Wednesday, 30 September 2009

Scott Ritter on Iran

It’s ironic that because I live in an area with many Muslims a local independent radio station broadcasts ‘Democracy Now’ which appeals to the Muslims for its anti-war stance. So, because I live in the middle of a war zone, I get to hear some of the best anti-war broadcasting. Scott Ritter was a guest yesterday and had a lot to say about the US and Israeli propaganda regarding Iran’s nuclear programs. Ritter's latest article is here.

Listen to the interview here:

Fmr. UN Weapons Inspector Scott Ritter Warns Against “Politically Motivated Hype” on Iran Nuke Program

Rush transcript:

SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: Iran test-fired two long-range missiles Monday, just days before Iranian officials are due to meet with the five permanent members of the Security Council and Germany to discuss a range of issues, including its nuclear program. Western powers condemned the Iranian test as “provocative” and “deeply destabilizing.” Iranian officials said the missiles were tested as part of an annual military drill and bore, quote, “no connection whatsoever with the nuclear program.”

Monday’s missile tests follow Iran’s disclosure last week of a second uranium enrichment plant. On Friday morning, President Obama, along with British Prime Minister Gordon Brown and French President Nicolas Sarkozy, accused Iran of building a secret nuclear fuel plant.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Good morning. We are here to announce that yesterday in Vienna, the United States, the United Kingdom and France presented detailed evidence to the IAEA demonstrating that the Islamic Republic of Iran has been building a covert uranium enrichment facility near Qom for several years.

SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: French President Sarkozy warned that Europe and the United States would tighten sanctions against Iran unless it halted its nuclear program.

PRESIDENT NICOLAS SARKOZY: [translated] Everything must be put on the table now. We cannot let the Iranian leaders gain time while the motors are running. If, by December, there is not an in-depth change by the Iranian leaders, sanctions will have to be taken.

SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: Iran, however, refuted Western fears and said its nuclear activities are purely peaceful. This is Iranian delegate Mansour Salsabili addressing the UN General Assembly Saturday.

MANSOUR SALSABILI: The delegation of the Islamic Republic of Iran would like to put on record that these allegations, fears and concerns are totally untrue and without any foundations. Iran’s nuclear activities are, and always have been, for peaceful purposes and therefore pose no threat, pose no threat whatsoever. The IAEA reports bear witness to the peaceful nature of Iran’s nuclear activities.

SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: Well, my next guest was a former UN weapons inspector in Iraq in the 1990s. Scott Ritter is the author of Iraq Confidential and Target Iran. His forthcoming book is called Dangerous Ground: America’s Failed Arms Control Policy from FDR to Obama. His latest article appears in The Guardian newspaper in London; it’s titled “Keeping Iran Honest,” where he warns against, quote, “politically motivated hype.” Scott Ritter joins us right now from Albany, New York.

Welcome to Democracy Now!, Scott.

SCOTT RITTER: Thank you very much.

SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: Begin by explaining why do you call it “politically motivated hype”?

SCOTT RITTER: Well, I think the answer is quite obvious. Look, on Thursday, this coming Thursday, the United States, Great Britain, France, Germany, Russia, China are going to sit down with Iran, ostensibly to discuss, you know, how to break through this impasse that exists between the Western countries and Iran concerning its nuclear program. But the Obama administration has come to a, you know, preordained conclusion that there’s nothing that can be done about Iran’s nuclear program, that Iran either has to get rid of it all, or there’s nothing to discuss about. That’s not much of a—much of a discussion.

Iran is a signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. It has a complete inspection regime conducted by the International Atomic Energy Agency. It’s not been found to be in noncompliance. And yet, here we are condemning Iran for doing its job, declaring a facility, inviting inspectors in. And the conclusion it’s reached from this? That they’re producing nuclear weapons. This is politically motivated hype designed to create a situation this coming Thursday that will find the United States unable to reach any sort of agreement with Iran about its nuclear program.

SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: In his comments, President Obama said, “Iran is breaking the rules that all nations must follow.” You write that he’s technically and legally wrong. Why?

SCOTT RITTER: Well, again, Iran is bound by its agreements with the International Atomic Energy Agency. These agreements are between Iran and the IAEA. You cannot compare Iran’s arrangement with the IAEA with any other nation, so it’s an absurd argument to begin with.
Second of all, Iran’s agreements with the IAEA are—you know, the current agreements go back to 2003 period, where Iran, in exchange for Europe and the United States recognizing the legitimacy of Iran’s nuclear aspirations—that means to enrich uranium for peaceful energy uses—Iran would voluntarily agree to what’s called the additional protocol of inspections, as well as what’s known as the Subsidiary Agreement. The Subsidiary Agreement requires Iran to declare any facility at the time that it intends to produce it, create it, to build it, as opposed to the old agreement, which said Iran must declare this facility 180 days prior to the insertion of nuclear material. Iran said, “We will abide by this additional protocol of inspections and the Subsidiary Agreement on a voluntary basis, until which time the Parliament of Iran ratifies these new agreements.” These have never been ratified, so this was a voluntary submission on the part of Iran.

In 2007, Iran withdrew from this voluntary arrangement, citing the noncompliance of its partners—Europe, the United States—in recognizing the legitimacy of Iran’s nuclear program. Iran’s not in violation of anything. Iran is in compliance, and the IAEA has stated this. The IAEA has said that the fact that Iran was in compliance with the old Code 3.1, the Subsidiary Agreement, the old Safeguards Agreements, means that you can’t find them to be in noncompliance with this new set of arrangements.

The key here isn’t the technicality of the legal documents; it’s about the diversion of nuclear material. And the IAEA has a 100 percent accounting for the totality of Iran’s nuclear material. So, even if Iran produces this new facility, which, by the way, is not in operation and won’t be in operation for over a year, no nuclear material has been diverted, there still is a full material balance, and the IAEA is in complete control of the situation. Iran is not in violation.

This is not a reason to panic. This is much ado about nothing. But again, we come back to the original premise: this is about political hype, the United States hyping up a capability in Iran which doesn’t exist, and that is the capability to produce nuclear weapons.

SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: And the issue of Israel reserving the right to launch a preemptive military strike against nuclear facilities in Iran, how does that play into the upcoming talks and how Iran is reacting right now?

SCOTT RITTER: Well, it’s not just the issue of Israel reserving the right, the issue of the United States reserving the right. Remember, President Obama said that the military option is not off the table. Now, if you’re the Iranians and you make a decision that you strategically require an additional source of energy, such as nuclear energy, to supplement your domestic energy usage so that you free up your oil production and gas production for exportation, so you can earn money, this is a big deal. This isn’t insignificant. And so, you’re building this capability. Israel and the United States say they want to bomb it. What do you do?

Well, the first thing you do is you build redundancy, and that’s what this new Qom facility represents. It’s redundancy. It’s a backup to the Natanz primary facility. Again, it’s been declared, no nuclear material has been diverted. But it’s there as a backup. The second thing you do is you fire off missiles in a warning that you have an inherent right and capability of self-defense.

Israel launched a massive air exercise last year, in which it demonstrated the ability to fly hundreds of aircraft, you know, the distance necessary to strike targets in Iran. The United States is carrying out exercises with Israel as we speak. You know, the bottom line is it’s the United States and Israel which are the more aggressive of the players here. Iran is not an aggressor. Iran has not attacked anybody. Iran is simply trying to do that which it is legally allowed to do: produce enriched uranium for the purposes of nuclear power. It’s Israel, which, by the way, is not a signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, claims it will never be a signatory and has a massive nuclear weapons capability—it’s Israel and the United States which are creating a crisis out of nothing.

SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: And what would you like to see happen right now, in terms of the talks coming up on Thursday? This is the first direct talks between the US and Iran in more than thirty years. What would you like to see happen? And what ultimately can come out of this?

SCOTT RITTER: Well, I’d like to see diplomacy succeed. The bottom line is, the more the United States and Iran talk with one another, the less likely it is that the two will engage in hostile actions against one another. But you can’t have diplomacy if it’s a one-way street. If the talks open up with the United States providing a whole list of demands that Iran must accede to or else the talks will fail, then the talks are doomed to fail.

The United States—you know, here we have a president who says he wants to get rid of nuclear weapons in the world today, and he recognizes that a key aspect of this is a viable, valid nuclear nonproliferation treaty. But for a treaty to be viable and valid, it must be applicable to all powers. That means that when Iran signs the treaty, Iran must not only abide by the treaty, but also to be able to operate fully within the context of the treaty. And Article IV of this treaty clearly allows Iran to have the right to enrich uranium for the use—for use in nuclear power. The United States, in citing the law, must be willing to abide by the law, not only in terms of its own actions, but also to allow Iran full obligations and rights under the law.

If this isn’t what’s going to happen, then these talks are doomed to fail. I want these talks to succeed. And I’m hopeful that the Obama administration right now is carrying out pre-game posturing but, once it comes time to sit down at the table, will actually let the tools of diplomacy work, which means it has to be a two-way street.

SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: And Iran fired these two long-range missiles on Monday. Why do you think that it did that just days before these talks? It’s a sensitive situation.

SCOTT RITTER: Well, I think the answer is obvious. Iran is making it clear that it has its own deterrence capability, that at a time when the United States and Israel and France and Great Britain and others are calling the Qom facility evidence of a covert nuclear weapons facility, raising the specter of a nuclear weapons-armed Iran, creating an emergency-type environment where people are talking about the need and requirement for a preemptive strike, Iran is saying, “You do so at your own peril.” The bottom line is, if Iran is struck, Israeli cities will be struck in return with Iranian missiles, not equipped with nuclear weapons, but with conventional weapons. Iran is simply saying, “We are a sovereign state with our own inherent capabilities for self-defense. And if you attack us, you do so at your own risk.” Is this the ideal situation? No. But then again, it’s not Iran that started this game of saying, “We’re going to bomb you.” Iran is simply saying, “If you choose to attack us, we can and will defend ourselves.”

Again, this is an argument or discussion we shouldn’t be having. If the Obama administration was responsible here, they’d de-emphasize this hype, this politically motivated hype, and deal with the reality that there is no nuclear weapons program in Iran, that the newly declared Qom facility is not a threat to international peace and security, and that when Iran and the United States sits down this coming Thursday, that we will—you know, the United States hopes to find a way out of this morass, that we hope to find a way to peacefully coexist with Iran, an Iran that has a nuclear energy program fully monitored by the International Atomic Energy Agency. Unfortunately, that’s not the premise going forward, and then you get both sides behaving in a precipitous and irresponsible manner. The Iranian missile launch is precipitous, it’s irresponsible, but it’s in keeping with the trend that all parties are participating in.

SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: Scott Ritter, I want to thank you very much for being with us. Scott Ritter was a UN weapons inspector in Iraq from 1991 to 1998. He’s the author of several books, Iraq Confidential, Target Iran. His forthcoming book is called Dangerous Ground: America’s Failed Arms Control Policy from FDR to Obama.

Lymington: Nature, the Family, and the Nation

This essay first appeared as chapter one of Alternative to Death: The Relationship Between Soil, Family and Community (London: Faber & Faber, Ltd., 1943), pp. 11–31, and was recently republished in the IHS Press essay collection Distributist Perspectives Volume II.

This biography of Lymington appears in the IHS collection:

Gerard Vernon Wallop (1898-1984), the Viscount Lymington, became the 9th Earl of Portsmouth early in 1943, upon the death of his father, Oliver. He was born in Chicago and raised in the United States, where his parents had a farm near Sheridan, Wyoming. He was educated in England at Farnborough, Winchester College, and Balliol College, Oxford. In 1923 he took over a 150-acre farm on a family estate. As a farmer and landowner he was, according to Dr. Philip Conford, “successful and progressive.”

He served as Conservative MP for Basingstoke (1929–34) and was a leading member of the English Mistery, founded in 1931 by William Sanderson, before splitting with him in 1937 to form the back-to-the-land “English Array.” The Array’s journal was the Quarterly Gazette, and the movement was dedicated to, as Lymington put it, the regeneration of the English stock and soil; opposition to alien corruption, internationalism, and usury; craftsmanship and domestic responsibility; and the employment of organic agricultural methods to replenish the soil and produce healthy food. While leading the Array, he founded an additional journal, the New Pioneer, whereupon he collaborated with John Warburton Beckett (an ex-socialist MP), A. K. Chesterton, Anthony Ludovici, Philip Mairet and others; he was also its editor from 1938 to 1940.

In the face of the increasing likelihood of war in Europe, he founded (also in 1938) the British Council Against European Commitments, while Array activities ceased in 1940. He also joined the British People’s Party, and collaborated in the foundation, with Rolf Gardiner, of the Kinship in Husbandry – of which he was, with Gardiner, effectively the heart. It was an informal but influential alliance of ruralists, whose aim was, according to Drs. Richard Moore-Colyer and Conford, to restore the English yeomanry, establish local and regional self-sufficiency, resurrect the craft tradition, and repopulate the English countryside. The group included as members other figures such as H. J. Massingham, Philip Mairet, and Adrian Bell, and it influenced other organicist and ruralist organizations such as the Rural Reconstruction Association of A. J. Penty and Montague Fordham and the well-known Soil Association. He was also a member of the Council for Church and Countryside, founded by David Peck and Reverend Patrick McLaughlin.

His books include Horn, Hoof and Corn, Ich Dien: The Tory Path, Famine in England (at the time a Sunday Times “book of the month”), Alternative to Death, and A Knot of Roots, his 1965 autobiography. He contributed to Massingham’s 1945 anthology The Natural Order and wrote for John Middleton Murry’s paper, The Adelphi. After the war he settled in Kenya, where he was eventually to own about ten thousand acres of land, and where he would remain for about 25 years. He served there as member of the Board of Agriculture, chairman and later president of the Electors’ Union, and member for agriculture of the Legislative Assembly, which latter post he maintained for three and a half years, beginning in 1957. In 1965 he was invited by Jomo Kenyatta to become a special advisor to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries, and Food. He held the post until 1976, when he suffered a stroke and returned to England. Speaking of the Lymington legacy, Conford notes that he was “crucially important in development of the organic movement.”

Nature, the Family, and the Nation
by Viscount Lymington

When McCarrison discovered that rats fed on the equivalent diet of many of our city dwellers grew diseased, nervous, treacherous, quarrelsome, and cannibalistic, but that similar rats fed on the fresher, whole, simple diet of some Indian hill tribes were fertile, gentle, and healthy, he thumbed a long nose at the last two centuries of “progress.” His experiment diagnosed one root cause rather than the symptom of a sick world. Fresh food from well-tilled land is the basis of physical health, for earth is the matrix and the grave of our physical existence. Body, mind, and spirit in our span on the earth are one whole; thus, if we neglect the matrix, the grave alone remains the “fine and private (final) place.”

History may resound to the tramp of armed men and the liberal historians may put battles down to economics and a lust for freedom: that is, licence to pursue economic gain.

But the fundamental history of civilization is the history of the soil The understanding of this is vital to all peoples who stand at the gateway of death. The whole white civilization stands there today. In any civilization there comes a moment when, if it is to continue, civilization must become ruralization. All its economics, all its amenities, its armies, and its splendour depend on one thing: the reverent use of its soil. The writing on the wall is there; we are being weighed in the balance and found wanting – in ruralization.

The writing is scrawled in erosion across the world. At present it goes almost unheeded; so we must return to history for proof of our present follies. Only in rare and fortunate cases does the jungle triumph and do vines choke the city walls while monkeys chatter in the roofless courts of kings. Mostly the sand and the silence drift across the crumbled splendour of man’s too careless endeavours. In reasons which caused the ruins of Gobi and Sahara and the buried cities of Arabia we have more to learn for human survival than in all the chemistry, plumbing, and germ theories of today. The desert has succeeded to the cities of the past because, being cities, they bred a race which forgot the soil on which it fed. Today there are well-schooled but poorly educated children in English industrial areas who cannot believe that milk comes from the cow, and not the tin. These children had their counterparts in Rome and Nineveh.

The background of human wisdom is the ever present consciousness that the soil nourishes the plant, the plant the animal, and plant and animal the human being. Thus, the city is built from the produce of the soil. When there are too many in the city for the soil, the soil and the city perish together, as a rabbit warren is eaten bare and then poisoned by the rabbits. As soon as the soil is made the servant of the city, and not the master partner in the civilization, the desert begins. Even useless wars and gigantic wastes like the burning forests only serve to underline men’s madness in forgetting their own source of life: Quem deus perdere vult, prius dementat.

Man, insofar as he is an animal, is bound to the soil, however heaven-born he thinks himself. When he enters the city he cuts himself off from one side of his own cosmic nature, and even his fertility fails so that he has to be constantly renewed from the country stock. But the longer he remains urban bred, the more his nature is divorced from the background of human wisdom. As he develops the habits of the parasite, be he lawyer or money-changer, scribe, broker or huckster, he is fastened ever more heavily on the servant of the soil, who sinks beneath his weight. The peasant thus exploited either moves to the city to become a parasite, or else, to live, exploits the soil itself, and so with gradually increasing speed destroys his own and the parasite’s source of livelihood. First the soil is exhausted of its human stock, and then of its own life-giving qualities. For many years the human exhaustion can go on, but once the exhaustion of the soil’s own stores of fertility sets in, the town gives way to desert.

The fate of the Roman Empire should be our lesson. It is so curiously paralleled today: A hardy peasant stock subdues a fertile peninsula. It is a stock full of the sturdy characteristics of those who live for the soil. War kills off some of the best of that stock. War also brings opportunities to the natural parasites who congregate in the city while the battle rages outside. Already the seeds of decay are sown. Being a peninsula the sea is a natural highway leading to Empire, and above all, to trade. Trade leads to usury, and usury is to demand that money grows at the expense of living growth.

Trade for its own sake means more urban population, and successful war means an abundance of slaves. The slaves lower the market value of the free peasant’s hard-won fruits of his labour. The peasant is displaced, drifting workless to the town. The latifundia, the large-scaled slave-worked farm, is made possible by the huge fortunes annexed through war or trade. The city population grows as the material wealth increases; conquests of corn-growing land in Africa and elsewhere are exploited by money-lenders to bring food to the city’s workless, who must have bread and circuses; for if they are not drugged by uncreative amusement they are just as likely to turn against their Emperors as if they are not fed. The latifundia in Italy must be worked harder and harder to compete with the grain ships. All that is best in the old Empire goes to the edges where there is still a man’s work to be done, and the shame of corruption at the heart is deadened by distance. Food and amusements are imported and the best go out to the perimeters to prop up a worm-ridden empire. Throughout the corruption gets worse because of the foreign customs and foreign purveyors of vices and titillating innovations which pour in to keep the capital amused, or in the form of foreign slaves to keep the now crossbred parasites in idleness. The Barbarian sweeps over the old barriers and the dark ages succeed. But it is not the barbarian who has broken Rome, it is the neglect of the soil and its servants. The once fertile granary of Africa from the Atlas to Cyrene is a desert, and Italy is stripped bare.

Transpose this lesson to our own times: for latifundia and slaves read “international capitalism and mass production,” for Africa read “the dust-bowl of America,” for bread and circuses read “the dole, Hollywood, and the headline press.” The parallel in the waste of land and the degradation of a fine yeoman stock is complete.

Reports and commissions, invention and finance will not help us if we do not remember this lesson and seek a salvation which can make integrate men; that is beings integrated within themselves and living in harmony with the whole of their environment.

I cannot believe that the Golden Age is a mere myth of superstitious ancients, or the Utopian figment of self-deceived idealists. I believe it to be a race memory, well-nigh universal of times when peoples in differing places had achieved a way of living in partnership and harmony with Nature. They possessed the secret, almost perfect, of adaptation to their environment, so that health, gentleness, beauty and strength were the rule and not the exception. That is the adaptation expressed in the Book of Job “when the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy” – man conscious of his relationship to God and his unity with creation. The memory was nearer to the most ancient Egyptians and the earlier Greeks, even to the Aztecs, than to ourselves. Sometimes we may believe that there is more than a trace surviving still, when we read of the Hunzas of northern India living among the eaves of the world, or remember what Tahiti must have been before it was despoiled.

Even the story of Eden is a race memory of natural harmony and adaptation broken into by adding knowledge which could not be assimilated into wisdom. So far in this century, if we are honest with ourselves, we see that we have scientific knowledge but not the wisdom to use the knowledge to save us from shattered bodies and empty souls. We calculate our children with contraceptives but omit to make the wholeness of environment and love which is home. We are full of medical knowledge without health; scientific exploitation of the soil without the love and care, experience, and foresight to know that what we take we must return. The philosopher and the seer are at a discount, when they are most needed.

Self-knowledge must drive us to ask in humility: how may we regain a harmony with Nature* – with the ordering of life unspoiled by man’s quick-tempered and unmeditative arrogance; with a pattern of life that is essentially religious, sometimes in despite of religions? Even a cursory review of legends of the Golden Age, and observation of extant survivals or historic records of healthier, fuller, and calmer ways of living, show that care for the soil and ordering of life have been fused in an almost unconscious radiance of love. Happiness born of exuberant health, nurtured by patient adherence to the common purposes are its hallmarks.

[* This does not mean returning to a state of Nature. Man has altered Nature for too many thousands of years for this to be possible, were it even desirable. But it does mean that we should reach a conscious understanding of our nature, instincts, and biological make-up in relation to the soil, plant, and animal life with which, and by means of which, we have to live, and that we may yet have to learn the relationship of all these matters with the solar system.]

Again and again we find the story of descent from some human being transcendent in wisdom and health, transmitting his qualities to family or tribe, by whom order and tradition were established. It would be fair to say that in nearly every case one gets evidence of intense respect for the soil and its conservation, based upon the continuing close-bred life of the family. There is evidence also that in physical matters these happier human beings had not lost their instinct of physical adaptation to the order of Nature which may be found from the newts to the felidi.

On the reverse picture one gets evidence that civilization broke down because it disregarded the right use of the soil, and disintegrated because it had too much knowledge, but had lost its wisdom. We know that half the deserts of the world are monuments to human folly. The popular study of anthropology, collated with a biological knowledge of medicine and modes of agriculture, leaves us grounds for supposing that the debased savage and the cannibal were not simply laggards in the supposed race of evolution, but the relics of peoples who have taken the wrong turning earlier than ourselves. It is not difficult now to doubt the turning which our technocratic material civilization has taken in the last three hundred years. We can begin to understand how living has been divided from life, and body from spirit. When man is fragmentary and no longer integrated, it is no wonder in the endless crisis of our own disordering that men snatch at tendered panaceas – vitamin pills for the body and quack religions for the soul. We are so used to a readymade world that many ask for a ready-made mass religion to salve their souls and even to comfort their bodies. It is only the over-weening materialist who salve their souls and even to comfort their bodies. It is only the over-weening materialist who could flatly deny that by their approach to God the great mystics have left the human race in their debt. It is perhaps true that we need the influence of these seekers today, and that the world is parched for lack of striving after the ultimate wholeness which is assimilation into Being beyond our diurnal comprehension. But, although we may acknowledge, we cannot fulfil the need for such persons as we would apply an engineering technique to a new invention.

However, hunger for unfulfilled spiritual leadership and authority, for what we fondly believe is a short cut, should not leave us without either the energy or the faith to see that workaday solutions can be achieved, with the strength of purpose to work for these ends, and discipline to adhere to the values which shape them. Perhaps then, and only then, will the revived spiritual authority come to men of our day.

If we are sufficiently humble we should understand that the instinct of right living has been overlaid just as we have cast away the traditions which those instincts made.

On the other hand, however disordered our knowledge, however superficial our intellectual pride, we can still, with the power of reason and co-ordination of knowledge reproduce wisdom, and again give the best of our instinct the chance to assert itself for enduring ends. Reason, which does not apply its power for achieving harmony with Nature, or ally itself to liberating and guiding human instinct, can only plan Utopias and achieve Genevas.

The chapters which follow in this book are a tentative effort to use knowledge and experience in trying to point out on practical lines some, but by no means all, of the methods which could first restore to no inconsiderable number of the English, integrity of health for body and mind, in alliance with, rather than in opposition to, Nature. My hope and belief is that these methods might make such a nucleus of sound men and women that the example and influence would grow until it embraced the whole. Therefore, before proceeding to indicate solutions, I shall have to establish the principles upon which they are to be based, and incidentally at times to refute established errors, the virtues of which are taken for granted.

I have based this book primarily on the soil; on the family; on responsibility; and the development of instinctive excellence of craft and leadership. To believe that it is possible to found and maintain a great civilization without first using, maintaining, and even enriching its soil is to court disaster – disaster due to insecurity, subnormal health, and repressed instinct. The soil is the limiting factor. It is the liberator or inhibiter of inheritance according to its quality. Breed counts, but it cannot function properly on bad or ill-used soil; only when we cherish the sources of life can sound blood fulfil its potent destiny.

If, for instance, one were to feed a well-bred race-horse on the diet of a Neapolitan cab-horse, it is unlikely that one would even get a superior cab-horse; rather an ill-tempered, illadapted misfit in the shafts. The nature of the soil means more than the quality of food: it affects the water we drink, the air we breathe, and the quality of the sunshine. Ill-used soil can mean bad water and unhealthy air. Science might alleviate, but could not cure these fundamental effects.

The soil constitutes our environment in the truest sense; it courses through our blood, moulds our muscle and builds our bones. It even influences our thought and characterizes our actions. I believe that we should have the humility to acknowledge that character of the soil, rather than our own convenient predilections, should determine the nature of our customs and institutions. Therefore, it should determine even the size of the population which it carries. It is an error to consider that if we could guarantee the permanent security of imports and food for all from overseas, it would bring us either health or spiritual fulfilment.

God who ordered Nature must have clearly intended that the food we eat should be as fresh as possible; just as it was intended that the wastes from that food should go back to the soil whence it comes. These are the two most obvious biological reasons why the nature of the soil should determine our institutions. There are, however, spiritual reasons as well. When men cannot see cause and effect, they forget the relationship between the two. Reverence for the soil of far countries can never be the same as reverence for the particular plot which a man may cultivate himself. Therefore, men will not care until it is too late, if the soil is abused, when they eat imported foodstuffs. This is also a most cogent argument against great cities, since the metropolitan townsman forgets that the countryside is the source of life, rather than his playground.

The soil itself is the source of responsibility in craftsmanship. It is easier to escape the consequences of bad material and scamped workmanship in mass production than in dealing with Nature. Crop and animal alike will give the lie to the scrimshanker or the second-rate, but fine workmanship and generous care receive their accolade from life. Nor can the husbandman tolerate faulty tools, however simple they may be, and so he spreads the craftsman’s instinct far wider than himself. The craftsman’s instinct is the foundation of culture, since it satisfies needs which must otherwise explode in barbarism. Head-hunter and gangster are substitutes for true culture. To deny the creative instinct is to enlarge the restless forces of destruction.

While the soil provides our environment, internal as well as external, it forces us to use and not abuse the instinct which makes life continue. The soil decrees the unit of the family; since, except for the infant, each member fits into his or her place for livelihood. Even the children find work which is at the same time play and school for future responsibility in the household and the field. Later, as eyes grow dim, or muscles slacken, a niche of usefulness remains. If the family is the natural unit for the organization of the husbandman, his work should teach him the importance of his function as a procreator. It is hardly an accident that with tremendous urban growth the denial of breeding values is always present.

Those reared only on bread and circuses may claim the more unreal responsibility of a vote, but they can and do lose the tradition of trusteeship and the instinct of sound perpetuation. The instinct to choose a lifelong partner and home-maker with health and stamina, both physical and spiritual, is warped into attraction which mistakes a spurious sex appeal for true vitality, and the mutual capacity to enjoy tinsel amusements with the character to share life. They become the mob rushing to destruction. Only half-conscious that they have lost the status of life, they clamour against the truth which whispers that “the fault lies not in our stars, but in ourselves.” Uncertain of themselves they both deny and hate inherent superiority.

The farmer knows full well the importance of environment, and he does not belittle it. But he knows that without sound stock and type he will not flourish. He will not willingly or wittingly sow bad seed or use bad sires. When people are in true harmony with Nature there is least often unsound mating among human beings. Men and women learn instinctively to choose a good type for each other. This is of supreme importance among ourselves in Great Britain where the Industrial Revolution has gone far to smother such sound instinct, and where the scientist and priest have been too prone to gratify the delusions of the mob with half-truths.

The results of our false values in suicidal economics has meant that the sound in every walk of life have had an increasing burden thrust upon them to support the wreckage of the system. The State has dealt meanly with its servants in Army, Navy, or Imperial Civil Services. The devoted men who brought order and justice to, and fought famine and disease in India and elsewhere have not been able to perpetuate their kind. They had to choose between serving a great purpose or bringing up a family large enough to carry on their blood. We have forgotten that taxation for social services, or repayment of the usurer must ultimately fall upon the shoulders of the primary producer. Taxation has fallen more hardly upon the responsible individual than the exploiter and speculator. Social maintenance has supported in far too many cases the incompetent at the expense of the better workman who tries to succour his family with his efforts, unaided by the State. The unwholesome and the feckless have been helped to flourish. This does not mean that we should leave the hindmost to the devil, but that our social efforts should have been based on values which should first aim at the survival of the best in mind and body.

Tuesday, 29 September 2009

A ‘nation’ of hirelings

Two friends, both of whom have worked as self-employed builders for years, are now working in a bread factory on day-to-day contracts for an employment agency.

“The Hireling flieth, because he is a Hireling.” (St. John x:13.)

Those eight words are themselves a complete condemnation of a system in which the Hireling is normal. Our Lord does not condemn the Hireling. He flies, not because he is a coward or a villain, but because he is a Hireling, and clearly no state in which the bulk of the people are of this category can attain either a real organic order, or a true civilisation. The point need not be elaborated.

Distributist Harold Robbins in an essay entitled ‘The Buttress of Freedom’ from Distributist Perspectives Volume 1.

Richard Lynn: The Evolution of the Eugenic World State

The talk from Gadhafi and Chavez about a SATO rival to NATO reminded me of some points made in the final chapter of Richard Lynn, Eugenics: A Reassessment, the whole of the chapter offers much food for thought:

The Evolution of the Eugenic World State

1. Dysgenic Processes in Developing Nations
2. The United States
3. Europe
4. East Asia
5. The Emergence of Chinese Global Supremacy
6. Administration of the World State
7. Implementation of a World Eugenic Program
8. Development of Genetic Engineering
9. Conclusions

Chapters 19 and 20 were concerned with the likely development of eugenics in democratic societies and authoritarian states during the twenty-first century. In this chapter we consider the probable impact of eugenic and dysgenic processes in different parts of the world and how these will affect the future balance of power between nations. Both eugenic and dysgenic processes will be present, but the balance between them will differ in different countries and regions.

The dysgenic processes will consist of dysgenic fertility and dysgenic immigration. In some countries these dysgenic forces will predominate, causing a deterioration in the quality of the populations and a consequent decline in national strength. Eugenic forces will also be present. Some of these will evolve spontaneously in democratic societies. It is also likely that some authoritarian states will adopt a eugenic program, using both classical eugenics and human biotechnology, to improve the genetic quality of the population and to increase their national strength. Eugenics will become an instrument in the struggle between nations for global supremacy. How this is likely to work out is discussed in this final chapter.


In the developing nations in Latin America, the near and middle East, and North Africa, there was severe dysgenic fertility in the second half of the twentieth century, which I have documented in Dysgenics (Lynn, 1996). Throughout these nations women with secondary education were typically having two or three children, women with primary education were having four or five children, while women with no education were having six or seven children. Only in sub-Saharan Africa was there very little dysgenic fertility because women with all levels of education were having six or seven children. Further surveys published in the journal Studies in Family Planning have shown a continuation of dysgenic fertility in Latin America and the onset of dysgenic fertility in sub-Saharan Africa. Figures illustrating these dysgenic trends are shown in Table 21.1. The first two rows show strong recent dysgenic fertility in Brazil and the Dominican Republic. The third row shows the fertility of women in relation to educational level for 21 sub-Saharan countries, averaged from surveys carried out over the years 1988–92. Women with secondary education were having only about two-thirds of the number of children of those with no education.

Table 21.1
Total Fertility Rates of Women Aged 15–49 of Three Educational Levels in Brazil, the Dominican Republic, and Sub-Saharan Africa

This dysgenic fertility is likely to continue in the twenty-first century. In sub-Saharan Africa, present average IQs obtained from a number of countries are around 70 (Lynn, 1997). The onset of dysgenic fertility will drive average IQs lower, with seriously adverse consequences for the economies and the quality of life in these countries.

Throughout Latin America, with the exception of Argentina and Uruguay, dysgenic fertility indexed by women’s educational level is associated with racial differences in fertility. In these countries there is a racial social hierarchy in which Europeans are at the top, blacks and native American Indians are at the bottom, and those of mixed race are in the middle (e.g., Valle Silva, 1988). Women with low fertility are largely well-educated whites, while women with high fertility are largely poorly educated blacks, American Indians, or of mixed race. Hence Europeans will decline as a proportion of the population of these countries, while the proportions of poorly educated blacks, American Indians, and mixed-race mulattos and mestizos will increase. As the European elites of these countries decline as a proportion of the population, the efficiency of the economies will inevitably deteriorate.

The continuation of severe dysgenic fertility combined with the population explosion will produce a serious deterioration of economic and social conditions throughout the developing world. Inevitably, increasing numbers of people will seek to escape by migrating to the affluent Western democracies. These people will mostly enter as refugees, asylum seekers, and illegal immigrants. The Western democracies will find it impossible to contain their numbers and will be progressively weakened by this dysgenic immigration and the social strains of multiracial societies.


The United States will experience both dysgenic fertility and dysgenic immigration for a number of decades into the twenty-first century. The most recent evidence shows that dysgenic fertility is still present in the United States. This is likely to persist as significant numbers of well-educated and intelligent women opt to remain childless in order to further their careers and to preserve their affluent lifestyles, while poorly educated and less intelligent women continue to have children either because of their inefficient use of contraception or deliberately in order to live on welfare as a preferable alternative to working. There are no signs that a spontaneous solution to this problem is likely to emerge, and we should anticipate that this dysgenic fertility will continue for the foreseeable future.

More serious and intractable will be the problem of dysgenic immigration. This began on a significant scale with the 1965 Immigration Act, which led, by the 1980s, to the admission into the United States of about one million immigrants a year, consisting largely of Hispanics and also of Asians and blacks. This immigration will continue and the numbers of Hispanics and blacks will also increase as a result of their greater fertility as compared with whites. In 1992 the American Current Population Survey showed that the number of children of Hispanic women aged 35 to 44 was 2.47 and of black women 2.23, as compared with 1.89 for whites. These fertility differences are likely to continue for the indefinite future.

As Hispanics and blacks become an increasing proportion of the U.S. population, there will be three predictable consequences. First, because Hispanics and blacks have lower intelligence levels than whites at approximately 92 and 85 IQ points, respectively, the intelligence level of the population will fall, causing economic productivity to decline and generating a number of social problems associated with low intelligence.

Second, an Hispanic-led coalition of nonwhites will become the dominant political force. The United States will then detach itself from its alliance with Western Europe. This alliance, formalized in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) in the second half of the twentieth century, was based on the ethnic affinity and common cultural heritage of the peoples of Western Europe and the dominant group of ethnic Western Europeans in the United States. As whites cease to be the dominant U.S. group and are replaced by a coalition of nonwhites, the ethnic and cultural basis of the U.S.-European alliance will disappear. An increasingly Hispanic United States will ally itself in global politics with Hispanic Latin America.

Third, the increasingly multiracial nature of the U.S. population will generate enormous internal strains on social cohesion. The major racial and ethnic groups will continue to perform at different levels in education and earnings, with whites and Asians performing best, Hispanics performing intermediately, and blacks performing worst. These differences will continue to generate resentment among Hispanics and blacks, who will lobby to obtain compensation for them by affirmative action and set-aside quotas, reserving business contracts for themselves. The different racial groups and their advocates will also strive to secure increased immigration quotas and amnesties for illegal immigrants of their own peoples. Crime rates will escalate because Hispanics and blacks have much higher rates of crime than whites and Asians. For instance, in 1996, incarceration rates calculated by the U.S. Department of Justice per 100,000 population were 193 for whites, 688 for Hispanics, and 1,571 for blacks, while Asian crime rates were somewhat lower than those of whites. To escape black and Hispanic crime, there will be increasing white flight and also “Asian flight” from the black-Hispanic cities to white and Asian communities in suburbs and satellite towns where whites and Asians will increasingly come to live in fortified estates. The legal system will break down as judges and juries increasingly return perverse verdicts favoring their own racial and ethnic groups, as has already occurred in parts of New York in what has become known as a Bronx jury.

Some people have predicted that as the quality of life for whites and Asians deteriorates, interracial conflicts will become so severe that they will lead to civil wars between different racial groups and the eventual breakup of the United States into racially homogenous independent states. For instance, Michael Clough of the Council on Foreign Relations has written, “The state could be set for a series of economic and cultural wars pitting regions of the country against each other” and “America is destined to become a country of distinct, relatively independent regions, each with its own politicocultural economies, metropolitan centers, governing elites, and global interests”. The models for this scenario are the breakup of the former Soviet Union in 1991 and of Yugoslavia in 1998 into culturally and ethnically independent states. A conceivable outcome of this racial strife is that the largely white northern and midwestern states will secede from the Union, while the Hispanic majorities, which will appear in the southern states, will opt to join Mexico or to form an independent Hispanic nation. A more likely scenario is that the United States will continue as one country, become increasingly Hispanicized, and come to resemble the Hispanic republics of Latin America. As this happens, the United States will experience growing law-lessness, political anarchy, racial conflict, and huge disparities in wealth between rich and poor. Possibly when Europeans lose their political power, they will seek to regain this by overthrowing democratic institutions and replacing them by military rule, as has happened periodically throughout Latin America. However the details of the decline of the United States work out, it will forfeit its position as the leading world economic, scientific, and military power and eventually cease to be a major force in global politics.


Europe is likely to continue to experience some dysgenic fertility and dysgenic immigration in the twenty-first century. Europe does not permit primary immigration (immigrants who have no other reason for immigration than the wish to live in more affluent countries than their own), and there are no lobbies for permitting primary immigration. Nevertheless, there is substantial immigration of asylum seekers and illegal entrants—secondary immigration. In Britain there were approximately 0.3 million blacks and South Asians in 1961, as recorded in the census of that year. In the 1991 census the numbers had grown to approximately 3 million. This increase is likely to continue because of the young age structure of these populations and through further immigration. The 1991 British census found that non-European immigrants comprised about 5 percent of the population; but among children from 0 to 9 years of age, they comprised 9.3 percent of the population. The number of non-Europeans is also likely to grow through the continued immigration of asylum seekers and illegal entrants. It is even possible that the 10-fold increase in the numbers of immigrants in Britain over the years 1961 to 1991 will continue at the same rate, producing a nonwhite majority sometime in the second half of the twenty-first century.

Similar increases in the numbers of immigrants have occurred in other Western European countries. A large number of these are from Turkey, North Africa, and the Near East. Many of them are Muslims, whose first loyalty is to their Islamic faith, and these will not be assimilable, at least for many generations. A second major group consists of Africans from sub-Saharan Africa and the Caribbean who have entered Europe from former colonies or as refugees from the African civil wars. Immigrants from sub-Saharan Africa manifest the same low intelligence, poor educational attainment, high rates of unemployment, welfare dependency, and crime as blacks in the United States. In Britain, blacks have an average IQ of approximately 88, a rate of unemployment approximately twice as great as that of whites, and a crime rate approximately six times greater than that of whites. In France, blacks have an unemployment rate approximately 50 percent higher than that of whites and a crime rate approximately eight times greater than that of whites. In Sweden, blacks have a crime rate approximately two and a half times greater than that of whites. In the Netherlands, immigrants from Surinam, Turkey, and North Africa have average IQs of 89, 88, and 84, respectively. These immigrants have caused social problems and racial conflicts of the kind experienced in the United States and white flight from black inner-city ghettos. These social problems and costs will increase as their numbers grow through relatively high fertility and the further immigration of asylum seekers and illegal entrants.

It will be impossible for European nations to make any significant corrections to these dysgenic processes because of the opposition of special interest groups and a predominantly liberal media. Thus, as the twenty-first century unfolds, Europe will be weakened by dysgenic fertility and by dysgenic immigration, but this will take place more slowly than in the United States. In the middle decades of the century, Europe will therefore be left as the principal power base of the European peoples. Europe will be weakened militarily by the loss of the United States as an ally but will be able to develop its own military capability to replace this. Europe is likely to be strengthened by its evolution into some form of federal state and by the incorporation of the nations of eastern and southeastern Europe, and possibly even of Russia. For these reasons, Europe will be a formidable global power for the foreseeable future.


Dysgenic processes were quite weak in the nations of East Asia in the closing decades of the twentieth century. Dysgenic fertility had ceased in Japan by the 1980s and was minimized in other East Asian countries. There has been virtually no immigration, dysgenic or otherwise, into East Asian nations, except for Japan, where there has been some immigration from other Asian countries; but the amount of this has been too small to have any significant dysgenic impact and is likely to remain so.

The intelligence levels in the East Asian nations are high, with an average IQ of around 105, the evidence for which I have given in Lynn. These high intelligence levels have been a major factor in the rapid economic development of Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Singapore, and China in the second half of the twentieth century, during which they achieved rates of economic growth about three times greater than the Western democracies. These high rates of economic growth can be projected forward into the twenty-first century with the result that these countries will become increasingly powerful. The peoples and political leaders of the nations of East Asia are potentially or actually sympathetic to eugenics. Eugenic programs were introduced in Singapore and China during the last years of the twentieth century. In the twenty-first century, more ambitious and sophisticated eugenic programs are likely to be adopted in these and possibly in other East Asian countries.

There are five reasons for anticipating a development of this kind. First, the political leaders and the peoples of these countries do not share the high priority accorded to individual rights at the expense of social rights that developed during the second half of the twentieth century in Western nations and that has been principally responsible for the rejection of eugenics. Throughout East Asia there is a greater acceptance of the legitimacy of social rights, which provide the political and ethical legitimacy for eugenics. Second, this value system is expressed in the favorable attitudes toward eugenics among geneticists and physicians in China as found in the survey carried out by Wertz (1998), which showed that Chinese geneticists and physicians recommend pregnancy termination on explicitly eugenic grounds to women carrying fetuses with genetic disorders. Third, the political rulers of Singapore and China had already introduced eugenic programs in the last two decades of the twentieth century, suggesting a willingness to implement further eugenic measures. Fourth, the peoples of East Asia have the high levels of intelligence and scientific expertise necessary to develop and implement the potentially eugenic human biotechnologies of embryo selection, cloning, and genetic engineering. Fifth, the political leaders of at least some of these countries are likely to have the political will to implement serious eugenic programs. This is suggested by the draconian one-child policy introduced in China in 1979, which stipulated that couples were only permitted to have one child. This edict was enforced by the compulsory fitting of IUDs, compulsory abortion, and, as a further deterrent, the imposition of heavy fines amounting to approximately half of annual earnings for couples having a second child. At the same time, couples complying with the policy were given rewards in the form of cash payments and better housing, food rations, and child health care.

By the early 1990s these policies had reduced the total fertility rate in China to 1.9. A state that succeeds in imposing population policies of this kind should not have any difficulty in introducing programs of both classical eugenics and the new eugenics of the human biotechnologies. The political leaders of more authoritarian East Asian states are likely to have both the motivation and the means to introduce robust eugenic programs, and we should anticipate that some of them will do so.

Because of its sheer size, China will inevitably emerge as the most powerful of the East Asian nations. There is every reason to expect that the rapid rate of economic growth achieved by China in the closing decades of the twentieth century will continue, with the result that by the middle decades of the twenty-first century China will achieve parity with Europe in economic, scientific, and military strength. As China grows in power during the twenty-first century and the strength of the United States declines, China and Europe will evolve as the two foremost world powers. A struggle for global supremacy will develop between them, resembling the arms race between the United States and the Soviet Union in the second half of the twentieth century. In this contest Europe will be at a long-term disadvantage because of the difficulties of achieving an agreed military strategy among the 25 or so nations of which the European Union, or federal state, will consist and because of the progressive loss of social cohesion resulting from continued immigration and population growth of non-European peoples. China will have the advantages of a racially homogenous nation state and culture and of the high intelligence level of its population. In addition, Europe will not be able to introduce eugenic programs to enhance its population quality, while China is likely to develop further the implementation of eugenic programs introduced in the closing years of the twentieth century. China’s use of eugenics and particularly the potential use of the human biotechnologies of embryo selection, cloning, and genetic engineering are likely to give her a decisive advantage in this struggle for global supremacy, giving her ultimate victory and emergence as the world superpower.


As China gains supremacy over Europe in economic, scientific, and military strength sometime in the second half of the twenty-first century, China can be expected to use its power to take control of the world and establish a world state. There are two reasons why this development should be expected. First, the political leaders of dictatorships and oligarchies have normally attempted to increase the size of the territories they control. History records a succession of political leaders who have devoted themselves to this objective, including Alexander the Great; a series of Roman generals and emperors who colonized most of the known world; Genghis Khan; and the British, French, and Dutch oligarchies who, among them, colonized much of the world between the sixteenth and nineteenth centuries. In the twentieth century, Hitler aimed to conquer the world, and later in the century the leaders of the Soviet Union had the same aim. It is sometimes argued that the Chinese are an exception to this general principle, as if the Chinese lacked the gene for territorial expansion. This is improbable. In the second half of the twentieth century China annexed Tibet and fought a frontier war with India in 1962. China seeks to take over Taiwan. There is no reason to suppose that the future political leaders of China will be any different in their territorial ambitions from those of other oligarchies.

Second, during the twenty-first century there are likely to be increasing numbers of unstable states that will develop nuclear and biological weapons capable of inflicting considerable damage and with unpredictable consequences for the whole of humanity. At the present time Iraq and North Korea present the greatest threat of this kind, but others are likely to emerge. With technological advances and the spread of information, this threat will grow. The Chinese leaders are likely to form the view that it would be in their best interests for China to take control of the world and use its power to disarm these rogue states. They will see this as the best way of preserving themselves and the rest of humanity from the dangers arising from the use of these weapons.

Once China has developed a superior military capability, it will probably not be necessary to use this to establish world domination. The mere threat of its use should be sufficient to coerce the rest of the world into submission. If, however, some stubborn states refused to be coerced, it would become necessary to use some of these weapons on those countries to demonstrate their effectiveness and to enforce submission, in the same way as the United States dropped the atom bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki to force the surrender of Japan in 1945. One or two examples of this kind should be sufficient to coerce the world into acceptance of Chinese authority.


Once China has secured global supremacy, it would be expected to establish a world state and to administer it in much the same way as previous colonial powers have ruled their empires. It would appoint its own ethnic nationals as governors and senior support staff of its provinces and would recruit middle- and lower-ranking military commanders, police officers, administrators, and the like, from the nationals of the subject populations. This is the way the Romans, British, French, and numerous other former colonial powers have administered their empires, and it would be an obvious model to adopt. Alternatively, China might find sufficient numbers of compliant nationals of its subject peoples to run the provinces under direction from Beijing on the model of the Soviet empire and the German rule of some of occupied Europe during World War II. The political rulers of the Chinese world state would have a number of expert advisers, among whom their historical advisers would alert them to the tendency of empires to break up after several centuries and of the need to ensure that this was not allowed to happen.

The Chinese world state would not permit the manufacture or possession of weapons, except by its own peoples or by others under strict supervision. These weapons would be used to supply the military detachments that it would maintain throughout its colonies to suppress insurrections that would be likely to erupt from time to time. Apart from these minor confrontations, there would be world peace. This will bring to an end the long period of warfare between independent nation states and will be one of the benefits of the world state.

The Chinese oligarchy would be expected to retain its autocratic character. It would realize that it would be impossible to run a world state as a democracy. If a democratic constitution were established, with countries given independence and voting powers along the lines of the United Nations, the oligarchy controlling the world state would find itself outvoted. It would be deprived of its authority, and the independent countries would form coalitions to promote their own self-interests. The oligarchy would see no reason to allow this to happen and to forego the advantages gained from having secured world power. It would view democracy as an experiment that was tried by Europeans for a century or so and failed. It would learn this lesson of history and would not regard the democratic experiment as worth repeating.

Once the world state is established, it will come to be seen as the final step in the progressive aggregation of independent states into larger units, such as occurred with the unification of Germany and Italy in the nineteenth century, with the formation of the European Union in the twentieth century, and with attempts to establish a world authority in the shape of the League of Nations and the United Nations in the first and second halves of the twentieth century. The establishment of the world state will come to be seen as the inevitable culmination of these historical processes. It will come to be seen as equally inevitable that the peoples who finally achieved world domination were those with the highest intelligence levels and that the long struggle for world supremacy between the Oriental and the European peoples would eventually be won by the Orientals.


Once China has established the world state, it will be concerned with raising the prosperity of its subject populations, just as other colonial powers have been. One of its first measures to promote this objective will be to introduce worldwide eugenic programs. These will include programs of both positive and negative eugenics. With regard to negative eugenics, one of its first objectives will be to reverse the dysgenic fertility that appeared in Europe, the United States, and the rest of the economically developed world in the middle and later decades of the nineteenth century and persisted into the twentieth century and that developed later in most of the remainder of the world. It can be expected that in its European and North American provinces, the Chinese will introduce the same eugenic measures that had been pioneered in China, consisting of both the classical eugenics of parental licensing and the new eugenics of the mandatory use of embryo selection for conception.

The Chinese may well also introduce the cloning of the elites of the European peoples. The Chinese will be aware that while they and other Oriental peoples have a higher average intelligence, the European peoples have a greater capacity for creative achievement, probably arising from a higher level of psychopathic personality, enabling them more easily to challenge existing ways of thinking and to produce creative innovations. This will be part of human genetic diversity that the Chinese will be keen to preserve and foster. They will regard the European peoples rather in the same way as the Romans regarded the Greeks after they had incorporated them into the Roman empire. Although the Romans had conquered the Greeks by their military superiority, they respected the Greeks for having developed a higher level of civilization than they themselves had been able to achieve. The Chinese will view their European subject peoples in a similar manner.

The economically developing world will present more of a problem because of the large numbers of people and the huge explosion of those segments of the population with the low intelligence and weak moral character caused by several generations of dysgenic fertility. By the time China assumes control of the world, these trends will have had a devastating impact on the economic and social life of these already impoverished nations and also on North America and Europe as large numbers of refugees and economic migrants continue to enter the Western democracies.

The world state would not be able to find sufficient numbers of geneticists and physicians in developing countries required to implement a program of embryo selection to reverse the adverse effect of several generations of dysgenic fertility. It would be expected to deal with this problem by introducing a robust program of classical eugenics. To reduce the population numbers it would probably introduce the one-child policy that was implemented in China in the 1980s and 1990s. This would be supplemented by a rigorous system of licenses for parenthood in which elites were permitted and given financial incentives to have several children in order to reverse the impact of dysgenic fertility. Later, as these problems were brought under control and as living standards improved, it would be expected to introduce the medical facilities to provide embryo selection; and over the course of several decades, these measures would produce significant improvements in the genetic quality of third world populations and would begin to produce improvements in third world economies.


Over the longer term, the world state can be expected to set up research and development programs of genetic engineering for the construction and insertion of new genes. These would build on the techniques of gene therapy that were pioneered in the United States and Britain in the last two decades of the twentieth century for the treatment of genetic diseases and disorders and that consisted of the insertion of healthy genes to take over the function of defective genes.

The next stage of this research program will entail the construction and insertion of new genes, not present in the human genome, for improved health, intelligence, and personality. The development of this technique should be feasible in principle because it would adopt the methods used successfully in the late twentieth century for the production of a number of genetically modified foods and “transgenic” animals. The functions of some of these new genes can already be surmised. With regard to health, new genes might be constructed for the deferment of aging, enabling people to use accumulated knowledge, experience, and skills over an extended life span. With regard to intelligence, new genes might be constructed for larger brain size. It is well established that brain size is associated with intelligence. There is little doubt that the relationship between brain size and intelligence is a causal one and that humans with larger brains would have increased cognitive abilities.

It is difficult to predict what other kinds of new genes might be devised for the improvement of the human genome. Nevertheless, it is impossible that humans can have reached their genetic optimum and are incapable of further improvement. Just what new genes could be constructed and inserted into the human genome will be a research problem for the biologists and geneticists of the world state. It is possible that hundreds or even thousands of new genes for greater capacities could be constructed, which would enable humans to solve problems well beyond their present capabilities. It is likely that in due course these will make it possible to colonize planets in other solar systems in preparation for the time when the earth becomes uninhabitable. This will be the culmination of the ability of humans to use their intelligence to adapt themselves to new environments and will be the final achievement of eugenics.


Eugenic and dysgenic forces will play a significant role in the development of the balance of power between nations during the course of the twenty-first century. In the developing countries of Latin America, North Africa, the Near and Middle East, and South Asia, the severe dysgenic fertility present in the second half of the twentieth century will continue. Dysgenic fertility will develop in sub-Saharan Africa. The resulting genetic deterioration of intelligence and personality will cause serious economic, political, and social problems throughout the economically developing world. In the United States there is likely to be a continuation of dysgenic fertility and, more serious, large-scale dysgenic immigration that will produce a Hispanic-black majority in the second half of the century. This may lead to the breakup of the United States along racial lines, with the secession of some northern and midwestern states with large white majorities to form an independent, largely white state and of southern states with Hispanic majorities to form another independent state or to join up with Mexico. More probably, the United States will remain a single nation in which deteriorating population quality and racial conflict will progressively weaken its position as a leading world power. In the second half of the twenty-first century, the United States will come increasingly to resemble the Latin American republics, in which Europeans form a minority of the population, and will cease to be a major player in world politics. Europe also will continue to experience dysgenic fertility and dysgenic immigration, but their negative impact will be less severe there than in the United States. As the power of the United States declines during the second half of the twenty-first century, Europe will become the major power center of the European peoples.

Eugenics will make progress in the United States and Europe through medical advances in prenatal diagnosis and pregnancy terminations of fetuses with genetic diseases and, in the foreseeable future, through couples using embryo selection to have children with good health, high intelligence, and sound moral character. Eugenics will be advanced through the private initiatives of couples concerned to have children who are healthy, intelligent, and of sound personality. Eugenic programs will not be introduced by states on any significant scale because democratic political structures and the opposition of special interest groups and the media opposed to eugenics will make the implementation of state eugenics impossible.

The nations of East Asia are likely to develop their economic, scientific, technological, and military strength during the twenty-first century by virtue of the high intelligence levels of their populations and the absence of any serious dysgenic processes. These countries have not allowed the growth of an underclass with high dysgenic fertility, and they have not permitted dysgenic immigration. China will continue its rapid economic development and will emerge as a new superpower in the early middle decades of the twenty-first century. Chinese economic, scientific, and military strength is likely to be increased by the further development of the eugenic programs introduced in the 1980s and 1990s and particularly by the introduction of the new eugenics of embryo selection and the cloning of elites. As the power of the United States declines, China and Europe will emerge as the two superpowers. A global conflict will develop between them in which Europe will become progressively weakened by dysgenic forces and China progressively strengthened by eugenic programs.

This conflict will eventually be won by China, which will use its power to assume control of the world and to establish a world state. This event will become known as “the end of history.” Once China has established a world state, it can be expected to administer this on the same lines as former colonial empires by appointing Chinese governors and senior military and administrative support staff in charge of the provinces of its world empire or by allowing nationals of its subject peoples to administer the provinces under Chinese supervision. The establishment of a Chinese world state will inevitably not be welcomed by the peoples of the rest of the world, who will become colonized populations governed by an oligarchy based in Beijing. There will be no democracy, and a number of freedoms will be curtailed, including freedom to publish seditious material and to have unlimited numbers of children. There will, however, be certain compensating benefits. There will be no more wars between independent nation states with the attendant dangers of the use of nuclear weapons and biological warfare. It will be possible to deal with the problems of dysgenic fertility, global warming, deforestation, the population explosion in the developing world, the AIDS epidemic, and similar global problems that cannot be tackled effectively in a world of independent nation states. Among the world state’s first objectives will be the reversal of dysgenic processes and the introduction of eugenic programs throughout the world. Over the longer term the world state will set up research and development programs for the use of genetic engineering to improve the human genome and to produce a new human species able to solve hitherto unsolvable problems and to colonize new planets. This will be the ultimate achievement of Galton’s vision of using eugenics to replace natural selection with consciously designed human selection.

This scenario for the twenty-first century, in which China assumes world domination and establishes a world eugenic state, may well be considered an unattractive future. But this is not really the point. Rather, it should be regarded as the inevitable result of Francis Galton’s (1909) prediction made in the first decade of the twentieth century, that “the nation which first subjects itself to a rational eugenical discipline is bound to inherit the earth”

Sunday, 27 September 2009

Myth, History and Nationalism: Poetry of the British Isles

… an essay by David Aberbach.

From Nationalism and Ethnosymbolism: History, Culture and Ethnicity in the Formation of Nations (edited by Athena S. Leoussi and Steven Grosby: Edinburgh University Press, 2007) pp.84-96.


by David Aberbach

Just as poetic myth as part of nation-building has been neglected in studies of nationalism, so also nationalism has been ignored in studies of myth. The work of Anthony D. Smith is notable, among many reasons, for helping create an intellectual framework bridging studies of poetry and myth in the arts with more traditional studies of nationalism in History and the Social Sciences. This chapter explores uses of myth and history in the poetry of the British isles, particularly works by Scott, Tennyson and Yeats. In doing so, it illustrates the general significance to cultural nationalism of poetry – the royal road to a nation’s identity.

English poetry, rooted in myth and history transformed to myth, largely defined the modern concept of national identity. Medieval England absorbed much foreign influence through invasion and conquest: by Germanic tribes (fifth century), the Danes (ninth century) and the Normans (1066). Its adoption of Christianity by the seventh century and the growth of Old English, which has the oldest Western European literature in the vernacular, ensured Britain’s cultural distinctiveness.

The poetry of the British isles seems to reach artistic peaks in moments of heightened national self-awareness, when independence is threatened or lost, whether because of foreign invasion or internal wars or disasters. The battle of Maldon fought against the Viking invaders in 991 is commemorated in a magnificent Old English poetic fragment culminating in the death of the old warrior Byrhtwold. Raising shield and shaking spear, he emboldens his men with dying breath:

Strength fails, spirit must be firmer,
heart bolder, courage greater.

Britain’s greatest crisis after the Norman invasion, the Black Plague in the mid-fourteenth century, in which an estimated one-third of Europe’s population died, was followed by literary flourishing, including works of Chaucer, Langland’s Piers Ploughman and Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. The Reformation and the conflict with Spain are the background to much Elizabethan poetry, notably Spenser and Shakespeare. The deposition and execution of Charles I and the Civil War in the 1640s, Cromwell’s rule and the restoration of the monarchy in 1660, were crucial influences on Milton’s poetry, above all Paradise Lost. The French Revolution and Napoleonic wars marked English poetry in the Romantic period as did the two world wars in the twentieth century.

These crises and others appear in the poetry of England, Ireland, Wales and Scotland both as separate and shared histories, each country distinct in time of conflict with one another but in peacetime united as parts of Great Britain. There is a significant literature in Welsh, Scottish Gaelic and Irish Gaelic, in which relations with England are a common thread. In ‘The True-Born Englishman’ (1701), Defoe savagely mocks what he sees as the violent indecent yokings-together that created ‘the mongrel half-bred race’ of English identity:

In eager rapes, and furious lust begot,
Betwixt a painted Briton and a Scot:
Whose gend’ring off spring quickly learnt to bow,
And yoke their heifers to the Roman plough:
From whence a mongrel half-bred race there came,
With neither name nor nation, speech or fame
In whose hot veins new mixtures quickly ran,
Infus’d betwixt a Saxon and a Dane.
While their rank daughters, to their parents just,
Receiv’d all nations with promiscuous lust.
This nauseous brood directly did contain
The well-extracted blood of Englishmen … (336–47)

This jaundiced swipe at English national identity, which recalls the prophetic denunciations of Israel as harlot (for example, Hosea 1–2, Ezekiel 23), can paradoxically signify the nation’s strength: Colley describes these lines as a ‘powerful demonstration of English confidence. Far more than the Welsh and Scots felt able to do, the English could – occasionally – ridicule themselves because they had a strong sense of who they were and of their own importance’ (1992: 15–16).

The British isles might have lain down a slut, as Defoe suggests, but rose a woman of valour. After centuries of turmoil and mixing, some of the greatest poets writing in English were Scottish (Byron), Irish (Yeats), and Welsh (Dylan Thomas). Monogamous nationalism exacted a price, though. By the nineteenth century, poetry in Welsh and Gaelic was greatly diminished by English intrusion and emigration. Nevertheless this poetry retains its power to inspire a strong, even militant national identity.


Memories of Welsh and Scottish independence survive in medieval poetry. Scottish poems, such as John Barbour’s The Bruce (c. 1370) and Blind Harry’s epic Wallace (c. 1460), record Scottish courage and defiance. Though Scotland and England have shared a monarch since 1603 and a Parliament (1707–1999), Scotland preserves in poetry the memory of its revolt against England under Robert the Bruce and its triumph over England in 1314 in the battle of Bannockburn, after which (in 1328) England recognised Scottish independence.

Long before the loss of Welsh independence in 1282, there was a remarkable tradition of Welsh poetry, notably the Hengerdd (old song). Welsh history, particularly the medieval struggle against the Normans, stimulated some of its greatest poetry, affirming Welsh national identity in Welsh, such as Cynddelw Brydydd Mawr’s elegy for Madog ap Maredudd, prince of Powys, who died in 1160:

Door of a fort he was, companion shield,
Buckler on battlefield, and in brave deeds:
A tumult like flame blazing through heather,
Router of enemies, his shield stopped their way;
Lord sung by a myriad, hope of minstrels,
Crimson, irresistible, unswerving companion. (Conran 1967: 118)

In the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, Wales was transformed from an autonomous state under Welsh rule into a feudal vassal of England. Gruff udd ab yr Ynad Coch wrote a haunting lament for Llywelyn ap Gruff udd, the last prince of independent Wales, killed by the English in 1282:

Mine now to rage against Saxons who’ve wronged me,
Mine for this death bitterly to mourn.
Mine, with good cause, to cry protest to God
Who has left me without him. (Ibid. 128)

In Wales, the annual Eisteddfod (bardic festival), which dates from 1176, when Wales was still independent, has a strong nationalist character. It preserves memory of past, and hope of future, Welsh independence.


Myth and mythical history dominate much English poetry. English nationalism commonly flares up in crisis. Poetry often results. Shakespeare’s histories, for example, date mostly from the 1590s, after the defeat of the Spanish Armada in 1588, ‘the years of the Spanish war at its fiercest’ (Hastings 1997: 207). Henry V’s speech at the battle of Harfleur is a classic of nationalist propaganda:

And you, good yeomen,
Whose limbs were made in England, show us here
The mettle of your pasture; let us swear
That you are worth your breeding; which I doubt not;
For there is none of you so mean and base
That hath not noble lustre in your eyes.
I see you stand like greyhounds in the slips,
Straining upon the start. The game’s afoot:
Follow your spirit; and, upon this charge
Cry ‘God for Harry! England and Saint George!’ (III, i, 25–34)

Again, on the night before the battle of Agincourt (1415) Henry V inspires his men with a fighting national spirit:

We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he to-day that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother; be he ne’er so vile
This day shall gentle his condition:
And gentlemen in England, now a-bed
Shall think themselves accurs’d they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
That fought with us upon Saint Crispin’s day. (IV, iii, 60–7)

There is little proof that Henry V actually said anything like this, but this is what he should have said.

In a later age of crisis, when France threatened to invade, Coleridge in ‘Fears in Solitude’ (1798) declared love for Britain almost as a divine being. The Madonna-like national image in this poem is as far removed from reality as Defoe’s slut, yet such national feelings in crisis are common. In quieter, more stable periods, English poets often seem more vulnerable to doubts. As the British empire reached the height of its power in the nineteenth century, some English poets, such as Tennyson and Kipling, became uneasy. They feared the corruption of power and imperial decline. In some cases, their poetry was a form of spiritual revitalisation, providing moral guidance through British historical figures and events. Tennyson, Poet Laureate from 1850 to 1892, wrote a series of historical dramas, Queen Mary (1875), Harold (1876) and Becket (1884), each illustrating the strengthening effect of crisis. In poems such as ‘Puck’s Song’ (1906), Kipling called up defining historic moments associated with spots in the English landscape:

See you our stilly woods of oak,
And the dread ditch beside?
O that was where the Saxons broke
On the day that Harold died.
See you the windy levels spread
About the gates of Rye?
O that was where the Northmen fled,
When Alfred’s ships came by.


The Scottish poets Macpherson, Burns and Scott have had especially strong influence on Scottish nationalism, drawing on Scotland’s rich store of history and myth either to support independence from or union with England. Burns’ use of myth is less apparent than that of Macpherson and Scott. The poetic fragments of the legendary third century CE bard, Ossian, however fraudulently presented by Macpherson in the late eighteenth century (Samuel Johnson derided them as ‘impudent forgeries’), roused Scottish nationalism. Macpherson’s poetry, like that of Burns, is poetry of Scottish defiance after its defeat by England at Culloden in 1746. The controversy over Ossian was not just over scholarly authenticity, but also over national authenticity: did Scotland have a national identity distinct from that of England? The fame of Ossian, amounting to a craze, in eighteenth and nineteenth-century continental Europe, brought the past alive in the nation’s hopes.

Scott is unusual as at different times he hoped for Scottish independence from England and supported union with England. His deep-bred Scottish nationalism was at times neutered by his commitment to Britain and Tory politics. Scott was raised in late eighteenth-century Edinburgh in an atmosphere of resentment at the Treaty of Union of 1707 and the Scottish defeat and humiliation in the uprising of 1745–6, the atrocities of the English army, the consequent English military presence, the proscription of Highland customs and the Highland clearances. As a child, Scott absorbed Scottish culture – the language, stories, songs, the great medieval poems and ballads, and folk culture – from people who, in some cases, had seen or taken part in the Scottish revolt. In the introduction to Canto III of Marmion (1808), Scott called up childhood memories of Scottish lore and heroism:

… ever, by the winter hearth,
Old tales I heard of woe or mirth,
Of lovers’ slights, of ladies’ charms,
Of witches’ spells, of warriors’ arms;
Of patriot battles, won of old
By Wallace wight and Bruce the bold;
Of later fields of feud and fight,
When, pouring from their Highland height,
The Scottish clans, in headlong sway,
Had swept the scarlet ranks away.

Scott could easily have become a revolutionary but was born too late. In 1813, after he stopped writing poetry, he confessed:

I am very glad I did not live in 1745 for though as a lawyer I could not have pleaded Charles’s right and as a clergyman I could not have prayed for him yet as a soldier I would I am sure against the convictions of my better reason have fought for him even to the bottom of the gallows. (Scott 1932, III: 302)

In time, the bitterness of the Scottish defeat shrank. Scotland kept its own Church and legal system, which came to symbolise Scottish independence. Scott trained in law, as did many Scottish historians, philosophers, literary artists and essayists. The Scottish Enlightenment was an outburst of new-found confidence of a rational, modern people. Crucial in Scotland’s psychological transformation was that for an entire generation in the Napoleonic wars the English and the Scots had a common enemy – the French – and fought bravely and successfully side by side. The Union on paper was sealed in blood. Scott’s career as a poet was almost entirely confined to the Napoleonic period, when French invasion of Britain was a constant threat. According to Sutherland, Scott’s choice in Marmion of the Scottish defeat by England at Flodden in 1513 – ‘the greatest catastrophe in Scottish history’ – ‘seems to have been in the service of a higher patriotism towards Britain’ (1995: 125). There is an ‘extinction of Scotland’ in Marmion. In the first Epistle, for example, instead of ‘Scotland’ and ‘Scottish’, ‘Britain’ and ‘British’ appear twelve times (and ‘English’ once), and the poem is pure English, with no trace of Scottish dialect (Sutherland 1995: 126). Had Marmion been published in 1758 rather than 1808, the stress would probably have been on Scottish nationalism and English villainy.

The omission of Scotland seems to reflect the unification of the British isles by war with France. Yet, Scott regretted Scotland’s loss of independence. His wavering to and from Scottish nationalism continued after he turned from poetry, poleaxed by Byron’s success in Childe Harold (1812), to the novel: the hero of Waverley (1814) is both Jacobite and Hanoverian and fights on both sides.

Scott’s Romantic Scots nationalism was watered down both by Enlightenment internationalism and by self-interested (but not bogus) loyalty to Great Britain. The strands of Scottish nationalism and commitment to Great Britain are intertwined in Scott’s life and works, which themselves became an act of union. From childhood, Scott was drawn more to coarse and primitive but alive Scottish language than to the genteel, elegant English of the Enlightenment. He admired the work of Fergusson and Burns to revive Scottish poetic language. One of Scott’s earliest publications, before he became a poet and novelist, was his collection of Scottish ballads, The Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border (1802), influenced by Bishop Percy’s ballad collection, Reliques of Ancient English Poetry (1765) and by the German Romantics, by Herder and Goethe. Poetry as a tool of national survival and regeneration is implicit in Scott’s The Lay of the Last Minstrel (1805). The evil dwarf magician is driven away when the minstrels join together to sing songs of the past. Though the poem is set in sixteenth-century Scotland, it reflects Scottish national feeling of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, when the minstrel was needed as ‘an apostolic link with that period [the sixteenth century]’ when, as Scott (anticipating Heine) put it in his 1824 essay on ‘Romance’, ‘poets were the historians and often the priests of their society’ (Sutherland 1995: 100).

Scott’s narrative poems helped to define Scottish national identity within Great Britain. Scottish customs, speech, dress and landscape first became widely known through Scott’s narrative poems. The Lady of the Lake (1810) set off a wave of Scottish tourism at a time when the Grand Tour of continental Europe was impossible because of the Napoleonic wars. At the same time, as a successful writer, Scott became a leader of the British Establishment. His politics were High Tory and he eventually became a baronet and – his financial coffin – laird of Abbotsford. During the war with France, he joined the Edinburgh Volunteers Light Dragoons (Burns, similarly, after early sympathy with the French Revolution, joined the Dumfries Volunteers), his military zeal at odds with his writings, in which war is cruel and senseless. He supported Henry Dundas, Scotland’s virtual ruler, despised by Scottish nationalists as a traitor. His conservatism was such that, panicked at the thought of popular revolt, he defended the Peterloo massacre in 1819. When George IV visited Scotland in 1822, Scott escorted and introduced him as the monarch of the Highland clansmen. Scott’s complex form of nationalism was not unlike that of the exiled Jews after the loss of territorial sovereignty who, while remaining scrupulously loyal to the countries where they lived, preserved a healing memory of past glory, of noble battles and great men and women – but in culture, not aimed at political action. Daiches sums up the therapeutic ambivalence to Scottish nationalism in Scott’s writings:

Scott’s aim in much of his writing was a healing one: to present the glamour of Scottish history and landscape, with the heroic violence that made part of the glamour modulated quietly into the past tense so that Scotland could be seen now as part of a peaceful and enlightened Britain. (1971: 83)


Tennyson’s revival of the legends of the fifth-century King Arthur coincided with the emergence of Britain as the most powerful empire in history. These legends are taken for granted as part of ‘British national consciousness’. Yet, as in the case of many other mythologies, such as the Kalevala, this literature, much of which derived from oral tradition, was largely forgotten until the Victorian age. The rediscovery of Arthur and the Round Table was mainly the work of Tennyson, in his epic poem and life work, Idylls of the King. The poem was begun in the 1830s and not published in its complete twelve-part form until 1885. Prior to the imperial age, Milton and Wordsworth had rejected Arthur as an inappropriate subject for an English national epic. Sir Thomas Malory’s fifteenth-century epic, Morte d’Arthur, Tennyson’s chief source, was never widely popular. Consequently, the stories were unknown to the English-reading public. On publication of the first edition of Tennyson’s Idylls, in 1859 (comprising ‘Enid’, ‘Vivien’, ‘Elaine’ and ‘Guinevere’), the Saturday Review described the material as ‘a forgotten cycle of fables which never attained the dignity or substance of a popular mythology’ (Shaw 1973: 83). The stories of Arthur did not stay forgotten for long: the Idylls sold 10,000 copies in the first week (Shaw 1973: 82).

Tennyson was influenced by nineteenth-century research into ancient texts as part of the recovery and invention of tradition and by the suggestion of Albert, the Prince Consort (himself a German prince), that ‘the Arthurian cycle was the equivalent of Germany’s national epic, the Niebelungenlied’ (Jordan 1988: 157). Occasionally, Tennyson could strike a militant, even chauvinist note, for example in the poems he wrote after the French coup d’état of 1851 (‘RISE, Britons, rise, if manhood be not dead’). Yet, he was chiefly an introspective, spiritual poet (‘the saddest of poets’, as T. S. Eliot described him). Tennyson used the stories of Arthur, Queen Guinevere, Arthur’s sword Excalibur, the Knights of the Round Table, Merlin the magician, and the Holy Grail not to justify imperial conquest but, as in the poetry of the biblical prophets, to highlight spiritual ideals. There are unforgettable mythic images, such as Sir Bedivere’s return of Excalibur to the Lady of the Lake as Arthur lies dying:

Then quickly rose Sir Bedivere and ran,
And, leaping down the ridges lightly, plunged
Among the bulrush-beds, and clutch’d the sword,
And strongly wheel’d and threw it. The great brand
Made lightnings in the splendour of the moon,
And flashing round and round, and whirl’d in an arch,
Shot like a streamer of the northern morn,
Seen where the moving isles of winter shock
By night, with noises of the Northern Sea.
So flash’d and fell the brand Excalibur:
But ere he dipt the surface, rose an arm
Clothed in white samite, mystic, wonderful,
And caught him by the hilt, and brandish’d him
Three times, and drew him under in the mere.
(‘The Passing of Arthur’, 301–14)

Tennyson defines heroism in biblical, not pagan, terms. Arthur’s wise mentor, Merlin, is a prophet-like bard. Conquest of enemies counts for less than conquest of the self, of the inner defiling monster of ethical frailty (particularly Guinevere’s sexual betrayal of Arthur) which ruins the social order. As in his best-known long poem, In Memoriam, loss and the prospect of loss fill his national epic and call into question Victorian power and confidence. The Idylls, like the Nibelungenlied, is concerned less with the pride and confidence of a new power than with the dark-edged dignity of an order in decline. As national poems, both foreshadow the weakening of the monarchy and in the case of Germany, its fall.


Part of the attraction of Irish legend to those who wanted independence from England was that it preceded the English conquest. England had controlled parts of Ireland for centuries but gained absolute rule only in the seventeenth century. In the Act of Union of 1801, England and Ireland became the ‘United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland’. The consequent decline of Ireland led to the rise of Irish nationalism, the revival of Irish language and an outstanding literature, dominated in poetry by Yeats. Influenced by Irish cultural nationalists such as Standish O’Grady, John O’Leary and Douglas Hyde, Yeats became a connoisseur of Irish legend. He edited several volumes, including Fairy and Folk Tales of the Irish Peasantry (1888), Stories from Carelton (1889) and Representative Irish Tales (1890), and used this material in his own poetry. Yeats discovered in this ancient literature, much of which came from oral Gaelic traditions among the western Irish peasantry, a pristine national spirit more powerful than British culture, which could be seen as corrupted by the power of the empire. Yeats wrote of the Irish legends he edited:

All that is greatest in our literature is based upon legend – upon those tales which are made by no one man, but by the nation itself through a slow process of modification and adaptation, to express its loves and its hates, its likes and its dislikes. (Pritchard 1972: 36)

Yeats saw himself not just as a teller of legends but as a legendary figure himself. According to Ellmann, Yeats believed that ‘… the artist was to conceive of himself as a representative figure, to identify himself with all men, or with Ireland, or with some traditional personage. In this way the correspondences of old legends with modern life could be established, and so, as Yeats proposed, a dead mythology might be changed to a living one’ (Ellmann 1968: 18).

In an early poem, To Ireland in the Coming Times (1892), Yeats declares his kinship with Irish national poets of the past. He uses Irish myth to unlock the national unconscious:

Nor may I less be counted one
With Davis, Mangan, Ferguson,
Because, to him who ponders well,
My rhymes more than their rhyming tell
Of things discovered in the deep,
Where only body’s laid asleep.

To Yeats, as to Shelley, poetry is meant to educate, to remind its listeners of their heroic past and unite them in hope. Heroes such as Oisin and Cuchulain are archetypes of heroic resistance. In Yeats’ ‘The Wanderings of Oisin’ (1888), the chained woman whom Oisin liberates resembles Ireland in English chains, and Oisin’s ‘battles never done’ recall the never-ending Irish struggle for independence (Ellmann 1968: 18–19). Similarly nationalistic is Yeats’ ‘Cuchulain’s Fight with the Sea’ (1892), which draws on one of the most famous images in Irish legend:

Cuchulain stirred,
Stared on the horses of the sea, and heard
The cars of battle and his own name cried;
And fought with the invulnerable tide.

Like Tennyson’s Arthur, Yeats’ creation of Cuchulain was greatly influenced by the Nibelungenlied (both the medieval poetry and Wagner’s music) as a pure expression of national spirit. Yeats in ‘September 1913’ unfairly contrasted what he then regarded as the failure of Irish nationalism, its descent into pettiness, with heroes of Irish history such as Edward Fitzgerald (1763–98), Robert Emmet (1778–1803) and Wolfe Tone (1763–98), all martyrs for Irish independence. After the 1916 revolt, Yeats implicitly admitted in ‘Easter 1916’ that he was wrong about the Irish lack of spirit: ‘a terrible beauty is born’.

By the end of his life, in ‘The Statues’ (1938), Yeats was skilfully using Irish legend for contemporary needs. Echoing Blake’s ‘The Tyger’, he writes in wonder of the Irish martyrs in the 1916 uprising who had a cult of Cuchulain – their fight being equally heroic and, in the short run, futile – remembered by the Irish government with a statue of Cuchulain in the Dublin Post Office where the rebels held out for a few days against far superior British firepower:

When Pearse summoned Cuchulain to his side,
What stalked through the Post Office? What intellect,
What calculation, number, measurement, replied?
We Irish, born into that ancient sect
But thrown upon this filthy modern tide
And by its formless spawning fury wrecked,
Climb to our proper dark, that we may trace
The lineaments of a plummet-measured face.

The contradictions inherent in Yeats’ poetry made it hard for the Irish to see him in his lifetime as a true national poet. Even as he extolled the virtues of Gaelic and the peasantry, he wrote in English (indeed, in the English Romantic tradition) and lived in cities; and much of his poetry stands out less in its Irish nationalism than in its universalism. Yet, with the passage of time, it has been possible even for the Irish to accept Yeats as a master of Irish legend and representative of national identity and hopes. (Hutchinson and Aberbach 1999).


What can we learn from poets about nation-building? Poets use myth and mythical history as a shifting tapestry of national identity. They explore or invent the unique character of the nation, emphasising what seems most original and distinctive, and most likely to enable the nation to hold together and resist oppression, to endure and prosper. They recreate national heroes, give hope in victory, wisdom in failure, unity in defeat. They instil pride in national accomplishments even when the nation is defeated and powerless. They stress core ideals to give legitimacy and power to a nation, to ‘the great Idea’, as Whitman put it, ‘that is the mission of poets’ (‘By Blue Ontario’s Shore’, 11).


Colley, Linda (1992), Britons: Forging the Nation 1707–1837, New Haven and London: Yale University Press.
Conran, Anthony (ed. and tr.) (1967), The Penguin Book of Welsh Verse, Harmondsworth: Penguin.
Daiches, David (1971), Sir Walter Scott and his World, London: Thames and Hudson.
Ellmann, Richard (1968 [1954]), The Identity of Yeats, London: Faber.
Hutchinson, John and David Aberbach (1999),‘The artist as nation-builder: William Butler Yeats and Chaim Nachman Bialik’, Nations and Nationalism, 5, 4: 501–21.
Jordan, Elaine (1988), Alfred Tennyson, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Pritchard, William H. (ed.) (1972), W. B. Yeats: A Critical Anthology, Harmondsworth: Penguin.
Scott, Sir Walter (1932–7), The Letters of Sir Walter Scott, H. J. C. Grierson et al. (eds), 8 vols, London: Constable.
Shaw, M. (1973), ‘Tennyson and his public’, in D. J. Palmer (ed.), Tennyson, London: G. Bell and Sons.
Sutherland, John (1995), The Life of Walter Scott: A Critical Biography, Oxford: Blackwell.