The Tragedy of Human Effort
By C. H. DOUGLAS
Notes for the address delivered at the Central
Hall, Liverpool, on October 30th, 1936.
I suppose that there can be few amongst those
of us who think about the world in which we live, and, perhaps, fewer
amongst the more obvious victims of it, who would not agree that
its condition is serious and shows every sign of becoming worse.
Many must have asked themselves why the ability of scientists, organisers
or educationists, brilliant and laudable in essence, seems to lead
us only from one catastrophe to another, until it would appear that
knowledge, invention, and progress, so far from being our salvation,
have doomed the world to almost inevitable destruction.
How is it that in 1495 the labourer was able to maintain himself in
a standard of living considerably higher, relatively to his generation,
than that of the present time, with only 50 days labour a year, whereas
now millions are working in an age of marvellous machinery the whole
year round, in an effort to maintain themselves and their families
just above the line of destitution? Why is it that 150 years ago the
percentage of the population which could be economically classed as
of the middle and upper classes was two or three times that which it
is at the present time? Why is it that while production per man-hour
has risen 40 or 50 times at least in the past hundred years, the wages
of the fully employed have risen only about four times, and the average
wage of the employable is considerably less than four times that of
a hundred years ago, measured in real commodities?
How is it that the nations are given over to the dictatorship of men
of gangster mentality, whose proper place is in a Borstal institution?
I have very little doubt that there are numbers of people in this room
who could at once give a correct general answer to the preceding questions,
and that it would take the form of an indictment of the financial system;
and I should, of course, agree with this answer up to a certain point.
They might add that no inventor is left in control of his invention,
and that the financial octopus seizes everything with its slimy tentacles
and turns it to its own use. But I do not think it is the kind of answer,
however sound it may otherwise be, of which one can make a great deal
of use in that form.
You would find, if you were to go outside the ranks of those who agree
to it, a number of additional answers, not in themselves any more valuable
from the practical point of view, but which deserve some consideration
if only by reason of the frequency with which they are advanced.
There is, of course, the well-known and somewhat discredited suggestion
that the inherent wickedness of human nature is at fault, and a change
of heart is required, a suggestion, which, taken by itself and without
qualification, seems to me, in view of its impracticability, to be
the most pessimistic utterance which it is possible to make upon the
And there is the common tendency to rail at politicians and statesmen.
In a recent article from the pen of Dr. Tudor Jones, amongst much which
is worthy of the attention of us all, there is a statement, no doubt
specially valuable as coming from a biologist, to the effect that there
is no evidence whatever to suggest that the human being of the present
day is in any essential cleverer or more able than the human being
of six or seven hundred years ago.
I am particularly interested in this, because I have recently had access
to some charters and other similar documents affecting the affairs
of Scotland from the thirteenth to sixteenth centuries, which seem
to me to possess an understanding of the realities of statesmanship
at least as great as is evidenced at the present time.
I am confident that the principles which ought to govern the management
of the affairs of this world have been available for many centuries,
and have been obscured to such an extent that the community's intelligence
upon such matters is probably less now that it was a thousand years
For this reason, I trust you will bear with me if I endeavour to put
to you my own understanding, in modern language, of these ideas. PRINCIPLES
OF ASSOCIATION The first proposition which requires to be brought
out into the cold light of the day, and to be kept there remorselessly,
at the present time in particular, is that nations are, at bottom,
merely associations for the good of those composing them.
Please note that I say "at bottom."
Association is at once the direct cause of our progress and of our
The general principles which govern association for the
common good are as capable of exact statement as the principles
of bridge building, and departure from them is just as disastrous.
The modern theory, if it can be called modern, of the totalitarian
state, for instance, to the effect that the state is everything and
the individual nothing, is a departure from those principles, and is
a revamping of the theory of the later Roman Empire, which theory,
together with the financial methods by which it was maintained, led
to Rome's downfall, not by the conquest of stronger Empires, but by
its own internal dissensions.
It is a theory involving complete inversion of fact, and
is, incidentally, fundamentally anti-Christian, in that it
exalts the mechanism of government into an end rather than
a means, and leads to the assumption that individuals exist
for the purpose of allowing officials to exercise power over
It is in the perversion and exaltation of means into
ends in themselves, that we shall find the root of our tragedy.
Once it is conceded that sovereignty resides anywhere but in the collection
of individuals we call the public, the way of dictatorship is certain.
If you agree with me in my views of this matter I shall not have much
difficulty in carrying you with me to an agreement that the totalitarian
state is more or less universal at the present time, although its form
varies. Of its more crude and undisguised aspects, Italy, Russia, and
Germany are examples which occur at once to the mind.
But it must be obvious that we are, in Great Britain, merely servants
of an insolent and selfish oligarchy, which uses us and the scientific
progress we inherit for purposes far from those which would be chosen
by us as individuals.
Such a state of affairs as we work under could be justified only if
we had indisputable evidence that the organisation was controlled by
the wisest and most beneficent of the race. I doubt if we are prepared
to admit that.
Reverting to the question of culpability for the perversion of human
effort which is so plainly evident, there is a strong tendency to suppose
that a statement that the financial system is at fault, especially
if accompanied by suggestions for its reformation, may be regarded
as covering the ground of the problem.
So far from this being so, the second proposition that I wish to emphasise
to you, with no suggestion of its novelty, but a strong insistence
upon the difficulty of obtaining recognition for it, is that action
on or through an organisation involves three ideas - the idea of policy,
the idea of administration, and the idea of sanctions,
that is to say, power.
Because administration is the most obvious of these ideas, Socialism,
so-called, has tended to concentrate upon the glorification of administration,
which, to my mind - because of the increasing pressure of Socialist
ideology upon Government action - is a complete explanation of the
ever more disastrous results in increased bureaucracy and other undesirable
features from which we all suffer. POLICY, ADMINISTRATION AND SANCTIONSNow,
while no action involving co-operative effort can take place without
the presence of these three factors of policy, administration, and
sanctions, and therefore they are an essential, and, in a sense, equally
important, the first of these in point of time must be policy.
In regard to the objective of policy, as applied to human affairs,
I can say nothing to you which has not been better said by the great
teachers of humanity, One of whom said
"I came that you might have life and have it more abundantly."
So far as I am aware, no great teacher of humanity has ever announced
that he came that we might have better trade or more employment, and
I am wholly and irrevocably convinced that while we exalt a purely
materialistic means into an end, we are doomed to destruction.
In other words the aim of the human individual is ultimately a totalitarian
aim, a statement which, if it is correct - that is to say, if it true
that our best interests are served by our ultimately taking a general
and effective interest in everything - is, in itself, negation of the
idea of the totalitarian state.
There is an old and very true saying "Demon est deus in versus
"- " the devil is God upside down " - and many phenomena in the
world confirm it.
In regard to administration, I do not propose to say very much beyond
the fact that it is and must be essentially hierarchical and therefore
it is a technical matter in which the expert must be supreme and ultimately
There more accurate and technical knowledge of administration in any
of the great branches of scientific industry than there is in all the
socialistic literature or bureaucracies in the world. The foundation
of successful administration, in my opinion is that it shall be subject
to the principle of free association which will, in itself, produce
in time the best possible form of technical administration.
If the conditions of work in any undertaking, and the exercise of authority
are ordinarily efficient, and there is in the world any reasonable
amount of opportunity of free association, such an undertaking will
automatically disembarrass itself of the malcontent, while being obliged
to compete for those whose help is necessary to it.
On the other hand, if there is no free association, the natural inertia
of the human being and the improper manipulation of methods and aims
will make an undertaking inefficient, since there is no incentive to
The idea that administration can be democratic, however, is not one
which will bear the test of five minutes' experience.
It may be consultative, but in the last resort some single person must
But, at the present time, there is no question that it is in the domain
of sanctions that the human race is involved in its great difficulties.
Although the idea may be repulsive to many who have not faced the realities
of life, physical force is the ultimate sanction of the physical world.
Moral, intellectual, and emotional considerations unquestionably go
to the determination of the use and direction of physical force, but,
in the last resort, the last squadron of bombing aeroplanes will have
its way when all the navies, armies, and aerial fleets of the world
are destroyed, and in the last event the problem of sanctions is to
obtain control of that last squadron.
So far as the present situation is concerned, the regular forces of
the realm are the last sanctions of law and order within the realm,
and law and order can be identified with the operation of the financial
system as it exists at the present time.
There is no serious financial reform which can be inaugurated within
the framework of the present legal system, except by those in control
of the existing financial system. There is no intention whatever on
the part of those in control of the existing financial system to change
that system to their disadvantage, and there is no effective change
to the financial system which can be made without depriving its present
controllers of their absolute power.
I believe the foregoing statements to be axiomatic, and any form of
strategy or argument which traverses any of them would certainly seem
to me to be lacking in realism. The problem, then, is to obtain a change
in the financial system of such a nature that it is bound to be against
the will of those controlling the financial system at present, and
such a change can be induced only by the possession of the ultimate
sanctions of the realm, that is to say, control of the navy, the army,
and the air force, now controlled by these same controllers of finance.
The problem, in fact, is a problem of the victory of political democracy,
that is to say democracy of policy. MEANS OR ENDS?To understand
what I believe to be the only effective strategy to be pursued, we
have, first of all, to recognise that though we do, beyond question,
possess the rough machinery of political democracy, we do not use it.
It is not democracy of any conceivable kind to hold an election at
regular or irregular intervals for the purpose of deciding by ballot
whether you will be shot or boiled in oil.
It is not democracy of any conceivable kind to hold an election upon
any subject requiring technical information and education. Nothing
could be more fantastic, for instance, than to hold an election on,
say, whether aeroplanes or airships would be better for the purpose
of defence, or for any other purpose.
Yet the information which is required to give an intelligent opinion
on the use of tariffs or monetary policy is at least of as high an
order, and is, in fact, in the possession of far fewer people, than
the thorough knowledge of aerodynamics necessary for an election on
aeroplanes versus airships. So that the first requisite of a political
democracy is that
its operation shall be confined to objectives, not to methods. For
instance, it is a perfectly legitimate subject for the exercise of
political democracy to decide by democratic methods a policy of war
or no war, but it is not a subject for democracy to say how war should
be avoided, or the means by which it should be waged.
It is, however, a fit subject for democracy to remove responsible persons
who fail to carry out its policy, and the responsibility for that action
is on the democracy concerned. It will be seen, therefore, that the
question of practicability is an essential part of a genuine democracy;
that is to say, democracy should not demand something which cannot
be done, and should be prepared to accept the consequences of what
is done, and to assess responsibility for those consequences.
Undesired consequences may result from bad technical advice and management,
or they may on the other hand be inherent in the policy pursued.
In other words, a genuine political democracy must essentially be a
device based upon trial and error.
A political democracy which will never try something which has not
been tried before is useless, because things which have been tried
before can be reduced to the routine of administration, and administration
is not susceptible to the democratic principle, in which it is wholly
out of place. PRESENT OBJECTIVESThe problem before the world
and, in particular, the problem before this country, therefore, is
plain, though difficult.
First, we have to know how to bring into our consciousness what sort
of a world we want, and to realise that we alone can get it, not in
detail, but in objective; and I might say at once that there is not
one person in this room who is secure in the world that he now has.
In my opinion, we want, first of all. security in what we have, freedom
of action, thought, and speech, and a more abundant life for all. Every
one of these is possible, and every one of them in the present state
of progress of the world can be reduced to the possession of more purchasing
power, so that it is not too much to say, even though it may sound
banal, that the first objective of a democracy should be a national
A second aspect of the problem has been clarified by the courageous
utterance of the Lord Chief Justice, Lord Hewart, in his objections
to the encroachments of bureaucracy. If I may restate them - the business
of bureacracy is to get us what we want, not to annoy and hinder us
by taking from us by taxation and irritating restrictions those facilities
which we otherwise should have.
Thirdly, and most important, we have to obtain control of the forces
of the Crown by genuine political democracy.
I do not wish to go over again a subject which I have dealt with at
some length elsewhere, but I might, perhaps, reiterate the absurdity
of the present conception of Parliament as a place in which highly
technical laws are dealt with by elected representatives who did not
in any case draft them, and who cannot possibly be expected to understand
You may be interested to know that no Bill can proceed from any department
of the Government direct. Every Government Bill has to be drafted by
the legal department of the Treasury, which we all know to be in effect
a branch of the Bank of England, thus making it certain that no Bill
can come before Parliament which interferes in any way with the supreme
authority of the Treasury and that private international institution,
the Bank of England.
In place of this we have to substitute a situation in which the Member
of Parliament represents not the technical knowledge or lack of it
of his constituents, but their power over policy and their right to
the use of the sanctions by which policy can be enforced.
The proper function of Parliament, I may perhaps be allowed
to repeat, is to force all activities of a public nature
to be carried on so that the individuals who comprise the
public may derive the maximum benefit from them.
Once the idea is grasped, the criminal absurdity of the party system
The people of this country are shareholders in it first, and employees
of it only secondarily, if they are employees. Can anyone conceive
of a body of shareholders consenting to the party system in their business?
And this idea is just as applicable to undertakings carried on by the
state as in the case of so-called private business.
As shareholders we have an absolute right, and a right which by proper
organisation we can enforce, to say what we desire and to see that
our wishes as to policy are carried out, if those wishes are reasonable,
that is to say, if they are practicable. Let me go further. We have
an absolute responsibility to express our wishes; and the catastrophes,
crises, and miseries with which the population is faced and is experiencing,
and the stultification of all the magnificent work which is done in
the various departments of industry and national activity, are directly
due to the fact that we do not express a common policy as to the use
and distribution of the fruits of progress, and do not recognise our
responsibility to see that it is carried out through our political
(not administrative) representatives. We, in the Social Credit movement,
devoted many years, and very properly devoted those years, to making
quite certain that the policy of the fuller life was a practical policy.
For this reason we put forward various technical theories, in part
somewhat elusive and difficult to understand, and requiring, in any
case, for their proper criticism, an exact and competent knowledge
of the mechanism of finance and industry as they exist in the world
No one can complain that we have not had criticism enough, and, in
some cases, criticism of a very high order, mixed, of course, with
a good deal of what I can only describe as bilge.
I am wholly satisfied that there is nothing impracticable in the demand
which I suggest should be put forward, and a quite sufficient number
of instructed persons agree with me. But we recognise that, its practicability
having been proved, the problem is a problem of power, and we recognise
equally that political power must rest upon aims and desires and not
upon technical information.
So far as I am concerned, therefore, I am satisfied that further argument
upon technical matters will achieve little or nothing, and certainly
not in the time which is available, and that the only hope of civilisation
lies in forcing a new policy upon those who have control of the national
activities, of whom the bankers and financiers are by far the most
We do not want Parliament to pass laws resembling treatises on economics.
What we do want is for Parliament to pass a minimum of laws designed
to penalise the heads of any great industry, and banking and finance
in particular, if they do not produce the results desired. LICENSING
FINANCEI will be specific. I think that the chairmen, superior
officials, and branch managers of all banks, insurance companies, and
other financial institutions should, as is the case with smaller pawnbrokers,
be licensed. The fee for such a licence should be moderate (say £100)
if the individual retained his post indefinitely.
For every change in the personnel within a period of, say, five years,
not due to death or disability, a very substantial increase in the
licence should be imposed.
The general policy to be pursued by finance should then be imposed
by Parliament, and no interference with the details of banking, insurance
or other finance be permitted. If the policy imposed by Parliament
is not achieved within a reasonable time, a sufficient number of
chairmen and other officials of financial institutions should have
their licences withdrawn, and the very greatly enhanced fees (I would
suggest 1,000 times the original licence) exacted for the new licences
should be applied to the reduction of general taxation.
I have no doubt whatever that some such policy as this would brighten
the brains of bankers who are unable to see any way out of our present
You will have gathered, I hope, that in my opinion the tragedy of
human effort implied in the questions with which I commenced this
address, arises more than from any other single cause from a failure
to distinguish between means and ends, amounting in many cases to
the elevation of what are only means to ends in themselves.
We have got ourselves into a state of mind in which pepper is not
something to put on an egg, it is something for bank chairmen to
make a "corner" in. It is a failure of vision which, more than anything
else, is due to the hypnotism that money has exercised upon the human
mind, but the rule of the expert is far from blameless. An expert
is essentially a servant of policy, and we all know what comes of
"a servant when he ruleth."
The cure for it is to begin by demanding that whatever virtues are
inherent in money shall be shared; and, in order to make this claim,
it must be established that the claimant has the right and the power
to enforce it. THE WEAPON TO HAND We of the official Social
Credit Movement are concentrating upon this problem of devising a
mechanism, to enable the individuals who comprise the public to impose
their policy on the organisations which have no sound reason for
existence other than the will of the people.
We have organised a device known as the Electoral Campaign, to obtain
a demand, backed by a sufficient number of votes, that every Member
of Parliament shall regard himself as the spokesman of the policy
of his constituents, rather than as an expert elected for the purpose
of managing the business of the country.
The Electoral Campaign is a means and not an end.
The end, is in general, the putting of the expert in his proper place,
and, in particular and only as a beginning, the distribution of a
National Dividend. Any other means which will produce the same results
in a shorter time will be utilised.
So far, no such means have been suggested.
There is, in Liverpool, an organisation which deals with this matter,
as in fact there are organisations all over the world, and all of
them are acting on these lines and are affiliated to the Social Credit
Secretariat. Personally, I have no doubt whatever that if the policy
which I have outlined were pursued by every voter through the mechanism
which is provided, with one-tenth the energy which is put by the
average individual into his favourite game, the whole outlook of
the world would be changed within twelve months time.
I am equally convinced that if control of policy is left in the hands
of bankers and industrialists with their present mentality, while
at the same time parties, organisations, and individuals wrangle
about means, a world catastrophe is a mathematical certainty within
a few years.
Neither I nor any other individual can help you if you will not help
yourselves, and neither I nor any other individual who has endeavoured
to arouse you to a sense of responsibility can take that responsibility
from you. You are responsible for the poverty, grinding taxation,
insecurity and threat of war.
Yours is the responsibility, yours can be the power.
Will you, individually and collectively, assume the responsibility
and the power?
If not, there is no legitimate ground for hope. Notes of Questions
following the Address and Major Douglas's Answers to themTHE POWER
OF FINANCEAsked by whom supreme power was at present being exercised,
in default of its assertion by the people as a whole, Major Douglas
gave it as his opinion that the international acceptance houses might
be regarded as the financial coterie that now exercised supreme power. THE
POWER OF THE PEOPLE Once the people realised that they can exercise
supreme power, said Major Douglas, they would no more think of specifying
methods of achieving any particular result than a man armed with
sufficient purchasing power would think of telling his tailor how
to cut the suit of clothes he wanted. The people's sovereignty, i.e.,
their effective ability to give orders, increased with their unanimity,
and if people all wanted a uniform result there could be no possibility
of parties, and there could be no resistance to their demand. THERE
MUST BE AGREEMENT ON POLICYQuestion: It follows from what
Major Douglas has said that it is essential that the public should
agree on policy. Is it conceivable that the public can ever be united
on any policy?
Major Douglas answered that this would depend upon the
nature of a specific demand, and he thought that a policy
which would command universal agreement would be a demand
for security, sufficiency, freedom, and the removal of the
fear of war. Even if there were anyone who did not want any
of these things for other people, there was no one who did
not want it for himself, and few who would refuse it because
of its problematical ill-effects on others.
That, in substance, was the demand which was being canvassed in
the Electoral Campaign. Actual canvassing from house to house had
shown that at least 60 per cent. of those canvassed readily agreed
to the definition of their policy contained in the Electors' Demand.
That was a conservative estimate, for in many cases upwards of
90 per cent. agreement had been obtained.
It was essential to obtain agreement on policy, and if in any association
such as a nation, it was not possible to obtain agreement on policy,
then it became imperative that the association should break up
into smaller units, until in any unit the policy was agreed.
He remarked that this was exactly the opposite of the current attempt
to make the national problem into a world problem. JUDGING EXPERTS Question: How
can you trust the expert to carry out a policy when he might use
methods which were in themselves harmful?
Provided you were demanding results, replied Major Douglas, you
could judge by results; but if an expert used methods to rectify
a situation which were worse than the situation they were supposed
to rectify, you would know that he was a bad expert. If an expert
said that he could distribute food to you only at the price of
cutting off your right hand, you would be justified in sacking
the expert THE EXPERT'S JOBQuestion: Does
not the removal of an expert before the desired result is produced
amount to interfering with the expert?
Major Douglas's reply was that obviously the time allowed to
an expert to produce a given result must be commensurate with
the magnitude of the operation, but that at the end of that time
the removal of the expert was something quite different from
interference with him. It was the only practical method of dealing
with any situation involving experts. It is the way businesses
are run. What you must not do is to allow an expert to dictate
a policy, that is, he, as an expert, must not be allowed to say
what has to be done. His job is to do what you specify. MOST
DANGEROUS MAN The most dangerous man at the present time,
said Major Douglas in answer to another question, was the man
who wanted to get everyone back to work, for he perverts means
into ends. This is leading straight to the next war - which will
provide plenty of work for everyone. CONSCIOUS
SOVEREIGNTY Question: Is it not true that in totalitarian
states, such as Germany, experts have been told to produce results?
It is not the people who have specified the results that they
want, said Major Douglas, but the dictator; and the assumption
of dictatorship is that the dictator knows what is good for
the people. As a theory of government this is similar to the
idea that you must have strict supervision to see that the
girls in a chocolate shop do not eat the chocolates, whereas,
as everyone knows, it is quite unnecessary, because after the
first orgy which makes them sick, they tend not to eat chocolates.
There is too much attention paid to the material aspects of
What is important is that we should become conscious of our
sovereignty - that we should associate consciously, understanding
the purpose of our association, and refusing to accept results
which are alien to the purpose of our association. We must
learn to control our actions consciously, and not act at the
behest of some external control of which we are not conscious.
That is exploitation, and is similar to the behaviour of an
insane man led to the edge of a precipice because he has no
control over his own actions. A NATIONAL DIVIDEND
In answer to a questioner who said that the
demand for a National Dividend was a demand for a means, Major Douglas
said that the essence of the Electoral Campaign was an assertion
of sovereignty of power. We must demand something concrete. In order
to be effective it was necessary that the demand should be for something
reasonable. A demand for a National Dividend was not necessarily
a demand for money, but for a share in what we know exists or could
be made to exist, without taking anything away from anybody.
That was a reasonable demand.