When I was born electricity had been discovered but not yet adapted to practical every-day usage.  London had no electric light or telephone system.  Wireless, radio recording, broadcasting and gramophones were still unknown, and the petrol engine was still in its infancy.  There were no motorcars; on the streets all vehicles were still horse-drawn, and for travelling further afield, the steam train as yet without corridor coaches, was the only means of transport.  Liners and warships were generally steam propelled but a great part of the world’s sea-borne commerce was still carried in sailing ships; and the idea of travelling by air was as remote and unreal with us as it was with the Romans.

The electric age, having its infancy while I was a schoolboy, reaching maturity during the First World War, and becoming a dominant factor in all our lives from then on, has revolutionised thought wherever it has penetrated.

In the early years of the century the vast majority of the people of Europe and the United States – and even more so those of the less progressive areas of the world – formed their opinions from personal contact with their fellows.  The more advanced among them were neither lacking in intelligence or political consciousness, but their attitude towards their rulers was governed in the main by (1) any new laws which affected their personal well-being and (2) the discussion of events at the centres of government – declarations of war, treaties of alliance, court scandals, royal marriages etc. these were often belatedly reported but formed the staple talk wherever men were gathered together; in the towns, in clubs and taverns, in the country, in public halls and inns.  Thus, in those days, the ‘voice of the people’ was in fact the consensus of opinion arrived at after a vast number of free debates had taken place at every level of society and in all parts of the country, concerned.

This ‘voice’ was rarely raised; but when it was, rulers had good cause to tremble, and almost invariably, the result was a cessation of repression or a change of government; as the ‘voice’ was usually pregnant with both justice and commonsense.

But the ‘voice’ was stilled by the coming of the electro-machine age, as the new inventions enabled the professional politicians of all parties to get into direct touch with every community, however remote.  First came the electric press, enabling a million or more copies of a newspaper to be run off in a single night – and enormously improved arrangements for distribution.  Then came the wireless telegraph – which swiftly developed into radio, with a five times a day news service which, by means of a cheap receiving set, could be picked up in every home.  And these were followed by the cinematograph which soon became one of the most insidious weapons for political propaganda.

The result was that instead of forming their opinions by quiet thought and reasoned discussion, the bulk of the people took them ready made (from so called ‘informed’ sources) and, in consequence, in the short space of the first two decades of the 20th century an almost unbelievable change took place in the mental attitude of the masses all over the world.  The immense speeding up of means of communication brought the national and international picture so swiftly before them that it filled their thoughts to the exclusion of local conditions and the well-being of their own communities; political ideologies and abstract theories of government usurped in their minds the place which had previously been occupied by the selective prosperity of local industries and the prospects of crops.  Worst of all, the masses came under the immediate influence of the political demagogues who labelled themselves as the ‘representatives of the people’, who held that ‘all men being equal’ all power should be vested in the majority rather than in the intelligent minority, as had been the case in the past.

For many centuries power had been vested in Priest-Kings who were usually members of an hereditary ruling house – but the authority of such rulers was nearly always circumscribed by a group of elders, or a feudal nobility, whose say in matters varied in accordance with the strength of personality of the reigning potentate.  It was generally recognised that a throne could be permanently maintained only if it were the apex of a solidly supporting pyramid of aristocracy and thus as a general rule the Priests/Nobles/Senators exercised a power at least equal to that of the Priest-Kings.  In the event of the ruler proving irresponsible or despotic they usually succeeded in either overthrowing or placing a check upon him – as was the case when the Barons of England forced King John to sign Magna Carta.  Moreover, the Priesthood or Nobility was constantly being added to by the rise of men of exceptional ability and talent among the masses, as witness King Henry VIII’s great minister Cardinal Wolsey, who began life as a butcher’s boy.

Thus, until the dawning of the new age, the lives of the vast majority of the people in all countries were ordered in accordance with the will and beliefs of a comparatively small ruling-class – mainly composed of the boldest, cleverest and most energetic individuals in each nation.

Yet, from time immemorial idealists of all races have supported the doctrine that ‘all men are equal’.  Saints and martyrs have preached it in all ages, the outstanding example being Jesus Christ, whose creed largely owed its far-reaching acceptance and prominence to the fact of its appeal to slaves and underdogs.

For two thousand years at least this conception has waged a mainly unsuccessful war against its opposite – the belief that the direction of human destinies should remain vested in a limited number of individuals who are, on average, better educated and more intelligent than the masses.

The aristocracies of Egypt, Greece and Rome, clearly had no doubts at all that they were better fitted to govern than any committee composed of representatives of the common people.  In the middle ages, both the Princes of the Church of Rome and the temporal Kings whom they so greatly influenced also took this view.  In later times the European sovereigns and the supporting hierarchies of nobles likewise accepted the authority to rule as a natural commitment of this order.  Yet it gradually came to be admitted that the Third Estate had a right to a voice in the direction of affairs, and more particularly, in how the money taken from them in taxes should be expended.

The English race, which has led the way in most things, was the first to give full expression to the determination of ‘those who paid the piper to call the tune’.  In the early seventeenth century the commercial classes of the Kingdom brought about the Great Rebellion and cut off King Charles I’s head.  This drastic culmination of the revolution was, however, far from having the approval of the great majority of the people, and the resulting dictatorship by a bureaucracy proved so distasteful to them that 14 years later, in 1660, they gave overwhelming support to the restoration of Charles II.

Nevertheless, as a result of these troubles a new balance was achieved, and it became recognised that the best means of governing the realm lay in a fair distribution of power between King, Lords and Commons.  For the following 200 years the balance was reasonably well maintained and, during them, Britain knew a greater well-being and prosperity that any nation since the fall of Rome.

But from the latter part of the 19th century this balance gradually became undermined.  The coming of the machine age enabled the politicians of the ‘all men are equal’ school to get into ever-closer touch with the masses.  Under the banners of liberation they preached against every form of privilege, thus making the The English race, which has led the way in most things, was the first to give full expression masses discontented with their lot; and later, as socialists, they openly advocated equality in all things with supreme power vested in the House of Commons.

By the opening of the 20th century this new political consciousness in the multitude, coupled with the long disuse of the power of veto by the Monarch, had already reduced the Throne to a cipher; and in 1911 a liberal majority in the commons passed a bill that reduced the power of the Lords to a negligible quantity.  It was not, however, until the elections of 1945, that the ‘all men are equal’ propaganda resulted in the return of a Socialist majority to Westminster, where, the other two factors having been virtually eliminated it has, in the past two years, given Britain her first taste of government by the representatives of the underdog, free from all unilateral or higher control.


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