To what extent can the world produce the imagination it needs? That, so far, is the most fundamental question to which our prophetic explorations have brought us.
IV. BRAINTREE, BOCKING, AND THE FUTURE OF THE WORLD
Will the war be followed by a period of great distress, social disorder and a revolution in Europe, or shall we pull through the crisis without violent disaster? May we even hope that Great Britain will step straight out of the war into a phase of restored and increasing welfare?
Like most people, I have been trying to form some sort of answer to this question. My state of mind in the last few months has varied from a considerable optimism to profound depression. I have met and talked to quite a number of young men in khaki—ex-engineers, ex-lawyers, ex-schoolmasters, ex-business men of all sorts—and the net result of these interviews has been a buoyant belief that there is in Great Britain the pluck, the will, the intelligence to do anything, however arduous and difficult, in the way of national reconstruction. And on the other hand there is a certain stretch of road between Dunmow and Coggeshall....
That stretch of road is continually jarring with my optimistic thoughts. It is a strongly pro-German piece of road. It supports allegations against Great Britain, as, for instance, that the British are quite unfit to control their own affairs, let alone those of an empire; that they are an incompetent people, a pig-headedly stupid people, a wasteful people, a people incapable of realising that a man who tills his field badly is a traitor and a weakness to his country....
Let me place the case of this high road through Braintree (Bocking intervening) before the reader. It is, you will say perhaps, very small beer. But a straw shows the way the wind blows. It is a trivial matter of road metal, mud, and water-pipes, but it is also diagnostic of the essential difficulties in the way of the smooth and rapid reconstruction of Great Britain—and very probably of the reconstruction of all Europe—after the war. The Braintree high road, I will confess, becomes at times an image of the world for me. It is a poor, spiritless-looking bit of road, with raw stones on one side of it. It is also, I perceive, the high destiny of man in conflict with mankind. It is the way to Harwich, Holland, Russia, China, and the whole wide world.
Even at the first glance it impresses one as not being the road that would satisfy an energetic and capable people. It is narrow for a high road, and in the middle of it one is checked by an awkward bend, by cross-roads that are not exactly cross-roads, so that one has to turn two blind corners to get on eastward, and a policeman, I don’t know at what annual cost, has to be posted to nurse the traffic across. Beyond that point one is struck by the fact that the south side is considerably higher than the north,