Wholly Slave

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The twenty-second in my ongoing series examining the poetry of Rudyard Kipling. The other posts in the series may be read here, here , here , here, here , here, here, here, here, here, here, here , here, here, here , here, here, here , here, here and here.  Kipling throughout his life was an ardent foe of socialism.  His opposition was not primarily due to its economic follies, but rather due to its exaltation of the State.  Kipling was patriotic, but he never in his writings, contrary to the stereotype of him,  turned Britain into an idol to be worshiped.  Kipling understood men too well to think that any group of men, under the rubric of The State, could be exempt from the follies and vices that plague our species.  He viewed government as a necessary evil, with the emphasis on evil, and thought that those wielding the power of the State always needed to be carefully watched and restrained.

These themes were eloquently on display in the poem MacDonough’s Song written by Kipling in 1917.  The poem was a continuation of a science fiction, yes, Kipling wrote science fiction, story called A.B.C., written by Kipling in 1912, where a world government, the Aerial Board of Control, in 2065 acts to crush a rebellion in Chicago against its authority.  Go here to read the short story.  I view it both as an attack on socialist ideas of utopia and a satire on the demagoguery that usually goes with politics.

The poem is fairly bleak in its unsparing look at human nature and government.  The couplet

If it be wiser to kill mankind Before or after the birth— has a dire resonance with our abortion on demand culture.  Separation of Church and State is a common theme on the Left today, while many of the same people labor ceaselessly to make the State all powerful. Kipling’s warning is just as relevant today as when he wrote it.  Here is the text of the poem:

WHETHER the State can loose and bind

In Heaven as well as on Earth:

If it be wiser to kill mankind

Before or after the birth—

These are matters of high concern

Where State-kept schoolmen are;

But Holy State (we have lived to learn)

Endeth in Holy War.

Whether The People be led by The Lord,

Or lured by the loudest throat:

If it be quicker to die by the sword

Or cheaper to die by vote—

These are things we have dealt with once,

(And they will not rise from their grave)

For Holy People, however it runs,

Endeth in wholly Slave.

Whatsoever, for any cause,

Seeketh to take or give,

Power above or beyond the Laws,

Suffer it not to live!

Holy State or Holy King—

Or Holy People’s Will—

Have no truck with the senseless thing.

Order the guns and kill!


Once there was The People—Terror gave it birth;

Once there was The People and it made a Hell of Earth.

Earth arose and crushed it. Listen, O ye slain!

Once there was The People—it shall never be again!

More to explorer

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“Dulce et decorum est” The bugle echoes shrill and sweet, But not of war it sings to-day. The road is rhythmic with


  1. WHETHER the State can loose and bind
    In Heaven as well as on Earth:

    If it be wiser to kill mankind
    Before or after the birth—

    These are matters of high concern
    Where State-kept schoolmen are;

    Whether it is ‘wiser’ to … ?

    It seems state-kept ‘men’ no longer even consider wisdom, and some define holiness with terror … in order to redefine wisdom with their ‘loud throats’.
    Their ‘high concerns’ for The People don’t even concern them.

  2. I have seen this clip several times. There is one thing I would disagree with Friedman on is that he seems to accept the premise that greed and self-interest are one and the same. They are not, although in real life practice the lines between them often blur. The standard leftist tactic Phil Donahue uses is actually pretty shrewd one when you think about it. in that he defines the terms of the debate.

    Human sins of its practioners notwithstanding, capitalism is the only economic system that requires the profiteer to think of the other person. That is the antithesis of greed. And that is how the debate is to be framed.

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