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The Spike or Victoria University College Review June 1918




We are oppressed and limited by the present. It is to the Greeks that we owe the conception of the unities of time, place and action. In their dramas they presented before their audience a main point of interest (the unity of action), which was to take place within the few hours that the chorus was viewing the play (unity of time), and the scene was to be laid in the same place throughout (unity of place). These two latter unities, of time and place, were only more or less unavoidable conditions of the Greek way of treating drama, which later thought elaborated into principles buttressing the unity of action, which alone is essential to all art. Following the Greek rules, then, only the crisis of the action may be presented. By means of the chorus, however, the audience are enabled to look before and after, for the chorus gives the spiritual interpretation of outward action rather than actual outward action, inviting our own interpretation. And who is better able to point out the motives that impel action than the dramatist himself? It is due to his study and observation that he is able to build out of the particular, the general; from the multitude of ever-recurring, yet ever-varying human actions, he can point out what is most fixed, absolute and fundamental in human life. The principles applied by the Greek masters to dramatic representation of life are the same that are needed for forming true judgment in all human affairs: (1) To concentrate the attention on the most material, fundamental point at issue or in debate, and to focus it clearly, stripped of all incidentals; (2) to view human action in harmony with past and future (i.e., not apart from causes and effects). The unity of action does the first. The chorus does the second. In our national and political life we lose sight of both principles. We have gradually emerged from feudalism to the present stage. We are now a democracy, yet we are still inclined either to rely blindly on the conclusions arrived at by page 16 the dramatist of an age gone-by, or, as blindly, to reject them. We have gained privileges, but we have not shouldered the responsibilities that these privileges entail. We refuse to carry out efficiently even those comparatively unimportant decisions that we, as students, are called upon from time to time to make—I say "comparatively unimportant," because as we fit ourselves to vote intelligently on small issues, so do we make ourselves more capable of voting on the larger issues. The way to fit ourselves for our responsibilities is to take a keen interest in the welfare of the students as a whole, and this will, by a gradual process, lead us on to take a wider interest in the country, in the Empire, in humanity. We should go to a general meeting with as definite a knowledge of the subjects to be discussed at it and of our own ideas on those subjects, as we should to the November examinations. It is only by this method of thorough preparation that we can hope for or expect the best results from such meetings. The low standard in the leaders is a result of unintelligent voting and lack of interest on the part of the led.

We see exactly the same thing occurring in the Government. The leaders are blinded by the present; to them the future is so dimly defined that they are unable to provide for it. They endeavor to find the easiest way of dealing with difficulties and, apparently, unlike the dramatist, are unable to interpret the present with reference to the past for the better solution of the future.

This lack of harmonious development will remain until we have as a leader one whose chief aim is service to the community—one to whom Ministerial salary, position or influence offers no intrinsic inducement—in a word, a true educationalist.

Dowden, in his "Puritan and Anglican," discusses Milton's views on civil liberty. He says that:

"Milton declared himself in favor of a free commonwealth, without a 'single person,' whether named King or Protector, and without a chamber of peers. Yet he is no democrat of the modern type. A mere majority, whether in Parliament or of the people, did not suffice, in Milton's views, to settle anything. A majority may be corrupt, 'there is little virtue,' he says, 'in number.' A licentious and unbridled democracy he abhored; he honored what Burke afterwards called 'a natural aristocracy,' and he would distinguish them not by trappings or titles, but by grave duties and laborious tasks performed for the public welfare. 'What government,' he asks, 'comes nearer to the percept of Christ than a free commonwealth wherein they who are the greatest are perpetual servants and drudges to the public at their own cost and charges, neglect their own affairs, yet are not elevated above their brethren; walk the street as other men, may be spoken to freely, familiarly, friendly, without adoration?' Milton desired after so many vicissitudes of divided rule, a continuity of order and a continuity of progress; this he believed, could be attained only in one way—by an oligarchy of wisdom and virtue resting upon a popular basis. The choice of these rulers of the people could not be entrusted to 'the noise and shouting of a rude multitude.' Duly-qualified electors might nominate a body of men, from whom by their own votes a smaller body might be selected, until perhaps 'by a third or fourth sifting and refining of exactest choice, they only be left chosen who are the due number and seem by most voices the worthiest.' At the same time, Milton desired to quicken the vigilance and zeal of the whole people; this, he believed, could be accomplished by the delegation of power in local matters to local authorities. In recent years and at the present moment the need of a supreme Imperial authority working in harmony with a subordinate system of decentralization—such a system as can enter into no rivalry with the central power—has been, and is, recognised as in no previous period."

Milton takes us thus far and no further. In the ideal commonwealth there should be no multitude who delight in "noise and page 17 shouting," but each individual should be worthy of exercising a vote.

This Miltonic franchise suggests comparison with the franchise in vogue in Belgium and in Prussia before the war. But the type of leaders in Prussia, rewarded as they are by power, influence and money, would be very different from those leaders who, presumably, would accept office in Milton's free commonwealth. It would be the first duty of these leaders to unite the Empire in a common aim whence comes harmony and power—that this is necessarily so, can be proved again by reference to Germany. To ensure getting the ideal common aim, we must get ideal leaders, or, rather, the closer we approximate to the ideal in the latter, the nearer do we draw to a realization of the ideal in the former.

To return now from fancy to fact. Is it not true that we individually are responsible in a measure for the evils around us? No democratic organisation of society can relieve the individual of the responsibilities of the whole. We must fit ourselves for the task of the dramatist. All are called but few will be chosen. The efficient man will always be higher up than the incompetent.

"The ten-talent man and the two-talent man are not equal, and no system of society can make them so. To be weighed in an even balance is all that the true democrat does or should expect."