[In the following passage, taken from his book Come What May, 1941, Arnold Lunn records a conversation he had with his father when fascism was in full bloom. Henry Lunn, who died just before the outbreak of World War II, was both a staunch liberal and a devout Methodist. It is clear from Sir Henry’s remarks that, despite being a fairly traditional Christian, he suffered from the common liberal attitude that moral progress was all but inevitable, appearances and history notwithstanding. Another less attractive and self-defeating tendency of the liberal mind also comes through: the assumption of intellectual and moral superiority to conservatives.]
“When I was young life was simple,” said my father. “I used to calculate the number of Liberals present at a political meeting by looking at the hats on the pegs outside. The big hats belonged to Liberals, because Liberals had big brains; the small hats to the unintelligent Tory champions of privilege. Of course there were still unsolved problems, but Liberals, at least, knew how to solve them. All that the world needed, so far as secular remedies were concerned, was Democracy, Free Trade and Education. There were still clouds on the horizon, still barriers to be overcome, but the final end was inevitable. Garibaldi was one of my boyhood’s heroes; Garibaldi, who was fighting to introduce the British Parliamentary system into Italy. And that, of course, was all that Italy needed to ensure her prosperity. Tennyson was my favourite poet. I loved to flavour my political speeches with quotations from Tennyson. ‘Freedom broadening down from precedent to precedent’ . . .”
“Until we got to Stalin and Hitler.”
“I know,” said my father sadly. “That’s just what we did not foresee. What inspired us was the Tennysonian future.
Till the war-drum throbb’d no
longer, and the battle flags were furled
In the Parliament of Man, the Federation of the World.
“Well, at least,” I said consolingly, “Tennyson’s vision has come true at Geneva.”
My father looked wistful, for he had spent much time and money campaigning for the League of Nations. He had lived, indeed, to see many, perhaps most, of the causes in which he believed go down to defeat, and yet to the end he retained his gallant belief in the greatest of all Victorian myths, the belief in inevitable progress. It was impossible to convince him that there is no predestined bias towards improvement, that progress is varied by regress and that civilisations are born and grow to maturity only to decay and die. He would have none of this. “No, what we are seeing today is just a temporary setback. The causes for which I fought as a young man will eventually triumph. I shall live and die an impenitent Liberal.”
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