Henry Edger, “Modern Times, the Labor Question and the Family” (1855)








A Brief Statement of Facts and Principles.


Nothing can be destroyed but by being replaced.

Catechism Positiviste, Préface. p. viii.




Modern Times is the eccentric but by no means inappropriate name given to one of the villages or rural settlements now beginning to grow up along the line of the Long Island Railroad, once forming part of the principal highway between the cities of New York and Boston but now, for sometime, comparatively disused. The long neglected plains thro’ which, for some fifty miles. this railroad runs, present to the stranger no very inviting aspect. Extending on either hand to very variable distances, sometimes scarcely a mile, especially towards the north, ere they meet the range of hills that stretches almost uninterruptedly from one end of the Island to the other, sometimes running back for four or five miles they exhibit scarcely any tokens of sylvan or indeed any other kind of wealth. The few trees growing, upon them are but stunted pines, often leafless, stretching their dead, bare arms into the air, mere skeletons, while the wide expanse of scarcely undulating ground is covered with a dense undergrowth of tangled scrub-oak, difficult to eradicate, and leaving behind it, when once cleared away, a soil far enough from rich, and long having had the reputation of being hopelessly unproductive. Still around or near to each of the Railway Stations, clearings may be discovered, evidencing the existence even here of some first efforts of the enterprising hand of man.

Somewhat over half a mile from the Station called Thompson, about 41 miles from New-York, is the settlement of which we have to speak. We know something about it, seeing that our home lies there, and within a little log cabin in its midst these pages have been penned. The appropriateness of its name arises from the fact that it is a sort of distilled essence of modern opinion, a summary and condensation of the most remarkable peculiarities of modern society. It is, in fact, one of the many socialist experiments that have, of late years, been set on foot. It differs, however, from the phalanxes, associations and communities that have been so often formed, to be always broken up again, sooner or later, by its being entirely destitute of any organizational, or mutual compact, and its consisting solely in an aggregation of Individuals and Families, led to settle on the same spot by a common acceptance of certain principles supposed to be the basis of a happy and harmonious social condition.

These principles are thus stated by the first founders of this Movement:

I. Individuality;
II. The Sovereignty of the Individual to be exercised at his own cost;
III. Cost the limit of price;
IV. Circulating medium founded on the cost of Labor;
V. Adaptation of the supply to the demand.

It is not at all to be wondered at that our views and aims, and even our conduct itself, should have been misunderstood and sometimes willfully misrepresented. This is the fate of all who attempt large and radical reforms. But such principles as those just enumerated are specially liable to give rise to mistake even in the case of honest and impartial minds.

For in fact they may be regarded in two very different lights; first as being really the fundamental elements of a true “Science of Society,” and secondly, as furnishing a present basis of co-operation among persons desiring a thoroughly radical social renovation, but as yet uncertain as to what the exact nature of this renovation is to be.

The first view is that taken by most of the persons who are endeavoring to propagate these principles under the name of “Equitable Commerce” in general society: persons living in New York, Boston. and other cities in this country and even in Europe.

But the second view is that which more and more prevails among the inhabitants of this village, after five years effort to realize their practical application in actual life.

It is very true that this series of principles, accepted in the absolute manner first indicated, does tend, as has often been pointed out very strongly by the periodical press, to the annihilation of the moral point of view, pretending as it does to elevate the Individual absolutely above Society, and make his or her own caprices the sole rule of conduct. It is quite true that such an Individualism strikes at the root of the Family Institution, and, indeed, of every bond that now unites Man to Man. And it is also true that these very results have been openly urged as the necessary consequences of social progress by these non-resident friends and advocates of the “Equitable Commerce Movement,” and our poor little village has been pointed out as the favored site where the blissful results of so beneficial a change would first of all be realized.

But it is not true that such a view really prevails among us who have invested our little alls in seeking to make homes for ourselves and our families on these uninviting Long Island plains. The fact is our principle of “Individual Sovereignty” which actually constitutes our only common ground, consecrates directly an unlimited divergence of opinion about everything, even in its own interpretation. Consequently, small as our numbers are, almost every Individual of us has his own private and particular social theory, except the still smaller circle whose opinions are briefly set forth in this Tract, and who begin really to have a Common Faith.


Our critics of the public press always forget the second branch of our individualist principle as we avow it, but which is for us its very essence. We do not accept the sovereignty of the individual absolutely; but on the contrary, couple with it the limitation to be exercised at his own cost. This means that no man’s sovereignty extends to the doing of any act whereby “cost,” that is painful or disagreeable consequences, may be entailed upon any body else. Our mistake was in supposing—as we did at first, and some of our neighbors do now, perhaps—that the principle thus limited furnished a really scientific basis of morality and social order, guaranteeing completely all just liberty, without consecrating any anti-social license. We overlooked two things: first, that we cannot tell what the consequences of any action will be without some more profound social theory to guide us, so that we might inflict immense “cost,” even fatal injury, on another, quite unintentionally, so long as we had no guide in the exercise of our “ sovereignty “ but our personal caprices, and nothing to aid us in curbing our selfish passions but this metaphysical “cost principle;” and secondly, that either each one must be sole judge in his own cause as to whether in any particular course of conduct he was acting at his own cost or his neighbor’s, or else we should still need some deciding power, some judge, in a word, some government.

But if we have not attained in these principles a scientific basis of social order, modern opinion generally, and our critics themselves, are, perhaps, not much wiser. Our principle of “sovereignty of the individual, exercised at his own cost,” is at least rational as the democratic doctrine of “rights,” and fully as favourable to morality. What is it but mockery to tell us “all men are born free and equal (which is not true, by the bye), and with inalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” and then say, “but you must pursue your happiness only in the way we prescribe to you?” The fact is, modern democracy, in strict logical consistency, necessarily ultimates in a pure individualism; and this has been seen, too, by some who have not had the courage to accept the consequences of their own teachings, but have preferred publicly abusing us for having simply taken them at their word, and demonstrated the fallacy of their sophisms by trying to realize them.

Personally, however, and as simple matter of fact, we who actually live At Modern Times, while theoretically proclaiming this individualism as a fundamental principle, far from seeking by its means to get rid of all moral restraints, sought rather by this and the accompanying principle of “cost the limit of price,” not only to found a truly scientific moral doctrine, but also to extend it to classes of relations hitherto practically exempt from any such considerations. If, on the one hand; we desired to throw off some of the real oppressions which yet flourish under our republican democracy, we desired also to moralize our industrial and commercial intercourse, now wholly unregulated, and characterised simply by every man’s getting all he can. The daily business of practical life in modern society is growingly marked by a systematic disregard of moral principles. Fraud, treachery, and deceit are habitual characteristics of modern commerce; so habitual, in fact, that they have ceased to be remarked by most of those whose life is passed in its midst; and the loudest declamations against the immorality of Socialists and Socialism often come from those who are most deeply tainted with this lamentable demoralization, to get rid of which, was, in fact, our chief purpose. It was far less for more freedom that we came hither than for more uprightness and honor in the daily transactions of life. Even our impatience of what seemed to be tyrannical interference on the part of the Civil Government, in delicate questions of domestic morality, was actuated mainly by irresistible aspirations after more truth and sincerity in the most important of all human relations.

Moreover, while our systematic Individualism has met with very indignant criticism on the part of the public press, when it has condescended to notice our movement, the sentiment of individual sovereignty is very widely diffused in contemporary society. All the popular modern notions tend to represent social perfection as consisting principally in the state of non-government. Democratic republicanism first takes away all stability, and therefore all solid and habitual efficiency from political government, and then republican democracy more and more ties the hands of such government as is still permitted to exist. Thus “River and Harbour improvements,” “Canal building,” &c., to say nothing of the construction of roads and railways, the erection of adequate homes for the people, and many other very necessary social operations, are declared by modern democracy to be unfit for committal to the hands of Government, and are devolved upon what is absurdly called “private enterprize.”

It is not, we repeat, from a real moral law in regard to any portion of human conduct that we claim to get free. But we do deny the competency of that same Government which our contemporaries recognize as unworthy to be entrusted with their merely material interests to decide authoritatively upon the much more difficult and much more important questions of domestic and personal morality. And it is impossible for us not to be conscious of a very marked superiority over our opponents in our attitude upon this point. The readiness with which they will leave the decision of moral questions to authorities whom they will not trust with their material interests, shows plainly how much the latter really predominate in their sentiments over the former. But it is the supreme importance we sincerely attach in our very heart of hearts to moral questions, which makes us seek for some more competent authority in regard to them.


The too absolute interpretation of these Equitable Commerce principles, again, would amount to a mere reproduction of long-exploded agrarian sophisms and leveling schemes. Some of our neighbors no doubt so entertain them, and dream of finally abolishing, by means of the “Labor-note” currency, or other kindred chimeras, all social distinctions, of destroying all real accumulations of wealth and of annihilating that most fundamental division between the two classes of EMPLOYERS AND EMPLOYED which we know, Better perhaps than any of our critics, to be really destined to a grand and vast development. We know that Labor can be made productive, and indeed can even be exercised, in civilized society, only in alliance with Capital—true Capital, consisting essentially first, of implements to work with, secondly, of materials to work upon, and thirdly, of provisions for the sustenance of the laborer and his family, during the lengthened period necessarily occupied in the performance of his work, the transport of his productions to the consumers for whom they are destined, and their transformation into the various objects of the laborer’s own consumption. We thoroughly appreciate the difficulties attending this question, especially from the fact that the share of capital in the results of labor, becomes greater and greater in proportion to the development of our industrial progress and the scientific and mechanical appliances on which it principally depends. We can see that the share of the individual laborer becomes less and less in the total results of his operations, especially since in every department of Industry, even the agricultural, the division of labor, necessarily depending on its organization, becomes scarcely less efficient in increasing its product than the development and perfection of its material instruments. We know therefore well enough and always had, some of us, a more or less distinct perception of the fact, that, not only is the absolute Individualism and so-called “Disconnection of interests” that actually has been preached up by some of the public advocates of Equitable Commerce thoroughly chimerical and impossible, but that even if it could be realized, it would only defeat the very object we all have in view. For, notwithstanding all we have just said, nothing can be more certain than that the impending Social Regeneration will effect a vast amelioration in the physical condition of the labouring classes.


Nevertheless our cost principle has a moral aptitude which our opponents have never had the wit to discover or else have purposely concealed. For demanding that the real cost of every article, including, of course, that of transmission as well as that of production, should be the basis of its price, it would necessarily involve that all business should be done openly, without any kind of concealment. Away then go all tricks of trade, all mystery as connected with any kind of art. And who cannot see that the secrecy which every one now-a-days supposes it perfectly right for a man to throw around his business is the prolific parent of all manner of frauds? We may have been ever so much mistaken as to the manner of realizing our aims, but with many of us it was the moral elevation to be imparted to our industry and commerce by throwing all business open to the light of day, that constituted the principal ground of our adhesion to this Modern Times Movement. And we cannot help therefore feeling some degree of indifference to the accusations of immorality that are made against us by the leaders of opinion in a society that unblushingly sells sand for sugar, chalk for flour, aquafortis for vine; that adulterates every article that can be adulterated, that calls over-reaching and treachery “smartness,” that blames deceit and lying only when unsuccessful, that overlooks any amount of moral turpitude if only it attains its end—the only end practically recognized as worthy of human pursuit—the making of money.

And however chimerical this “cost principle” may be, interpreted too absolutely, it is, at least, an approximation to the true moral law of industrial wages; while the spirit of it is certainly adapted to work a great amelioration in the dispositions of all classes. It has indeed, under this last aspect, been very beneficial among us here at Modern Times, and would have been so much more so but from the too great prevalence of its absolute and therefore illusory interpretation. The real renovation of society does, in fact, demand that we should all be content with such a return for our labor as is indicated by a true moral theory, instead of struggling each one for a vain and impossible personal aggrandizement. Moreover such a theory would fully justify our “equitable” ideal in its representation of the payment for all classes of effort as destined finally to attain an approximate equality, making all due allowance, however, for the special exigencies of the directing functions.

The degrading venality which now tends so profoundly to demoralize those who actually fulfill, after a fashion, the spiritual functions of contemporary society, naturally provokes an intense hostility towards a principle that would necessarily eradicate this so dangerous vice. But we frankly admit that our Equitable Commerce doctrine was wrong in assuming too absolute an identity in the nature of intellectual labor and purely industrial effort. Both need moralization; and in seeking to moralize both we were right. But on the other hand, not only are the intellectual social functions indispensable, and supremely so, to all social existence, but the principles of their organization, including the provision for the material wants of their organs, differ from those of purely industrial organization.


But the most bitter criticisms made upon our Modern Times movement and its Equitable Commerce theory, have been based upon their supposed hostility to the Family Institution. The immorality of the periodical press at the present day, is exhibited to us here in a striking light by the falsehoods repeatedly uttered about us in this respect. They may have been uttered partly in mistake; but a man who will publicly attribute to any individual, or cluster of individuals, practices generally regarded as atrociously criminal, without first ascertaining that they are true, deserves, even if he has been himself more or less deceived, to be still branded as a Liar.

The use of hard names, however, on either side, now-a-days, amounts to very little. Newspaper writers are not supposed, except by the most unsophisticated rustics, to tell the truth. They mutually call each other every bad name that the language can supply; and mostly seem to deserve the abuse they so liberally heap upon each other It is a sad sight, truly, when we consider that these Newspapers are still the organs and leaders of public opinion at this day. Can we help being confirmed in our opinion that contemporary society does, at all events, need a profound moral regeneration, however little we may be entitled to regard ourselves as in any degree the agents of such a regeneration?

We do not, indeed, by any means regard our Movement as really capable of effecting so vast a change as is very evidently needed. Some of the advocates of Equitable Commerce may have so regarded it, but we do not. We have, on the contrary, settled ourselves here rather with a view to our own amendment; to the better conduct of our own lives, and the better bringing up of our children. The universal rapine and treachery which characterize the ordinary conduct of business, were sufficiently hateful to us to make us forego all the chances of material advantage we might have enjoyed elsewhere, in hopes of finding ourselves surrounded here by persons ready to conduct their mutual dealings upon more honorable principles.

At the same time we instinctively felt that the attempt to make men moral by legislation, was necessarily destined to be a failure. Whether in regard to sexual intercourse or sobriety, or any other purely moral obligation, the civil government will, certainly, always fail in really regulating human conduct. Our ideas were at first unsettled as to the true solution of the difficult moral questions then beginning to agitate the public mind; but we were quite confident that political assemblies were totally incompetent to their solution. That which was grossly immoral in New York State could not be perfectly virtuous in Ohio; yet the same thing was legal in one place, illegal in the other. We hoped that by free discussion, and equally free experimentation under our principle of Individual Sovereignty, a true solution might be found. And if finally we have had to look elsewhere for such a solution, its acceptance, at least, has been facilitated by that which has actually transpired at Modern Times.

On the other hand, it is not in any wise true that we, the inhabitants of this little village generally, do set at naught in our habitual practice the existing civil laws in regard to any matter whatever. The most of us are persons lawfully married, with happy and harmonious families neither seeking nor desiring any change in our domestic relations. And as to the brutal insinuations of an habitual unchastity of conduct, it will be useless to say anything. Springing from impure imaginations, appealing to impure imaginations, impure imaginations will gloat over the notion, say what we will. Habitual companions of common prostitutes could not of course conceive of the co-existence of opinions favoring the largest liberty with the constant prevalence of chaste, virtuous and modest conduct. Besides, contemporary society generally is undergoing too rapid a degeneration in this respect for us not to feel that charges of this sort made against us arc essentially hypocritical as well as false.

The only real difference between Modern Times and any other village, in this respect, is, first that there is more social intercourse than is usual among a population of equal numbers, secondly, that that social intercourse is much more polite on the one hand, and much more genial on the other, thirdly, that there is a total absence of the obscenity that commonly intermingles with the conversation of the male portion of a village population (or a city one either) when it happens to be freed from the restraints imposed by the presence of the better sex, fourthly, that there is very much less, and with a continual decrease, of the scandal and backbiting that usually prevail elsewhere in exclusively feminine intercourse, and finally that conscientious differences of opinion on all matters whatever, including therefore questions relating to marriage, and the family, are actually respected here, that toleration and recognition of the “Right of private Judgment” which is elsewhere only professed being here fully, sincerely and manfully practised.

It is quite true that there are persons, highly respectable and virtuous persons too, among our neighbors, who have exercised their sovereignty in protesting practically as well as theoretically against the interference of the civil government in matters of domestic morality, persons who have married themselves, and divorced themselves, and even remarried without asking leave of either priest or magistrate. We confess we do not think this course either right or wise, but we know how to respect conscientiousness when it differs from us ever so widely. Happily, the hypocritical prudery of this age has not yet attempted any persecution of these neighbors of ours. Any such persecution, we should all most justly regard with intense indignation. Religious persecution never has succeeded, never will succeed. The brutal mob which murdered Joe Smith erected what would have been a transient fanaticism into a powerful and widely diffused Religion, capable of cradling a nation. And the persecution of our “Free Love” neighbors would but make martyrs of them, and add new enthusiasm to the followers of their faith.

Certainly we in no wise share such a faith. We frankly confess however to having for a long time formerly believed marriage an institution destined finally to pass away, and a social condition more or less resembling that announced by Charles Fourier as destined to take its place. Persecution always deepened this faith of ours so long as we held it; and instead of disposing us to abandon it made it so much the harder for a truer and nobler doctrine to take its place. We have great respect for the democracy—when we see it ranged, as it ever is in conditions of real social order, under the guidance of wise and worthy Leaders and Teachers, true Priests; but we have no respect at all for a disorderly multitude pretending to regulate by mere power of numbers whether represented by a Dogbelly lawfully elected or an impromptu Judge Lynch, matters that belong not to the domain of force but to that of wisdom.

But the important fact to be noted here is, that while equitable commerce or Modern Times was neither of them heard of till four or five years ago, the troubles affecting the shattered families whose dispersed members come to take refuge among us (and whom we are immoral enough to treat with kindness), must have sprung from influences of far more distant date. What had we to do with that which was passing among people who had never heard one word about us or our principles either? The plain truth is, that “Free Love,” like most of the other modern “isms”—like all the varied forms of Socialism—like Modern Times itself, with its Equitable Commerce theory in all its ramifications, is merely an indication of a profound and immense movement, an under current, and therefore, to most observers unseen, but still continuously going on throughout all modern society; a movement essentially constituting a transition from an old social condition long in decay, and of which only the ruins now remain, to a new social condition, all the fundamental elements of which have been spontaneously preparing for centuries, but which have now to be systematically co-ordinated into a ONE WHOLE as harmonious in all its parts as contemporary society is discordant and chaotic.

And there is one indication of this transitionary state of modern society that is of far greater importance than our Equitable Commerce movement, or, indeed, any other form of Socialism ordinarily recognized as such. That which is at this day popularly called “Spiritualism,” itself only a development of that spontaneous individualism towards which all the modern tendencies, in fact, point, is a disorganizing force not to be baffled by any of the means of conservation at present available. Accordingly, it is “Spiritualism,” far more than our Equitable Commerce theory, or even the “Woman’s Rights” agitation itself, which is at this day so rapidly seconding the Free Love movement. .None of the practical developments of Free Love in Modern Times really originated in our movement; nearly all, directly or indirectly, flowed out of “Spiritualism.” It is the advice of these strange modern ghosts that makes husbands and wives, in defiance of law, divorce themselves, and form new and more harmonious connections, or at least what are intended to be such. From this extraordinary and newly discovered ghostland arrive the astounding revelations that are so much to improve our domestic relations. Thence we learn that we “love” not those and as many as we like, but those and as many as we must. Love, it seems, is the gift of God: it is a profanity to attempt to thwart it.

Now, moral or immoral, these wild notions are none of ours. But they are being taught thorough the length and breadth of the land by means that may well seem in this age surprising; by means, nevertheless, that are irresistible. The popular theologies fall powerless before them. The preachers may cry out till they are tired about the machinations of the devil; when a message comes, or seems to come, from a father, or a sister, or a mother, or even from a friend, people will not believe that the devil sent it, though all the pulpits in the land shout in unison. Human affections so directly appealed to scatter superstitious terrors to the winds. And thus perishes, even in this country, the last vestige of real belief in theological dogmas.

But then where are all our moral theories? Hitherto reposing entirely upon a theological basis, when this basis is gone, what becomes of them? A very frightful gulf certainly yawns at our feet, for without some universally recognized moral theory, society necessarily plunges into chaos: and yet our Pretended Teachers go on as though nothing had happened, or merely give a smart fling at some poor little knot of obscure enthusiasts like ourselves, or bestow a slashing leader on Spiritualism itself, which not one reader cares for, or remembers as soon as he has read it. And ordinary society goes on blindly following its blind spiritual guides, engrossed as supremely as ever in its devout worship of the Almighty Dollar, and will doubtless persevere in its sublime devotions till chaos comes.

Evidently, then, once more, it is we who were in the right. Obscure and poor, unknown and destitute of social influence, singular and eccentric enthusiasts—for moral considerations counted more, in our sincere belief, than material interests, a very strange eccentricity at this day—we were in the right, although all modern Society might seem to be against us, when we came to the conclusion which really underlies our entire movement, viz., that there really did exist an absolute necessity for a new moral theory as the very foundation of social existence, based on some general doctrines capable of commanding a sincere and universal adhesion.


It is true that our movement has a religious bearing; but it is not in any wise true, as has been alleged, that we at Modern Times reject or neglect religion. Individualism, absolutely interpreted, is certainly the very opposite of all religion. But we whose opinions are represented by this tract recognize religion as the necessary basis of all real social existence. The fact is, that no real social renovation can possibly be at bottom any other than a renovation in religion. Anything that falls short of this will assuredly be found, sooner or later, at once chimerical and illusory.

Theological dogmas must fight their own battles. If they all passed away religion would remain an immutable want of our nature, and it would remain equally a possibility; for in religion there evidently must be something common to all the forms, to all the systems of opinion, to all the practices of worship ever known under this name; and it is this common element which is the only essential reality in it. Everything else may pass away and be changed. It has done so heretofore, and may do so yet again.

That which we believe to constitute the universal Religion of the Future we have not space here to explain at large. But while every solid system of Morality must always repose upon a real Religion, every real Religion ultimates in a corresponding system of Morality. And there are some few points in regard to which we do desire to explain the Morality we at once believe in and practice, so as to furnish at least some general conception of the social bearings of the Faith to which our hearts and lives are zealously devoted. We shall still be slandered no doubt; but those who slander us henceforth shall do it willfully.[1]

First and foremost we regard the heart as the true centre of Human existence. Mere intellectuality, cold speculation on the one side, and even action itself, necessarily material, we seek to subordinate, as far as the inevitable imperfections of human nature permit, to affection. Upon such a view of our existence, all true religion reposes. Our principal indication of the irretrievable decay of all the popular religious theories consists in the undue preponderance given to the merely intellectual element in the human soul. Having to combat incessantly the growing skepticism of the modern mind, our Theological Religions make it their grand aim to revive or consolidate Faith, offering their eternal Heaven as the reward of a speculative belief in their doctrines. With all their efforts the assent yielded to their creeds is essentially conventional, and more apparent than real. The discipline of our moral nature is, under such circumstances, a task completely beyond their power, whence arises the only excuse for the usurpation of this supreme function by the civil governments of this transitory age.

But such a culture is really possible only to religion, to a real religion; to one, too, resting on such a theoretical basis as may command a sincere and profound conviction, needing no special efforts to consolidate and maintain it. And such a Religion can alone restore social order to our troubled and chaotic civilization. Such a Religion can alone make it once more felt that the true end of our existence is the continuous development of our best affections. And such a Religion is ours. With us Faith, resting on Demonstration, is but a means to an end, and that end our moral discipline. Recognizing the heart (of course in its metaphorical sense) as the centre of our spiritual existence, Love, real Love, disinterested Affection, becomes its fundamental principle, and systematizes a purely Human Morality upon the basis of the grand maxim, summary of all positive virtue, LIVE FOR OTHERS.

In the next place the Religion of Humanity lays the foundation of a true social morality in regard to all our practical life, by a second admirable Law: LIVE IN OPEN DAY. Secrecy and falsehood are inseparably connected. But real cooperation becomes impossible without sincerity. The growing prevalence of fraud in all our industrial and commercial relations, is another manifest indication of the decay of the popular religions and their incapacity any longer to regulate modern society. It strongly illustrates the blindness of the modern sophism, that represents in the most dismal colors those truly noble Ages in which all Lying or Treachery could be looked upon as deserving the most intense of the Infernal punishments.

Again our Religion paves the way for a real Social Order, by absorbing the anarchical and contradictory principle of rights in the only true and consistent principle of universal duties; duties of each towards all, duties of all towards each. Of what use are RIGHTS to a man who has no power to enforce them? A starving man may well feel that he ought to have a dinner, but his theoretical “right to life” will do little to procure him one, as many a man in New-York must have bitterly felt last winter. The important question for him is: whose duty is it to provide him with one?

And further, it is upon this basis that our Religion has been able to found the true Theory of Property; a question otherwise insoluble. Not only is it true that “property has its duties as well as its Rights,’’ but from the religious point of view, property becomes the ground of duties only. Neither property, nor birth nor education, nor intellect, nor skill, nor strength, nor anything else can henceforth furnish a ground of personal privilege. The popular instinct already begins spontaneously to feel that the regimen of privilege is a thing of the past, now become inapplicable. But the systematic solution of all social questions belongs necessarily to Religion. Hence arises another proof of the insufficiency of all Theological Religions henceforth; seeing that all such questions are beyond their grasp if only from the impossibility of their placing themselves at the social point of view.

On the other hand our real and sublime Religion still further prepares the way for true social order, by revealing the natural and immutable constitution of the social Organism. In defiance of all the levelling propensities of the Age, we boldly declare that our Faith teaches us the necessarily hierarchical constitution of all real society. In a happy Future we shall have One Faith, One Worship, One Service; consequently one common education, developing one common sympathy and instituting one common cooperation. But not by any means a community of function or of social condition. The only possible equality, in a word, is an equality in education. In place then of the revolutionary and anarchical dogma of equality, our Religion substitutes the real and eternal dogma of the consecration of all inequalities to the common service. The rich, by virtue of their wealth, are the natural Directors of the common Industry; the common product they must distribute according to the dictates of a true social morality.

The true relations between the Rich and the Poor, between the Directors of Industry, administrators of the Human Capital and the proletary masses, active agents of the Human Power, can be instituted only by a Real Religion. The utter helplessness of all our Theological Faiths is preeminently remarkable in the presence of this great function, so far beyond their most vast efforts. Besides that the Churches, like the Press and all our other provisional organs of spiritual power at this day, prostitute their influence to the service of the strongest, and sell themselves to the highest bidder, the assent yielded to Theological Creeds is so purely conventional and superficial, if not actually hypocritical that no class or order of temporal functionaries would tolerate any interference with real life on their part. On the contrary no one of our so-called religious Teachers could attempt to interfere between master and workman without being very properly told to stick to his pulpit. But until the Priest of HUMANITY is surrounded by a force of public opinion such as will enable him to enforce upon the Rich, necessary Depositories of all real temporal power in Industrial Society, the performance of their duties towards those whose industry they ought to be directing, they will assuredly continue as now to prey upon them instead, and without any want of excellent dispositions on the part of the wealthy in this country, great numbers of whom manifest a truly noble spirit, the masses of the population will sink incessantly into a deeper and deeper poverty, and be subjected to an ever-growing oppression, all the more intolerable for the germs of culture already implanted in almost all classes of our population.[2]

The duties of the Superior classes towards the Inferior, consisting essentially in the guarantee of constant employment and education, both terms being taken in the broadest sense; have a spontaneous tendency no doubt to make themselves manifest in proportion as a purely industrial existence is developed by exercise and consolidated by peace, and being manifested to procure their own performance more or less rudely. But it is at least equally certain that there is a constantly growing necessity for their systematic regularization, possible only to a purely positive morality. The very idea of Duty necessarily implies systematization, in a word, Synthesis.

Further, on this basis it has been possible so to institute our active life as to realize that complete subordination of our entire existence to the noblest sentiments of the Heart which constitutes the true aim of all real Religion. But then this also involved the regeneration of our domestic as well as our industrial life, founded on the consolidation of the dignity and the influence of the Female Sex. The instinctive sense of the necessity for such a regeneration is the real source of the anti-domestic and unfeminine aberrations of the day. Instead of countenancing any of these sophisms, as absurd and self-contradictory as the rest of the metaphysical notions now afloat, Positivism at once consecrates and develops the Family Bond and the fundamental Institution of Monogamous Marriage. But our marriage is really and truly monogamous, a one and eternal union, surviving even the Tomb. It erects into system the practice long cherished by the noblest and purest hearts, viz., that of Eternal Widowhood. But like all true moral obligations it must be enforced by Opinion and Conscience alone; the profane hands of the policeman must be kept wholly aloof.

It is our noble Religion alone that can fully satisfy that imperative demand for a profound renovation which so strongly marks the present day, This renovation is in fact double, consisting first in the entire exclusion of mercenary considerations in both parties to this holy relationship, and secondly in the substitution of a moral for a physical end in the union itself: The first is attained by the grand universal law: MAN OUGHT TO PROVIDE FOR WOMAN, which Positivism systematizes and renders, in case of need, collective; together with its necessary corollary of the free renunciation by woman of all dowry and all inheritance. The second flows from the principle that the true end of Marriage is not the mere reproduction of the species which could certainly be effected without it, but the mutual reaction of the hearts of man and woman upon each other, which a true theory of our nature shows to be wholly beneficial only in a real conjugal union one and indissoluble even by death. In fact no theory of marriage can at this day stand against the spirit of progress which recognizes in it the conferring upon man of any right to prostitute even one woman to the satisfaction of his brutal lusts.

Positivism, moreover, by virtue at once of its relativity and its reality, is alone capable of systematically proclaiming the fact, still more of developing its logical consequences, that the formation of Man, physically and spiritually, is essentially the function of Woman, social as well as personal. Her domestic seclusion and protection from all external toil, repose mainly upon their being the necessary conditions of the worthy exercise of this sublime office.

In the last place our Religion, presenting the full development of domestic life as the principal source of human happiness, at once gives distinctness and a definite aim to the social problem in its material aspect, and systematizes the culture of the heart’s best affections. For while our sentiments must learn finally to raise themselves to a universal sympathy and religious love of Humanity, they can only do so by being first exercised in more restricted circles where if less noble they can naturally become more intense. Thus does each one of us learn, by devotion to one woman, and the constant culture in the most intimate of all possible unions at once of tenderness and of purity, to acquire not only that respect and sympathy for the whole female sex upon which all refined and elevating social intercourse so much depends, but also that breadth of sentiment and vividness of sympathy which mark the perfection of our moral nature.

However the finger of scorn may in this materialist and irreligious age be pointed at us we frankly thus confess our faith. And while in an endless variety, delusive schemes are being attempted all around us for the reorganization or amelioration of a Society that can yet awhile only plunge deeper and deeper into Chaos, schemes destined therefore alike to ignominious failure, we will be content in our quiet seclusion with striving, by the assiduous practice of our personal Worship and our domestic Worship daily before our own family Altars, by the performance of the delightful duties to which domestic existence gives rise, and as far as the disorder amidst which we have to live permits, of the civic duties imposed by industrial existence, to prepare ourselves, and especially to prepare our children, for the happy and glorious future towards which, though we shall not live to see its full realization, we confidently believe Humanity to be fast approaching, fast at least in comparison with Its immense and eternal life; and possibly also in some humble degree within the limits of our own sphere, to hasten its approach.

MODERN TIMES, Monday, 1st Descartes, 67 (8th Oct., 1855.)

[1] The positive Religion of HUMANITY which constitutes the Faith the Hope and the Guide of the little Band of Brothers who issue this tract, is based, in the purely intellectual aspect on the Positive Philosophy of Augustus Comte, an excellent English version of which by Harriet Martineau has been recently published in New York by Calvin Blanchard, 82 Nassau Street. But the ulterior developments of Positivism which have made it a real Religion are contained in works not yet accessible to the merely English reader, a, state of things that we sincerely trust however will not long continue to exist.

[2] Who is the priest of Humanity?—is a question suggesting itself in this connection too naturally and too forcibly to admit of an entire postponement of the reply. But the reply can at the moment be given only in an abstract form, seeing that the formation of such a priesthood is at bottom the one great work of the present age; yet a work scarcely commenced. The priesthood of Humanity is in a word that body of men, formed when and how it can be, who will unite in themselves the two qualifications, each one so rare and difficult of attainment, especially at the outset, as to exclude all but the most Elect of our Race, first, of such an intellectual superiority as shall enable them to place Moral and Social Science on a fully positive basis, in spite of the metaphysical and mystical fogs at this day wholly enveloping these sublime orders of conceptions, secondly of such a moral superiority as shall enable them, in spite of all the proud and arrogant individualism and Anarchy of the age, to institute and maintain among themselves a perfect Hierarchical Discipline. For us Positivists the Founder of our Faith, by virtue of his labors in is regard, spontaneously occupies alone this august position.

Shortly will be published,

















With a Brief Outline of



About Shawn P. Wilbur 2320 Articles
Independent scholar, translator and archivist.