14 MARCH 1941, Page 13


SIR,—Canon Roger Lloyd's article on the coming of what he calls the omnicompetent State is a striking sign of the times—and a very hopeful sign. He sees that during recent years, especially since this war began, a revolution has been going on in the minds of those who decide what course opinion shall take in the mass-mind. The same sort of revolution that went on while James II was trying to turn the waves back, and While George III was seeking to rule autocratically as head of a political faction. The nation had decided it would not endure absolutism, whether claiming divine right or working in the guise of Parliamentarism. Again in 1832 there was a revolution on similar lines. In the British mind it had been settled that the oligarchy of great landowners must be ended. The Reform Act registered that determination.

These are the real revolutions, requiring no noise of battle, no garments rolled in blood. For fifty years now we have been working up towards another.

The half-century following the Reform Act saw democracy succeed- ing in this country as it has not either before or since succeeded, here or anywhere else. There was agreement about fundamentals. No one questioned the basic validity of the system—economic, social, political—under which the nation lived. Such agreement is essential to the working of democracy. Towards the end of the century a revolt against this system began in earnest. Notice how nearly all the great Victorian writers were critics of it—Carlyle, Arnold, Swin- burne ; Mill in the economic field ; Spenser ; even Tennyson in Locksley Hall—critics from different points of view, but all preparing minds that looked forward for change at some future time. This time has now come. The change has been going on slowly, quietly, for many years. We have been living under two systems, one nominally supreme, the other gradually gathering strength. The conflict between them has robbed us of that agreement on fundamentals without which democracy cannot work. Now, as Canon Lloyd's article and many other signs show, there is a general acceptance of the necessity for what some of us call Socialism, others the omnicompetent State.

If anyone asks: How do you know this? I reply that I have been studying public opinion for fifty years as a newspaper man, and been brought into close touch with it as editor of three London newspapers. That endows one with an instinct which is susceptible to currents of thought. The current I speak of is plain to many beside journalists now. Here is cause for relief and for gratitude to the Time Spirit. It seemed almost certain a short while ago that, if a Government got into power on a programme of change in fundamentals and began to carry that programme out, the nation would be deeply split, and the defenders of the old system would probably attempt to preserve it by violent means. That danger is removed. There will again be agreement as to the foundations of national life. This should ensure the sound working of democracy, provided the other essential is present—I mean the supply of a sufficient number of honest and capable men and women as leaders. It seemed possible, even likely, that all over the world there might be a return of conditions such as produced the wars of religion, lasting 15o years. Instead of that we shall, I believe, see Britain leading the way, as so often before, and showing that change, social, political and economic, can be made peacefully, without too great hardship to any, and by general agree- ment. There will still be extremists at either end, one lot clamouring for swifter progress, as the Radicals clamoured last century ; the other lot trying to dig their toes in and keep things as they are. But that is human nature. That will not hinder the advance.—Yours