31 MAY 1930, Page 27

The Uses of Diversity

Liberty in the Modern State. By Professor H. J. Laski. (Faber and Faber. 7s. 6d.) An Introduction to the Social Sciences. By C. Delisle Burns. (Allen and Unwin. 3s. 6d.)

WERE it not for the fact that administrators in office have little time or inclination to inquire into first principles, one would unhesitatingly recommend these two books to repre- sentatives of gOvernment to-day. Much of what is happening in India is illuminated by Professor Laski's restatement of the idea of liberty.

Whatever else in the Liberal tradition may need modification to meet new circumstances, the humanist conception of law shines out like a beacon. " Laws," says Professor Laski, " are rules seeking to • satisfy human' desires," and again, " law exists for what it does, it is not entitled to obedience because it is legal, because, that is, it proceeds from a source of reference formally competent to enact it." He denies, of course, that order is the supreme good, or that rebellion is always wrong. He affirms, on the other hand, that " dis- order is not a habit of mankind," that " Power is by its very nature and exercise in the conditional mood," and; in fact, that " when the government of the State has lost its hold upon the affections of the common man, that loss is always a reflection Of a profbtmd moral Cause." Hence he makes an eloquent defence of freedom of written expression, as being "-the supreme katharsis of discontent." This collection of lectures, originally intended for an Ameridan University,

is studded with allusions to events of recent years; notably the General Strike, which he seems to consider as psycho- logically necessary as the Gandhi campaign of civil disk


In his onslaught on the so-called idealist theory of the State, namely, that there is a real will common to each member of society, only to be realized in service to the demands of the State, " the highest part of ourselves "= PrOfeisor Laski betrays his fundamental position. It is not Merely that the State itself is, as Dr. Delisle Burns also reminds us, " an artificial product of the creative moral imagination Of certain then, at certain times, and at certain places," and emphatically not the whole of organized social life. That is a truth which we may be expected to recognize increasingly in an age of relativity and international con- strUction. The fUndamental assuMption, as With all good Liberals, is the importance of personality, the sense that each of us is Ultimately different from his fellows, and that

any new Jerusalem can be built only on the foundatiOns of

men's diverse human experience.

Dr. Delisle Burns, in a sense, starts from the same assump- tion in -his' study- of social life, but he also goes beyond it. He rejects in fact the common conception of liberty as being both negative and individualistic, since it implieS (a) that the mere absence of restraint As' good, and (b) that the individual or the groupis a segregate atom in a social void. These assumptions he dubs an inheritance from the Renais- sance and the Aufkldrung, " invested for compound interest by the Utilitarians." Looking to the lessons of the new psychology, he argues that the important factor is the growth element in life. -If there is felt restraint, then there is a denial of- freedom„--beeause that growth is•stunted. He -thus conceives liberty positively as " the enjoyable expression of personality or activity " and bases his case upon the fact that man is fundamentally social, so that contact with his fellows induces a healthful inter-penetration, and not merely conflict. On this showing, " independence " is an absurdity, likewise the antithesis of law and liberty, 'while labour laws actually not only increase the liberty of the workers, but by improving the quality of their contact with their employers increase the sum total of liberty.

We have not space to touch upon more than this small section of Dr. Delisle Burns' stimulating little book. Its. purpose is clear, to afford a conspectus of the whole field of social life before the study of any one section is attempted —a very necessary corrective for specialization. Two things he emphasizes which we may well take to heart ; first or all that the change in the State system from authority to service is already well advanced throughout the world, so that the modern State, freed from authoritarian trammels; is " a sort of official receiver for the bankruptcy of economic or cultural organizations " ; secondly—a view which Professor Laski would no doubt endorse, that

" the abilities of common men are much greater than the existing

circumstances allow the;n to seem, to, be. . . . To release the (under- lying) forces in common men is to give them liberty."