Liberty and Wealth.
STARTING ON THE JOURNEY.
“Every man’s brains are God-given for his own benefit.”
This is the corner into which I beheld a capitalist driven. I say capitalist. But the man was only a day-laborer, and had found it difficult to keep a small family in ordinary comfort.
“Nobody is to blame but myself that I am not rich,” he said, “I have neglected to pursue the proper course. But that course was open to me, as it is to everybody in this country. The way is before every man’s eyes; it needs but the will and—the brains!”
So, I said, he was a capitalist.
If he lay in the gutter and drank swill, he would still be a capitalist.
For “out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh,” even with more oracular power than out of the abundance of gold.
What is a capitalist?
One who has capital?
A capital-ist is one who uses, or would use, his capital to get other people’s capital,—taking good care to keep his own insured and solid.
Did he exchange one sort for another sort, the scales balancing, he would be no robber; so, not a capitalist.
“Ah!” cries my man in a corner, “that would be a pretty how-do-you-do. Where would be the stimulus, the inducement, the incitement?”
It is in vain to reply to this capitalist in a corner that the world is not bound to provide him out of its general welfare with stimulants, inducements, incitements to be other than an honest man, a fair and square man; measuring his fairness and squareness by the equivalents of his own labor or capital he renders for the labor or capital of others.
“For,” he shouts, “that would be damned poor consolation. Besides, what’s an equivalent? One man’s hour of brains for another’s hour of no brains?”
And now he is furious. He stands there maddened and gesticulating, his voice raised to a shriek.
“I tell you a man’s brains are his own! A man’s brains are for his own benefit! If he must be Socialist, Nihilist, Anarchist,—that is, be brains for all God’s world,—he is no man, but a slave,—a damned slave!”
This capitalist is profane.
He is probably more profane than he would be if he had not his millions—to get.
He hopes, he expects, even yet to show that his brains are good for a few billions.
Then he will be rosy, fat, and jolly. He will smile at you blandly, when you “air your theories.”
But now he rages if you but lay a straw across his path.
He can brook no slightest cheek to his ambition.
“You’re a damned interfering lunatic,” he cries, “and you ought to be locked up, you had. It ought not to be allowed in this country, endangering life and property. There’s that Herr Most! I’d send him to hell quicker, if I had the chance.”
And this man,—this poor man,—this capitalist,—this poor man who is a billionaire in his heart,—who would trample life, liberty, and all men’s happiness but his own in the dust, if need be, to provide employment for his brains,—this poor man in the corner foamed at the mouth. He raved himself hoarse. He sank down exhausted, quiescent.
Then his tormentor said: “You say a man’s brains are his own: you mean, a man’s brains are the devil’s.”
The exhausted would-be billionaire whispered:
“But I will show you I do not lie. What is a devil? A devil is the incarnation of ignorance, darkness, wrong, cruelty, murder; a destroyer, a glutton, and a gouger; a roaring lion going about seeking whom he may devour—for his own benefit: he is also—an ass.
‘‘And for this last—which is but the sum and result of all his other attributes—he is doomed.
“All the brains in the world won’t save him.
“There is a black drop in his heart,—a drop of poison.
“A little drop; but, as it mounts to his brain, it puts confusion there. The man sees as through a glass darkly, sees men as trees walking: sees as many trees to be chopped down and cast into the fire for his benefit.
“With all his brains he is a fool, an ass. He makes this fatal mistake. They are not trees, these men: they are also selves.
“Assailed, at length they turn and rend him.
“What did he expect?
“He expected that he could go on despoiling all mankind of life and property, and that this same mankind, despoiled and starving, would submit, subside, go placidly to perdition, and leave him alone to flourish.
“A more asinine conclusion could not be reached.”
This champion of brains has regained his breath. He is also, in a measure, calmed.
He comes a little way from his corner.
He looks out of the window.
A neighbor, passing, nods to him.
“There goes a man, now, too honest to live. He’s poor, but he don’t seem to mind it. Or, at any rate, it don’t fret him. You see he’s not ambitious. He has plenty of brains, nevertheless. If you don’t think so, just tackle him. But he’s a deal sight better to other people than he is to himself. He’s too fussy. Has too many ‘principles,’ crotchets, hobbies. It don’t pay to have hobbies,—to be wiser and better than the rest of mortals. Your lot is cast with mankind as it is today, and you are bound, if you’re in Rome, to do as the Romans do—or go under. But that man—I don’t suppose he ever wronged anybody in his life.”
“Astonishing! The miserable fellow! How he must suffer! Not to do as the Romans do! And he’s going under, is he?”
“No, he isn’t; because he’s never been over. He’s always stayed down,”
“But he must be miserable?”
“Yes, but he don’t know it.”
“He never wronged any one! That’s his sin, is it?”
“Well, yes, it’s a sin to be too superstitious that way. I don’t believe myself in deliberately wronging others, but one can spend all his time thinking how not to do it. He must go ahead, and keep an eye on business,—legitimate business.”
“Oh! your proposition now is this: a man’s brains are his own, and to be used for his own benefit, in doing legitimate business.”
“Exactly! I supposed that was understood.”
“You will be as honest, then, as the law allows you to be? Yours is a legal virtue?”
“As the law allows; as, also, public opinion allows. More than that I don’t pretend.”
“A man’s brains, then, are to be used for his own benefit in such ways as public opinion and the laws do not forbid?”
“I’m willing to rest my case there.”
“When you said God,—I believe you said God,—you meant to say God as interpreted by public opinion and the laws? That is, you take your God second-hand?”
“That’s better than you reformers do. For you are one and all atheists.”
“For that matter, we all practically stand on the same ground. Your public opinion is simply the popular idea of what is right, or somewhere near right. Other people know no more about God than you or I. When they say, ‘Thus saith God,’ it amounts to no more than if they said, ‘Thus we say.’ There may be a God; there may not be. All you get, if there be one, is your ability to see things,—power to investigate and to understand the natural world about you and the natural world of man which, it might not be amiss to say, is within you. Now, this ability, this power, increases with use. It grows like the muscular tissues of the body. Every age inherits the past, and adds to it by its own growth. If we are not wiser, we have more knowledge than our fathers.
“Well, now, there you stand, half-way out of your corner. You first said God gave you brains for your own benefit. But, if you sought your own benefit in the way you proposed, you would start on a war for the extermination of the rest of mankind. Your motto, written large, full size, would be: ‘I want this earth. All but me must emigrate.’ Of course, you would be aiming at the impossible and get tripped up. But you would in so far fall short of realizing your ideal benefit.
“Now, as I say, you have advanced so far that you say of course you don’t believe in deliberately wronging others; you will do a legitimate, a legal business. You recognize public opinion and the laws. You assume you are thus on the side of substantial justice.
“Now, would you step out from the shadow entirely, you would see a new sight. You might, as it were, look in a mirror and contemplate yourself.
“Shall I tell you what you would see?”
“Yes, as you think you know all about it, go on!”
“No, you are mistaken. I don’t think I know all about it; but I am confident I know a little,—a little more than you, for instance. You shall be my judge. I shall say nothing which I shall not expect you will agree to—when you have done considering it.
“When you turn your brain to look into the mirror I spoke of, you will see yourself, intellectually and morally, as one taking a journey. Already you have left the old devil-abode,—where you dreamed of crushing, enslaving, or annihilating a world for your own private benefit,—and have come to the abode of mortals whose motto is still, ‘Every man for himself; the best man wins;’ but now the stakes are not the world. That sort of dice-throwing has come to be illegitimate. You think with a few billions you ought to be contented and stop, and go give the rest of mankind a chance.
“Before, you were governed only by your wild greed, which roamed unchecked to devour the entire substance of kingdoms, principalities, and dominions.
“Ordained of God to be emperor, king, despot, demon, for your own benefit.
“But now look! You are in a realm where the motto is, ‘Be greedy; but not too greedy.’
“You may devour widows’ houses, afflict the fatherless and oppressed,—but you must do it legally, according to law, in harmony with public opinion.
“Will you call to your aid your imagination? It may be necessary for you to realize fully the picture you present in the shadowless mirror.
“You see a man who has said to himself:
“‘What a boon to me is life! If to me, why not to others,—to all others?
“‘What a charm for me has liberty! Am I alone in this? Is it not, also, dear to all? Nay, is it not essential for all? Could I possibly enjoy it alone? Must not all possess it for me to retain it?
“‘Ah, me! If my brains are for my own benefit, is it not clear that they must help, and not hinder, the benefit so eagerly sought by each and all, this human world over?
“‘Yes, yes; I see, I see; no man can live to himself alone.
“‘The day of the aristocrat is passed.
“‘Democracy is taking all things at the flood, and must ride on to fortune.
“‘But what see I myself beholding?
“‘A vast multitude,—the great public,—needy, lacking wisdom, lacking understanding.
“‘And yet this public is speaking as with the authority of the Most High. Enacting laws in the name of liberty,—despotic laws,—and enforcing them by all the appliances known to tyranny.
“‘It is this public that establishes legality.
“‘It is to this public opinion I have bowed, and said, “It is good enough for me.”
“‘By God, I will cease being the thing this ignorance and superstition, massed in popular opinions, has fashioned me. My brains are for my own use to cut a highway of thought to the very throne of Truth and Justice!
“‘Hitherto I have done no thinking.
“‘Henceforth my path shall be Thought-clear.
“‘I have read the poet who sang:
The world was set to order,
And the atoms marched in tune.
“‘I see, to use my own brains for my own benefit is to find the harmony in which mankind may live, move, and have their being.
“‘No legality shall suffice.
“‘No public opinion shall deter me.
“‘Onward to the new goal!’
“Such the picture of yourself you may behold in the mirror of light.
“On some other occasion I will ask you to permit me to accompany you upon the journey onward.”
SOCIAL WEALTH CONSIDERED BY THE WAY.
My would-be capitalist was less impressed by my remarks than I imagined him to have been, for, when I called again, he exclaimed:—
“Your views are Utopian. The goal you would have all the world start for is an impossible goal. I read in my Bible, the poor are to be with us always. Riches and poverty are in ourselves. Property, houses and lands, and all visible wealth are the symbols of an inner and potent personality!”
The man’s wife had brought in her knitting, and, as she was picking up a dropped stitch, she at this point dropped the remark:—
“He’s been posting up.”
But Smith (I didn’t intend to tell his name, but it is out now, and no matter; nobody will identify him),—Smith heard it not. He went on with his elucidation.
“In other words, wealth,—to borrow the phrase of our church,—wealth is an outward and visible sign of an inward,—I can hardly say spiritual grace, as the church does—of an inward intellectual virility and moral power. On the other hand, poverty, squalor, rags, are the signs of a humiliating incapacity. That’s what galls me, to own the truth; I don’t get on with business enterprises. I strive to persuade myself that the turning-point has not yet arrived, that tide in the affairs of men which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune. Then, I fear it’s passed, or that I’m naturally stupid. But either way I insist I’ve no one to blame but myself.”
“I don’t know,” said the wife, “that you’re to blame if you’re naturally a fool. Nobody is. The blame lies higher up.”
“You see my wife is Ingersollian,” Smith responded,
“Yes,” she replied, “John’s got all the religion there is in this house.”
“It’s a singular house in that respect,” said I; “religion usually is woman’s prerogative. The men for the most part eschew it.”
“They may think they do,” said Smith, “but when disaster overwhelms them, they’re quite as humble as the women. They get religion, or they suicide. I prefer religion.”
The wife nodded her head, and looked wise.
“Now,” he continued, ‘‘I admit the laboring class have grievances that call for redress. But let them put religion in the place of dynamite. Let them convert their oppressors, not blow them up. Blowing up does no good. Another set is already to step into their shoes; they’ll spring up out of the nature of the case over night, like mushrooms.”
“They’ll be afraid to, by and by,” said Mrs. Smith.
“No, they won’t. Men will risk all for wealth or power. Look at the Czar of Russia.”
“His day will come yet,” exclaimed Mrs. Smith; “I hope it will. There’s no religion going to take hold of that despotism. It’s got to be blown into shivers every time it shows its ugly head.”
“Now, don’t get excited.”
“Don’t get excited? Read Kropotkine, and if you don’t get excited, there’ll be no excuse for you. You ought to be blown up yourself. The horrors of Siberia and the journey there are infamous beyond comparison. Imagine the most terrible cruelty, the blackest crime, and compared with this reality, you will paint twilight for total midnight darkness. I’d like to read of a Czar’s death in every morning’s paper; ‘twould give me a relish for breakfast.”
Smith was not a little annoyed at this outburst. He would have replied sharply, but forced a smile into the hard lines of his mouth and said nothing.
I remarked that the Siberian exile had every reason to hate the cruel Czar, and the Russian people were justified in whatever method of revenge or relief they could devise. I had no doubt a despotism so grinding—itself a life-long assassin—deserved only assassination.
“A monstrous doctrine!” said Smith.
“True as gospel!” exclaimed Mrs. Smith.
“But,” I continued, ‘‘we are forced to leave Russia to itself, and attend to matters nearer.
“There is no discounting the liberalizing influence the American Republic has had on the political condition of Europe, in stimulating the aspirations of the people toward emancipation. They have idealized our situation, and through their imagination have no doubt pictured us as even better off than we are. They see liberty here carried to its fullest proportions,—I mean the mass of the people. There is a growing conviction with a steadily increasing number that the United States have halted in a precarious situation, that they cannot remain where they are; they must go forward or backward.”
“Are we not going forward every year, increasing in population and wealth?” cried Smith.
“Who’s got the wealth? You haven’t,” exclaimed the wife, rather snappishly.
“No doubt,” said I, “but there has been an increase of wealth, and also of population; but the problem of the future remains. The wealth is insufficient, and the only contribution the increasing population brings is in the additional clamor made for a settlement. If affairs were rightly adjusted in a country like this, there could not be too many people; but the present system of things calls for a reduction of population. Not only is there an army of idlers here, but those employed are working at what may be called cut-throat wages. You see working people sticking to their places with desperation. For just across the road sit idlers by the hundreds, crying: ‘Grumble if you dare we’re ready to step in, if you step out—for a crust of bread, if it comes to that.’ The labor market is overstocked. ‘There’s room higher up,’ said Webster. But if all people rushed to that ‘higher up,’ the same disproportion of supply to demand would ensue that now confronts the country lower down so to speak. This term ‘higher up’ is misleading, and needs comment, but not now.
“What do you say to the following as a statement of what society wants? But, remember, when I say that society wants this or that, I mean a society well and successfully constructed; that social state in which all people shall have the opportunities of liberty, wealth, and happiness.”
“You do well to put in opportunities,” said Smith, a smile of satisfaction flickering across his face; “if people improved the opportunities they have, they’d be tolerably well off.”
Mrs. Smith looked up with wide-open eyes, and asked, solemnly, “Why don’t you begin?”
I hastened to relieve the situation.
“I know,” said I, “in a sense it’s manly or womanly for one not to go through the world whining, berating circumstances and surroundings, and throwing blame on everybody else’s shoulders but his or her own. Better cry with Hamlet, ‘We’re errant knaves, all! Believe none of us.’
“And yet, we’re not knaves, absolutely, the worst of us. The trouble with us all is that we do not find ourselves rightly related one to another. There’s a barrier to harmonious social intercourse, a something nagging, irritating, stimulating us to individual antagonism.
“The question is, how to construct this society, the social welfare of all, how to carry it forward and upward to a high plane of intellectual development and physical comfort for all.
“Let me remind you that human nature is something somewhat marvellous to contemplate. Seward used to repeat, ‘The study of human nature is the unending problem; the cause of human nature the one sacred theme.’ I quote from memory; but that was substantially the idea. ‘Our fathers,’ he said, ‘consecrated this country to the cause of human nature.’ He might have added, as they understood it. Just as Jackson swore he would support the constitution as he understood it, so the fathers could only devote themselves to the cause of human nature as they understood it.
“But human nature is a flower that is unfolding.
“Who has seen the perfect blossom? If it has blossomed in individuals, it has not in the race.
“What we seek is a race-blossom.
“There is somewhat in the Old Testament idea of God’s sparing a city for the sake of the ten good men found therein, and in the Orthodox idea of his forgiving sinners for Christ’s sake, who is said to have been sinless.
“It is a feeling after a truth.
“The ten good, the one sinless, vindicate human nature, show its possibilities and its probable destiny in all human beings. And we may well enough suppose that, if there is a god,—who originally made human nature at a venture, but remained in ignorance of all the wonderful possibilities that lurked within it,—should he chance upon some very choice specimens of individuals in city or world, showing what the nature he had created and lodged in human beings was capable of, he might become very tolerant and patient with the so-to-speak many million buds not yet blossomed. Even one Christ-blossom would be an encouragement. He would neither destroy that world by flood or fire; but wait,—a thousand years in his sight being but as a day.
“Now, practically speaking, in the management and development of social character and social conditions on this our planet, we—the human nature that is in process of development—are set to exercise the same providential patience and forgiveness, but also to give the providential impetus.
“I will not say that human nature is a machine that runs itself; but rather, that it is a plant that has a self-conscious and self-directing growth.
“If there be a god revealing his will, it is only by his own incarnation in our natures. But I do not need to discuss that point. Practically, as I said, all the world believes it has its destiny in its own hands. Sane men everywhere know that no god will stay them if they will cast themselves from high mountains, or plunge into deep waters, or walk into a den of lions or a fiery furnace.
“Nor will he raise a spear of grass to their mouths if they are starving.
‘‘Nor will he rush to the defence of the helpless against the oppressor
“All, all, must go on as man himself ordains it.
“He must pay the penalty for ordaining evil.
“The law of self-preservation is soon announced. The burnt child dreads the fire.
‘‘Thus on the ladder of experience, one round after another, he mounts.
“How high up do you suppose he has climbed, Mr. Smith, in this year of grace, as you would say?”
Smith looked down thoughtfully a moment; then, raising his face with a smile, he said:
“High enough not to expect a millennium—day after to-morrow.”
“Who said anything of a millennium day after to-morrow?” the wife quietly asked; “if he has to grow into a millennial state, there’s no expecting about it. It isn’t in its teens yet, let alone coming to a man’s estate day after to-morrow.”
“Thank you, Mrs. Smith! Her mind, Mr. Smith, is less encumbered than yours. She is not preoccupied with visions of a millionaire prosperity as you are. Hence, she isn’t captious and disposed to saddle others with illegitimate inferences. I have said nothing about time, as to whether we are near or far from a millennium. See if you can’t take a more dispassionate view; put self aside, and regard for a while the race. You’ll find, let me tell you, that yourself will be quite as well provided for when other selves are respected and honored.
“I was asking merely how far up our experience had carried us? Have we reached the point where we realize that we must have regard for all men’s interests in order to advance and secure our own? I think that idea has at least dawned, both for this country and the world.
“Humanity over the whole earth has come into close alliance and neighborhood.
“We have the word ‘universal’ and are applying it in ways too numerous to mention.
“Now, our business is to find out what it means carried out in all directions honestly and fearlessly.
“It is the cause of universal human nature which the new era proclaims.
“We demand a social state founded in Liberty, Equality, Fraternity.
“But we have branched off from my original question in a strange, but perhaps not unprofitable way.
“What do you say to the following statement of what society wants?
“I. The just reward of labor.
“II. Security of person and property.
“III. The greatest practicable amount of freedom to each individual.
“IV. Economy in the production and uses of wealth.
“V. To open the way for each individual to the possession of land, and all other natural wealth.
“VI. To make the interests of all to co-operate with and assist each other, instead of clashing with and counteracting each other.
“VII. To withdraw the elements of discord, of war of distrust, and repulsion, and to establish a prevailing spirit of peace, order, and social sympathy.
LABOR UNDER ITS OWN VINE AND FIG TREE.
Smith saw nothing new or startling in the social problem as stated at the conclusion of the preceding chapter.
“It’s as old as the Christian Gospel, at least,” said he. “The angels sang ‘peace on earth’ at the birth of our Saviour. What a transformation Christian preaching has wrought in eighteen hundred years!”
“Yes, goodness knows,” exclaimed the wife, “there’s been enough of preaching to have made seven worlds over. But I never heard a Christian preacher that didn’t smooth over whatever besetting sin his rich parishioners indulged in. Of course that’s where his bread and butter comes.”
“They’re not all that way.”
Smith said this in a deprecating way as though he would be quite satisfied to avoid this and all other little tilts with his better half. Either he scorned to argue with a woman in the presence of others, or he knew by experience that Mrs. Smith had a way of attacking the weak point in his remarks, and was disinclined to encourage her in the practice. She however, could not knit without thinking nor think without an occasional outburst. In conversing with Smith one had to encounter a man with iron-clad opinions, which he had received ready-made. For himself he had done no thinking. He was, in fact, born on the premises, and had never moved off, or indulged himself even in the most harmless excursion. Mrs. Smith was not so equipped. She had a more original mind, and was disposed to see things through her own spectacles. “My grandmother’s don’t fit me; but John says he can see as well in grandfather’s as in his own.” Smith’s business had forced him into the use of “specs” at an early age. This was one reason why he wished to get out of it, and become a millionaire.
I found, on returning to Smith’s to learn what progress he had made, that Mrs. Smith had been studying the several propositions I had left with them more attentively than her husband.
“I think,” said she, “that they have a sound ring. I think the pinch comes on the sixth. ‘To make the interests of all to co-operate with and assist each other, instead of clashing with and contradicting each other.’ How are you going to do it?”
Easy enough,” said Smith, “or it would be easy enough if the laboring class would take rational views of the situation. They’ve only to allow capital and labor to work harmoniously; as you say, assist one another.”
“You are making yourself more stupid than ever,” retorted Mrs. Smith. “Labor allow! Labor has only to submit,—submit or starve. What is the purpose of capital? Plunder. I heard you not long since raging fearfully over the idea of some Frenchman—”
“Proudhon, you mean?”
“Yes, that was the name. You were enraged at his idea, quoted in the ‘Herald,’ that property was robbery. I see what he meant, and believe it’s true as gospel. Property, that is, capital, is robbery. What is the capitalist at? His whole aim is to keep his help poor. Why? Because that is the way he gets rich.”
“But doesn’t he use his capital? Give them employment? What was their situation? They were starving. He takes his capital from other investments, puts it into a new business, says to the hundred idle and starving wretches about: ‘Here, go to work.’ He puts bread into their mouths, and clothes on their backs, and you call it plunder, do you? Oh, you see, sir, my wife is worse than you are. She’s been studying your six propositions of peace, harmony, co-operation, withdrawal of discord, and so on and so on, with a sure millennium coming speedily, and this is the result: Every man who employs help is a robber. If he had said: ‘I’ve enough to satisfy my needs to the end of my life; I’ll sit under my own vine and fig tree and enjoy myself,’ and left his fellows about him to starve, why, he’d have been a model man and no robber. Wonderful new views! Ha, ha, ha! What is the world coming to?”
“You see,” said Mrs. Smith, “that is the way my husband raves. He will run on for an hour in the same fashion, never suspecting everybody else is not as stupid as himself.”
“Thank you,” said Smith.
“I say stupid, because he skims over the subject.”
“And gets the cream,” cried Smith, with the inimitable smile of satisfaction.
“A child could answer him. He thinks he’s getting cream, but he’s only taking the scum off a pan of chalk and water. Hence I say stupid. I went over this whole subject with him, yesterday. But he says himself he’s an old dog and you can’t learn him new tricks.
“‘Now,’ I said yesterday, ‘there’s nothing meaner than affecting a charity when you’re filling your own pocket.’ And that’s just the game this wonderful philanthropist with capital is playing. He could sit under his own vine and fig tree, could he? How long? Won’t the vine and the tree need tending? If he sits there and leaves nature to herself, he’ll soon be overrun with weeds. His vines and fig trees are vines and fig trees because human labor has made them so, and human labor’s got to keep them so. The man can’t sit. He’s got to work,—eat his bread in the sweat of his brow,—unless he has a few idle and starving neighbors. Then he can say, ‘See here! I’m no hog. Come and do my work, and I’ll see you don’t starve.’ Now he can sit under his own vine and fig tree. Labor will support capital and all capital’s children. Yes, the whole family can sit under their own vine and fig tree, and plant new vines and new fig trees, and employ other idlers and keep them from starvation. And this can go on till Paradise opens,—in another world,—if labor will look at it reasonably and not disturb the harmony capital has established and is disposed to abide by forever.”
“I don’t see why it should not,” said Smith, with emphasis.
“Simply because labor wants a vine and fig tree itself.”
‘‘Let it save up enough to make a start for itself.”
“Turn itself into capital?”
“Of course, of course; why not?”
“And sit under its own vine and fig tree?”
“And there shall be no more labor,—only capital?”
“Why, if it should come to that, yes. That is, if it be possible for capital to sit under its vine and fig tree, and have no demand for labor; but, you say, it can’t; and it’s true. The fig tree, so to speak, will turn to weeds. Labor is required to keep it productive. But you, as I have been seeing all along, have made one seemingly trifling mistake; but the mere mention of it will upset your whole theory.”
“Now we approach a catastrophe,” said Mrs. Smith, quietly. “Go on, my dear.”
“Your dear has only to say that you have assumed that the man with capital who employs men without capital to help him keep his vine and fig tree in good producing condition is not himself also a laborer. He plans, superintends, studies ways and means, takes all the responsibility; his brain is always at work, and he is awake and troubled, more than likely, when they are asleep. Talk about his sitting! Why, he is always on his feet, and does more work than any three of them. A man with ten, twenty, fifty men at work for him has no time to idle away, I can tell you. That’s your mistake in taking for granted that the capitalist who keeps his capital active and employs his fellow men can himself be an idler.”
Smith concluded triumphantly. You could see it was his opinion that he had crushed his wife. So he settled back in his chair with the air of one who thought nothing further could be said.
The wife, however, was not crushed. She was about to speak, when I interposed to say I was glad Smith had used the term capitalist instead of capital.
“He was driven to,” exclaimed Mrs. Smith. “You see that was just where I was bringing him. I agree with you. At this point capitalist is the better word. John was forced to use it to save his eloquence from confusion. I had only taken up his remark that the laboring class should allow labor and capital to work together harmoniously, and have brought him to this.
“1. Capital could sit under its own vine and fig tree and snap its fingers at labor. But no; out of the goodness of its heart it said to labor, ‘Come and work in my vineyard.’
“2. When I show him that capital can’t sit still and snap its fingers at labor, but is dependent on labor for its preservation, he turns and says that capital doesn’t sit still, but is up and doing,—is itself a laborer. Instead, however, of saying capital labors, he says the capitalist labors. He puts in a plea for brain-labor, which, of course, I allow. The capitalist labors in planning and superintending the business
“Let me see if I can remember how I stated the case to myself yesterday. It was something like this:
“Must be used, taken care of, or it will perish utterly.
“Nothing can do this but labor.
“If the capitalist, or owner, cannot care for it alone, he must summon others to help him. Twenty-nine others, say; himself making thirty.
“Now, whereas the capital without the aid of the twenty-nine, to say the best for it, would have remained as it was, but, with their help, has increased thirty fold, what proportion of this increase belongs to the capitalist and what to the laborers?
“If each man employed in securing this increase did the same amount of work, why would it not be just for each to claim his one-thirtieth?
“But the capitalist does as much work as six others. Doubt it, but, for the argument, grant it.
“Then let him take one-fifth of the increase, and divide the remainder equally among the others.
“Here is equity, equality, fraternity. The salvation of the capitalist, who has provided himself with opportunity to work to advantage. He has saved what he had and added thereto by his own toil. It is also the salvation of the twenty-nine who have been enabled to save somewhat of the wealth they have produced.
“A mutual benefit, without charity, on strictly business principles.
“Why shall I not now quote your proposition VI?
“To make the interests of all to co-operate with and assist each other, instead of clashing with and counteracting each other.’
“What now have we?
“Labor under its own vine and fig tree!”
NEW HARMONY: DARKNESS — DAWN.
“Well!” cried Smith, “when I married my wife, I didn’t suppose I was marrying a whole reform club, a Utopian dreamer, a comrade of Herr Most!”
“Who is Herr Most? What do you know about him?” the wife asked.
“Oh, I’ve seen plenty of squibs in the papers about him. He’s the man who would set the world afire, if he could.”
“I rather think,” said I, “that you have no further relish for the argument, and so adopt the method of the ‘Herald’ and other papers, – you fire silly squibs. Of Herr Most, I know little. He’s infuriated, perchance, and may propose heroic treatment; but, while the condition of mankind remains as it is, one forgives the wildest proposition for its relief. I venture, on investigation, Herr Most turned inside out would present a far more interesting spectacle than Vanderbilt.”
“Pshaw!” said Smith, with an air of disgust, “there ought to be a Bastile for such fellows as he.”
Then he turned on me his red face, and said in suppressed tones:
“Do you believe in assassination, in fire, in murder and arson, in reducing the world to ashes, laying it level to get a place to set up your thrones in?”
He was lapsing into one of his old-time fits of passion.
“For all the world,” said his wife, looking up, “you look yourself at this moment the very embodiment of all evil. There’s murder and arson in your eye. How many worlds you would upset and destroy, if you only had the power!”
Smith was mad and disgusted. He reached for his hat, but I checked him, and persuaded him to remain quiet, remarking:
“Let us put all else aside now, and consider what your wife was saying. Is there any objection to the proposition that labor should sit under its own vine and fig-tree?”
Smith calmed himself, and said:
“Everybody has a right to his own; to the honest, legitimate fruit of his labor. But you seem to think, if a man happens to be a capitalist he forfeits that privilege.”
“I see,” I responded, “you do not begin yet to understand what I have been driving at. And I doubt if much is gained by discussion or controversy. It is a good deal this way. Two men start on a journey. They go a little way together, and then come to a fork in the road. The road divides and branches out right and left. One keeps to the right, the other cries ‘this way,’ and keeps to the left. While they are in hailing distance, they keep shouting to one another, disputing which is the right road.”
“What should they do? Ought the fellow going left to whirl and go right, follow the other where he was pleased to lead, without a murmur?”
“Suppose the fellow going right should say: ‘That road to the left is the old road. It is not only a poor road in itself, but it brings up at a poor place. It brings up at the old place of unsatisfied want, misery, and degradation. Come with me and I will show you a better road, and a goal of peace, prosperity, and happiness.”
“In your mind’s eye, you mean.”
“Exactly,” said I; “all things are first in the mind’s eye. You believe in a Creator of the world. Before the world was, where was it! In His mind’s eye. That is, believing as you profess, you should so say. The American Republic! where was it before the Revolution? Our fathers founded these institutions of freedom, we say. It was in their mind’s eye. Yes, Mr. Smith, all things are first a dream. Gradually the dream takes form and shape, becomes a rational, practical, working reality. We are so constructed that we are at first afraid of our dreams, our prophetic fore-gleams, our New-world visions. Some Columbus, rapt and undissuadable, sails until fear and doubt and disbelief are annihilated. The new world that lay in his mind’s eye is beneath his feet.
“Now, Mr. Smith, turn to the right with me, and let us see what has been discovered in this direction. Let us travel—in our mind’s eye—to the new city, the Zion set on a hill, where Righteousness and Peace, in your Bible phrase, have kissed each other, where, in my own plain speech, Liberty and Wealth are universal, and the people rival one another only in great and beneficent achievements.
“To the city I speak of I have already been traveling this same road. Shall I tell you my experience?’
“Oh, certainly; it will doubtless be interesting,” Smith replied, in a resigned sort of a way.
“I shall be delighted,” said his wife.
This was encouragement enough. Smith might make wry faces to his heart’s content. I continued:
“When I drew near and came within view of the City, I turned and saw sitting by the wayside, on a boulder beneath a sheltering tree, an aged man. He was so simply and plainly dressed, I, at first, regarded him as a tramp, some outcast from the hive of industry beyond. But the peaceful face he turned to meet my gaze dispelled the thought. So I drew near and asked:
“‘What city lies yonder?’
“‘The City of New Harmony,’ was the quiet reply, given in soft and pleasing tones; ‘have you traveled far?’
“‘Yes, from the City of Discord,’ I replied.
“‘Ah! a long ways indeed; sit down and rest yourself. There is a spring near by. I will give you a drink. It is the water of the river of life from which, if a man drink, he shall never thirst.’
“‘You are a mystic,’ I said, ‘and clothe your thoughts in vagueness. But, if I catch your meaning, I am in truth weary in spirit, and my soul is athirst. I will rest me, as you invite, and you shall tell me of the city we see beyond. Why is it called New Harmony? Doubtless you know its history.’
“‘O, yes,I know its whole history. You see I have passed the allotted time of life, and I was but twenty-five when I came to this place. I was here almost at the beginning. It is a long story, but there are two good hours till dark. I shall weary you, I doubt not, for it seems an endless theme to me. I never know when to stop. But I leave it to my listeners to stop me. Speak, ere you faint.’
“Smiling, I bade him go on without fear for me.
“And this is the story he related:
“‘I came hither almost at the beginning, responding in person to a chance summons from Robert Owen. A circular of his reached me in a distant part of the Union. To my wife I said: “It is what we have been dreaming of.” We broke up our home; I left my business. We were surprised by the number of learned, refined, and generous-minded people we met here. Every profession was represented and all the trades. One common purpose seemed to animate men, women, and children. They had set themselves to found a common home,—a community of equal burdens, equal privileges, and universal happiness. Co-operation was their watchword. We were strangers, but we were received as human beings. “Husband, have we come to Paradise?” my wife asked. I replied: “We will wait and see.” The company numbered in all some two hundred and fifty souls. They had brought provisions for the first six months, but they were generally poor. Owen was a man of wealth, and promised to help along the enterprise until it got into good working condition. When we arrived, they were holding daily sessions to form a Constitution of Liberty.
“‘But, alas! weeks wore away, and finally months. The task seemed hopeless. At heart they were all in accord. But intellectually they were wide apart. They had had a good time; it was a sort of pic-nic. But no result in formulating a new society in which despotism should be an unknown factor could be shown. Neither had the ground been broken; no seed planted, no harvest could be reaped, and the summer was gone. Six months of fruitless discussion ended in their placing themselves under the absolute dictatorship of one man,—Robert Owen. Everybody was disappointed, of course; but they yielded to the inevitable. No one felt a keener disappointment than Owen himself.
“‘He took the helm bravely, and managed with an eye single to the common welfare. But it was to no purpose. No fault was found with him, but the people had failed even to go in the direction of their ideal, and they gradually fell off, returning, most of them, to their old homes.
“‘Three years had passed, and I said to my wife: “Have we come to Paradise?” “Not exactly,” she replied; “it is rather a prolonged pic-nic.”
“‘I was so depressed in spirit, I told Owen it seemed to me this world was made on a wrong plan. The author of it might have succeeded with other world-experiments, but he had certainly made a failure of this. Owen shook his head, and replied: “The fault is not in our stars, but in ourselves.” He then announced his purpose of returning to England. He bade us goodbye, the few who remained, and took his leave. Wife and I sat down and cried like babies. I started out to calm my feelings, and found wherever I went that tears were in fashion. The whole neighborhood—sixty-one souls—sat in utter despondency. To make our desolation blacker, a three days’ storm set in. The winds howled, the rain poured; the days were as dark almost as the nights.
“‘But, when nature smiled again, our courage revived. A reaction set in, and we shook hands as we met each other from house to house.
“‘We’re not dead yet,” cried one man; “perhaps our number was too large for a start. There’s some brains left. Let’s use ‘em. Put in a good crop now this spring, fence in our pasture land, fix up our houses, improve the roads, make sidewalks, work at our trades, keep up the school for the children, and use Sunday for reading and general improvement, Let the Constitution of Liberty grow: we never could make one in God’s world.”
“‘We all laughed at this outburst. But it was sound advice. We did precisely as he had suggested. The result was the next autumn found us in a most hopeful and flourishing condition.
“‘We had not a rule, a constitution, a by-law, a jail house, a poor house,—the last in no sense of the word,—nor an asylum for insane. But we had greatly improved our public building, and increased the library many volumes. Mind, we did not even have a librarian; everybody helped himself or herself. We established a reading-room. Owen sent us several periodicals with every mail. We gathered our harvest, and were amply provided for the winter.’
NEW HARMONY: LIGHT.
“The old man paused for a moment A smile of satisfaction played across his face as he glanced in the direction of the city.
“‘You will pardon me,’ he resumed, ‘if for a moment I indulge a feeling of pride. Never can I recur to the dawn of our long, bright day but the joy of that awakening moment thrills me again: rejuvenates me, so that I almost long for the divine elixir that I may become young, and live my life over again. It is so great and satisfying a pleasure to have lived and been associated with the greatest achievement the world has known. My dear sir, what can be nobler, what aim higher than that which seeks to place the whole human family on a pedestal of power, with mutual respect, a common prosperity, and liberty—that inspiration of all achievement that is great and glorious in human existence—assured to all, even the humblest!
“‘But, enough of this! Let me stick to my story.
“‘I said we were prosperously situated for the winter. Indeed, we had enough and to spare. But we were not idle. We all agreed it was best to put in at least four hours each day at what we might call work. The rest of the time we devoted to study, to pleasure, each, in fact, following his or her own inclination. One day I said to my wife: “Is it now Paradise?”
“‘“No,” she replied, “Paradise ought to mean something possible for all the world. We get along so well because we are all so well acquainted, and have passed through a common experience. Our trials have united us as one family. But let Tom, Dick, and Harry—I mean the good, bad, and indifferent of all the world—come here, and I fear the whole of us would be by the ears again.”
“‘Something like this had been the thought running through my own mind. So I said to others, as I met them: “Isn’t it about time to consider ourselves and our prospects a little further?” But it seemed to be the general opinion that we better let well enough alone. “Do the thing next needed,” said the same man who had given us the suggestion that saved us the spring before, “and don’t look ahead too far.”
“‘But it happened not long after that the thing next needed was to settle the very question wife and I had pondered. A party of twenty strangers came in upon us, and wanted to settle and live in New Harmony. We had done no advertising; no reporter had been to see us; but these people had heard of us, and came one thousand miles on faith. They wanted to see our constitution. They asked about our principles, our politics, and our religion.
“‘I ought to confess that our happy family was thrown at once into a state of excitement. The old Adam cropped out in a number of ways. The croakers began. Evil days were before us; let them go by themselves, and form a community of their own, some said. This, however, was contrary to all our better instincts, and low prudence and caution soon gave way to a determination to solve the problem of expansion then and there. We needed a spokesman. All eyes turned to Joseph Warden. “Do the thing next needed, Joseph,” I exclaimed. He invited the new comers to join us all in our public reading room. He took a seat, and we gathered about him: For a little time we sat in silence. Then Warden asked the visitors to state their purpose in coming. One of their number replied that they had understood that New Harmony was a place where the people had all things in common. It was Scripture doctrine, and they were Christians. They wanted to join a society in which private property was unknown.
“‘At this point Warden smiled and said: “Then you have made a mistake in coming here, for we have somehow felt from the beginning that private individual property was a real and a sacred thing. I don’t know that any of us ever said so before in so many words. The question has never arisen.”
“The man replied that he was somewhat astonished, in fact, much astonished, at such a declaration. But he would like to be instructed in regard to New Harmony and its institutions. He felt strongly that there must be some kind of a Providence in the journey of himself and friends. Perhaps their coming was not a mistake. If they knew just what the people of New Harmony did propose, what they believed in, they could judge the better.
“‘Wife whispered to me: “He’s the man to frame constitutions, and so on.”
“‘I smiled. Warden caught my eye, and looked himself much amused.
“‘“Well,” he said, the smile still lingering in the corners of his mouth, “we are in one sense, my friend, a poverty-stricken people. We haven’t any institutions to speak of. All we can boast are certain outgrowths of our needs, which, for the most part, have taken care of themselves. We have, perhaps, an unwritten law, or general understanding, though no one to my knowledge has tried to state it. We all seem to know it when we meet it, and, as yet, have had no dispute about it. It may be said in a general way, however, as a matter of observation, that we are believers in liberty, in justice, in equality, in fraternity, in peace, progress, and in a state of happiness here on earth for one and all. What we mean by all this defines itself as we go along. It is a practical, working belief, we have. When we find an idea won’t work, we don’t decide against it; we let it rest; perhaps, later on, it will work all right. I don’t know as there is much more to say.”
“‘The man was evidently disappointed. Warden’s talk seemed trivial to him. It gave him the impression, he said, that the people had not taken hold of the great problem of life in a serious and scientific manner.
“‘Warden replied that, if the gentleman would define what he meant by the terms serious and scientific, they would be better able to determine the matter. If he meant by serious anything sorrowful or agonizing, they would plead guilty; in that sense, they were not serious. If their life was declared not scientific in the sense that it was not cut and dried, planned, laid out in iron grooves, put into constitutions, established in set forms and ceremonies, he was right. They had neither seriousness nor science after those patterns. “But we have,” he said, “a stability of purpose born of our mutual attractions and necessities, and a scientific adjustment, we think, of all our difficulties as well as of our varied enterprises. Always respecting each other’s individuality, we apply common sense to every situation, so far as we are able.”
“‘The man responded that they were not there to question the earnestness of purpose or the practical intelligence of the citizens of New Harmony. Far otherwise. And yet, it did seem to him, so novel was their plan of organization, that it was little more than a rope of sand. There seemed to be nothing binding or stable in its character. In that respect he must say they were disappointed. But for one he should be very glad to dwell in New Harmony for a season, at least. He turned abruptly to his companions and said: “All who are with me in this, please raise your right hands.” Every hand went up.
“‘Warden smiled, and said he hoped their stay would be a common benefit.
“‘There being no public house in the place, they had been entertained at private residences since their arrival.
“‘It was the Rev. Mr. Sangerfield who had been put forward as their speaker. He was a large man with an iron cast of countenance, and spoke with great moderation and precision. Somehow we none of us quite fancied him, but then, he was in the world, as my wife said, and it was our business to be able to live on peaceable terms with all sorts of people. We couldn’t expect our seclusion to be forever respected.
“‘The reverend gentleman consulted awhile with the others, and then rose and said that he had a few questions to ask by way of information. In the first place, as they proposed to settle, for one year at least, he would like to inquire as to tenements. He had noticed several unoccupied houses; were they for rent? That was the first time the word had been used in our midst. It created quite a sensation. In fact, we all laughed. Sangerfield looked embarrassed, but Warden explained that the idea of rent was new to them. The parties who built the unoccupied houses had gone, and anybody was free to occupy them. It would be only right, though, to keep them in repair, and leave them in good condition.
“‘Sangerfield said he should suppose that property left in that way would be appropriated by the town, become public property. That was the usual custom.
“‘Warden replied with a smile that the usual custom had seldom been adopted in such matters at New Harmony. There was no public property.
“‘“Indeed!” Sangerfield exclaimed. “Whose property is this building we are in? Is it not the property of the town?”
“‘He was informed that it belonged to one Simeon Larger.
“‘“Oh! you rent it of him?” said Sangerfield.
“‘“No, not exactly;” said Warden. “He is paid for the wear and tear of the building, and for his trouble in taking care of it.”
“‘“Who pays him,” Sangerfield asked, “if not the public? How do you raise the money? Impose a tax?”
“‘“We tax ourselves voluntarily. There is no trouble in that respect. Everyone is free to contribute according to his or her means. It is one of the points we think we have scored in behalf of Liberty. And here let me say that all property in New Harmony is private property. Everything has an individual owner, and is under individual management. Everything represents so much labor. We know just what it has cost, and if the individual parts with it in any way, he is recompensed according to his sacrifice. He receives either so much other property, or a labor-note secured by property that has so much labor-value, or a note promising so much labor.”’”
NEW HARMONY: SUCCESS.
“I noticed as I passed along the streets that there were few blocks of houses, or homes crowded together. Each had ample space surrounding it, but no fences anywhere appeared. Gardens, separated only by some slight hedge or path, were to be seen in the height of cultivation.
“My companion’s home was on high ground overlooking the western slope of the city. He showed me at once the commanding view possible for all the dwellers on that side of the hill.
“The family consisted of himself and wife, and a young lady of intelligence who was introduced as his granddaughter. Tea over, we adjourned to the library,—a well-furnished room, the walls being lined with books.
“‘I keep a sort of circulating library,’ said he: ‘those who wish come on certain days for what they want. It was accumulated gradually for my own needs, but I do not care to keep the books idle, as mere curiosities, and I have in a sense passed by them.’
“Miss Arkwright, the granddaughter, remarked: ‘Grandfather isn’t a bookworm himself, but he seems to prescribe books as a sovereign remedy for everybody else.’
“Further conversation followed, but soon the old gentleman desired to continue his story. His wife observed she had heard it the thousandth time, but kept up her interest, and she sometimes had to correct John in his facts.
“‘And I,’ said the granddaughter, ‘have to watch them both to see that they don’t improve upon it from year to year.’
“‘Let me see,’ he began, ‘I had got where Sangerfield and his party proposed to settle with us, and occupy the houses as abandoned property. Somehow they didn’t “catch on,” as the boys say now-a-days, very well to our ways and customs. It took them some weeks to face about and see that we as a rule started from a standpoint almost the reverse of theirs. Individual sovereignty was so new an idea to them, even the logical Sangerfield was often far astray. And what astonished him more than all else was the fact that even our children could almost look over the sides of their cradles and put him right. He quoted the Scripture himself, “A little child shall lead them,” and again, “He hath withheld it from the wise and prudent and revealed it unto babes and sucklings.”
“‘One day he went to Warden, and said he thought, as the community was growing, there would ere long be a pressing call for a criminal code. There should be a catalogue of crimes and penalties, so that, in the event of trespass, no one could plead ignorance of the law. In the nature of things there would undoubtedly appear at least one Judas to every twelve disciples, or some Cain who would compel the rest to drive him from the face of the earth. Why should we not be ready for all emergencies?
“‘Warden smiled and replied quietly: “Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof. I would not catalogue either crimes or virtues. Let us, as Paul advised, avoid the snares of the law, and stand fast in the liberty wherewith we have been made free. Let as speak the truth from day to day in faith, trusting human nature under the sway of humane sentiments, expecting good results. Behold a new truth:
A truth which is of knowledge and of reason;
Which teaches men to mourn no more, and live;
Which tells them of things good as well as evil,
And gives what Liberty alone can give.
The counsel to be strong, the will to conquer,
The love of all things just and kind and wise,
Freedom for slaves, fair rights for all as brothers,
The triumph of things true, the scorn of lies.
“‘“If we detail the vices and crimes of the ages post, we shall do more harm than good; offer suggestions to innocence. Prohibition will find antagonism, and create the disposition to do the very things that are forbidden. There is a great deal of philosophy in the old adage, ‘forbidden fruit is the sweetest.’”
“‘Sangerfield was always disturbing his own peace of mind with some vision of impending evil, and framing a law to avert it, or to punish the imaginary offender. Finally a case occurred. His own son, a youth of twenty years, grossly insulted a young lady, and would have proceeded to violence, but that he discovered some one approaching. Sangerfield’s grief and dismay were soon drowned in a realization that the opportunity had arrived for him to vindicate and enforce his hobby. He came forward for a Roman father’s triumph. He called for jail, courthouse, judge, and jury. The offender must be dealt with without mercy, and an example be set for the rising generation. He insisted so much that finally a meeting of all the people was summoned, a sort of general court. Sangerfield brought his prisoner, and made a great speech. The boy had struck at a father’s heart; but that father, who could forgive an only son for almost any personal grievance, could in no case swerve one iota from his duty to society. Let the criminal be held to strictest account. Warden said he appreciated the readiness of Sangerfield to deliver his own son up to judgment, but he thought it was too late in the day. Judgment had already been passed. The young man, in a moment of passion, had lost his reason, and he must be aware that the act was universally condemned. Perhaps no one would more strongly denounce his conduct than he himself would. The punishment, too, was already being inflicted by the altered change of feeling toward him. Go where he would, meet whom he would, he would meet some one judging his deed and condemning it. It would be a work of time for him to reinstate himself in the friendly regard of the community. Shutting him up in a prison cell would be a release rather than a punishment. No, let him go free and face his act, and live it down. No one but would forgive him when he, to quote the Scripture, did “works meet for repentance.”
“‘The result was the young man went about his business, and gradually the affair was forgiven, if not forgotten. He is living now, and is one of the best, most earnest and influential men we have. But the old gentleman never got over his disappointment.
“‘Our community now numbers seven thousand souls, and our government consists only of a few patrolmen for the evenings, who look after the boys, allay disturbance, or take some very unruly fellow to his own home. We have found this arrangement sufficient to serve all our needs. Society here is protected in other ways,—by our industries, our habits of forbearance, and the democratic respect for one another which our state of perfect freedom inspires. We make no professions, but we for some reason instinctively strive to stand well in one another’s esteem. Our whole life is a constant school in that direction. About every kind of business known in a city of this size is carried on here. Our motto is: Labor for Labor. We have a bank which issues the money current in all our local transactions. In our dealings with the outside world we have of course to use the world’s money. You may be interested in our banking system. If so, I will tell you something about it.’
“I replied that I should like very much to know how their bank was managed; also how business generally was conducted, especially where a large number of hands were employed in one concern. In fact, I wanted to understand as thoroughly as I could the whole working of their industrial system.
“‘Well,’ he said, ‘to-morrow you shall go and see for yourself. You can visit the banks, the several stores, and the large manufacturing establishment just down the river, where three hundred or more men and women are at work running the looms of the mill. It is what you would call a cotton factory.’
“‘What about your schools?’ I asked. ‘Have you a common school, or free school?’
“‘Oh, no,’ Miss Arkwright broke in, ‘in this city of freedom there’s nothing free, in that sense. Everybody pays for what he gets and takes his choice. The nearest approach to a common school is Phillip Morse’s, and he gets so many pupils because his is the best managed and the cheapest. Some, however, like Sarah Baker’s school best, and are willing to pay more, thinking it superior.’
“I said that I supposed they had established a uniformity of prices. If it was ‘labor for labor,’ why should one school be dearer than another?
“The old gentleman turned to his granddaughter, as though he expected her to continue the conversation, and she responded:
“‘Oh, for that matter, everyone is perfectly free to set any price he pleases on his services, and so, on the other hand, everybody is free to call on him for his services or not.’”
“Why,” Smith exclaimed, interrupting my recital for the first time that evening, “that is precisely as it is here and everywhere. Competition settles the thing.”
I replied that the same thought was running through my mind, but that Miss Arkwright went on without any suggestions from me to explain that in the absence of laws securing monopoly us a privilege, competition being thus left free and unshackled, the equitable price was uniformly reached.
NEW HARMONY: ITS INSTITUTIONS.
“I passed the next day in sight-seeing. To a casual observer, New Harmony presented in its outward appearance nothing to suggest that it differed materially from a hundred other towns of its size dotting that and adjoining counties. True, there was a certain individuality in the style of its houses, and a little more of method, perhaps, in the general structure of the place. One thing the city had managed to secure which John—the old gentleman, whose full name I learned only at breakfast that morning—John Meredith pointed out with pride. It needed no index finger, however, to call my attention to the happy foresight which had provided so large and beautiful a park in the very heart of the town. But it proved to be an afterthought, after all, as the old man explained. The credit, he said, belonged wholly to young Sangerfield, whose early misdeed he had related the evening before. It was he who suggested that the spot should be dedicated as an open common for themselves and their heirs forever. In this way he made perpetual atonement for the past.
“‘But who cares for it?’ I asked, ‘and keeps it in such good condition?’
“‘Sangerfield did for twenty years,’ was the reply. ‘You see yonder box on the old elm? That’s the contribution box for the common. Every spring the keeper announces the needed expenditure and the amount of individual assessment, as near as he can calculate, and I do not remember that there was a failure to respond but once. Then, there was some proposed improvement the people disliked, and they withheld their money.’
“I asked him to explain what he meant by dedicating the common forever. Was it so fixed that the generations to come could not convert it into building lots, if they so chose?
“‘Oh, by no means!’ he exclaimed; we can do that to-morrow, if we please. We think future generations will know what they want as well as we do. If they don’t, it’s not our concern. We don’t bind ourselves even beyond the year’s contract.’
“‘Suppose some one should take a notion to build a home or a shed there. Would he have a right?’ I asked this only to bring out his full meaning.
“‘He would have no equitable right. Let me tell you one thing, as a matter of experience. Under our system everybody is put on his good behavior. He has, moreover, a pride in the matter, not to be intellectually wrong in asserting his rights. You see, our social relations are a constant problem, new complications arising which are to be solved by our rule of freedom and equity. A man is ashamed to get beaten in the game, so to speak. Our people are made by this constant exercise of their intellectual faculties quick-witted; at the same time, as you can readily see, they are likely to have a steady growth in their morals. We claim we have struck the idea of self-government in its truest and simplest form. We have equal opportunities, equal burdens. We have no artificial inequalities to contend against. Even those which nature has preordained are softened and fall into harmony instead of discord. One might imagine there would be danger that the superior minds would take on aristocratic airs and cause ill feeling. But, practically, the reverse has occurred. It is one of our most cherished notions that superiority in any department is to be recognized and cherished. We divide according to our natural gifts. Each strives to do the thing he feels himself fitted for, and, as work of all descriptions is regarded as honorable, very little trouble arises. I might go on in this strain, but we must walk along. We will call at Wright’s store, at Farnham’s bank, and Glover’s factory. These will introduce you practically to our ways of doing business.’
Wright turned out to be a quiet sort of a man. He kept open books. Whoever chose could see what he paid for things and what were his running expenses, including all cost, wear and tear, and outlay of whatsoever kind, adding to this the amount of personal labor required for the management. This sum total was distributed, in fixing the price, over the principal articles of sale. It was rather a nice calculation and required a special talent. Several had essayed it and failed. Wright had taken this store from one Simpson, who was really the originator and the most successful operator up to his time they had had in that line. But he instructed Wright so thoroughly that the people had noticed little difference in the management. Wright employed several assistants, all of them having opportunity, as the world says, to learn the business. But in learning this business no boy was initiated into the art of lying or cheating. Wright was, if anything, morbidly jealous in that direction. If any doubted his word, there was the record in minutest detail. Let any one impeach it who could.
“I asked if he had no competition, and was informed that there was another store near by and two others on the other side of the hill. But competition was only possible in matters of economy or ability to conduct the business. The four stores were required to supply the needs of the community, and there was virtually no competition, In fact, the owners consulted with and gave one another points. So long as Wright is kept as busy as he cares to be, he is in no way disturbed that Morgan finds enough to do. If Morgan’s success should take Wright’s customers from him, and he be unable to continue, he would have to bow to the inevitable and turn to some other occupation. He is, however, reasonably sure against a disaster of that sort, for he couldn’t stock his store to begin with without the cooperation of others. It was the merit of a system, where the ruling principle was ‘labor for labor,’ that there were few very poor: all who were willing to work could earn a living and lay somewhat by for a rainy day. And as none could be very poor, so none could become very rich. No capitalist or money-king could arise to lord it over his fellows. The result of labor for labor was a democratic simplicity. It created and sustained a mutual dependence. For this reason, a man starting any kind of business on other than a comparatively limited scale required the goodwill and support of others. He must be able to borrow capital in accord with his plans.
“This was the way he would stock a store. A, B, C, and others have credit at Farnham’s bank, or they establish credit by depositing their notes there to the amount required, which notes are satisfactorily secured—at least, Farnham believes them to be—by improvements upon land or any real estate, or even by promises of labor. In exchange, they receive Farnham’s notes, or the current money of the town. This they lend to Wright, and receive his promise or private note, which he redeems in due time as his business becomes established. This is but one way. The problem has a variety of solutions.”
“It’s a way sometimes practised now,” said Smith, ironically; “Jones borrows money on his IOU of Tom, Dick and Harry, starts business, busts up, and pays Tom and Dick and Harry with, ‘I’m very sorry, I’m sure.’”
I replied that the cases were not parallel, because the one was conceived and carried out under an entirely different set of circumstances from the other. Of course, there were the elements of mutual confidence and honor in each, but the inducements and opportunities of success and honest dealing were wholly changed. The one borrower took his chances under an antagonizing, cut-throat system; while the other went forward backed by a system of things which harmonized interests and caused all whom it might concern to desire the individual’s success and prosperity. In New Harmony, the idea that one man could be benefited by the failure of another seemed to be exploded. Success there means simply the opportunity for labor, and the more labor done, the greater the production and the aggregate wealth.
Smith inquired after Farnham’s bank. “Hasn’t it a gold basis?”
To this I replied in Alexander Farnham’s own words:
“No more than it has a cabbage basis, or a beet basis. Gold, iron, cabbage, beet are but so many producf representing human labor; they are worth precisely the cost of producing or obtaining them. ‘Farnham’s bank’ is a labor bank. All the money I issue is labor money. It is a convenient medium of exchange. It secures to each person using it the equivalent of his labor; at least, that is what it calls for. I issue my note of promise to pay so many hours of labor. My labor dollar is two hours’ labor. It might be ten, but for greater convenience I have adopted two. The community know I’m good for it, because it knows, or may know, if it cares to investigate, that the notes of others which I hold are all secured by substantial salable property.”
When I asked what hindered him, when he once had the confidence of the community, from an over-issue, from circulating any judicious amount of money not so secured, he replied that, supposing he was disposed to do so, there were innumerable checks on any such conduct. His accounts could be examined at any time by all who chose, and as a rule he had insisted on such an examination by competent parties at least once a year. Besides, there were too many concerned in the labor of conducting the bank to make any risk of that kind appear to be worth one’s while.
“A nice-looking thing, as a theory,” exclaimed Smith; but practically, in my opinion, all such wildcat arrangements won’t work. In a country like this we must have a uniform currency, with a solid basis,—not a little, sentimental, tinkering sort of job.”
I gave him the last word, and the conversation was postponed to another evening.
THE NEW HARMONY: SMITH’S CONVERSION.
I called at the Smiths’ by appointment to finish my account of New Harmony. Smith gave me a great I surprise. Without a greeting of any kind, not even asking me to sit down, he pulled a crumpled paper out of his pocket, and said:
“Wife and I have talked it thoroughly over, and, strange to say, we have agreed on the following three things.”
I sank into a chair, he did the same, and the wife entered with her knitting.
He proceeded to read:
“1. The country needs a uniform currency,—not a legal-tender, but an equitable-tender. The Greenback theory of National money is suicidal. No currency can be the currency of the people which the people are not free to accept or reject at any moment.
“2. What is wanted to give circulation to money is established credit. In other words, it must be redeemable. There must be substantial security, so that every individual receiving it is assured that he is not holding only a bit of paper which has neither father, mother, uncle, aunt, or cousin,—no responsible paternity or relative he can reach.
“3. Money must not only be issued with the responsibility and security definitely understood and approachable; it must be issued as cheaply as possible. Neither government nor favored individuals must be able to claim any other monopoly than they can establish by virtue of those two conditions: security and cheapness.”
Mr. Jonathan Smith handed me the slip of paper when he had concluded the reading, and remarked:
“You can keep that as a landmark.”
And Mrs. Smith added: “You will credit us with having made some progress in the last few days.”
“Yes,” cried Smith, “I caught on the other night after you left, and wife and I have talked a steady stream ever since. It was as if I had suddenly turned a corner of the street I’d been traveling all my life, and a new idea revealed itself. From that moment the whole business has fallen into shape, and we haven’t disputed a word since. We thought we had started life together, Sarah and I, twelve years ago; but it was a mistake. We’ve been traveling different roads ever since. Now, for the first time, we go together, because our minds go together. Sarah, I must own, got the start of me. She tumbled, as the boys say, to the idea, as you know, almost at the start. But you see, her mind wasn’t preoccupied with old rubbish. You see a woman has the advantage in looking at a new idea. She hasn’t so many old ones to get rid of.”
Smith laughed heartily, as he always does when he believes he has perpetrated a joke.
“Now,” said he, “there is no need of your describing that New Harmony factory. We know all about it. When I was a boy, I used to drop a lump of saleratus into a glass of cider. Of course I knew what the result would be every time. Just so with equity in business,—labor for labor. The thing settles itself. You’re only got to work out the details. Its just as though you had a measuring stick,—so many feet, so many yards.”
“Not quite so easy as that,” interposed Mrs. Smith. “But, of course, the whole business is simplified where you have a standard, a rule of exchange, labor for labor, or property for property according to the cost of producing it.”
“Well, as to that factory,” Smith continued. “In the first place, the rooms are well ventilated. Then, no one works more than eight hours a day. There are no puny children there dying by inches. They have struck an average day’s work, or hour’s work, perhaps. The head of the establishment works more hours and gets more pay. But the rest get all they need or want. Since the distinction, if they get ambitious in such a community, is not one of wealth, but of intellectual attainment, nobody cares to have the reputation of a Gould or Vanderbilt. They would regard the richest man in the world as a fool, or as foolish. The idea of turning one’s self into a mere money chest! Ha! ha! ha! what a dunce!”
Smith’s laugh was exhilarating.
I confess I was quite taken back by the whole exhibition. I never expected to see in him so great a transformation.
Then came into my mind the saying: “Marvel not that I said ye must be born again.”
Smith was born again.
And if Smith,—why not all the world,—everybody,—anybody?
I agreed with him that there was no need of our going on with reports from New Harmony. He and his wife had already arrived on the spot, and they could explore at leisure.
“We shall do more than explore,” cried Smith; “we shall start in business at once. You see yonder store on the corner, or what used to be a store. Well, we have an eye on it. We may open there before the winter sets in. We’ll just toss a lump of equity into this hum-drum, rantankerous old town, and see if the lump won’t leaven.”
“Capital idea!” I exclaimed.
“And Sarah will do missionary work. She has already an essay begun on the subject for the Dickens Club this winter. You see the Dickens Club have an original essay for some one of its members every month, and the subject is always left to the writer. Luck favors, points the way. Sarah is the appointee for the next essay. What do you suppose is the subject she has already chosen? And the essay, too, is half-written. It is—she can tell you herself.”
“I have chosen,” said Mrs. Smith, “this, but I may. change it. ‘The New Harmony—Liberty, Equality, Fraternity—Considered.’”
“That is capital!” I exclaimed. “Now I will go. I would like to stay and talk till morning. But it is a habit so many have. They waste all their energies in talk, in telling what they are going to do. When they get ready they are like the Dutchman who went so far back to get a good start for a jump that, when he returned to the jumping place, he was all out of breath. Let us avoid too much preliminary.”
I confess to a little diplomacy. I was talking to Smith. I knew he would have approved those sentiments before his awakening, but I was fearful, from the signs already shown, lest he might get himself drunk with the new wine of Harmony, and so lose his hold on the project of a store on the corner.
A corner store is a simple matter.
An ambitious man with imagination once enthused might very easily leave that behind him as a mere dot on the realm of great things he was destined to accomplish.
I know very well, when two or more kindred spirits get together and go over the field of reform, they are pretty sure to plan work for the generations to come instead of for themselves. They see so far and so much. After that, it is difficult to compress themselves into the lesser practical scope of one mortal’s ambition.
The question was: Would Jonathan Smith set about reforming the whole world, or would he content himself with a grocery store in Springville?
When I reached home, I own that I was half ashamed of having indulged myself in this petty egotism: as if the Smiths could not manage themselves!
Suppose they do or don’t establish a grocery-store?
If they do, it will be because they are up to it.
If they don’t, it will be because they are not up to it.
It is only a question of fact.
Or did my little word about doing first, and reserving the too-much-talk till old age creeps upon us, for instance, have some part in determining what the fact shall be?
In other words, was Smith’s character at all affected by my speech?
On the whole, I incline to think we are none of us cast-iron.
We are souls, and impressionable.
I hope I made a good impression on Smith.
There will be no need of my reporting his grocery store in Liberty.
The world will announce the fact,—if he succeeds.
As to Mrs. Smith’s essay,—I’m sure of that.
She is a woman who will do all she undertakes.
I like a woman who can sit serenely, and knit, knit, knit,—but to whom the world is as an open secret.
When the winter comes, I shall ask Liberty to print Sarah Smith’s essay in full.
If the Dickens Club of Springville have aught to say, after its reading, worth remembering, Liberty shall also receive its comments.
And now, reader, a word to you.
I was fully intending to go on for some little time and tell the Smiths all about the New Harmony factory, and there were several other things on my mind.
But when he took the wind all out of my sails,—although he omitted much,—I lost interest in it.
When one suddenly is led to experience a new sensation, other sensations drop out and for the time are forgotten.
Smith’s conversion so astonished me, I felt and still feel as though the old world was propped up anew.
At any rate my vocation at the Smiths’ was gone.
I am not altogether sorry, though my story was spoiled.
However, let us go on serenely. ‘Tis a wise world,—in the long run,—and will take care of itself.
But I should as soon think of suicide as of forgetting that I am, as you are, whoever you are, a good-for-something part of that world.
H. From Wilford Scawen Blunt’s “The Wind and the Whirlwind.”
Tucked away in the pages of Liberty, Sidney H. Morse, Josiah Warren’s literary executor, contributed an odd item, a kind of “what-if” history of Robert Owen’s New Harmony, as if, at the critical moment, Josiah Warren’s equitable commerce had been the model for continuing on after the failure of the original project. The story, Liberty and Wealth, may be the very best introduction I know of to Warren’s thought as filtered through another individuality. There is a difficulty in dealing with Warren’s writings, since he insisted that, in practice, equitable commerce must be based in a complete individualization of interests by all the participants, but much of what we have to work with, in the way of interpretations of Warren’s thought, are perhaps a little too faithful to Warren’s own preoccupations. Morse, who knew Warren well, seems to have made the basic ideas of equitable commerce his own, and allows us to see it in a rather different light.