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The Nameless Man


There are only two forms of government the monarchy or personal government,
and the republic or impersonal government. England is not a government;
England is an anarchy, because there are so many kings. But there is one
real advantage (among many real disadvantages) in the method of abstract
democracy, and that is this: that under impersonal government politics are
so much more personal. In France and America, where the State is an
abstraction, political argument is quite full of human details--some might
even say of inhuman details. But in England, precisely because we are
ruled by personages, these personages do not permit personalities. In
England names are honoured, and therefore names are suppressed. But in
the republics, in France especially, a man can put his enemies' names into
his article and his own name at the end of it.


This is the essential condition of such candour. If we merely made our
anonymous articles more violent, we should be baser than we are now. We
should only be arming masked men with daggers instead of cudgels. And I,
for one, have always believed in the more general signing of articles, and
have signed my own articles on many occasions when, heaven knows, I had
little reason to be vain of them. I have heard many arguments for
anonymity; but they all seem to amount to the statement that anonymity is
safe, which is just what I complain of. In matters of truth the fact that
you don't want to publish something is, nine times out of ten, a proof
that you ought to publish it.

But there is one answer to my perpetual plea for a man putting his name to
his writing. There is one answer, and there is only one answer, and it is
never given. It is that in the modern complexity very often a man's name
is almost as false as his pseudonym. The prominent person today is
eternally trying to lose a name, and to get a title. For instance, we all
read with earnestness and patience the pages of the 'Daily Mail', and
there are times when we feel moved to cry, "Bring to us the man who
thought these strange thoughts! Pursue him, capture him, take great care
of him. Bring him back to us tenderly, like some precious bale of silk,
that we may look upon the face of the man who desires such things to be
printed. Let us know his name; his social and medical pedigree." But in
the modern muddle (it might be said) how little should we gain if those
frankly fatuous sheets were indeed subscribed by the man who had inspired
them. Suppose that after every article stating that the Premier is a
piratical Socialist there were printed the simple word "Northcliffe." What
does that simple word suggest to the simple soul? To my simple soul
(uninstructed otherwise) it suggests a lofty and lonely crag somewhere in
the wintry seas towards the Orkheys or Norway; and barely clinging to the
top of this crag the fortress of some forgotten chieftain. As it happens,
of course, I know that the word does not mean this; it means another Fleet
Street journalist like myself or only different from myself in so far as
he has sought to secure money while I have sought to secure a jolly time.

A title does not now even serve as a distinction: it does not distinguish.
A coronet is not merely an extinguisher: it is a hiding-place.

But the really odd thing is this. This false quality in titles does not
merely apply to the new and vulgar titles, but to the old and historic
titles also. For hundreds of years titles in England have been
essentially unmeaning; void of that very weak and very human instinct in
which titles originated. In essential nonsense of application there is
nothing to choose between Northcliffe and Norfolk. The Duke of Norfolk
means (as my exquisite and laborious knowledge of Latin informs me) the
Leader of Norfolk. It is idle to talk against representative government
or for it. All government is representative government until it begins to
decay. Unfortunately (as is also evident) all government begins to decay
the instant it begins to govern. All aristocrats were first meant as
envoys of democracy; and most envoys of democracy lose no time in becoming
aristocrats. By the old essential human notion, the Duke of Norfolk ought
simply to be the first or most manifest of Norfolk men.

I see growing and filling out before me the image of an actual Duke of
Norfolk. For instance, Norfolk men all make their voices run up very high
at the end of a sentence. The Duke of Norfolk's voice, therefore, ought
to end in a perfect shriek. They often (I am told) end sentences with the
word "together"; entirely irrespective of its meaning. Thus I shall
expect the Duke of Norfolk to say: "I beg to second the motion together";
or "This is a great constitutional question together." I shall expect him
to know much about the Broads and the sluggish rivers above them; to know
about the shooting of water-fowl, and not to know too much about anything
else. Of mountains he must be wildly and ludicrously ignorant. He must
have the freshness of Norfolk; nay, even the flatness of Norfolk. He must
remind me of the watery expanses, the great square church towers and the
long level sunsets of East England. If he does not do this, I decline to
know him.

I need not multiply such cases; the principle applies everywhere. Thus I
lose all interest in the Duke of Devonshire unless he can assure me that
his soul is filled with that strange warm Puritanism, Puritanism shot with
romance, which colours the West Country. He must eat nothing but clotted
cream, drink nothing but cider, reading nothing but 'Lorna Doone', and be
unacquainted with any town larger than Plymouth, which he must regard with
some awe, as the Central Babylon of the world. Again, I should expect the
Prince of Wales always to be full of the mysticism and dreamy ardour of
the Celtic fringe.

Perhaps it may be thought that these demands are a little extreme; and
that our fancy is running away with us. Nevertheless, it is not my Duke
of Devonshire who is funny; but the real Duke of Devonshire. The point is
that the scheme of titles is a misfit throughout: hardly anywhere do we
find a modern man whose name and rank represent in any way his type, his
locality, or his mode of life. As a mere matter of social comedy, the
thing is worth noticing. You will meet a man whose name suggests a gouty
admiral, and you will find him exactly like a timid organist: you will
hear announced the name of a haughty and almost heathen grande dame, and
behold the entrance of a nice, smiling Christian cook. These are light
complications of the central fact of the falsification of all names and
ranks. Our peers are like a party of mediaeval knights who should have
exchanged shields, crests, and pennons. For the present rule seems to be
that the Duke of Sussex may lawfully own the whole of Essex; and that the
Marquis of Cornwall may own all the hills and valleys so long as they are
not Cornish.

The clue to all this tangle is as simple as it is terrible. If England is
an aristocracy, England is dying. If this system IS the country, as some
say, the country is stiffening into more than the pomp and paralysis of
China. It is the final sign of imbecility in a people that it calls cats
dogs and describes the sun as the moon--and is very particular about the
preciseness of these pseudonyms. To be wrong, and to be carefully wrong,
that is the definition of decadence. The disease called aphasia, in which
people begin by saying tea when they mean coffee, commonly ends in their
silence. Silence of this stiff sort is the chief mark of the powerful
parts of modern society. They all seem straining to keep things in rather
than to let things out. For the kings of finance speechlessness is
counted a way of being strong, though it should rather be counted a way of
being sly. By this time the Parliament does not parley any more than the
Speaker speaks. Even the newspaper editors and proprietors are more
despotic and dangerous by what they do not utter than by what they do. We
have all heard the expression "golden silence." The expression "brazen
silence" is the only adequate phrase for our editors. If we wake out of
this throttled, gaping, and wordless nightmare, we must awake with a yell.
The Revolution that releases England from the fixed falsity of its
present position will be not less noisy than other revolutions. It will
contain, I fear, a great deal of that rude accomplishment described among
little boys as "calling names"; but that will not matter much so long as
they are the right names.

Gilbert Keith Chesterton


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