A Modern Utopia

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4.

“I follow the Common Rule, as many men do,” said my double, answering my allusion to his uniform almost apologetically. “But my own work is, in its nature, poietic; there is much dissatisfaction with our isolation of criminals upon islands, and I am analysing the psychology of prison officials and criminals in general with a view to some better scheme. I am supposed to be ingenious with expedients in this direction. Typically, the samurai are engaged in administrative work. Practically the whole of the responsible rule of the world is in their hands; all our head teachers and disciplinary heads of colleges, our judges, barristers, employers of labour beyond a certain limit, practising medical men, legislators, must be samurai, and all the executive committees, and so forth, that play so large a part in our affairs are drawn by lot exclusively from them. The order is not hereditary—we know just enough of biology and the uncertainties of inheritance to know how silly that would be—and it does not require an early consecration or novitiate or ceremonies and initiations of that sort. The samurai are, in fact, volunteers. Any intelligent adult in a reasonably healthy and efficient state may, at any age after five-and-twenty, become one of the samurai, and take a hand in the universal control.”

“Provided he follows the Rule.”

“Precisely—provided he follows the Rule.”

“I have heard the phrase, ‘voluntary nobility.’”

“That was the idea of our Founders. They made a noble and privileged order—open to the whole world. No one could complain of an unjust exclusion, for the only thing that could exclude from the order was unwillingness or inability to follow the Rule.”

“But the Rule might easily have been made exclusive of special lineages and races.”

“That wasn't their intention. The Rule was planned to exclude the dull, to be unattractive to the base, and to direct and co-ordinate all sound citizens of good intent.”

“And it has succeeded?”

“As well as anything finite can. Life is still imperfect, still a thick felt of dissatisfactions and perplexing problems, but most certainly the quality of all its problems has been raised, and there has been no war, no grinding poverty, not half the disease, and an enormous increase of the order, beauty, and resources of life since the samurai, who began as a private aggressive cult, won their way to the rule of the world.”

“I would like to have that history,” I said. “I expect there was fighting?” He nodded. “But first—tell me about the Rule.”

“The Rule aims to exclude the dull and base altogether, to discipline the impulses and emotions, to develop a moral habit and sustain a man in periods of stress, fatigue, and temptation, to produce the maximum co-operation of all men of good intent, and, in fact, to keep all the samurai in a state of moral and bodily health and efficiency. It does as much of this as well as it can, but, of course, like all general propositions, it does not do it in any case with absolute precision. On the whole, it is so good that most men who, like myself, are doing poietic work, and who would be just as well off without obedience, find a satisfaction in adhesion. At first, in the militant days, it was a trifle hard and uncompromising; it had rather too strong an appeal to the moral prig and harshly righteous man, but it has undergone, and still undergoes, revision and expansion, and every year it becomes a little better adapted to the need of a general rule of life that all men may try to follow. We have now a whole literature, with many very fine things in it, written about the Rule.”

He glanced at a little book on his desk, took it up as if to show it me, then put it down again.

“The Rule consists of three parts; there is the list of things that qualify, the list of things that must not be done, and the list of things that must be done. Qualification exacts a little exertion, as evidence of good faith, and it is designed to weed out the duller dull and many of the base. Our schooling period ends now about fourteen, and a small number of boys and girls—about three per cent.—are set aside then as unteachable, as, in fact, nearly idiotic; the rest go on to a college or upper school.”

“All your population?”

“With that exception.”

“Free?”

“Of course. And they pass out of college at eighteen. There are several different college courses, but one or other must be followed and a satisfactory examination passed at the end—perhaps ten per cent. fail—and the Rule requires that the candidate for the samurai must have passed.”

“But a very good man is sometimes an idle schoolboy.”

“We admit that. And so anyone who has failed to pass the college leaving examination may at any time in later life sit for it again—and again and again. Certain carefully specified things excuse it altogether.”

“That makes it fair. But aren't there people who cannot pass examinations?”

“People of nervous instability―”

“But they may be people of great though irregular poietic gifts.”

“Exactly. That is quite possible. But we don't want that sort of people among our samurai. Passing an examination is a proof of a certain steadiness of purpose, a certain self-control and submission―”

“Of a certain ‘ordinariness.’”

“Exactly what is wanted.”

“Of course, those others can follow other careers.”

“Yes. That's what we want them to do. And, besides these two educational qualifications, there are two others of a similar kind of more debateable value. One is practically not in operation now. Our Founders put it that a candidate for the samurai must possess what they called a Technique, and, as it operated in the beginning, he had to hold the qualification for a doctor, for a lawyer, for a military officer, or an engineer, or teacher, or have painted acceptable pictures, or written a book, or something of the sort. He had, in fact, as people say, to ‘be something,’ or to have ‘done something.’ It was a regulation of vague intention even in the beginning, and it became catholic to the pitch of absurdity. To play a violin skilfully has been accepted as sufficient for this qualification. There may have been a reason in the past for this provision; in those days there were many daughters of prosperous parents—and even some sons—who did nothing whatever but idle uninterestingly in the world, and the organisation might have suffered by their invasion, but that reason has gone now, and the requirement remains a merely ceremonial requirement. But, on the other hand, another has developed. Our Founders made a collection of several volumes, which they called, collectively, the Book of the Samurai, a compilation of articles and extracts, poems and prose pieces, which were supposed to embody the idea of the order. It was to play the part for the samurai that the Bible did for the ancient Hebrews. To tell you the truth, the stuff was of very unequal merit; there was a lot of very second-rate rhetoric, and some nearly namby-pamby verse. There was also included some very obscure verse and prose that had the trick of seeming wise. But for all such defects, much of the Book, from the very beginning, was splendid and inspiring matter. From that time to this, the Book of the Samurai has been under revision, much has been added, much rejected, and some deliberately rewritten. Now, there is hardly anything in it that is not beautiful and perfect in form. The whole range of noble emotions finds expression there, and all the guiding ideas of our Modern State. We have recently admitted some terse criticism of its contents by a man named Henley.”

“Old Henley!”

“A man who died a little time ago.”

“I knew that man on earth. And he was in Utopia, too! He was a great red-faced man, with fiery hair, a noisy, intolerant maker of enemies, with a tender heart—and he was one of the samurai?”

“He defied the Rules.”

“He was a great man with wine. He wrote like wine; in our world he wrote wine; red wine with the light shining through.”

“He was on the Committee that revised our Canon. For the revising and bracing of our Canon is work for poietic as well as kinetic men. You knew him in your world?”

“I wish I had. But I have seen him. On earth he wrote a thing … it would run—

“Out of the night that covers me, Black as the pit from pole to pole, I thank whatever Gods may be, For my unconquerable soul… .”

“We have that here. All good earthly things are in Utopia also. We put that in the Canon almost as soon as he died,” said my double.

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