23rd March 1868 to 8th January 1924
Clutton-Brock was for many years art critic for The Times. He was an admirer of William Morris, and a Fabian socialist.
Clutton-Brock was born in Weybridge, Surrey on 23 March 1868, the son of a banker. He was educated at Summerfields and Eton and then attended New College, Oxford, where he graduated in literae humaniores in 1891. After a brief stint working for a stockbroker, he was called to the bar of the Inner Temple in 1895. For how long Clutton-Brock practiced law is not clear, but by the mid-1890s he was already making a name for himself as an essayist. He married Evelyn Harcourt in 1893.
From 1904-6 Clutton-Brock was literary editor of The Spectator, and from 1906-8 served successively as art critic at The Tribune and then The Morning Post. In 1908 he was appointed art critic of The Times. By this point he was also a regular contributor to the Times Literary Supplement, for which he continued to write until his death. By 1921, the year he gave his Rowntree lecture, Clutton-Brock was already ill. He died at Godalming, Surrey on 8 January 1924.
Clutton-Brock wrote on literature as well as art, and his work on Percy Bysshe Shelley, published in 1909, was considered the definitive study of Shelley for many years. Clutton-Brock was also a deeply religious man, and his Studies in Christianity (1918) and posthumously published Essays on Religion (1926) reveal a deeply intellectual and philosophical engagement with religion. He was never a religious moralist, and in a series of essays for the Times Literary Supplement during the First World War, attacked the notion of religious patriotism; the war, he argued, had little to do with religious faith.
Clutton-Brock’s conversion to socialism grew out of an interest in William Morris, the Christian socialist artist and entrepreneur. Clutton-Brock joined the Fabian Society in 1909. He wrote several works on socialism including Socialism and the Arts of Use (1915) and The Philosophy of Socialism (1916), both published by the Fabian Society. These and his later essays show Clutton-Brock attempting to develop a philosophy that combined socialism, faith and aesthetic principles. His Rowntree lecture, though brief, shows how his thought was beginning to develop.
The paper begins by considering the concept of the ‘dignity of work’. Throughout history, Clutton-Brock says, all work has been considered to be drudgery. The Industrial Revolution offered a theoretical promise of hope: machinery could free people from ‘unmeaning and incessant hand to mouth drudgery.’ However, that promise was never fulfilled. What happened instead, says Clutton-Brock, was a growing pressure of resentment and anger on the part of workers, and an increasing politicisation of the working class. All unrest now is political, he says, and there is no longer any distinction between faith, work and politics (even those workers, such as the Russian revolutionaries, who abjure religion are in fact seeking a new faith). When Christ said that people should render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s, he was acknowledging the political reality of the time; Caesar was as powerful on Earth as God was in heaven. But in our own time, says Clutton-Brock, things have changed; power now lies with the people. Rather boldly, he says that ‘Christ would use different words to us if he were living now.’
To the revolutionaries seeking a new faith, Clutton-Brock advances a partial argument that Christianity can fulfil their needs, becoming a revolutionary faith in its own right. He then turns his attention to industrialists, rebuking them gently for concentrating too much on money and capital. The true definition of capital, he says, is not money but ‘the superfluous energy and power of mankind’, the potential physical and intellectual power that can be harnessed to create value, or what we would now call human capital. Europe squandered much of its human capital during the war. Government and the military treated people like raw material, spending their bodies without taking account of their minds and souls.
The capitalist must become something more than just the owner of capital. Clutton-Brock urges the capitalist to consider himself as ‘the man who directs the common reserve of energy to the best and highest purpose, of whom no one is jealous, since his interests are the interests of everyone.’ In a passage which betrays strongly the influence of William Morris, always a mixture of socialist and individualist, Clutton-Brock calls for an end to political interference in the economy:
The great mistake made since the Industrial Revolution is to suppose that politicians can solve economic problems. That mistake is now being made in Russia, with appalling consequences. Politicians, as such, have a function; but it is not that of running industry; and as a rule when they try to run industry, they ruin it… Industries must solve their own problems…
Again following Morris, Clutton-Brock envisages a future where ‘each industry is a small commonwealth’, a true partnership between capital and labour.
I often see the statement that the aim of industry should be to serve. That statement leaves me cold. A world where everyone was serving would be like a tea-party where everyone hands food to everyone else, and nobody gets anything to eat. Now, the true aim of both a particular industry, and of industry as a whole, should be to satisfy everyone, including its own members, rationally and spiritually.
‘Industry is more than an ant-heap’, says Clutton-Brock, ‘or a beehive, though we might learn lessons from both. It is, or should be, like a piece of music in which the notes get their meaning from each other.’ Leaders of industry should see themselves as conductors, coaxing their organisations to produce music of power and beauty which is both mentally and spiritually satisfying. Clutton-Brock calls for business leaders to think of themselves as similar to the Jesuits, with the same passion, courage and high intelligence. If they can do so, he says, then they might indeed conquer the world; and by implication, the promise of both the Industrial Revolution and the Christian faith will both be fulfilled.
Clutton-Brock’s views are interesting in comparison with those of John Lee, another intensely spiritual man and Rowntree lecturer but not a socialist. Both share a view that business has, or should have, a spiritual dimension, and while this is lacking, business will never be entirely at peace.
Shelley: The Man and the Poet, 1909.
Thoughts on the War, 1914.
Socialism and the Arts of Use, 1915.
The Philosophy of Socialism, 1916.
Studies in Christianity, 1918.
What is the Kingdom of Heaven? 1919.
Essays on Art, 1919.
Essays on Religion, 1926.
Ashley, M.P., ‘Clutton-Brock, Arthur’, in Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004.
Beum, R., ‘Modern British Essayists’, in Dictionary of Literary Biography, New York: Gale, 1990.
Hammond, J.L. ‘Introduction’, in A. Clutton-Brock, Essays on Life, London: Methuen.
Lecture: ‘Industrial ideals’, 17 April 1921, Balliol College