If there be a saving way, at all, it is obviously this: Substitute health and happiness for wealth as a world-ideal; and translate that new ideal into action by education from babyhood up.
To do this, states must reorganise the spirit of education — in other words, must introduce religion; not the old formal creeds, but the humanistic religion of service for the common weal, the religion of a social honour which puts the health and happiness of all first and the wealth of self second. The only comfort in the situation is the curious fact that, underneath all else, the sociability inculcated in modern nations by quick communications and incessant intercourse is already tending toward the formation of this new humanistic religion.
The real and supreme importance of the League of Nations consists in its power of giving such a mood the first chance it has ever had in international affairs. For it must freely be confessed that, without this chance in international affairs, there is no hope that the mood will be adopted and fostered nationally.
John Galsworthy – Castles in Spain (1927)
In Galsworthy’s day many intelligent middle class people thought like this in spite and because of the Great War. They were not afraid to express their faith in a kind of universal secular bonhomie overseen by the benign gaze of the League of Nations.
How times have changed. The optimism of secular idealism has faded, its language tangled in caveats. Politically, secular optimism has become furtive, technical and rather weird.
Yet one Galsworthy phrase seems prescient to me, especially in the light of mass air travel and the internet: the sociability inculcated in modern nations by quick communications and incessant intercourse. Global sociability – maybe that’s our route to a more pragmatic optimism.
If so, then the stumbling block becomes obvious. Our political class has no wish to be sociable with the electorate because they don’t yet see us as their moral and intellectual equals, let alone their superiors.