tried to recall the tendency of Count Tolstoy's works.

"You would say, then, that I must write against war? and government? and money? and religion?—"

My friend had nodded his approval so far, but he stopped me at the word religion.

"No, no; it is the Religion of Humanity that Tolstoy preaches. The Service of Man. That is altruism."

I considered this explanation carefully.

"When you say that, do you mean to leave out the animals? I have read a story of the Buddha giving a piece of his flesh to feed a starving tigress. Should you not call that altruism?"

"That is carrying the thing to absurdity. Tolstoy never does that. Man comes before the beasts."

"All men? Or do white men come before black men?"

p. 89

This time my friend became eloquent.

"All men. Once you begin to draw distinctions you will end in race-feeling, and the blatant militarism of our own day. That is the very thing that Tolstoy fights against. He recognises no distinction between one man and another, from the Tsar on his throne to the lowest creature with the form of man."

It was an ungrateful task to resist my friend's enthusiasm, but I ventured to put another question.

"I am almost ashamed to ask; but when you say 'no distinction,' perhaps you don't mean that Tolstoy draws no distinction between good men and bad?"

"Of course not. But he shows that we must love them all alike."

The word love always sounds to me a little vague. I was obliged to press my friend still further.

"Well, but suppose the Tsar were a bad man, who wanted to oppress the Russian people, would not Tolstoy be on their side rather than on his?"

"Certainly. Oppression is just what he is opposed to most,—the oppression of one man by another, whether he be Tsar or peasant."

"Then if the peasants should want to oppress anybody, Tolstoy would be opposed to them?"

"That is what I have said."

"Then let me see if I follow you rightly. Suppose the peasants should cease paying taxes, and thereby throw the taxgatherers out of work, or refuse

p. 90

to fire on the enemy, and thereby expose their officers to disgrace and capture, would that be oppression?"

No, because those classes have no moral right to do what they are doing. Their work does not benefit mankind."

"But are not the taxgatherers and officers a part of mankind? Does not the Religion of Humanity require us to serve them?"

"Not in that way. You are confusing the principle. Altruism is the service of man as a whole, not of any one class. If a particular class is doing harm instead of good, we ought not to support it. By doing so we should injure mankind."

"I think I see what you mean. We ought to serve those who are serving mankind, rather than those who are injuring mankind?"

"Yes, that is the whole point."

"By 'we' do you mean. everybody? All mankind?"

"What else could I mean?"

"Then let me see if I have got it right. Altruism is the principle that mankind ought to serve those who are serving it, but not those who are not serving it."

"If you like to put it that way, yes."

"It is the principle of the vulgar saying,—'You scratch my back, and I'll scratch yours'?"

My friend began to be a little vexed with me.

"You do not seem to see the difference between the individual and Humanity. Humanity is a whole.

p. 91

[paragraph continues] We cannot divide it. Altruism is the service of the whole by the individual."

I had to recall those books that were so highly distinguished by Pope John XXIII.

"But is not Humanity made up of individuals? Does not the altruist have to serve men and women?"

"Yes, yes, of course; but all of them. Not one more than another. The heart of the true altruist overflows with love towards every creature, the lowest as well as the highest, the greatest criminal as well as the purest saint."

"That is very beautiful. I think I quite understand that. But you told me that the altruist had not only to love these different kinds of people, but also to serve them. Is that right?"

"Of course. He cannot love them unless he serves them."

"Very well; then all I want to know is how he ought to serve them. Suppose an altruist should see a soldier or a taxgatherer beating a peasant, ought he to stop him, or not to stop him?"

"He ought to remonstrate with him."

"But suppose the remonstrance has no effect. Ought he to do nothing more?"

"He can offer to take the beating in the other's place."

"But suppose the soldier says he would rather go on beating the peasant?"

"Then he has done all he can."

p. 92

"Then an altruist ought not to use force?"

"No. Force is no remedy. That is Tolstoy's great lesson."

"Then an altruist is one who will not use force, even to defend his money from thieves, or his children from cruelty?"

"That is the ideal."

"And you, if any one should want to steal your money, or to beat your children, would think it wrong to prevent them?"

"In an ideal sense, yes."

"Even though you should know that the man who was beating your children was out of his mind; or that he was a good man who had been hypnotised and made to do wicked things against his will?"

My friend laughed at me.

"Now you are trying to make the principle absurd. The Religion of Humanity is reasonable. Every one recognises that a madman should be restrained from doing mischief, whether to himself only, or to others."

"Then if a man went mad and wanted to beat you or your children, or to set fire to your house, or do any other wicked thing, you would think it right to restrain him by force?"

"Of course. That is a ridiculous question. It would be for the good of the man himself to restrain him."

"But if he were not mad; if he were only eccentric, or were behaving like that out of superstition,

p. 93

or spite, you would think it wrong to restrain him by force?"

"All that is a question of degree. The test is a very simple one;—does the man know what he is doing?"

"Then let me see if I have got it right this time. You mean that if a man is doing wicked things by accident he ought to be prevented, but not if he is doing them on purpose? And so an altruist is one who restrains good men, and lets wicked men do what they like."

"That," said my friend, "is not putting it fairly. I said that madmen ought to be restrained for their own sake. Surely you ought to be able to see the difference. When we restrain a man for his own good we are serving him. Our action is altruistic."

"I think I see what you mean, this time. It is doing good to a madman to save him from doing wicked things which he might afterwards regret?"

My friend smiled, well pleased.

"Exactly! Now you understand me."

"But it is not doing good to a man in his right mind to save him from doing wicked things which he might afterwards regret."

My friend's face fell.

"No man who wants to do wicked things is really in his right mind," he said. "Tolstoy has said so over and over again."

"Then I am afraid I don't understand you," I had to confess. "I thought you began by saying

p. 94

that the altruist ought not to use force to anybody, and now you seem to be saying that he ought to use force to everybody who is doing what the altruist thinks is wrong."

"All that," said my friend, "comes of pushing the principle to extremes. Altruism is an ideal."

I was obliged to shake my head regretfully.

"I came here to ask you the meaning of the word idealistic," I remarked, "and you told me that it meant altruistic. But now in explaining to me what altruism is, you have three times used the word ideal, and each time in the sense of a foolish extreme to which a good principle ought not to be carried. And altruism itself, as you have explained it, seems to me just such a foolish extreme to which the old-fashioned principle of kindness, or good will towards men, ought not to be carried,—I am afraid that what you have been really telling me all this time is that an idealist work must be a work of an extravagant tendency."


The Religion of Humanity is being preached among us to-day by many well-meaning men and women, who unfortunately have never stopped to ask themselves what they mean by the words Religion and Humanity.

No one, I think, now remembers the meaning of the word religion; and I shall have to look for it

p. 95

hereafter. Humanity, of course, is the Babu for Man.

It used to be written man, and old-fashioned writers had some rather plain things to say about it. "All men are liars." "There is none that doeth good, no, not one." "The heart of man is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked." "It repented the Lord that he had made man." No one would dare to say such things as that about Humanity. For Humanity no words can be too good. The difference is as great as that between a little girl being scolded by her teacher in the schoolroom, when there is no one by, and the same little girl being praised by the teacher in the parlour, when visitors are present.

The reason for the change is not far to seek. Those well-meaning men and women have found out that the language of the theologians is bad language; that the word God has become an Andronican word to them; and so, being too honest to go on using a word they do not understand, they have crossed it out, and looked for another word to write in its place. And obeying a natural law of the mind, which the theologians call anthropomorphism, they have written the word Man. I once knew a boy of fourteen who made the same discovery, and went through all his childish poems, crossing out the word God wherever it occurred; and he, too, wrote words like Man and The People in its place.

p. 96

In this way they have changed the idol, but, as so often happens, they have not changed the idolatry. All the Andronican words of the theologians have come back again, only this time they are written about Man instead of about God. All the rich, comfortable folks who used to go to church and call themselves miserable sinners, now go to lecture halls and call themselves Lovers of Humanity. I think a Lover of Humanity is the very last person to whom, if I were in distress, I should go to borrow a few dollars.


Humanity is a deceitful word, because they who use it are apt, like Pope John XXIII, and like my altruistic friend, to forget that it is only another way of saying men and women. And like most other words of the same class, it is a dangerous word, because it puts the mind to sleep, and steels those who use it to do all kinds of cruel things they would otherwise be ashamed to do. In such words Rousseau sowed the seed that sprang up in the Reign of Terror. It is like that word Brotherhood, on behalf of which so many bombs have been thrown. In the course of my life I have come across a good many men and women styling themselves Socialists, Anarchists, Friends of Humanity, and what not, and I am sorry to say that I have found in practice that the more of these sort of

p. 97

words they used, and the bigger capitals they spelled them with, the more likely they were to be narrow-minded, bad-tempered people, quarrelling violently among themselves, and yet ready to turn and rend everybody else for not agreeing with the things which they were not yet agreed upon among themselves. It has been my lot to talk with Apostles of Humanity, with the kind of men who get up Pilgrimages of Peace and Purity Crusades. (Fancy a man who does not know the difference between a pilgrim and a crusader talking about Humanity!) And when I have ventured to urge upon them mercy towards their victims, I have seen them foam at the mouth.

I distrust Humanity when it foams at the mouth.

The word Humanity is an Andronican word, because it does not advance us an inch. Every one is agreed that it is doing a kindness to save a man who is not in his right mind from doing wicked things which he would afterwards regret. The questions that remain are these: What things are wicked; and who is to be the judge; when is a man not in his right mind; and who is to be the judge; how, or with how much force, are we to save him; and who is to be the judge; and when, and under what circumstances, is it our business to step in; and again who is to be the judge? These are questions that the wisest man who ever lived could not answer offhand, nor beforehand; and the man who thinks he can answer them, and has

p. 98

answered them, by shouting the word Humanity, is more out of his mind, and more in need of restraint, than any soldier or taxgatherer or tsar.

The moment a question becomes one of degree it is time for enthusiasm to call in wisdom. The mistake of my altruistic friend was in leaving wisdom out of his explanation. And it so happens that wisdom has the same imaginary Aryan root as Idealism.

Humanity is a false word because, as we have seen, it means that there are, or ought to be, no differences between men. It means, for instance, that there is no difference between white men and black, and that if, in any place where they are living side by side, there happen to be more blacks than whites, the blacks ought to rule the whites. That falsehood is enshrined in the political creed of North America. It has cost the Americans a hundred thousand lives. It is still costing them crimes as frightful as the word Catholic cost Europe. And the same men who say that black men ought to rule over white men in the Carolinas will not let a yellow child sit in the same schoolroom with a white child in San Francisco.


Humanity is least of all an altruistic word. The Religion of Humanity pretends to be the worship of men and women by men and women. And it is not

p. 99

even that. Because the idolators have an ideal man or woman whom they really worship. That idol is their own reflection in the looking-glass, and hence their Service of Humanity is apt to mean an effort to make Man in their own image.

So far as I have been able to learn by watching what they do, instead of listening to what they say, their idol is very much like a Unitarian minister; a man of some information, and of some taste in the arts; firmly respectful of the inherited tabus of Europe, with leanings toward teetotalism and vegetarianism; abounding in Mediterranean words of an immaterial tendency; with not much sense of humour, and still less of his own infirmities; and with rather a strong sense of the infirmities of others, and a strong disposition to make them better from his point of view, and worse from their point of view.

Now this may be the Coming Man. This idol may be destined to grow up and overshadow the world. I do not say that it is a bad idol. Only do not let us call it Humanity. If the whole earth is to be ruled smooth in its name; if all the men and women it now holds, from the five hundred millions of Chinese down to the dwarfs who haunt beyond the Mountains of the Moon, are to be ground beneath the car of this new Juggernath, let us know what we are doing; and do not let us use the word Humanity.

The trees of the forest are not all alike, neither

p. 100

are the stars in heaven. As there is one beauty of the violet, and another beauty of the rose, so there is one manhood of the North, and another manhood of the South, one manhood of the tsar and another manhood of the peasant, one manhood of the moneymaker and another manhood of the artist. The most inhuman, because the most false, words ever spoken about man are the words "normal man." For man himself is an abnormal beast.

Is it for the benefit of mankind that man should be his own God? That is the question which has to be answered yes or no.

The Religion of Humanity is not the worship of the best man, nor of the best in man. It is the worship of the middling man. It is the consecration of that instinct which causes men to kill to their own loss the best man, to starve the poet and to stone the prophet, to scourge and crucify the Christ.

How can such worship be idealistic? It is the least idealistic of any. It is the denial of worship, the denial of verihood, and the denial of hope.

Next: 7. Materialism: The Shape