Notes Towards The Definition Of Culture, Chapter 3: Unity and Diversity: The Region
21 min read
21 min read
A diversification among human communities is essential for the provision of the incentive and material for the Odyssey of the human spirit. Other nations of different habits are not enemies: they are godsends. Men require of their neighbours something sufficiently akin to be understood, something sufficiently different to provoke attention, and something great enough to command admiration.A. N. WHITEHEAD: Science and the Modern World
It is a recurrent theme of this essay, that a people should be neither too united nor too divided, if its culture is to flourish. Excess of unity may be due to barbarism and may lead to tyranny excess of division may be due to decadence and may also lead to tyranny: either excess will prevent further development in culture. The proper degree of unity and of diversity cannot be determined for all peoples at all times. We can only state and illustrate some departments in which excess or defect is dangerous: what is necessary, beneficial or deleterious for a particular people at a particular time, must be left to the wisdom of the sage and the insight of the statesman. Neither a classless society, nor a society of strict and impenetrable social barriers is good each class should have constant additions and defections the classes, while remaining distinct, should be able to mix freely and they should all have a community of culture with each other which will give them something in common, more fundamental than the community which each class has with its counterpart in another society. In the previous chapter we considered the special developments of culture by class: we have now to consider the special developments of culture by region.
Of the advantages of administrative and sentimental unity we hardly need to be reminded, after the experience of war; but it is often assumed that the unity of wartime should be preserved in time of peace. Amongst any people engaged in warfare, especially when the war appears, or can be made to appear, purely defensive, we may expect a spontaneous unity of sentiment which is genuine, an affectation of it on the part of those who merely wish to escape odium, and, from all, submission to the commands of the constituted authorities. We should hope to find the same harmony and docility among the survivors of a shipwreck adrift in a lifeboat. People often express regret that the same unity, self-sacrifice and fraternity which prevail in an emergency, cannot survive the emergency itself. Most audiences at Barrie’s play. The Admirable Crichton, have drawn the inference that the social organisation on the island was right, and that the social organisation at the country seat was wrong: I am not sure that Barrie’s play is not susceptible of a different interpretation. We must distinguish at all events between, the kind of unity which is necessary in an emergency, and that which is appropriate for the development of culture in a nation at peace. It is conceivable, of course, that a period of ‘peace’ may be a period of preparation for war, or of continuation of warfare in another form: in which situation we may expect a deliberate stimulation of patriotic sentiment and a rigorous central government control. It might be expected, too, in such a period, that ‘economic warfare’ would be conducted by strict government discipline, not left to the guerillas and privateers of enterprise. But I am concerned here with the kind and degree of unity desirable in a country which is at peace with other countries: for if we cannot have periods of real peace, it is futile to hope for culture at all. The kind of unity with which I am concerned is not expressible as a common enthusiasm or a common purpose: enthusiasms and purposes are always transient.
The unity with which I am concerned must be largely unconscious, and therefore can perhaps be best approached through a consideration of the useful diversities. Here I have to do with diversity of region. It is important that a man should feel himself to be, not merely a citizen of a particular nation, but a citizen of a particular part of his country, with local loyalties. These, like loyalty to class, arise out of loyalty to the family. Certainly, an individual may develop the warmest devotion to a place in which he was not born, and to a community with which he has no ancestral ties. But I think we should agree that there would be something artificial, something a little too conscious, about a community of people with strong local feeling, all of whom had come from somewhere else. I think we should say that we must wait for a generation or two for a loyalty which the inhabitants had inherited, and which was not the result of a conscious choice. On the whole, it would appear to be for the best that the great majority of human beings should go on living in the place in which they were born. Family, class and local loyalty all support each others and if one of these decays, the others will suffer also.
The problem of ‘regionalism’ is seldom contemplated in its proper perspective. I introduce the term ‘regionalism’ deliberately, because of the associations which it is apt to conjure up. It means, I think, to most people, the conception of some small group of local malcontents conducting a political agitation which, because it is not formidable, is regarded as ludicrous — for any movement for what is assumed to be a lost cause always excites ridicule. We expect to find ‘regionalists’ attempting to revive some language which is disappearing and ought to disappear or to revive customs of a bygone age which have lost all significance or to obstruct the inevitable and accepted progress of mechanisation and large-scale industry. The champions of local tradition, indeed, often fail to make the best of their case; and when, as some- times happens, they are most vigorously opposed and derided by others among their own people, the outsider feels that he has no reason to take them seriously. They sometimes misconceive their own case. They are inclined to formulate the remedy wholly in political terms; and as they may be politically inexperienced, and at the same time are agitated by deeper than political motives, their programmes may be patently impracticable. And when they put forward an economic programme, there, too, they are handicapped by having motives which go deeper than economics, in contrast with men who have the reputation of being practical. Furthermore, the usual regionalist is concerned solely with the interests of his own region, and thereby suggests to his neighbour across the border, that what is to the interest of one must be to the disadvantage of the other. The Englishman, for instance, does not ordinarily think of England as a ‘region’ in the way that a Scottish or Welsh national can think of Scotland or Wales and as it is not made clear to him that his interests also are involved, his sympathies are not enlisted. Thus the Englishman may identify his own interests with a tendency to obliterate local and racial distinctions, which is as harmful to his own culture as to those of his neighbours. Until the case is generalised, therefore, it is not likely to meet with a fair hearing.
At this point the professed regionalist, if he reads these pages, may suspect that I am playing a trick which he sees through. What I aim to do, he may think, is trying to deny him the political and economic autonomy of his region, and appease him by offering him a substitute, ‘cultural autonomy’, which, because it is divorced from political and economic power, will only be a shadow of the real thing. I am quite aware that the political, the economic and the cultural problems cannot be isolated from each other. I am quite aware that any local ‘cultural revival’ which left the political and economic framework unaffected, would hardly be more than an artificially sustained antiquarianism: what is wanted is not to restore a vanished, or to revive a vanishing culture under modern conditions which make it impossible, but to grow a contemporary culture from the old roots. But the political and economic conditions of healthy regionalism are not the concern of the present essay; nor are they matters on which I am qualified to pronounce. Nor, I think, should the political or the economic problem be the primary concern of the true regionalist. The absolute value is that each area should have its characteristic culture, which should also harmonise with, and enrich, the cultures of the neighbouring areas. In order to realise this value it. is necessary to investigate political and economic alternatives to centralisation in London or elsewhere: and here, it is a question of the possible — of what can be done which will support this absolute value of culture, without injury to the island as a whole and by consequence to that part of it also in which the regionalist is interested. But this is beyond my scope.
We are, you will have noticed, primarily concerned with the particular constellation of cultures which is found in the British Isles. The clearest among the differences to be considered is that of the areas which still possess languages of their own. Even this division is not so simple as it looks: for a people (like the English-speaking Irish) which has lost its language may preserve enough of the structure, idiom, intonation and rhythm of its original tongue (vocabulary is of minor importance) for its speech and writing to have qualities not elsewhere found in the language of its adoption. And on the other hand a ‘dialect’ may preserve the vestiges, on the lowest level of culture, of a variety of the language which once had equal status with any. But the unmistakable satellite culture is one which preserves its language, but which is so closely associated with, and dependent upon, another, that not only certain classes of the population, but all of them, have to be bi-lingual. It differs from the culture of the independent small nation in this respect, that in the latter it is usually only necessary for some classes to know another language 5 and in the independent small nation, those who need to know one foreign language are likely to need two or three: so that the pull towards one foreign culture will be balanced by the attraction of at least one other. A nation of weaker culture may be under the influence of one or another stronger culture at different periods: a true satellite culture is one which, for geographical and other reasons, has a permanent relation to a stronger one.
When we consider what I call the satellite culture, we find two reasons against consenting to its complete absorption into the stronger culture. The first objection is one so profound that it must simply be accepted: it is the instinct of every living thing to persist in its own being. The resentment against absorption is sometimes most strongly felt, and most loudly voiced, by those individuals in whom it is united with an unacknowledged awareness of inferiority or failure; and on the other hand it is often repudiated by those individuals for whom adoption into the stronger culture has meant success — greater power, prestige or wealth than could have been theirs had their fortunes been circumscribed by their area of origin. But when the testimony of both these types of individual has been discounted, we may say that any vigorous small people wants to preserve its individuality.
The other reason for the preservation of local culture is one which is also a reason for the satellite culture continuing to be satellite, and not going so far as to try to cut itself off completely. It is that the satellite exercises a considerable influence upon the stronger culture; and so plays a larger part in the world at large than it could in isolation. For Ireland, Scotland and Wales to cut themselves off completely from England would be to cut themselves off from Europe and the world, and no talk of auld alliances would help matters. But it is the other side of the question that interests me more, for it is the side that has received less acknowledgment. It is that the survival of the satellite culture is of very great value to the stronger culture. It would be no gain whatever for English culture, for the Welsh, Scots and Irish to become indistinguishable from Englishmen — what would happen, of course, is that we should all become indistinguishable featureless ‘Britons’, at a lower level of culture than that of any of the separate regions. On the contrary, it is of great advantage for English culture to be constantly influenced from Scotland, Ireland and Wales.
A people is judged by history according to its contribution to the culture of other peoples flourishing at the same time and according to its contribution to the cultures which arise afterwards. It is from this point of view that I look at the question of the preservation of languages — I am not interested in languages in an advanced state of decay (that is to say, when they are no longer adequate to the needs of expression of the more educated members of the community). It is sometimes considered an advantage, and a source of glory, that one’s own language should be a necessary medium for as many foreigners as possible: I am not sure that this popularity is without grave dangers for any language. A less dubious advantage of certain languages which are native to large numbers of people, is that they have become, because of the work done by scientists and philosophers who have thought in those languages, and because of the traditions thus created, better vehicles than others for scientific and abstract thought. The case for the more restricted languages must be put on grounds which have less immediate appeal.
The question we may ask about such a language as Welsh, is whether it is of any value to the world at large, that it should be used in Wales. But this is really as much as to ask whether the Welsh, qua Welsh, are of any use? not, of course, as human beings, but as the preservers and continuers of a culture which is not English. The direct contribution to poetry by Welshmen and men of Welsh extraction, writing in English, is very considerable and considerable also is the influence of their poetry upon poets of different racial origins. The fact that an extensive amount of poetry
has been written in the Welsh language, in the ages when the English language was unknown in Wales, is of less direct importance: for there appears no reason why this should not be studied by those who will take the trouble to learn the language, on the same terms as poetry written in Latin or Greek. On the surface, there would seem to be every reason why Welsh poets should compose in the English language exclusively: for I know of no instance of a poet having reached the first rank in both languages^ and the Welsh influence upon English poetry has been the work chiefly of Welsh poets who wrote only in English. But it must be remembered, that for the transmission of a culture a peculiar way of thinking, feeling and behaving — and for its maintenance, there is no safeguard more reliable than a language. And to survive for this purpose it must continue to be a literary language — not necessarily a scientific language but certainly a poetic one: otherwise the spread of education will extinguish it. The literature written in that language will not, of course, make any direct impact upon the world at large; but if it is no longer cultivated, the people to whom it belongs (we are considering particularly the Welsh) will tend to lose their racial character. The Welsh will be less Welsh; and their poets will cease to have any contribution to make to English literature, beyond their individual genius. And I am of opinion, that the benefits which Scottish, Welsh and Irish writers have conferred upon English literature are far in excess of what the contribution of all these individual men of genius would have been had they, let us say, all been adopted in early infancy by English foster-parents.
I am not concerned, in an essay which aims at least at the merit of brevity, to defend the thesis, that it is desirable that the English should continue to be English. I am obliged to take that for granted: and if this assumption is called into question, I must defend it on another occasion. But if I can defend with any success the thesis, that it is to the advantage of England that the Welsh should continue to be Welsh, the Scots Scots and the Irish Irish, then the reader should be disposed to agree that there may be some advantage to other peoples in the English continuing to be English. It is an essential part of my case, that if the other cultures of the British Isles were wholly superseded by English culture, English culture would disappear too. Many people seem to take for granted that English culture is something self-sufficient and secure; that it will persist whatever happens. While some refuse to admit that any foreign influence can be bad, others assume complacently that English culture could flourish in complete isolation from the Continent. To many it has never occurred to reflect that the disappearance of the peripheral cultures of England (to say nothing of the more humble local peculiarities within England itself) might be a calamity. We have not given enough attention to the ecology of cultures. It is probable, I think, that complete uniformity of culture throughout these islands would bring about a lower grade of culture altogether.
It should be clear that I attempt no solution of the regional problem; and the ‘solution’ would have in any case to vary indefinitely according to local needs and possibilities. I am trying only to take apart, and leave to others to reassemble, the elements in the problem. I neither support nor dispute any specific proposals for particular regional reforms. Most attempts to solve the problem seem to me to suffer from a failure to examine closely either the unity, or the differences, between the cultural, political and economic aspects. To deal with one of these aspects, to the exclusion of the others, is to produce a programme which will, because of its inadequacy, appear a little absurd. If the nationalistic motive in regionalism were pushed very far, it certainly would lead to absurdity. The close association of the Bretons with the French, and of the Welsh with the English, is to the advantage of everybody: an association of Brittany and Wales which ruptured their connexions with France and England respectively, would be an unqualified misfortune. For a national culture, if it is to flourish, should be a constellation of cultures, the constituents of which, benefiting each other, benefit the whole.
At this point I introduce a new notion: that of the vital importance for a society of friction between its parts. Accustomed as we are to think in figures of speech taken from machinery, we assume that a society, like a machine, should be as well-oiled as possible, provided with ball bearings of the best steel. We think of friction as waste of energy. I shall not attempt to substitute any other imagery; perhaps at this point the less we think in analogies the better. In the last chapter I suggested that in any society which became permanently established in either a caste or a classless system, the culture would decay: one might even put it that a classless society should always be emerging into class, and a class society should be tending towards obliteration of its class distinctions. I now suggest that both class and region, by dividing the inhabitants of a country into two different kinds of groups, lead to a conflict favourable to creativeness and progress. And (to remind the reader of what I said in my introduction) these are only two of an indefinite number of conflicts and jealousies which should be profitable to society. Indeed, the more the better; so that everyone should be an ally of everyone else in some respects, and an opponent in several others, and no one conflict, envy or fear will dominate.
As individuals, we find that our development depends upon the people whom we meet in the course of our lives. (These people include the authors’s whose books we read, and characters in works of Action and history.) The benefit of these meetings is due as raucli to the differences as to the resemblances to the conflict, as well as the sympathy, between persons. Fortunate the man who, at the right moment, meets the right friend; fortunate also the man who at the right moment meets the right enemy. I do not approve the extermination of the enemy: the policy of exterminating or, as is barbarously said, liquidating enemies, is one of the most alarming developments of modern war and peace, from the point of view of those who desire the survival of culture. One needs the enemy. So, within limits, the friction, not only between individuals but between groups, seems to me quite necessai-y for civilisation. The universality of irritation is the best assurance of peace. A country within which the divisions have gone too far is a danger to itself: a country which is too well united — whether by nature or by device, by honest purpose or by fraud and oppression — is a menace to others. In Italy and in Germany, we have seen that a unity with politico-economic aims, imposed violently and too rapidly, had unfortunate effects upon both nations. Their cultures had developed in the course of a history of extreme, and extremely sub-divided regionalism; the attempt to teach Germans to think of themselves as Germans first, and the attempt to teach Italians to think of themselves as Italians first, rather than as natives of a particular small principality or city, was to disturb the traditional culture from which alone any future culture could grow.
I may put the idea of the importance of conflict within a nation more positively, by insisting on the importance of various and sometimes conflicting loyalties. If we consider these two divisions alone, of class and region, these ought to some extent to operate against each other: a man should have certain interests and sympathies in common with other men of the same local culture as against those of his own class elsewhere; and interests and sympathies in common with others of his class, irrespective of place. Numerous cross-divisions favour peace within a nation, by dispersing and confusing animosities; they favour peace between nations, by giving every man enough antagonism at home to exercise all his aggressiveness. The majority of men commonly dislike foreigners, and are easily inflamed against them; and it is not possible for the majority to know much about foreign peoples. A nation which has gradations of class seems to me, other things being equal, likely to be more tolerant and pacific than one which is not so organised.
So far, we have proceeded from the greater to the less, finding a national culture to be the resultant of an indefinite number of local cultures which, when themselves analysed, are composed of still smaller local cultures. Ideally, each village, and of course more visibly the larger towns, should have each its peculiar character. But I have already suggested that a national culture is the better for being in contact with outside cultures, both giving and receiving: and we shall now proceed in the opposite direction, from the smaller to the larger. As we go in this direction, we find that the content of the term culture undergoes some change: the word means something rather different, if we are speaking of the culture of a village, of a small region, of ah. island like Britain which comprehends several distinct racial cultures and the meaning is altered much more when we come to speak of ‘European culture’. We have to abandon most of the political associations, for whereas in such smaller units of culture as I have just mentioned there is normally a certain unity of government, the unity of government of the Holy Roman Empire was, throughout most of the period covered by the term, both precarious and largely nominal. Of the nature of the unity of culture in Western Europe, I have written in the three broadcast talks — composed for another audience and therefore in a somewhat different style from the body of this essay — which I have added as an appendix under the title of ‘The Unity of European Culture’. I shall not attempt to cover the same ground in this chapter, but shall proceed to enquire what meaning, if any, can be attached to the term ‘world culture’. The investigation of a possible ‘world culture’ should be of particular interest to those who champion any of the various schemes for world-federation, or for a world government: for, obviously, so long as there exist cultures which are beyond some point antagonistic to each other, antagonistic to the point of irreconcilability, all attempts at politico-economic unification will be in vain. I say ‘beyond some point’, because in the relations of any two cultures there will be two opposite forces balancing each other: attraction and repulsion — without the attraction they could not affect each other, and without the repulsion they could not survive as distinct cultures; one would absorb the other, or both would be fused into one culture. Now the zealots of world-government seem to me sometimes to assume, unconsciously, that their unity of organisation has an absolute value, and that if differences between cultures stand in the way, these must be abolished. If these zealots are of the humanitarian type, they will assume that this process will take place naturally and painlessly: they may, without knowing it, take for granted that the final world-culture will be simply an extension of that to which they belong themselves. Our Russian friends, who are more realistic, if not in the long run any more practical, are much more conscious of irreconcilability between cultures and appear to hold, the “view that any culture incompatible with their own should be forcibly uprooted.
The world-planners who are both serious and humane, however, might if we believed that their methods would succeed — be as grave a menace to culture as those who practise more violent methods. For it must follow from what I have already pleaded about the value of local cultures, that a world culture which was simply a uniform culture would be no culture at all. We should have a humanity de-humanised. It would be a nightmare. But on the other hand, we cannot resign the idea of world-culture altogether. For if we content ourselves with the ideal of ‘European culture’ we shall still be unable to fix any definite frontiers. European culture has an area, but no definite frontiers: and you cannot build Chinese walls. The notion of a purely self-contained European culture would be as fatal as the notion of a self-contained national culture: in the end as absurd as the notion of preserving a local uncontaminated culture in a single county or village of England. We are therefore pressed to maintain the ideal of a world culture, while admitting that it is something we cannot imagine. We can only conceive it, as the logical term of relations between cultures. Just as we recognise that the parts of Britain must have in one sense, a common culture, though this common culture is only actual in diverse local manifestations, so we must aspire to a common world culture, which will yet not diminish the particularity of the constituent parts. And here, of course, we are finally up against religion, which so far, in the consideration of local differences within the same area, we have not had to face. Ultimately, antagonistic religions must mean antagonistic cultures and ultimately, religions cannot be reconciled. From the official Russian point of view there are two objections to religion: first, of course, that religion is apt to provide another loyalty than that claimed by the State; and second, that there are several religions in the world still firmly maintained by many believers. The second objection is perhaps even more serious than the first; for where there is only one religion, it is always possible that that religion may be subtly altered, so that it will enjoin conformity rather than stimulate resistance to the State.
We are the more likely to be able to stay loyal to the ideal of the unimaginable world culture, if we recognise all the difficulties, the practical impossibility, of its realisation. And there are further difficulties which cannot be ignored. We have so far considered cultures as if they had all come into being by the same process of growth: the same people in the same place. But there is the colonial problem, and the colonisation problem; it is a pity that the world ‘colony’ has had to do duty hn- two quite different meanings. The colonial problem is that of the relation between an indigenous native culture and a foreign culture, when a higher foreign culture has been imposed, often by force, upon a lower. This problem is insoluble, and takes several forms. There is one problem when we come into contact with a lower culture for the first time: there are very few places in the world where this is still possible. There is another problem where a native culture has already begun to disintegrate under foreign influence, and where a native population has already taken in more of the foreign culture than it can ever expel. There is a third problem where, as in some of the West Indies, several uprooted peoples have been haphazardly mixed. And these problems are insoluble, in the sense that, whatever we do towards their solution or mitigation, we do not altogether know what we are doing. We must be aware of them we must do what we can, so far as our understanding will take us but many more forces enter into the changes of the culture of a people than we can grasp and control and any positive and excellent development of culture is always a miracle when it happens.
The colonisation problem arises from migration. When peoples migrated across Asia and Europe in pre-historic and early times, it was a whole tribe, or at least a wholly representative part of it, that moved together. Therefore, it was a total culture that moved. In the migrations of modern times, the emigrants have come from countries already highly civilised. They came from countries where the development of social organisation was already complex. The people who migrated have never represented the whole of the culture of the country from which they came, or they have represented it in quite different proportions. They have transplanted themselves according to some social, religious, economic or political determination, or some peculiar mixture of these. There has therefore been something in the removements analogous in nature to religious schism. The people have taken with them only a part of the total culture in which, so long as they remained at home, they participated. The culture which develops on the new soil must therefore be bafflingly alike and different from the parent culture: it will be complicated sometimes by whatever relations are established with some native race, and further by immigration from other than the original source. In this way, peculiar types of culture-sympathy and culture-clash appear, between the areas populated by colonisation, and the countries of Europe from which the migrants came.
There is finally the peculiar case of India, where almost every complication is found to defeat the culture-planner. There is stratification of society which is not purely social but to some extent racial, in a Hindu world which comprehends peoples with an ancient tradition of high civilisation, and tribesmen of very primitive culture indeed. There is Brahminism and there is Islam. There are two or more important cultures on completely different religious foundations. Into this confused world came the British, with their assurance that their own culture was the best in the world,
their ignorance of the relation between culture and religion, and (at least since the nineteenth century) their bland assumption that religion was a secondary matter. It is human, when we do not understand another human being, and cannot ignore him, to exert an unconscious pressure on that person to turn him into something that we can understand: many husbands and wives exert this pressure on each other. The effect on the person so influenced is liable to be the repression and distortion, rather than the improvement, of the personality; and no man is good enough to have the right to make another over in his own image. The benefits of British rule will soon he lost, but the ill effects of the disturbance of a native culture by an alien one will remain. To offer another people your culture first, and your religion second, is a reversal of values: and while every European represents, for good or ill, the culture to which he belongs, only a small minority are worthy representatives of its religious faith. The only prospect of stability in India seems the alternative of a development, let us hope under peaceful conditions, into a loose federation of kingdoms, or to a mass uniformity attainable only at the price of the abolition of class distinctions and the abandonment of all religion — which would mean the disappearance of Indian culture.
I have thought it necessary to make this brief excursion into the several types of culture relation between one nation and the different kinds of foreign area, because the regional problem within the nation has to be seen in this larger context. There can be, of course, no one simple solution. As I have said, the improvement and transmission of culture can never be the direct object of any of our practical activities: all we can do is to try to keep in mind that whatever we do will affect our own culture or that of some other people. We can also learn to respect every other culture as a whole, however inferior to our own it may appear, or however justly we may disapprove of some features of it: the deliberate destruction of another culture as a whole is an irreparable wrong, almost as evil as to treat human beings like animals. But it is when we give our attention to the question of unity and diversity within the limited area that we know best, and within which we have the most frequent opportunities for right action, that we can combat the hopelessness that invades us, when we linger too long upon perplexities so far beyond our measure.
It was necessary to remind ourselves of those considerable areas of the globe, in which the problem takes a different form from ours; of those areas particularly, in which two or more distinct cultures are so inextricably involved with each other, in propinquity and in the ordinary business of living, that ‘regionalism’, as we conceive it in Britain, would be a mockery. For such areas it is probable that a very different type of political philosophy should inspire political action, from that in terms of which we are accustomed to think and act in this part of the world. It is as well to have these differences at the back of our mind, that we may appreciate better
the conditions with which we have to deal at home. These conditions are those of a homogeneous general culture, associated with the traditions of one religion: given these conditions, we can maintain the conception of a national culture which will draw its vitality from the cultures of its several areas, within each of which again there will be smaller units of culture having their own local pecidiarities.