ABSTRACT

Next to worry probably one of the most potent causes of unhappiness is envy. Envy is, I should say, one of the most universal and deep-seated of human passions. It is very noticeable in children before they are a year old, and has to be treated with the most tender respect by every educator. The very slightest appearance of favouring one child at the expense of another is instantly observed and resented. Distributive justice, absolute, rigid, and unvarying, must be observed by anyone who has children to deal with. But children are only slightly more open in their expressions of envy, and of jealousy (which is a special form of envy), than are grown-up people. The emotion is just as prevalent among adults as among children. Take, for example, maid-servants: I remember when one of our maids, who was a married woman, became pregnant, and we said that she was not to be expected to lift heavy weights, the instant result was that none of the others would lift heavy weights, and any work of that sort that needed doing we had to do ourselves. Envy is the basis of democracy. Heraclitus asserts that the citizens of Ephesus

ought all to be hanged because they said, ‘there shall be none first among us’. The democratic movement in Greek States must have been almost wholly inspired by this passion. And the same is true of modern democracy. There is, it is true, an idealistic theory according to which democracy is the best form of government. I think myself that this theory is true. But there is no department of practical politics where idealistic theories are strong enough to cause great changes; when great changes occur, the theories which justify them are always a camouflage for passion. And the passion that has given driving force to democratic theories is undoubtedly the passion of envy. Read the memoirs of Madame Roland, who is frequently represented as a noble woman inspired by devotion to the people. You will find that what made her such a vehement democrat was the experience of being shown into the servants’ hall when she had occasion to visit an aristocratic château.