The Revolutionary Simpleton

NPG x6534,(Percy) Wyndham Lewis,by George Charles Beresford

Wyndham Lewis in Time and Western Man (1927) on a species of leftist creature that still plagues the earth:

Aside from the hack or small professional of revolution, there is (and one of his habitats is the art world) the revolutionary simpleton. He is not the enthusiast of the will-to-change at its source, but only of its surface-effects, on the plane of vulgarization. Almost all Tories are simpletons—the simpletons of what passes with them for ‘tradition,’ we could say (as is proved conclusively by the way in which they have defended themselves—how they hastily close all the stable doors long after the horses have all disappeared; also by their rare instinct for closing all the wrong doors, behind which there were never any horses).
But the revolutionary simpleton, too, is a well-marked figure, found here and there.
His characteristic gesture is the opposite to that of the Tory simpleton.
He opens all doors, as it were—whether there is anything inside or not. He exclaims; he points excitedly to what he believes to be the herds of wild horses that are constantly pouring out of the doors flung dramatically open by him. We look where he points, and occasionally observe a moke or an old hack crawling forth. So he serves at least to advertise our terrestrial emptiness.

Everything which is described as ‘radical’ or ‘rebel,’ or which palpably can receive that label, and reach its destination, excites him, in rather the same way that ‘scarlet sin’ and suggestions of Sodom or Lesbos, or worse, thrill the sex-snob, schoolboy, curate or spinster of stage tradition—the latter the authentic affinity of the revolutionary simpleton.

This personage is, in one word, a romantic—that is the essential diagnostic for his malady. He is sick for things he has never experienced, or which he is incapable of experiencing—as the schoolboy, or the curate or spinster of stage tradition, is sick for highly-flavoured, ‘wicked’ or blood curdling exploits and adventures.

The revolutionary simpleton is a deathsnob; though generally the most inoffensive and often engaging of people himself—the sort of man who would hurt a fly, and say boo! very truculently, to a goose; mammock a butterfly; or, with motor gloves and a fencing casque, swing a small cat by the tail. Nothing but the thought of the great danger that so-called ‘revolutionary’ art runs from this attractive simpleton would persuade me to open my lips about him, he is so nice, so pleasant. I am not able to give you paradigmatically, in the concrete, this theophrastian booby.

Generally he is obscure; he is an Everyman, necessarily an abstraction to some extent. Every one is more Everyman now than in a less populous time, and in everybody now alive a proportion of ‘revolutionary simpleton’ makes them a sort of feeble compass, dragged subtly to one centre. Their souls’ form may be bent towards the West, they are nevertheless ‘carried towards the East’; and, become smooth and spherical to order, the destiny of all spheres overtakes them: they— Subject to foreign motions, lose their own. And being by others hurried every day Scarce in a year their natural form obey.

Some, however, are simpler than others, and at the same time have ‘revolutionary’ written all over them. These are the authentic revolutionary simpletons.

So though no outstanding, easily identified, person is supplied with this treatise by way of illustration, look round you, and Nature will make up for the deficiency; you will not have to look far to see some fool blossoming, in orthodox red. With the revolutionary simpleton, where most people find a difficulty is in believing his simplicity.

But the simpleton does exist. I have known several quite guileless true-believers, often quite gifted people.

But put before the following kind of man, and you will have the pattern of what I am attempting to describe: one who is very much the creature of fashion, reverencing the fashionable fetish of the ‘group’ or of any collectivity, with many excited genuflections and an air of cystic juvenile incontinence; great crowd-snob, the portentous vociferous flunkey of any small crowd whatever, the richer the more afraid he is of them; regarding all creative work in opportunist terms of a conformity to the fashions of this crowd or of that, the nearest to him at the moment—blind to the fact that all fashion is imposed on a crowd from somewhere without itself, in opposition to its habits, and belongs to it about as much as a hired fancy-dress; frightened and scandalized by the apparition of anybody who opposes any group or collectivity whatever; who believes snobbishly in any ‘minority,’ however large and flabby, provided it can satisfy him it is not a ‘majority,’ and who is always with the majority without being aware of it; his poor little easily ‘blowed’ machine panting to be there in time, punctual at all the dates of fashion, remarked in the chattering van at all her functions; flying hatless and crimson when he hears an egg is to be broken, not particular as to whether it be an eagle’s or a tom tit’s; very truculent but very sweet and obedient in fact; advancing any kitchen-maid’s sickly gushed out romance, provided she only calls her baby-boy her ‘bastard,’ and can be patronized (By himself and the reading-crowd he addresses) because she has never learnt how to spell, and so can be discovered, as you discover things in disused lofts or in gutters, or in that case a scullery; advancing the fruit of the dead past as new, and when knowing what in the present is false, fearing to denounce it, because it is momentarily current, and he trembles at the shadow of the law; such a nice, simple, timid ‘revolution’-loving man is what you should have in mind.

But the revolutionary simpleton is everywhere. It is important not to fix the mind on any particular figure. It is the thing, rather, incarnated on all hands, that it is my wish to bring to light.

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