What follows is Wilkins’ lecture from a talk he gave in 1941, interspersed with notes from Stephen Carthew. This talk was given to the Georgia Education Association in April 1941, nine months after Italy joined the Axis in June 1940 and eight months before the Pearl Harbour attack on 7 December 1941. Minor edits for clarity. Stephen Carthew’s comments are prefixed with SC.
Lecture 1941: ‘Next Steps Towards Civilisation’
by Sir Hubert Wilkins.
With all the world in such turmoil as it is today, our immediate concern may not be so much with steps toward a better civilisation as it may be with the steps we must take to maintain the present highest standard. However, the majority of people of this country as well as of mine I am sure, will agree that to retain the highest standard, the steps we must take need not necessarily be “goose-steps”.
In the history of man, it is noticeable that the trend of civilisation has been ever upward, but the movement has not been one of steady progress; there have been many haltings on the way. And we have seen that no one country, no one race or nation has throughout the ages been always the leader in the uplift of civilisation. History shows that when one race or nation has led the world for a certain time it drops from its place and some other race or nation takes the lead.
Because of what is happening in Europe today we must consider whether the English-speaking people have reached the highest point which they may carry civilisation and whether they in turn must lose their place in the lead and let some other race or nation impose their civilisation upon the world.
I think that the English-speaking people have not yet reached the highest point to which they may carry civilisation and I believe that through co-operation they will not only uphold our present standard, but after resisting the attempts of the Axis powers to impose their barbaric traits upon us, we can eventually lead civilisation to higher levels.
What is it that the English-speaking people treasure in their civilisation? It is the exercise of Christian ethics, the rule of law and order, opportunity for the weak as well as the strong; that the fulfilment of contracts be considered superior to arbitrary force; freedom from thought and freedom of action and above all is the hope that eventually it may lead to the establishment for everyone, freedom from anxiety as to future physical welfare. In short SECURITY for soul and body.
It is my opinion that if we are able to establish freedom from anxiety as to future physical welfare, it will not be too difficult to develop spiritually and to provide much that is necessary to aid our steps toward a better civilisation—to carry us forward from barbarity towards better things.
If we can provide for all peoples of the world security according to their individual understanding of their personal needs, we will at once provide a better opportunity to exercise the Christian ethics and bring about real brotherhood of man irrespective of race, nationality or creed.
There has been, and there will possibly be for years to come, spiritual, ethical and cultural conflicts, but in general, while we argue about ethics, we will invariably fight about economics.
Since the beginning of organised society mankind has been seeking for better relationships with his neighbours and in that interest has been tried philosophy, religion, politics and politically controlled economic and social science. (SC: Possibly referring to communism)
Philosophy alone cannot provide the solution, for mankind has not yet removed from dependence upon the material things of life. Religion, surprising as it may seem, for religion does include moral principles and practices which if practiced would lead to the brotherhood of man, has not yet provided the solution. Neither has politics nor politically controlled economics and social science. I think that this fact is not surprising, for politicians must necessarily be concerned with the immediate—with things within their grasp. They must concern themselves wit the immediate betterment of their own constituents rather than work in the equal interests of all humanity. They cannot run with the hare and the hounds.
SC: The full proverb is ‘You cannot run with the hare and hunt with the hounds‘ the meaning being that you cannot have it both ways; one cannot support or attempt to placate both sides of a conflict or dispute, because to do so would be to act duplicitously or hypocritically; that is to speak or act out against something while engaging or taking part in it. This is very much how Wilkins thought. He was wholly sincere, finding sophistry something that might be called moral abomination. He goes on to build his argument slowly but quite surely:
Politics are necessary, of course, and for the present and near future we cannot expect that any but the politicians and statesmen will direct the immediate progress we desire.
SC: In the following paragraph Wilkins spells out his thoughts about cooperation revealing how much of an Internationalist he was:
Economists, if concerned with international affairs, in the future, might remedy the greatest ailment of the world—man’s inhumanity to man, but the economists of today are not so concerned with international affairs as they are with national requirements. Many economists will admit that they are so bound by the politicians that they may not exercise their efforts in the interest of the world in general. ‘For the moment,’ they say, ‘we are hired by the politicians to work in the interests of our own particular country and if we work exclusively in the interests of OUR country it is evident that the result will not be for the greatest benefit of any other country.
SC: Wilkins is resigned to the inevitability of this present mind-set, until there is a change. His argument is progressing.
Such an arrangement, however, is unfortunately at present quite necessary, for the conditions of this world of ours are not yet such that the whole world may march forward, abreast, in progress and development. Some co-operating group must lead.
Not until the whole world can be assured of security in respect to physical and material welfare can the various units of civilisation march abreast to higher planes.
It may be admitted, in passing, that the comparative physical security of England and the United States and their failure to realise that some co-operating group must take the LEAD has brought about the present world conflict of arms. Theirs were sins of omission, culpable in a world demanding progress.
SC: The italicised sentence was handwritten and inserted in the paper after being typed. It seems that Wilkins decided to be a little stronger the more he contemplated his lecture. The world ‘culpable’ lays blame on the US and the UK (the cooperating group). Specifically, he chides England for initially appeasing Hitler, and intimates that America was not interested in true progress, because it was isolating itself and refusing to ‘take the LEAD’. Remember the talk was given eight months prior to the 7 December Pearl Harbour attack.
England did not see the need to display an effort strongly or determinedly to lead the advancement of civilisation in Europe until other countries thought that either independently or, by co-operation, THEY could not only outstep the civilisation of the English-speaking people, but impose their type of civilisation and a new order upon the whole world—an order they would maintain through domination by armed forces and the subjugation of the weak.
Had England demonstrated her determination to lead, not with the help of force but by conspicuous example and encouragement, she would undoubtedly have had the effective support not only of France but of Italy and many of the countries which are now, temporarily we hope, at the mercy of the barbaric, Nazi leaders.
As long ago as 1933, Mussolini himself and other influentials in Italy and in Germany too, told me of their grave concern at the complacency of not only the British statesmen but of the English-speaking people throughout the world. Even then, almost at the beginning of the demonstrated Nazi power, it was evident that unless the democratic countries moved co-operatively and conspicuously ahead, the totalitarian movement would lead to a situation in which the whole world would be disastrously involved.
But England carried on in her characteristic, jocular way, laughing not only at herself but at Hitler and his allies as well. In England they hoped, apparently, that the whole world would complacently meander on. There was no effort on their part to create a new world order in which not only tolerance would be exemplified but, also, inspiration and the development of Christian ethics as well.
Even until the collapse—the conspicuous collapse—and I say ‘conspicuous collapse’ advisedly, for it was evident to many that the moral structure of France was defective long before the eventual breakdown—even to the eventual collapse of France, those who are the backbone of the British, were in their jocular way, still content to watch their leader blunder on and muddle through. As evidence of this I might relate a story as published in a leading English newspaper on the Sunday before the French publicly asked for an armistice. Of course, I know that the average American does not admit that the English have any sense of humour but I submit this as a sample:
… an allegorical story about an English Cabinet Minister.
SC: Unfortunately, any reference to this no doubt humorous story was not included in his typed notes. If a handwritten draft were found it may include a more detailed reference.
But when it became universally known that the French had been betrayed by their own corrupted leaders, it was, for the English, no laughing matter. Then the heart of England, exemplified by the solid so-called middle classes underwent an effective action which will lead no doubt, to the rejuvenation of the real British spirit, and the will not only to muddle through but, with the co-operation of these great United States, determinedly carry forward a program not of domination, but make possible a better civilisation. It will be a new order based not on complacence nor dictatorial power, but an order of individual development, co-operation and encouragement.
Civilisation, no matter what type or kind, cannot be IMPOSED upon a people. It cannot be injected not the mind of humanity as a chemical may be injected into a plant and stimulate greater growth, for civilisation is a process of development—a development gained through personal experience and encouraged by example. It is, regrettably a painfully slow process.
In travelling through sixty-seven different countries I have observed civilisation of many types and in many stages of development. And I have come to the conclusion that civilisation is a figment of mind in each individual, whether it be the mind of an Eskimo in the Arctic, an Aboriginal in Australia or the mind of a dictator of a totalitarian state. It is a process of development which for its advancement depends upon the individual and upon freedom of choice, freedom of mind and freedom of anxiety as to future welfare.
SC: The last words, ‘physical welfare’ in the copy I typed out, had been crossed out and the words ‘future development’ inserted above it. I mention this for it plays into the argument which Wilkins is gradually building: an argument which recognises and implements the value of interdependence in the development of national security and peace between nations. Wilkins by this time in his life (53) was still remembered by his own and older generations who respected him; and younger generations who would have either idolised him for his North Pole ‘adventurism’ or perhaps criticised him for his perceived risk taking.
Freedom from anxiety as to physical welfare does not necessarily mean worldly riches for each individual. It means SECURITY. Civilisation nationally exemplified depends largely upon national security, and national security today, depends largely on co-operation, for no nation in the world today is independent. Nations today are largely interdependent and the higher the development of civilisation the greater will be the need for interdependence.
We can not look to politics to provide full measure of national interdependence and more than we can expect our social science to provide the solution of all differences.
The development of natural science, and the sciences dealing with the physical, has provided much for our comfort and convenience but it has not yet provided security either within any one country or in the world in general.
SC: In the above we see the word ‘security’ again, this time directly linked to the natural sciences.