Thursday, May 4, 2017

Do We Agree?

George Bernard Shaw, Hilaire Belloc & G.K. Chesterton


MR. BELLOC: I was told when I accepted this onerous office that I was to sum up. I shall do nothing of the sort. In a very few years from now this debate will be antiquated. I will now recite you a poem:

  "Our civilization
  Is built upon coal.
  Let us chant in rotation
  Our civilization
  That lump of damnation
  Without any soul,
  Our civilization
  Is built upon coal.

  "In a very few years,
  It will float upon oil.
  Then give three hearty cheers,
  In a very few years
  We shall mop up our tears
  And have done with our toil.
  In a very few years
  It will float upon oil."

In I do not know how many years ─ five, ten, twenty ─ this debate will be as antiquated as crinolines are. I am surprised that neither of the two speakers pointed out that one of three things is going to happen. One of three things: not one of two. It is always one of three things. This industrial civilization which, thank God, oppresses only the small part of the world in which we are most inextricably bound up, will break down and therefore end from its monstrous wickedness, folly, ineptitude, leading to a restoration of sane, ordinary human affairs, complicated but based as a whole upon the freedom of the citizens. Or it will break down and lead to nothing but a desert. Or it will lead the mass of men to become contented slaves,with a few rich men controlling them. Take your choice. You will all be dead before any of the three things comes off. One of the three things is going to happen, or a mixture of two, or possibly a mixture of the three combined.


─From transcript of a debate between George Bernard Shaw and G.K. Chesterton, "moderated" by Hilaire Belloc in 1928.

Read the complete debate here

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