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(114,904 posts)
Mon Jun 20, 2016, 07:16 AM Jun 2016

On July 16, 1938, The Nation published this essay [View all]

What I Believe
EM Forster

I do not believe in Belief. But this is an Age of Faith, and there
are so many militant creeds that, in self-defence, one has to
formulate a creed of one's own. Tolerance, good temper and
sympathy are no longer enough in a world which is rent by
religious and racial persecution, in a world where ignorance rules,
and Science, who ought to have ruled, plays the subservient pimp.
Tolerance, good temper and sympathy - they are what matter
really, and if the human race is not to collapse they must come
to the front before long. But for the moment they are not
enough, their action is no stronger than a flower, battered be-
neath a military jackboot. They want stiffening, even if the
process coarsens them. Faith, to my mind, is a stiffening process,
a sort of mental starch, which ought to be applied as sparingly as
possible. I dislike the stuff. I do not believe in it, for its own sake,
at all. Herein I probably differ from most people, who believe in
Belief, and are only sorry they cannot swallow even more than
they do. My law-givers are Erasmus and Montaigne, not Moses
and St Paul. My temple stands not upon Mount Moriah but in
that Elysian Field where even the immoral are admitted. My
motto is : "Lord, I disbelieve - help thou my unbelief.


I hate the idea of causes, and if I had to choose between betraying
my country and betraying my friend I hope I should have the
guts to betray my country. Such a choice may scandalize the
modern reader, and he may stretch out his patriotic hand to the
telephone at once and ring up the police.

This brings me along to Democracy, "Even love, the beloved
Republic, That feeds upon freedom and lives". Democracy is not
a beloved Republic really, and never will be. But it is less hateful
than other contemporary forms of government, and to that
extent it deserves our support. It does start from the assump-
tion that the individual is important, and that all types are needed
to make a civilization. It does not divide its citizens into the
bossers and the bossed - as an efficiency-regime tends to do.


Democracy has another merit. It allows criticism, and if there
is not public criticism there are bound to be hushed-up scandals.
That is why I believe in the press, despite all its lies and vulgarity,
and why I believe in Parliament. Parliament is often sneered a
because it is a Talking Shop. I believe in it because it is a talking
shop. I believe in the Private Member who makes himself a
nuisance. He gets snubbed and is told that he is cranky or ill-
informed, but he does expose abuses which would otherwise
never have been mentioned, and very often an abuse gets put
right just by being mentioned.


In search of a refuge, we may perhaps turn to hero-worship.
But here we shall get no help, in my opinion. Hero-worship is a
dangerous vice, and one of the minor merits of a democracy is
that it does not encourage it


No, I distrust Great Men. They produce a desert of uniformity
around them and often a pool of blood too, and I always feel a
little man's pleasure when they come a cropper.


I believe in aristocracy, though - if that is the right word, and
if a democrat may use it. Not an aristocracy of power, based upon
rank and influence, but an aristocracy of the sensitive, the con-
siderate and the plucky. Its members are to be found in all
nations and classes, and all through the ages


Much more:


Forster has been an enormous influence on me politically and personally and the nexus between the political and personal has never been expressed better by anyone.

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