National Notes:
Excerpts

William Baylebridge
1939


William Baylebridge's 'National Notes' appeared in his This Vital Flesh, a collection of poetry and political writings, published in 1939. Baylebridge, 1883 - 1942, was a poet of renown in his time, his work widely publicised by Percy Stephensen in the 1930's.

The four excerpts from 'National Notes' cover four important subjects. First, the philosophic discourse which alerts us to he struggle against decadence in culture in nation. Second, the analysis of the state, a singular perspective whereby we are shown that the reform of ethical character is a function of the state; we may yet have in a society which rewards difference and which provides sustenance for a refined people. Third, the reassessment of religion in our nation; .Australia requires a special 'civic religion' in tune with our national character, an impulse which may flow through the revealed religions of old or in new forms. Four, a view of laws and conduct, a need to harmonise the anarchy of competing wills in a new synthesis of value and order.

Baylebridge, recognises the function of a new leadership in charge of an Australian State. We anticipates great change in the higher good. This forgotten thinker deserves a place in the new pantheon of articulators of an Australian ethic for a new century. We expect our readers to search out the poetry and other work by Baylebridge as part of the necessary program of cultural-ideological warfare in which we are engaged.

The Editors, December 8 2003.



 

NEW NATIONALISM

If man had time to think, there would be a new world.

The time has arrived for an unbiassed examination of our convictions, our principles, our dreams.

This new life. . . . There is a curiosity more needful to man than wisdom.

This joyous revelation . . . eyes newly opened upon the world.

Have not science and modern thought released man from the tyranny of the merely fortuitous conventions? Have they not established him in his right perspective? This means a new beginning; and the possibilities created thus are without limit.

The theory that the root principle of life is imitation dominates all our practice. With this theory revised, we open up the limitless possibilities of the future.

With post-pagan religion came the transvaluation of the world; if this force has now spent itself, the next transvaluation is due.

Pestilence, one of the great factors in human vicissitude, and accountable perhaps for the wiping out of entire civilizations of which we know nothing, has now been largely conquered. The tremendous potency of the disease germ, that minute colossus which has ravaged mankind, has been definitely checked. Science, in this and a hundred ways as notable, has given man a new significance in the scheme of mundane things. Is it likely that he will fail to rise to the demands of that significance?

This necessary change and transformation of all the conditions of existence . . . this new spirit . . . the Kingdom of Man upon Earth. . . . The new time is upon us with its new knowledge, its new claims, its new aspirations.

Life is a force that has made numerous experiments in organizing itself; let it make another such experiment, and here.

The future will be given to those nations that consciously organize human life for the goals they seek.

Let us take a new lead: let us shape our way to the beauty and grandeur awaiting us in the unknown.

It is not because a people ceases to believe that it falls into decay; it is because it is in decay that, having forsaken the once-fertile dream of its ancestors, it has not replaced this by a new dream, equally or more fortifying and creative of energy.

No great event, inward and divine, befalls those who do not summon it.

Every man, by the inviolable law of his being, is an adventurer, a warrior, a god.

None soars too high if he soars on his own wings.

Though the goal be glimpsed only, one step to it outstrips the thousand leagues that preceded this.

Leave the past and live in the present; in the mind of the present even must the past be conceived.

Let not the present live at the cost of the future.

We would weigh the present against the future, and prefer often the good not yet visible.

We would fling large gifts, fling gifts with both hands, into the abyss of the future.

A passions for action . . . a persistent, a magnanimous, devotion to the future.

Man slays himself with vanity.

The despotism of custom is everywhere the standing hindrance to human advancement . . . If resistance waits till life is reduced nearly to one uniform type, all deviations from that type will come to be considered impious, immoral, even monstrous and contrary to nature.

It is not by renouncing the joys that are proper to us that we become wise.

To combat our confirmed instincts is decadence.

All form is sacred, all confirmed instinct, but no invention or artifice of man's.

Our deliverance would come largely of instinct, of divine liberal impulse.

Forgetfulness precedes action.

That eternal delight of becoming . . . that delight which involves in itself even the joy of annihilation.

If you accept the burden of strangeness, do you not put off the burden of complexity, the present burden?

Who sees, and loves not, sees not.

Let our songs be not prayers, but praise only.

The road to perfection runs through successive quagmires of disgust.

Not the sacrifice we extol, but the fruits of the sacrifice.

We would say: For us, the world we are creating for ourselves suffices: we have no questions for the Sphinx.

When the mind of a nation is set free, and given a new direction of research, all its explanatory and hunting instincts are awakened.

A change in our present mental attitude . . . a new moral duty. . . . Our mental attitude would permit that sense of moral freedom, and thus of moral responsibility, without which our national evolution would be impossible.

The very paucity of tradition with us evokes an infinite suggestiveness.

Should not we strive to become individually efficient, and turn, with our assembled strength, to the exploitation of other modes of being, other and neglected forces of our nature?

When we had evolved this higher human type, it is not likely that Providence would permit it to be without significance in the world. . . . To such types shall all Earth be given.

Are we to believe that there are intentions in nature which it is dangerous to comprehend too clearly, fatal to follow with too much ardour? That it is perilous to add to these intentions the unforeseen weight of our intellect?

Let the virile and the single-spirited, by right of the living impulse in them, be the judges in this; they will give sentence wherever they detect these against the high-priests of dead convention, of visionless assumptions.

Reason defends and withdraws, forbids, rejects, and destroys. Wisdom advances, attacks, adds, creates, and commands.

Does not an indestructible love of change, acting by some law as yet imperfectly understood, above all distinguish civilized man? After a long continuance in one mood, must he not fling himself into another, for the pleasure of bringing into play faculties as long disused, but not yet paralysed by inaction, and which are restless to be employed? Health accompanies this craving.

The stage on which most human action takes place is a superstructure where emotion rules; not judgment, not understanding, is the chief factor there, but a contented attitude of mind largely dependent on custom, prejudice, or some such influence not necessarily based upon reason. This attitude of mind must always be disturbed before any reconstruction of ideas is possible.

 

Are not most great social movements civil, economic, and religious of 'fanatic' birth? Or as sand-floods to use one figure in the social terrain, ever changing their shape, and shifting their ground, according to the prevailing winds and storms?

If the condition, the character, and the institutions of a people have hitherto resulted largely from the slow workings of sufficient natural causes, nevertheless, no purposed change therein is bound to be consistent with a present sentiment, with current laws; we now know these to be in great measure relative, not absolute. . . . What civilized community values or believes fundamental, the customs of savages? And yet, among savages, custom is a power as tyrannous as law has ever been in civilized communities, every deviation from a usage which has become established with them being laughed to scorn, held in contempt, or penalized. . . . To understand the savages' case is to understand our own.

Man's whole desire is for the good.

To restrain by law man's love of good is fatal.

Has not the idea of good, as applied to human beings, been tamed and degraded till its general and accepted meaning is scarcely any longer positive?

What is the secret of life? The secret of life is joy, an unfettered expansion of the soul, the human spirit passing out into the world, exulting in all it finds good there, embracing all, loving all, and knowing no restriction as it needs none that springs not from the inner principle of its own being.

In art, and in life, the greatest of all arts, is not compromise, the lesser acceptance, fatal?

Let us devote ourselves, freely and indefatigably, to the art of living.

We meditate no dirges on the vanity of the world, on the triviality of earthly and mortal breath; nay, the inexhaustible joy and beauty of life life lived bravely and imaginatively shall be our theme.

The passion for increase, the spirit of adventure, the ardour that some high dedication inspires these have won for man his way through the world. The desire to escape all risk, with its attendant elation, has kept him stationary, has caused him to lose ground.

Has not the milder type of existence had its day? Based on a reaction, on a foundation essentially negative, can this type endure? Must it not be submerged, always and inevitably, and without reference to human desire, by the surge of that life which lies beyond its sphere? . . . Our conception of life transcends the bounds of that cramping limitation, strikes deeper, touches a profounder reality. . . . The present is pregnant for the future. . . . We would revitalize life: what is exalted is not built on feeble blood.

Our task would be creation, not criticism. Our attitude would be not merely negative. Our protest would be creative, to revitalize life, and the arts of life.

This principle of expansion. . . . Life which is innocence takes form as it expands. Its form is determined by its experience.

The human will shall demand: Invent means by which man can have beauty, romance, passion, and love that includes these, without their present gratuitous penalties.

Brain and sentiment have run to seed; and a direct and true reaction to the stimuli of nature in its widest sense has, in great measure, been lost. The human balance would be restored.

Might we not at times enter thus refusing to obscure the law in us that ordained it into the directness and simplicity of innocent and clean animal life, in this being conscious of no falling, off, no degradation, but rather of another submission to the divine power, another identification with that deity which stands revealed at the stripping away of the complexities, the dead conventions, that crowd our present existence?

Since all life is but becoming, our knowledge of it must perforce be relative. . . . Under the same law, the static and the absolute have done with life.

With us, life that could be used with profit would not be lost in perpetuating conventions without profit.

Life now is consumed in rounds of reiterated action. This let us change; let us dedicate that action to progress. . . . Humanity can no longer be treated as static: we know it to be kinetic.

Even if no mode of life could hope, because of the multiple elements in this, to revitalize the entire world (a point, in any case, on which proof is wanting), the mode of life we propose to ourselves as a nation could hope, if conceived with vision, to revitalize a portion of it the portion which is our world.

The unvisioned sceptic is the one sterile, the one negative, thing.

Is the power that governs the earth, ultimately, not the power of life, but the power of death?

Life prospers as it overcomes the half-deaths.

Life involves ever the destruction of such death.

Energy is capacity for labour the basis of living action. Energy is coexistent with all the robust virtues, and makes a large practice of them possible. Energy is the measure of life: the more energy, the more life; no energy is death; idiots are feeble and listless. Leaders are highly energized. . . . By exalting energy we would exclude impotence, and ensure, too, the conquest of the descending self, an essential conquest for the ambitious.

Let ours be a full affirmation of that energy which is eternal delight.

Clearness of vision is itself a source of inspiration; energy ever needs it.

By acting we increase the energy that arms us to act.

Great deeds, however done, are the world's story.

Godlike energy is expressed, and summed up, in creation. . . . Our force is measured by our plastic power; what we can do, we are.

We assume much if we assume that, in the affairs if human society, things must be allowed to take their 'natural' course, that 'artificial' interferences with 'evolution' is vain there. Applied to the affairs of human society, are not 'natural' and 'artificial' terms that should be closely questioned? There is human effort there, conscious or unconscious; and it is assuming much to suppose that conscious effort cannot outstrip, in those affairs, effort that is unconscious. To replace this by that has been the aim always of great artists; and what artists would be greater than ourselves, working, as we would be, in the greatest of mediums, blood and brain? . . . Man is a creature of 'sin'; that is the outstanding point of his being. He is what he is largely because he can interfere with his instinctive evolution an interference, indeed, to which his instinct itself impels him and the evolution of the external world.

There are, if embraces at once and with vigour, limitless possibilities in our destiny as we conceive it. Superman, as envisaged through the ages, might be left to the theorists; but why should Man be? Our vision is a land peopled by a renewed stock, consciously regenerated, and not less than complete men.

 

THE STATE, POLITICS

The State to us would mean something more than a piece of social mechanism: it would imply a spiritual bond. At present we are a confused mass of separate entities, held together partly by political and partly by economic compulsion, but lacking any very conscious identity in a sense that matters with the community to which we belong.

For the true moral, the true political, we substitute the economic standpoint, and conceive society merely as a machine for the production and distribution of wealth.

Our blindness here is absolute, and might well prove fatal. . . . Nations with other obsessions threaten our existence; but we are still naively and pathetically wed to this economic shibboleth. . . . In the presence of Death, perhaps, in the shadow of extinction, we quarrel about the bellyful.

Where they clashed, we should want the national interest to prevail over the merely private and individual interest.

For the general good we should have to be prepared, when necessary, to shoulder the individual evil. . . . To think nationally to consider man, not primarily in his separate manifestations, but largely in the lump.

A new patriotism would be taught and vitalized. . . . Each would understand, fully and without equivocation, the conflict between purely private interest and national duty. The welfare of the State would be the definite factor in conduct. To promote that welfare, each would regard himself as a means, an instrument of consecrated service.

We would consider the individual not sacrificed to the whole, but realized in it. His identification with the corporate life would deliver him surely no lessening of his stature from the close circle of personal interests to a sphere of wider views, higher aims. We would establish an interpenetration of private and public life by which the citizen, as an individual, would be at once depressed and glorified.

We should have to establish order where we retrained them between the present conflicting principles in the State. . . . A common purpose, to promote which all would co-operate . . . an assured place, even a first place, among nations. . . . This would call for a belief in new institutions; only such a belief would make it possible to set up, adapt, and improve them. A chief business would be to infix this belief.

While the statesman would watch the important, and perhaps necessary, external struggle in which nation confronts nation a struggle that goes on without intermission he would see that the nation was organized whole, not a disordered mass of more or less hostile groups, seeking their own profit and pleasure at the national expense. The internal and often wasteful conflict he would check, but provide, nevertheless, safeguards to prevent the nation from rotting, without sensing this, at its core.

It may be right, on grounds other than that of sentiment, to preserve a white race here and this without presuming to award marks for superiority in accordance with any colour scheme. Is not the matter of homogeneity a vital one? . . . Class differences, again, differences based one wealth and education, if too pronounced, might weaken or destroy that sense of common interest necessary for our purpose. . . . Class differences can be as sharply defined, and as troublesome, as racial differences.

The present class distinction, among its other evils, not seldom permits the brainless of the different classes to become enriched at the public expense, and also for the two things often go together to secure posts important nationally. Political favour is always busy. With us, brain, in whatever class, would find its true level. . . . We would understand that, economically and biologically considered, the 'upper classes' in systems such as the present might not coincide that poorness of stock, and not so much the want of wealth or education, was at the bottom of the true lower class inferiority.

 

Liberty, as it concerns his fellows, man can in some measure bestow or withhold; but equality he cannot. Even the systems that attempt to equalize by levelling down and, incidentally, that reject liberty to do this have failed here. Such a prerogative is not man's though the eugenist hopes to make it largely man's. To affirm that human personality has an absolute value, and is entitled thus to uniform respect, is to avoid the real issue.

'Reverence for Life' is not the catch-cry of the 'philanthropist'. The eugenist believes passionately in that reverence; but, unlike those who speak of one thing and mean another, he refuses to debase the significance of the term 'Life'.

Have we not overdone the idea of equality, and lose sight of the idea of leadership? Where all are assumed to be equal there can be no true leadership.

The chapter of man is a complex one: is he not the most hybrid, because the most civilized, of all animals on earth? . . . We know how vast now is the diversity of his mental constitution, how difficult it is, in a world that has appealed to every prejudice, for one mind to think strictly in terms of another mind. . . . Different classes need different books, a different speech.

If this disparity could not be sufficiently eliminated for us, at this juncture, it is a luxury not properly permissible it might be necessary to vary our laws as our types varied.

Those who could not come into the national unity would have to be treated in accordance with the simple fact as aliens.

At present, what is the public? Is it not largely an unshapely mass of restless, irrational, and perplexed units, with its hopes centred on a naïve utilitarianism?

If out present forms of government which even now show signs of breaking down suppressed the idea of direct personal service and responsibility to the State, we should have to work out another.

As they had contributed to our racial progress, historical judgment would sum up the wisdom, and the real achievement, of our statesmen.

No system, in any degree collective, can hope to function properly if it has to carry a burden of human wastage: before it is collective, it must be selective.

In Australia today we have a regimentation which approaches those employed in countries ruled by professed dictators. In one respect, moreover the most vital respect it is less defensible than these; for its chief aim seems to be regiment the better classes (better, that is, when considered biologically) for the benefit of the inferior elements.

Adolescent nations, above all, cannot afford the expensive luxury of human wastage. Charity, as we know use it, the thing chiefly responsible for this, would have to be renounced or revalued.

'From those best able to give, to those least able to get.' If such a rule ever becomes absolute it is already largely in force the world is likely to take care that the number of those who need attention thus will be definitely limited. In short, the needy are not likely to have it both ways.

Charity, if misused, can be a gross injustice: the beneficence of one generation becomes thus the burden of the next.

Is government to become largely a matter of poor-laws and doles what it increasingly becomes? . . . for the endowed, labour, and its reward; no place for the degenerate and futile.

To confuse the unemployed with the unemployable under a system which permits both is to waste in great measure on these the proper portion of those.

We deal with crime, not by cutting off the supply of criminals, but by making our prisons more acceptable to these offenders.

As long as the people of any nation believe (a belief wholly erroneous) that the moron and the unemployable are charges, not on the people collectively, but on a particular class such, for instance, as a heavily taxed moneyed class so long will this human wastage be protected. Should those charges, however, be definitely made common ones, the people themselves will eliminate this wastage.

 

Liberty, if truly is, is a priceless possession; but, if it is merely a liberty to accept annihilation rather than make an effort to survive, it is worth what? Regimentation of any kind is abhorrent to free souls; but, if the world is not in a mood to permit freedom, the path is obvious.

Liberty that refuses to protect itself is not liberty. It is, potentially and therefore morally, a base servitude to every force that would or that could overthrow it.

'Peace hath her victories'; and some of these are indeed great enough. But a passion for peace in the world we now inhabit is surely a passion for annihilation. (Ultimately, on all the evidence, the two things are one.) Perhaps peace is like good fare of other kinds better if not indulged in to surfeit. Australia, for many reasons, is not likely to have a surfeit of it.

Peace does not posses an absolute value; it is not something to be sought as many pretend entirely for its own sake: it can be good or evil according to the motive that urges men to seek it. If they seek and embrace it because they care more for 'bondage with ease than strenuous liberty' bondage, that is, to the mean, or the unjust, or similar obsessions peace can be a scourge greater than war.

We are so busy watching, and speculating upon, catastrophes in other parts of the world that we have overlooked another that threatens in truth, nearer home. . . . The centre of the world dynamics has shifted throughout history; and it appears to be again shifting and to the Pacific.

Those of our neighbours who are still backward in ambition and the art of modern war are being made proficient in both subjects, as rapidly as possible, by Europeans. It is a tale that repeats itself; and none who reads the promised epilogue unless Providence gives us a last chance, and we vigorously accept it is likely to be half so disconsolate as ourselves.

One of the first laws of Nature is the law of self-defence. Are we too immature to understand it?

If we are not prepared for hard doctrine, let us frankly, and at once, abandon our dream; for nations nowadays are not to be achieved on easier terms.

Every additional weapon, every new complication of the art of war, of whatever kind, intensifies the need for deliberate preparation, and darkens the outlook of a nation of amateurs.

We should have to create, not for a generation only, but for many. To proceed, with whatever vigor, merely to a dead-end spiritually and otherwise would be fatuous.

We would strive to build up a community of vital and intensely efficient units a nation developing proudly among the emergent and fading forms of existing nations and institutions.

Our democracy would be an aristocracy of the efficient.

Our socialism would be a socialism among equals.

 

RELIGION

In the sphere of thinkable things our knowledge, after all these aeons, is still a mere fragment; and we have no reason to believe that we could attain, in finite time or infinite if this were vouchsafed us to complete knowledge.

The reasoned acceptance or denial of this or that as a character of the ultimately real is, under all circumstances, and for the present purpose, inadmissible.

No one with any knowledge of the marvellous laws and adjustments under which everything functions from the knowable Universe to the atom can be without a profound reverence; but to dogmatize about the Supreme Power behind all things is not reverent. On this point, in the face of that tremendous spectacle, and understanding of his own limitations, man's only part is to be silent.

What we can grasp of Infinity is but a speck, of no ultimate significance; the more significant to us, therefore, are the visible things and tangible of Earth.

What we renounce in the heavens we find again in the heart of a man.

So far as we are permitted to know, is not man's the chief, and in fine the only, prerogative that has significance on earth?

The God we would fashion for ourselves is one perhaps the only one to which man has never yet offered serious worship and sacrifice.

A too subtle metaphysics, a too restless introspection these, that can betray life, can finally help it in what?

We would think not to enter the stronghold of knowledge by the burrow of superstition, nor to scale its walls with the ladder of metaphysics.

To know requires effort; but it requires no effort to accept words that cloak the unknown in the undefinable.

It is neither honest, nor expedient, to bridge the void of ignorance with hypotheses that can be neither proved nor refuted. . . . The assumption, absurd enough, at the bottom of most popular fallacies is this that the truth of a statement is evidenced, and even confirmed, by the absence, or the impossibility, of an exposure of its falsity.

A religious system at least, to have the significance it possessed formerly cannot be repeated: the nature of man's mind determines it so. Our religion must of necessity express the mind, the aspirations, of a new nation in a new age.

A religion engaged chiefly with infirmity, without which it could not exist . . . what connection have we with what? . . . We should have to abandon the religion that was no longer vital, but formal only, that had lost meaning for us, and replace it by one national.

Our religion would be national and different . . . not employing, as it does now, a set of metaphysical dogmas, formulated in a creed that had lost interest, and supported by an organization distinct from the State.

That obliquity of conception that opposes the body to the soul, heaven to earth, the Church to the State, we should have to abandon. . . . We would see no moral excellence in conforming to a creed not indigenous, not in touch with the natural, and the national, character. We would evolve and follow one that permitted the free expression of this.

Inquire into first or final cause we would not. . . . Knowledge, for our purpose, would perhaps be descriptive, rather than explanatory. Might not the mastery we seek here lie in the description, in brief conceptual formulae, of the routine of perception in the historical summary, not in the transcendental exposition? Not, ultimately, in the field of causation, but in that of perception, do we deal with explicit things. . . . Where there is a clear appreciation of space and time as modes of perception, most phases of superstition and obscurity fade into nothingness, and the field to which human knowledge applies is seen to be sharply defined. . . . Even where Science able to cross-examine the one witness present at any 'special creation', could she accept his hypothesis about it?

We would remember this that not the propounder, not the creed, but finally the convert, makes a religion what it is.

Our religion would have to be established in the root stock. . . . The folk-spirit of the Middle Ages was strong enough to resist the religion set up by powerful foreigners. It danced into the churches; it took religion largely from the control of the priests, and shaped this to a polytheism of its own. The influence of a priestly caste had less to be reckoned with, in short, than the propensities of the mass. . . . The mass with us would be no over-credulous one.

To contribute to the national life and well-being would be the specific business of each. . . . The attendant feeling of fellowship, based on that common service, would be confirmed by our religion, a religion inspiring civic enthusiasm, one making use of elect festivals and ceremonies to foster this.

In a new world and circumstance, where background and tradition have little meaning, we cannot know the pride of descent. The new, and more catholic, pride of descent would be an essential and definite part of our religion.

Our life generally, stripped of these wasteful complexities, would be simpler, more direct in action, more clear in vision; our religion would bring us, not to an absorption, fated to be barren, in the contemplation of the thing beyond knowledge, but into harmony with the world as we conceived it. Religion to us would not denote something that demanded privacy, something that did not touch the material side of life: religion to us would be the vividly present and active soul of our corporate existence. Indeed, our religion would be so essential to the State, so bound up with its entire structure, in general and in detail, that to think of these things separately would be impossible. And, incidentally, as there was no secular State, there would be no need for the ecclesiastical religion. With us, politics and religion, differing fundamentally from what we imply now by these terms, would not be two conceptions, but one.

 


LAWS AND CONDUCT

Man's conduct, though of profound significant to man, can no longer be considered what some would almost have us believe it to be the axis of the universe, the source of unity in all creation. . . . Science, perhaps, must find the unity of the world-drama.

The foundations of social or moral obligation are not immutable; man's law is a convention based on no objective truth.

Why should man be bound naturally to one law and eternally born under another?

If laws and institutions were based frankly on some vital assumption, there would be no pretext to ask it there were fortuitous products, having no objective validity, no binding force on the will.

As we found need, to adjust public life, so would we control private relations.

Courage, loyalty to our ideals, and endurance these would distinguish us. Room would be left for the essential play of thought and emotion, for what springs from the spontaneity of nature, for the arts and graces of the new national life. . . . not an anarchy of individual wills, but a combined energy that would vitalize, without shattering, the forms of our new law and discipline.



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