6 AUGUST 1921, Page 8

SEX AND THE STATE. T HE National Council of Public Morals

have just issued a booklet entitled To Save the British Race, in which an account is given of their many activities. They are concerned with such subjects as the birth-rate, infant welfare, venereal diseases, defectives, sex education for the young, the effect of vocational influences on parenthood, birth-control, and recreation. We believe that those who have read the reports of their Birth-Rate Commission and the other volumes that they have issued will agree that in this pamphlet the Council do themselves less than justice. Their work has been complex and admirable in the extreme, and it is, of course, exceedingly difficult to give any sort of outline of such labour or a notion of its necessity within the covers of a small booklet. Hence it is, no doubt, that the compilers of the pamphlet have taken refuge in more or less meaningless generalities. The reader would not suspect from it how liberal and enlightened are the principles which animate the work of the Council. They rarely take either the imperial or the puritanical standpoint on trust. But in this compressed form the reader wou'd assume their unqualified endorsement of phrases of which the following is typical : " The foundations of National Glory are set in the homes of the people. They will only remain unshaken while the family life of our race and nation is strong, simple, and pure." They are inviting the most enlightened of their readers to call in question the meaning and perhaps the value of " National Glory," yet it is possible to reduce the phrase to terms upon which we are nearly all agreed. Let us say that, badly as we English do many things, other nations do them still worse. We have, in the phrase of the author of Les Silences du Colonel Bramble, set a little oasis of phlegm and goodwill in the howling desert of mankind's struggle for existence. And as for family life being " strong, simple, and pure," the Council are perfectly willing, again, to discuss the meaning and desirability of this, or to restate a phrase which might perhaps in its original form antagonize the sensitive, to argue, for instance, that by the compromise of family life we can best fulfil the psychological and biological thrust of our " life urge " without interfering with our neighbours. This " life urge " insists that we shall try to find a mate, it sweeps us irresistibly towards parenthood, but in this, as in other fields, the sublimation of primitive impulses must be reached before we can exercise them without, all of us, grossly jostling and being jostled by our neighbours. Let not, therefore, the intellectually sensitive be put off by what is, after all, when we come to analyse it, only a rough and ready way of stating that which we ourselves are inclined to believe.

In practical matters the Council are full of good sense, for they are clever in avoiding the negative position oi those who " combat vice " ; they are all for the promotion of virtue, for sensible recreation, for helpful treatment for the unmarried mother, for the encouragement of families by the lightening of the burden of taxation on the married, and for the preservation of existing infants, as against the hysterical demand for an increased birth- rate, regardless of the fate of the infants born. They do not talk of " fallen women." They protest that " health and holiness spring from the same root." We " must guard the supply of the biological needs of every citizen—such as air, light, water, food. These are not all, for man needs shelter and recreation, and more." Above all, the Council stand for the careful studying of facts as a preliminary to the making of conclusions. Their good sense and humanity are particularly welcome in this field of social activity. We all subconsciously feel so intensely the vital importance of any question which affects the relations between the sexes that on this, more than on any other subject, we are apt to muddle up ques- tions of right and wrong with questions of expediency, to accuse each other of being wicked when we mean mistaken. For example, there was not long ago a tre- mendous outcry against birth control and the voluntary restriction of families, on religious grounds. A book on this subject was published, with a prefatory letter from a Roman Catholic priest, setting forth the view of the Church that for parents to refuse to give life as often as nature permitted was a course of conduct almost blasphemous. It was a refusal to allow an immortal soul to come into being, an act depriving a potential creature of the joys of Heaven, and was absolutely to be reprehended. It did not, apparently, strike the writer that the whole argument came a little oddly, in the first place, from a man, from .whom the agony of bringing forth could never be demanded, and, secondly, from a celibate, who did not undertake even the lesser responsibilities and anxieties of fatherhood. The question of birth control is not an easy one ; the knowledge of its possibility is, no doubt, like many of man's increases of power over his own destiny, a two-edged weapon, but we have most of us begun to realize from what horrors of unwanted life it can save the world, from what a horrible waste of human energy, from what nightmares or futile and abortive effort it can save women. Even when it is used for what we must call, for lack of space to refine our meaning, a bad purpose, we have probably begun to realize that it at least takes away one of the worst of the old evils of vice—i.e., the production of innocent, unwanted children, infected perhaps from their birth, and in any ease brought up in surroundings so bad as almost to preclude a virtuous adult life.