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- William Bailie, “The Story of a School,” Liberty 8 no. 28 (December 19, 1891): 3–4.
- William Bailie, “Martyrdom of the Soul,” Liberty 8 no. 35 (February 6, 1892): 2-3.
- William Bailie, “A Mighty Consultation and a Multitude of Diagnoses,” Liberty 8 no. 41 (May 28, 1892): 1–4.
- William Bailie, “Bursting a Bubble,” Liberty 8 no. 45 (June 25, 1892): 2–4.
- William Bailie, “The Production of Crime,” Liberty 8 no. 49 (July 30, 1892): 2–3.
- Benjamin R. Tucker, “An Important Work,” Liberty 9 no. 19 (January 7, 1893): 2.
- William Bailie, “Problems of Anarchism,” Liberty 9 no. 19 (January 7, 1893): 1; 9 no. 20 (January 14, 1893): 1; 9 no. 21 (January 21, 1893): 1; 9 no. 22 (January 28, 1893): 1; 9 no. 23 (February 4, 1893): 1, 3; 9 no. 24 (February 11, 1893): 1; 9 no. 25 (February 18, 1893): 1; 9 no. 26 (February 25, 1893): 1-3; 9 no. 27 (March 4, 1893): 1, 3; 9 no. 28 (March 11, 1893): 1, 3; 9 no. 29 (March 18, 1893): 1, 3; 9 no. 30 (March 25, 1893): 1, 3; 9 no. 31 (April 1, 1893): 1, 3; 9 no. 32 (April 8, 1893): 1, 3; 9 no. 33 (April 15, 1893): 1; 9 no. 37 (May 13, 1893): 1, 3; 9 no. 38 (May 20, 1893): 1; 9 no. 42 (June 17, 1893): 1; 9 no. 45 (August, 1893): 1.
- William Bailie, “The Rule of the Monopolists,” Liberty 14 no. 6 (February, 1903): 4–5.
- William Bailie, “Twentieth-Century Benevolence,” Liberty 14 no. 7 (March, 1903): 3–5.
- William Bailie, “The Steel Trust’s Balance-Sheet,” Liberty 14 no. 9 (May, 1903): 3–4.
- William Bailie, “The Senile State,” Liberty 14 no. 13 (September, 1903): 3–4.
- William Bailie, “Achille Loria and Anarchism,” Liberty 14 no. 14 (October, 1903): 3–4.
- William Bailie, “Loria and Economic Interpretation,” Liberty 14 no. 16 (December, 1903): 4–5.
- William Bailie, “What Next in Russia?,” Liberty 15 no. 1 (February, 1906): 26–33.
- William Bailie, “Murder Entirely Satisfactory,” Liberty 15 no. 2 (April, 1906): 43–50.
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The Martyrdom of the Soul.
In my experience of work-a-day life and every-day people there is one thing above all others that I account the most notable, and that by reason of its rarity. Not that I claim a longer or wider experience than the next man, for mine indeed is but short, yet varied enough to give point to the observation. It is true the rare quality I speak of has appeared to me in several individuals who stood out like oases in the desert, or as beacons on the waters, their light glittering with a brightness which served only to show the profundity of the darkness around.
I must crave the exercise of a little patience with my mode of explanation, for instead of defining this notable rarity I shall begin by pointing out its absence in the examples I am about to introduce. With them I shall be lenient, and sympathetic withal, because in their ranks I often, if not always, march myself. We live not in an age of martyrs. People nowadays seldom feel the necessity to enter the state of martyrdom, and least of all the people whom I am about to accuse. Yet consciously in a few cases and in the vast number unconsciously they do exist upon the earth in a state of living, helpless, crucified martyrdom.
We shall examine them as they come, indiscriminately. Take your good citizen, your thriving man of business, conscious of his well-merited success and his neighbors’ respect. Has he ever for one whole moment in his life knowingly cultivated himself,—that is, the part of him which in a careful analysis might be distinguished as essentially him, an entity, an individuality, a something which differentiated him from all others; a feature held not in common with the rest, but in distinction to and separate from all those common attributes?
Like other boys, he received in due course an education; they all received the same. The main object was to prepare him—that is, the parts of him, the powers, passions, capacities, which he held in common with the others—for the busy struggling un-individual life which he now so complacently follows. That exercise did nothing to foster or enlarge the distinctive entity; it helped in its infancy to crush and smother it. Possibly when he left school he did feel some latent yet distinctive desires and predilections. He dreamt of going to sea, or to California, or living in the country, or becoming a philosopher, or a stone-mason, or of reaching the dignity and distinction of a policeman or a President or what not. Whatever may have been his private feelings, his individual leanings, in the matter, nobody consulted, and he soon forgot that such heresies had ever found lodgment in his mind, for like his peers he had early been impressed with the essential object of his bringing up, viz., to make a man of himself by getting more, realizing a position, a standing in the world, from a material point of view, always making the most of his opportunities. In a word, not to be a man, a separate individual, but to tread the same paths the rest were on, do the same things, reach the same goal, feel the same contentment and satisfaction at his success in the beaten path.
Not without sundry rebellions, however, is all this programme accomplished.
His parents put him into a situation which at the time offers the best opportunities. After awhile mayhap its dullness, insipidity, and want of agreement with his natural tastes and ambitions bring a discontent. Another place which has also been selected because of its fulfillment of the general stipulations, is procured, and for awhile the young man is satisfied. Finally he learns to heed no more those inner promptings, but settles down to the life that is laid upon in performing his round of duty, his commercial labors and social engagements, with a sense of their sacredness which completely annihilates the natural preferences and crude yearnings of the individual man. In business hours he associates with many people. To each he is civil, polite, and always tries to converse as if interested in the phase of the weather or other circumstance that each desires to unburden himself of.
He finds himself married. Then arises a variety of duties, impositions, which, whether they correspond with his inclinations or net (they seldom do), he feels obliged to lend himself to, and perform to the satisfaction of another party. Visits, entertainments shopping, and other indifferent locomotory functions which are always dull and often positively abhorrent. The exactions upon his stifled entity belonging to his bi-condition grow with years, and at last he almost ceases to remember that be ever was an individual, n free being.
He has a family. As they grow in years and numbers, his whole thoughts and most of his time are devoted to placing, settling, and worrying about them. If he is considerate and good, fired with the regulation pride of family, he takes to these trying duties kindly, acting as their general omnipotence,
When this period is well through, his head is bald; he probably attends church with more devotion and regularity, for he had not till now much time to spare for ultra-earthly duties or spiritual thoughts.
Now, when he is about worked up, he is free at last to turn his attention to his own cultivation. Whatever of the distinctive personality had once flourished within is long since smothered and dead, so instead of this he thinks of the life to come and spends the remainder of his days in pious contemplation of the projected but uncertain bliss beyond. Thus vegetating has he gone through life. Never did be perpetrate an original deed, or utter a new thought, or feel the influence of an uncommon emotion. No worse can be said of him than this: he has travelled life’s journey as millions more, past, present, and to come, feeling no aspiration, performing no action by which from any of those he might have been distinguished. Wedged in by circumstances, surrounded by conditions, he made not the effort to break the chain they forged that bound him to the beaten path. As he passes from the stage of life, another stops into his place, filling it with equal competency; and, missing him not, the world goes on its way.
Let us shift our ground. Here is another type. A man pitchforked into the rut of life he exists in. One who “earns his broad by the sweat of his brow,” the ancient curse still pressing upon him heavily; cast as it were upon a raft, around and upon which cling a multitude scrambling for a hold and a footing secure. About his vocation there is no choice, not even a predilection. Little stimulus here to build a berth, to make a position giving a safe and comfortable competence as did the other. From the outset his life’s work seems to be a struggle to subsist, to find a spar, a piece of débris, anything to cling to about the precarious raft of existence. Not seldom in this does he fail completely, dropping unnoticed to the bottom.
Passing over the preparation for life’s battle which the meager education allotted him affords, he begins his career as ‘prentice errand-boy, drudge, or general knockabout. Truly he gains an advantage over our first type in that some opportunity may arise in the grim variety and precariousness of this experience to find out and cherish, yet rarely to develop, his personality. When he is settled in life (this you will perceive is a paradox, for he never is settled in life, but always borne hither and thither—insecure), or what is his nearest approach to that condition, the head of a family of which he is the only support, the life he leads is after this fashion. A day of toil extending through twelve or fourteen hours, including meals and going to and fro, which leaves him physically exhausted and mentally inert. Inexorable destiny decrees that to cultivate the vital entity whose latent existence he may perchance dimly feel shall not be the privilege of his condition. The world permits him to live; the repayment of this debt with usurious interest leaves him but little leisure and less opportunity to consciously discover that which is within. The semblance of amusement—the most trivial excitement, the least exalting pleasures absorb the scanty time of rest; and for anything beyond, his weariness proves an effectual barrier.
Imagine for yourself the conditions and surroundings, or perhaps you know already from ripe experience. Whether it be on a street-car, a monotonous but ever vigilant strain; or at the furnace plutonic, or the whirring machine subduing and fashioning the useful metal; or it may be behind the counter of a busy store sustaining the maximum of pressure to the square inch, a dreary and exhausting round of trivialities; else in the din of the flying factory ‘mid the buzzing of a myriad wheels; or in the quieter workshop still feeling the squeeze in the race for life; whether handling the shovel and pick, or following the plough, so needful forms of toil yet so unprofitable; or mayhap treading the ladder with the “hod” while the man at the top does all the work—in every case the result is alike. On duty, a ceaseless effort; off, lassitude needing all the little opportunity for recuperation so again to be capable of the same endurance.
Thus is strangled and annihilated the soul of man.
Here is a veritable martyrdom. True, we may find exceptions, and I am pleased to think, a growing number who escape; but it is only partial, and they are still rare. The conditions are iron-bound, the circumstances imperative, and they effect their stifling and destructive work as surely and as completely as a political party chokes and stamps out an independent opinion.
Upon the home life we need not dwell. Domestic comforts represented too often merely by a sleeping place, where the partner lives who prepares the food and supplies maternity to the children. Comfort, happiness, peace—to cultivate these there is no time.
Family life is a pretence, a shadow, hardly ever a pleasant reality.
Small wonder that the mass of humanity, a few of whose ordinary surroundings and conditions of life in a free (!) country have been imperfectly sketched, moves forward with so little haste. It is made up of an agglomeration of distinct individuals, everyone wedged in by all the others, obliged to fashion and accommodate himself to his environment.
Let us here affirm that each intelligent unit has a distinctive entity, a personality capable of cultivation, which would render it more complete and thoroughly differentiate it from all others. Denied the opportunity to perfect this cultivation, knowledge is lacking, expansion and elevation of the soul impossible, and liberty, dearest of all, not to be attained.
The whole is no greater than all of its parts, and can contain nothing which does not in some of them reside, consequently it partakes of all these negatives, and by its ponderance crushes whatever small stock of asserted self-consciousness a few, by overcoming the pressure of prejudice and circumstance, have audaciously evolved.
The mass can move onward only when the component parts are in the way of progress. No advance were possible, did not some, a minute fraction to be sure, discern that innate personality and give rein to the soul. When each and everyone can do this, freely, spontaneously, the whole mass will have ascended to a higher plane to breathe a purer air, but not till then.
Although the types we have taken to exemplify our theme are of the gender masculine, yet what has been said is none the less true of their coördinates, women. Indeed the sacrifice of the woman’s personality is so absolute and so universal that to handle it here is quite impossible. Tomes might be filled about it; to indite a library would not exhaust it. Therefore with an observation I pass on. It is this. Women are to a greater degree than men the slaves of routine, custom, and conventionality. Their lives under the imperfect civilization of today partake more of the flat, monotonous sameness of the prairie, especially in Old World countries. Hence, while the vacuity of their existence is more perfect and the soul’s suppression less relieved by stray gleams of personal development, the sacrifice is not so galling, the desire of wider individuality hardly so keen, and the unconscious martyrdom enwraps in tighter folds the whole character of woman.
The sensitive mind feels the curb at every turn. Dame Grundy and her progeny, public opinion, custom, respectability, and the rest, are potent factors in preserving mediocrity and rolling out all her subjects—victims, I should say—to one level, insipid and barren. The unlucky wight who drops out of the ranks, steps aside, or strides beyond, how he suffers! Courage and endurance he must possess in good store if he maintain his chosen ground. The soul should be well watered, its roots deep set in a fruitful soil, to endure the assault.
What is more painful, while bordering on the ridiculous, than to see the people whose souls are dormant shocked and scared, ever ready to attack, as the silly turkey a red rag, the slightest manifestation of cultivated individuality. Anything novel in externals, as the fleeting fashions, is received with open arms. But a new idea, the unusual and ill-understood thought or action of a person with a soul, shall be anathema. To be so is to be a crank, an eccentric creature; at best, a fool; at worst, an enemy of society,—an Anarchist.
Do you belong to this category? A modern member of the tribe of Ishmael. How often in company, in the office the work-shop, the club, amongst the companions, not of your own choice exactly, but whom you are, as it were, thrust upon, have you felt it necessary to smother the sentiment or opinion which would only excite their derision and contempt? Why? Simply because it was unusual; they would not understand. The horse or yacht race, the latest murder, the forthcoming election, all the commonplace topics of every-day recurrence you may have your say about, but see to’t that it is what everybody says, else keep it to yourself. And when you think on other matters, pursuing the course toward which a free and distinctive entity urges you, O! tell it not in Gath, publish it not in Eskalon,, that you may escape martyrdom at the hands of the Philistines.
Take this advice with thee. Never despise the inner promptings. Know that thou dost possess something worth cultivating; seek for it, and thou shalt in some direction find it Fear net to think and to express thy thought. Act upon thine own judgment when thou canst brave the calumny and ostracism of the multitude. If thou wouldst possess a soul of thine own, make not gain thy chief business, but be ever ready to sacrifice something for thy soul’s sake.
An Important Work.
The series of articles from the pen of William Bailie, begun in this number under the general title of “Problems of Anarchism,” will probably continue for many months and will deal with most of the sociological questions with which the Anarchistic movement is concerned. I have seen but a small part of the manuscript as yet, but, knowing Comrade Bailie as I do and the excellent articles that he has previously written for Liberty, I feel justified in beginning its publication, regardless of any deviations from Liberty’s chosen path that future chapters may show. I do not expect that his views will differ materially from Liberty’s, but in any case Comrade Bailie’s earnestness and ability furnish a perfect guarantee that the differences which may develop will be worth considering.
Perhaps Liberty’s readers would like to know something of this new contributor. He is a young Irish workingman, who for some years past has lived in Manchester, England There he was a Communist of the Kropotkine school, one of the most ardent workers for that cause in England, and a frequent writer for the “Commonweal.” Coming to this country a year and a half ago, he made Boston his home and became intimately acquainted with Liberty, of whose teachings he, like most Communists, had a very hazy conception. The closer contact with Anarchistic thought soon inspired him with great interest in it, and he frequently sought interviews with me and with other comrades for the discussion of knotty points. The result is that he has thrown his Communism overboard and is today as good an Anarchist as one would care to see.
Regarding the series of articles now begun, he writes us as follows:
Strictly speaking, anarchism is a political rather than an economic doctrine, but it is found in practice to involve the economic aspect of society even as fundamentally as it does the political. I have long felt that Anarchist literature—at least such of it as I am acquainted with—is lacking in a connected and scientific presentation of its economic conceptions. A correlation of the main results, accepted by competent Anarchists, of what is and is not economic truth, including the special characteristics of Anarchist economics, seems to me to be a work worthy of being accomplished.
That the articles I am engaged upon will perform this function I certainly do not claim. Too well do I know my unfitness and want of preparation for such a task. Moreover, I should not care to assert that there exists the needful harmony among the believers in our doctrine in the field of economics to render such a standard work possible. One thing, however, I make bold to undertake Anarchists of some schools and nearly all other Socialists present the most hopeless confusion in their economic ideas. To dissipate some of these fallacies and endeavor to establish some principles that are sound would prove not without value. This attempt I have the temerity to make. If the effort should succeed even partially, socialist economics will decidedly gain, and the ground would be cleared somewhat for the above-mentioned task.
The preliminary part of the series is a brief and necessarily rough outline of the political attitude of Anarchy. Forming an introduction to the economic inquiry, it is doubtless likely to prove trite enough in subject matter to the renders of Liberty. I could not avoid this risk while making the scope of my subject clear.
I hope that this too modest announcement of Mr. Bailie’s purpose will insure attentive consideration of what he has to offer.
Problems of Anarchism
1.—Society and Individual Liberty
Life throughout all its manifestations has one common need, unimpeded growth, which in man becomes translated into the aspiration for individual freedom. Being a necessary condition to progressive development, it is remarkable that so primary a want arising out of life itself should still be so imperfectly understood and so dimly recognized.
The desire for liberty has accompanied the human race as well as other animal species under nearly all conditions known to us. Sometimes crushed and well-nigh stamped out, it has in the long run always reasserted itself, for indeed it is inseparable from conscious existence. The struggle of man against nature early became the struggle of man against man. This form of the battle is not ended yet. And the ever present need of personal freedom has borne and still bears a prominent part in the contest.
In the purely animal horde from which our human ancestors at some time slowly grew into societies having more or less cohesion there was doubtless a larger measure of individual liberty than was afterwards possible. But the term is meaningless except in its relative application to man as a social being living in some kind of definite relation to his fellows. So that, when we speak of personal liberty and the desire for unhindered development, it is always in relation to society, and only in the social state that the individual man is the subject of study and investigation.
Society, however, has never ceased to put a halter on the freedom of its members. Not content with limiting each so as to allow an equal share of liberty, or rather giving freedom to all bounded only by consideration of others, it has from the first inclined to destroy entirely the liberty of the individual; by custom, by law, by religion, by enforced economic conditions, by the whole routine of life it has checked his progress, stolen away his rights, fettered his natural power of development, and almost annihilated his freedom.
True progress and civilization are nothing but the gradual acquirement of liberty by each. Every progressive change, every reform, every improvement is a revolution in favor of the individual. Let us for a moment take a perspective view of the past. We can then better realize the position attained in the present.
The earliest social condition we yet know seems to have been largely communistic in form. The tribe or clan is the unit. The man is quite subordinate. No rights, no property, for him exists: these are thought of only as connected with the unit of which he is a part.
Seldom has he a wife of his own; children are not his, they belong either to the tribe or to maternal relatives. Custom rules all his actions. His conduct the crudest savagery; his passions, tempered by the instinct of self-preservation, his only guide. All, however, set in the mold of the social state in which he lives. Society claims him and holds him for its own. Individuality does not thrive here. There is but little aspiration for freedom or a better condition. Progress is painfully slow. The dark night of this age must have been terribly protracted.
The next stage of social growth discloses the family as the unit of society, not of course the family as it now obtains, but each member still dependent on the collectivity; chieftainship or monarchy having developed as the political form. Religion now takes a more permanent hold; whatever the individual may have gained through the evolution of the community, he loses by subordinating himself to the prevailing superstition. All the abuses that enslave man now hold revel, and liberty for him seems farther off than ever.
From this form of society various developments finally break forth. The individual at length emerges as the social unit. His rights, his property, his liberty begin to have theoretical recognition. Thus far reached the society of ancient Rome. But the domination of class, of riches and privilege, the power of political despotism, the sinister influence of religious superstition, combined still closer to enslave the individual. It would be too much to assert that we have left this stage entirely behind us even now. But it is safe to say that the first break was made in that dark epoch when the New World was discovered four centuries ago. Most assuredly this turned out to be the mightiest stroke, of all that followed in periodic succession, for the cause of human freedom, of personal liberty. A general revolt against the time-worn tyranny of a huge superstition, claiming universal authority over all men, soon followed. It was the spontaneous outburst of individuals in divers places awakening at last to the need for free growth for liberty, realizing, and wanting to break, the chains that for so long had bound them in moral and intellectual slavery. The shackles were not thrown off so easily. Again and again have they been forged afresh, but are snapped asunder as the ever-growing desire for freedom impels the individual to leave his ancient beliefs behind. Today we see them eternally shattered. Knowledge, truth, science, slowly but surely undermine all that is left, and leave supernaturalism the naked and unmistakable force of reaction and conservative decay, like a great mountain seen through a mist from which man is steadily receding as he goes forward in pursuit of his freedom.
Following closely upon the moral and religious revolt came the movement for political reform. Revolutions have destroyed the prerogatives of kings, taken the power from aristocracy, and we now see democracy wholly or in part wielding the privileges once the exclusive right of a few. Individual liberty has been sought through the form of political equality. Whether achieved or not, it has been the aim of all the great changes in the form and powers of government since the American and French revolutions. With this primary aim the young republic of the western world set out on her career. And ever since have the progressive nations of Europe been following in her footsteps. Liberty for all means freedom for each; unhindered individual development has thus been the motto and the essence of the great progressive movements of modern civilization.
2.—Economic Development Prior to Capitalism
Let us return to the dawn of history, taking a rapid view of man’s economic development. Self-preservation, the need for food, urged him in common with other animals to exertion. But, like those, he exerted himself only when driven by hunger. Work he hated from the beginning. Naturally a lazy animal, he got knowledge by degrees, and, growing as cunning in wisdom as the ants, he discovered the use of slaves. Fighting with the sub-human denizens of the pristine wilds they together inhabited, first for existence, then for supremacy, he was driven to herd with others of his species. Mutual aid in some degree was a condition essential to self-preservation. Because man was individually weaker than and physically inferior to many of his competitors. But from struggling with these he got to battling with his own race. Perhaps it was first among the members of the same herd contesting over the carcass of some common foe they had slain that human struggles began. Anyway it became habitual for hordes of men to fight. Prisoners captured would be slain in the earliest stages. At length some skill in obtaining food was developed. As soon as a man could procure more sustenance in a day than he could consume, it was more prudent to keep the captives and exploit their labor. But this idea could be the result only of very slow growth. Primitive man would take a long time to reason out the point, though he were spurred on to thought both by his desire for food and by his aversion to labor for it. Whether he first made slaves of the children, the females, or the captives belonging to a rival tribe is immaterial here. Man had slaves to do his work as early as he found them profitable to him.
In the communistic republican tribe they were not absent. And in the after stage of chieftainship and aristocracy slavery became a basic institution. The usages of different races of men varied much in this part of their growth in regard to slavery. Among some it was much more general and intensely developed than among others. In many a large part of the work was done by free laborers, who nevertheless, by reason of their labor, were always accounted of an inferior class. In the earlier societies of ancient Greece all manual labor was done by slaves, but when Rome began to assert herself there were artisans who were no longer slaves. At the height of her power and towards her downfall the free proletarians formed a numerous class. It can hardly be said that the free workmen of those times were better off than the slaves. Some of them, however, became shopkeepers and merchants. Speaking generally, we may say that until long after Christianity was commonly accepted, chattel slavery was the condition of the laboring masses. Workman, wealth-producer, slave were convertible terms. The need of freedom was present all the while. Vast uprisings, rebellions, bloody wars, century after century attest the fact. They were men, they dreamt of liberty, and a deliverer, a saviour, a messiah, was ever pictured in their hopes and aspirations. More than one of this class at various times and places turned up to supply the demand. But the economic bondage of the workers outlived them all.
Among the masses thus enthralled the ethics of the Christian teaching found a fruitful soil already prepared to assimilate the seed. Its morality, its ideas of the equality of men, a bright and happy hereafter, a scant respect for the rich, and community of goods could not fail to be attractive to the legally de-humanized, robbed, and oppressed laboring population of slaves. So it had become their common belief before it was adopted officially in the Roman Empire. Doubtless this system of morals, obtaining general acceptance, had considerable influence in working out the economic change which replaced slavedom by serfdom as the lot of the people. To modern notions ancient slavery cannot always be grasped in its real light. The number of the lowly was so enormous in comparison with the number of the free population. In Attica the former counted twenty to one of the latter. The other Greek States had even a greater disproportion. And in the later times of the Roman Empire we find the slaves replacing the free workers, being cheaper in competition with them; and they are placed upon the land, the vast estates of the rich, gradually losing the slave condition for the scarcely less onerous state of serfs, attached immovably to the soil. This change did not occur all at once or everywhere in the same way. It often grew out of the conditions of foreign conquest, the conqueror permitting the subdued tillers of the soil to remain upon it by accepting his terms,—enforced labor, military service, share of the produce, and other dues. When this was fully developed, it constituted the feudal system, a machine of wheels within wheels from the highest to the lowest; the place of each fixed by status and everyone having power over those next below him and being strictly bound to those immediately above, from the king who was absolute, in theory at any rate, down to the chattel workers, considered the same kind of property as the soil they labored upon. The operation of this system accomplished one striking change. The free workers were gradually absorbed into it. In this reign of status none could survive who had not their proper place in the social hierarchy. Hence in self-preservation the proletarians were driven to give up their freedom. None remained outside but a few vagrant tramps, who were hanged on sight without ceremony. This wholesome custom, which might still be recommended to the authorities in dealing with that modern nuisance, the unemployed, was in effective operation as late as the end of the sixteenth century both in England and on the continent.
Out of the feudal system grew the towns, the inhabitants of which again worked out their freedom, increasing in numbers largely through the continual addition of escaped serfs from the land. I am not pretending to give a history either of the birth, growth, or decay of feudalism, but merely indicating the lines of economic change. Now, there are some learned writers of the present day who avow that the working classes enjoyed a very considerable measure of liberty, peace, and prosperity during the later stages of that system. In short, they tell us that the serfs were better situated than are the masses today under the system of capitalism. Nobody, however, can doubt, I think, that in other ways than economic the difference in favor of liberty then and now is vast. Nor is a comparison even from a purely economic point of view between former states and the unprecedented developments of modern times likely to prove favorable to the past. One question arises which in any case demands our best attention. Has the economic side of individual freedom kept pace with its growth in other directions, and with the gigantic enlargements of productive power and general economic improvement?
It is admitted on all sides, not only by Socialistic reformers, but by the ablest of independent thinkers, that the evils of the prevailing economic system are widespread and intense, and the lot of the free workers by no means commensurate with the revolution which has taken place in the industrial world. Scarcely any one can be found who denies that improvement is desirable, and but few who would say it is not necessary. The growing belief in the theory of evolution is of necessity attended by the hope, nay, the certainty, of a betterment in the condition of the industrial classes, of the diminution of the glaring economic and social evils that exist, and of a higher form of society than has yet appeared on the planet.
Unfortunately agreement ends here. If one wishes to learn the bottom causes that produce these evils and to know the true method which ought to be pursued in order to eliminate them, a thousand answers, confusing and contradictory, are given in reply. On this rock all ships of social reform are shattered. Hopes are sustained and theories built sky-high, but owing to the instability of the foundation are one after another undermined, topple over, and are finally dashed to pieces. An inadequate grasp of causes seems to me to be the central weakness of all past and present schemes of social and economic improvement. A clearer perception of the origin and nature of things is the only way I know of avoiding this error. An application of principles established upon demonstrated facts must replace the common method of studying social phenomena and economic conditions by empirical generalizations and preconceived theories. The latter is the usual method of most Socialists.
In the course of this inquiry I hope to examine the leading ideas of the more prominent among them as well as the teachings of economists generally upon the causes of the evils that press so persistently for solution. But before starting on a task of such magnitude, the temerity of which can be excused only by the hope that, if it be not well performed, if the errors still remain, and the mists which already surround it be not removed, I may at least reduce them,—before proceeding to this work another question must be investigated: the persistence of the idea of political authority must be accounted for and its nature and claims defined; and then with the result we shall be able to correlate the facts before set down, and thus show the nature and position of individual freedom in relation to the subject of our inquiry.
3.—Political Authority and Personal Freedom.
No government or political power existed in the earlier stage of man’s career. Like other institutions it was the outcome of slow growth under conditions favorable to its existence. Aggression was the origin of all government. Political authority, the State, arose, was maintained, and extended through war. At first some strong man who could successfully lead in battle was made chief, as a means for the preservation of the tribe against its enemies, or for the purpose of attacking some neighboring tribe. His power ceased with the occasion which called it forth. But when war, aggressive or defensive, became habitual, his power consequently became permanent. A leader in war was for ages the only function of government, the sole reason for its existence. But gradually, from having power over the individual in times of danger and turmoil, the ruler came to usurp a like power in time of peace. The individual’s liberty was cut down, his rights trampled upon, for the aggrandizement of his chief, the government. To effect this the better, new functions were by degrees assumed by the political authority. Time-worn customs were given the authority of law, and all fresh-made laws were framed and enforced, quite naturally, in the interest of the power that originated them. It is probable that ancient customs were just as peremptory as they became when given legal sanction: we can observe it in existing societies which represent a very early stage of development. But the pernicious character of government consisted in stereotyping, as it were, these customs, and authoritatively enforcing them, thus stopping the natural source of progressive change. Every statute enacted today has a like effect and is open to the same objection.
Of all forms of superstition that which universally prevails concerning the coercive and irresponsible organization known as the political authority, or State, is the most deep-set, dangerous, and inimical to human happiness. Many there are who have cast off the trappings of all other forms of faith, belief in devil and damnation, in Divinity and a future life, in soul, spirit, and everything supernatural, yet continue to invest governmental authority with a sacredness and awe altogether incompatible with its humble origin, its commonplace growth, and extremely problematical present utility.
Doubtless the mere fact that it is an institution of small beginnings which has developed with the progress of the race and been inseparably bound up with some of its most important phases is reason sufficient for its overwhelming power and the place it holds in the beliefs of the people. At all times, however, there have been individuals in revolt against its power and claims; often the majority of the people are found combatting the ruling authority, but never on the ground that authority itself is wrong, that government is in its very nature oppressive and destructive; they seek only a change in its instruments, its form, its outward shape or methods, but not in its substance where the evil resides.
From insignificance it gradually rose to omnipotence, till its despotic tyranny claimed everything and took away all the rights of man, granting back to certain individuals privileges which left the mass bereft of either, the prey to every kind of robbery and oppression.
The republican form of government is still the exception in the world; monarchy of one sort or another continues to prevail. In this form government’s relation to the individual is the reverse of the American federal authority’s relation to the States composing it. The States retain all powers and rights except those delegated to the federal power, which in theory are strictly prescribed. But the individual in relation to government has no rights at all except such as are conceded to him by the superior authority. In practice this fact is as true of republics as of any other form of government.
Some of the men who organized the United States and framed the Constitution saw with unusual clearness the truth on this question. They distrusted all authority, every form of power. But their imitative instinct was too strong for their reason. No people of which they knew had ever been without a central coercive organization. Their own existence as a nation was secured through war, the father of government, and at least enough for that purpose they thought must be maintained.
Their perplexity on the matter is shown by the kind of machinery they invented. If government is evil in itself, and at the same time not to be done without, then the best way out of the difficulty is to arrange its powers to that they neutralize one another, making the whole as innocuous as possible. Acting upon this plan, that immortal and perfect instrument, the American Constitution, was brought forth as the solution of the question. Without a knowledge of the fact that its inventors knew that all government is dangerous to liberty and naturally ill-disposed toward the rights of individuals, this precious piece of constructive ingenuity cannot thoroughly be understood. The point I wish to make now is this,—that in spite of all well-meant precautions government in America has gone the way of all flesh; it has evolved nearly all the pernicious qualities of its ancestral forms, monarchy and despotism.
Individual liberty is menaced as much by its acts and the exercise of its powers as under less promising forms of political authority. It has solved no problem, social or economic, which the others have failed to solve. It secures justice to the individual in need of it with no more promptitude and even less certainty than elsewhere. Its constructive, administrative, and industrial functions rival the worst of monarchies for costliness and incapacity. Its benefits, according to its own showing, are purely negative. Not what it does, but what it is kind enough not to do, to let alone, constitutes its main claim upon our tolerance.
Nor are republican forms of government elsewhere existing, in South America and in France, conspicuous for their better fulfilment of the functions they assume, or for their more enlightened use of the powers they possess. In brief, an unprejudiced study of existing political powers leads us to conclude that there is no essential difference between them; despite the fact that the average American citizen fondly believes and proudly proclaims the government he lives under to be incomparably superior to all other forms, to be the perfection of freedom and progress, the impartial student is obliged to admit that this grandest of all political institutions is precisely the same in its nature and essence as the others.
It is a truth of every-day experience that even the most democratic of governments continually assume additional powers and encroach upon fresh fields of action. But these powers are only in certain directions. And to whatever degree they extend their functions, it must be remembered that this growth is infinitesimal compared with the development of every kind of social function by other agencies; and also that in public utility and importance the work assumed by voluntary effort is infinitely greater and more successful than anything yet attempted through the agency of authority.
Whatever may be the ultimate effects, it is still true that the avowed purpose of all modern governmental activity, domestic at any rate, is not aggression or individual suppression, but the furtherance of the general good. Even the apparent encroachments on private liberty in many cases are really fuller recognitions of the principal. On the whole, the tendency of law and authority, except when their warlike character predominates, is toward securing to the individual a wider freedom and a greater share of the results of his own non-aggressive activities: in short, towards the sovereignty of each over his own conduct and its necessary consequences.
The rule of the majority—not that this is really true or could possibly exist under any government, but taking it to express the democratic form—has led to a curious confusion of ideas in the popular understanding with regard to the meaning of liberty and political rights. The average voter conceives them to mean that he has a right to meddle in everybody’s business, and they in return assume the right of regulating his affairs, which remarkable doctrine has come to represent the myth called political equality. So that liberty has erroneously come to mean that each may interfere with the liberties of all, and conversely all interfere with the liberty of each; and the true meaning and ideal of individual liberty and the rights of man, that everyone should pursue his own course in life in his own way free from all restraint upon the full use of his activities and the realization of their results,—this ideal is entirely forgotten.
4.—Progress and Individual Conduct.
Not only do ideas conform to existing conditions and opportunity for their realization, but they correspond to modes of life that have already been passed through. The idea arising out of the latest conditions of existence is frequently at variance with the conception covering the same ground which originated in a former and dissimilar state. Hence we continually meet with views the most contradictory on questions of principle, about which there could be no dispute if the natural phenomena underlying the matter were in their order of development thoroughly known and understood. What are the tendencies of present political and economic growth and their relation to the individual? To these questions I believe a rational and not uncertain answer should and can be given, despite the confusion and almost hopeless disagreements among the professors.
It has been shown that the ideas of political and religious liberty have grown and continue to expand in men’s minds, that they do so in conformity to a natural want common to all life, and that the principles corresponding to these aspirations are exemplified, in fact, in the great intellectual movements and social tendencies of modern times. We can go a step farther now, and say that such needs and ideas necessarily develop and become more imperative as the opportunity for their growth, the conditions favorable to their realization come into existence. The one is complementary to the other; the growth of the former hastens the extension of the latter, and conversely, till the aim is fully realized. Progress then moves ever more rapidly; at every step it quickens its pace.
If we are to accept the conclusions of the critics of capitalism,—that is, the existing economic condition of society,—we must believe that economic liberty is more impossible now than in pre-capitalistic times. Wage-slavery is merely the modern phase of chattel slavery. Individual freedom is violated by present economic arrangements even more than it was in previous states. These critics, while apparently agreeing with modern science as regards the order of man’s development, nevertheless take pretty much the same attitude as J. J. Rousseau and the older schools of Communists, who in one form or another held that man began in a perfect state of natural liberty, equality, etc., and that he had somehow strayed away from this free and happy condition, to which it was right and proper he should, as quickly as need be, return.
A variation on the tune of the Garden of Eden. Communists and others who on economic grounds today attack society of course repudiate the above method of criticism and talk evolution in order, it would seem, to keep up with the fashion. We must see now if the belief in evolution together with the facts through which it speaks will warrant us in classifying capitalism as an economic retrogression: determine whether personal freedom has advanced or been retarded in the economic process. A bugbear here meets us, about which something must be said before we proceed. Individualism, as it is made to appear in Socialistic writings, is a dreadful monster, a thing accursed, a criminal of the blackest dye. Now it is useless to pretend that this whole essay, dealing chiefly with individual sovereignty, is not open to all the objections which are commonly laid to the door of the much-berated creature, individualism. Here we are tempted into a moral disquisition, for in truth economics, unless looked at by the light which natural ethics can shed upon the subject, remains barren and avails nothing.
The good angel opposing individualism is, we must infer, in general collectivist Socialism, in its narrower sense mutual aid, ethically altruism. Thus taken egoistically some truths will at this point not be out of place. Egoism implies perfect individualism. They are two sides of the same thing, which grows according as the conditions are more or less favorable. Mutual aid, coöperation, collective effort, often conduce to egoistic satisfaction, to individual welfare. Perfect individualism therefore implies those kinds of conduct. Such conduct is altruistic. The individual freely pursuing his own welfare is led to act for the good of others, to conduct which is altruistic. The individual freely pursuing his own welfare is led to act for the good of others, to conduct which is altruistic. To whatever extent this latter is carried, it necessarily has its origin in self-satisfaction. Moreover, it is inseparable from any form of social life, which could neither exist nor be of any advantage without it.
Altruism, unless it is spontaneous and voluntary, has no ethical value. Every kind of conduct, and more especially the ideas from which it springs, is determined by the conditions under which life is carried on. The mode of life most favorable to altruism is precisely that which secures the highest degree of egoism or individualism. As consideration for others always arises in the first instance out of regard for self, and as causes determine effects and not conversely, so, if the aim be the good of others or altruism, then individualism—the condition out of which it arises—must be given the fullest opportunity for development.
The Socialistic attack on individualism as an economic factor will be dealt with at more length later on. At present I desire to point out simply that, as I understand it, there is not necessarily any antagonism between complete individualism and general happiness, that the one can be attained only in proportion as the other becomes possible. Nor do I infer that individual conduct without restraint is always beneficial to others. But to suppress the individual in the supposed interest of others is really where the danger lies. Neither do I deny that a knowledge of the laws which govern conduct, irrespective of the individual will, would prove of service to each in regulating his actions toward others; but conformity to such laws is not a matter of obligation, except in so far as consequences render it so. Natural law from a moral standpoint enjoins nothing, enforces nothing, carries no obligation. When stated and its consequences known, the individual is free to disregard it, but only temporarily, as a man may risk an injury or even his life to accomplish some greater end. For it is impossible to traverse natural sequences continuously without suffering or death somewhere ensuing. Hence after all nature is absolute, the highest conduct is that which most closely conforms to her requirements; while there is no must, there is still the highest satisfaction for each and all to be derived from that conduct which is best. In this spirit alone do we formulate right and wrong, what is beneficial and what is injurious, and point out the laws of social health. Such is the method and aim of this inquiry. There remains but one remark to add on the above head. The good and truly moral conduct or mode of life is that which is the spontaneous expression of individual desires and activities, free from feelings of obligation or conscious regard for consequences. And this spontaneously natural conduct under favorable conditions—that is, freedom—tends ever to become the best for self and others.
After this digression, we can resume the inquiry into capitalism.
5.—Economic Liberty under Modern Conditions.
Industrial capitalism or the exploitation of labor is not entirely a condition of modern times. It flourished in nearly all the buried civilizations of the past, and was an important factor in their decay. But it differed in one important particular from the capitalism which has succeeded feudal society. It depended mainly upon slaves for productive labor. The free producers had to contend against slave competition, and, as wars of conquest continually augmented their numbers, the slaves finally ousted the free workers, who in the long run became merged into the growing class of serfs, which also assimilated the slaves. And out of serf-laborers again emerged a free working class, but this time without any inferior competing body of toilers.
The laborer under the feudal condition did not compete as a wage-worker against others. His work and subsistence were guaranteed him in return for fixed services, which left him without personal freedom. Industrialism with greater individual liberty began to grow in cities and towns, to which serfs gladly fled from the land to sell their labor to the rising class of capitalist employers. Underneath feudalism lay a brutal and selfish individualism of status, which existed only for the benefit of the oligarchy. But capitalism broke up this state by developing a wider, freer individualism, not based on social status, but upon industry and exchange. It offered a greater opportunity to the producer, rendered him more self-reliant and independent, and generally gave him a position superior to his former state. That it offered advantages to the workers can hardly be denied; else it could not have steadily grown by means of voluntary recruiting from the land. Organized production, division of labor, and commercial exchange had reached an advanced stage and was absorbing an increasing proportion of the laboring population when the great industrial revolution, beginning in England with the latter part of the eighteenth century, by the aid of invention, steam power, and machinery transformed capitalism into the greatest of economic forces.
Capitalism in this phase requires larger and ever larger accumulations of wealth in the form of exchange values in order to secure its existence. This is the indispensable condition of the capitalist system of production; and, moreover, it is just the point on which it is superior to every preceding economic system. By reason of its enormous accumulation of exchangeable wealth it renders life and labor more secure for the whole of society. Because wealth employed as a source of income can only accomplish its purpose in proportion as it is used productively and creates a demand for human activity. It augments the means of subsistence. We are here comparing the results of capitalism with previous economic states, not with any ideal; merely noting facts, not constructing theories.
Though it may be true that in an earlier period it was possible for the individual man to procure the prime necessities by direct labor, as the savage today is in this respect less dependent than the civilized man, yet it is equally certain that his means of life on the average were more precarious. His wants were fewer than those of a man of today, for our needs grow at a much faster rate than our means of satisfying them, and modern conditions are continually creating new wants which were undreamt of by our ancestors. But even those fewer wants were supplied in pre-capitalistic times with more trouble and risk than the wage slave of capitalism usually undergoes to supply his much greater needs. Besides, in former times the economic life of the whole population was more uncertain and insecure than capitalism has now rendered the average lot of the masses. There is less danger of death by famine through any cause whatever, though wars, pestilences, etc., still act and react injuriously upon the industrial classes, but in a much less degree than ever before.
Capitalistic society has its source in individualism, but, as already explained, when this principle has a wider scope, it necessarily results in an enlargement of what I might here call economic altruism. For capitalistic production as an essential condition to individual success has led men to study the needs of others, literally to provide for them: they are impelled to act in such a way that the general result is an increase of human happiness. Witness the ordinary economic effects. Increasing capital, improved methods, larger and larger production, reduced cost, cheaper and more abundant commodities, allow every body to satisfy his wants with less exertion.
The unconscious coöperation which capitalism has certainly brought about is more widespread and has resulted in greater benefits to all than could ever have been conceived by any consciously-regulated system based on theoretic coöperation. Yet capitalist coöperation is the direct outcome of individualism. Its results are none the less beneficent and valuable.
Though the usual method of attacking existing economic arrangements is vague and unsatisfactory, it is surely not unreasonable to look for some alternative system, some more fitting economic principle, from those who undertake any serious criticism. Nor should we be disappointed. The question arises as to what constitutes the essence of the proposed methods.
I believe it is a truthful description to say that consciously combined economic effort—combined not purely for individual benefit but for the collective interest—is the essence of all systematic alternatives to capitalism. Coöperation, in voluntary groups or in organized communities, under free conditions or State authority, associated control of exchange values either by separate classes of producers or by the nation, one or other of these forms of coöperation is held forth by the economic regenerators as superior to the present industrial order and hence more desirable.
Now, it is historically true that not merely were such methods unsuited to the conditions, economic, social, and moral, under which capitalism developed, but, even if they had been possible, they could never have accomplished the incalculable work for the advancement of the human race which the capitalist system has already achieved. We have not the least reason to believe that the working classes could have organized their own labor for their mutual benefit, even had they been allowed control of the means of production,—represented then by land and other natural media,—or that any form of coöperative industry of the Utopian order could have successfully survived amid the times and conditions in which originated and grew the industrial system of capitalism.
Nay, in view of the facts, it is beyond all question that, had mankind to wait until conscious and ideal economic coöperation was capable of assuming the functions which capitalism became fitted for and has so substantially performed, we should still be very far behind the stage of progress already reached. Observe the gigantic failures of all efforts in this direction hitherto attempted,—their inadequacy compared with the individualistic industrial performances, whose unconscious efforts lead none the less to the results to which those less successfully aspire. For when they seem to show any success,—which however never equals the best otherwise attained,—it is only when they become in method and in fact capitalistic. I may have occasion later to discuss this question, than which none in economics is more befogged in blind faith, prejudice, and sentimentalism. At present I shall only add, to make clear the above and bring out my meaning, the instance of the economics of the famous institution known as the Village Community.
This system of agrarian industrialism based at once on ownership of the means of production, the land, by the producers and on conscious coöperation as the method of using it, was, and is, marked by the absence of all progress, and by a stereotyped conservatism, which in its non-progressive results conclusively proves its inferiority to capitalism. The Russian mir is one of the best surviving instances.
The enormous extent of unconscious and indirect cooperation which the present system on purely individualist lines has developed in an all-embracing net-work around the earth is generally overlooked by its opponents.
We see the people of Yorkshire and Lancashire in England working on fabrics to cover the black skins of the inhabitants of tropical Africa and to clothe the sheep-raisers of New Zealand, and in return being fed by the wheat, beef, and pork produced on great capitalist farms on the slopes of the Rocky Mountains or the valleys of the Mississippi. While, be it remembered, the English workers are better off in consequence of this capitalistic coöperation than if they followed primitive methods and raised their subsistence themselves from the soil on which they live: and the other participants benefit in like manner by the arrangement.
What is true of this instance is equally true all round.
In fact, the hopes raised by modern economic ideals are wholly the outcome of the observed achievements of capitalistic methods of industry. The writings of social reformers, Communists, etc., furnish ample proof, notwithstanding the Platonic and Utopian social ideals of former ages.
As before observed, the modern economic system requires vast accumulations of exchange values; and, at least in the earlier stages of machine industry, their concentration was also indispensable. To meet the unprecedented expansion consequent on the industrial revolution a rapid development and storing-up of capital for productive purposes could not be avoided.
Under the individualist system, not yet having attained the period of good results, the working classes were obliged to bear this strain. They were overworked and underpaid. This is a positive and deliberate statement of fact. It was not that they were relatively ill-paid and hard-worked; they received a much smaller proportion of the results of their labor, of the total product, than at any past time or probably any time since. The only mitigating circumstance being that the people thus made to suffer were a new industrial class mostly taken from agriculture and were probably in quite as bad a plight (if not worse) in the conditions they left as they found themselves in under the new machine system of industry. But these and many other evils were the necessary products of a transitory stage, a sudden and unprecedented revolution, and formed no essential part of the new system. The cause of the evils brought the remedy. Capital increased with still greater rapidity, and in this continuous accumulation of exchange values beyond the first imperative needs lay the antidote to the abuses.
This review has prepared us to find out, with a better chance of succeeding, how individual liberty has fared during the economic change. It would here prove instructive if we were to trace the results in the political history of the period. We should see that the political aspect of liberty has its root in economic conditions and changes, that the former is the result of the latter, and that a progressive movement towards political liberty is conclusive proof of an economic advancement. This subject must, however, be passed over; it is not indispensable to our inquiry. The result of the foregoing review, I hope, will show that capitalism takes a necessary place in economic evolution; that alternative schemes are barren of all results that have any bearing upon the point at issue; and that individual freedom cannot be found to have lost ground in the conflict. The social and sentimental side of economic development I have purposely left out. Because an enumeration and discussion of the evils of capitalism would not further us in the object now in view. We shall endeavor to find their causes in due course, and attempt to answer the questions, whether such evils are part of the nature of things, whether they form the unavoidable consequences of economic progress and a greater liberty, and whether we can safely look to further economic change in the same line of development to solve the social problem.
6.—Liberty and Its Law.
In tracing the comparative economic effects of capitalism my purpose was to bring out the fact that the conditions favorable to the growth of individual liberty have unmistakably improved. And as every phase of progress, including moral, religious, and political freedom, is dependent on economic conditions, the ideas and aspirations expanding in proportion to the opportunity for growth which these conditions afford, it requires but to bring together and sum up the results of our inquiry in order to see that they converge toward the same result.
Setting out with the axiomatic principle that free individual development is a primary need of man, we saw that his progress in the social state has been from the negation of freedom toward individual liberty in all its aspects,—that in this path ever more surely moves the trend of civilization.
Then, after tracing the lines of economic development prior to modern times, we came to the question as to whether liberty has advanced commensurately with industrial progress. The general recognition of existing evils was pointed out, and also the universal disagreement as to their cause.
Next was discussed the relation between political authority and personal freedom, the origin and growth of the former shown, its persistent character under different forms brought out, and throughout all the widening of the principle of liberty notwithstanding the prevalent confusion of ideas upon the subject.
After which the nature of individualism was ethically considered preparatory to the question of how far and in what way capitalism has evolved the conditions which give individual liberty fuller opportunity of development. We have already seen that ideas grow in accordance with the extension of opportunities for their fulfilment. Hence it becomes clear that modern economic conditions are those in which liberty has advanced, in theory and in fact, by reason of the wider scope and freer field they afford it. Such I claim to be the effects of the capitalist system. Let us demonstrate this point more plainly. Where this system has grown to the greatest extent is where progress and liberty have made the biggest strides. And where it is least developed or has not yet arisen is just where they are most backward.
According to Herbert Spencer, liberty increases with the growth of industrialism, which brings peace and progress. The point I wish to establish is quite different. I believe that this theory can be proved only of that form of industrialism which is modern capitalism. In England and the United States today we see the latter in its most evolved form. But alongside of it we also observe individual liberty in its highest state. On the other hand, we find in Russia that capitalism is as yet in its most elementary phase, that industrialism has not yet left the stage of communal or non-capitalistic agriculture. The position of liberty and progress there is needless to mention. Now if between these extremes we range civilized nations classified in relation to the development in each of the capitalist system of industry, we shall find that the advance of liberty is directly proportional to the stage of economic progress.
The extraordinary civilization of ancient Peru rested on a most perfect system, according to some modern Socialist ideals, of differentiated industrialism. It was, however, non-capitalistic. Supply and demand did not operate and money was not required. Paternalism reached a point scarcely to be paralleled even in a utopian romance. Individualism had no place in that system. But with the absence of capitalism there was also the absence of all liberty. Personal freedom and progress there were none. Civilization stood still.
China today shows us another stagnant civilization. Industrialism there was in a forward stage before any existing European nation had emerged from savagery. But it stopped short before it evolved as high as the economic state of modern capitalism and has remained there ever since. Here again have we industrialism, but not liberty.
The view I wish to emphasize is more special in its application than Spencer’s theory upon the relations between militancy and industrialism as social types, which is a broad generalization. But my position is in no way opposed to it, though I believe the considerations which I have pointed out show cause for restricting the application of that theory.
I will now put the result of this discussion into a formula which will render it both clearer and more useful.
The modern capitalist system is the only industrial type which has established the predominance of industrialism—man’s economic activities—over all other factors in society.
This formula explains why liberty in all directions has followed the growth of capitalism; because personal freedom, the prime condition to individualism, is indispensable to the development of that voluntary co-operation and unconscious mutual aid characteristic of man’s industrial activity, and especially arising out of the latest economic forms. The bourgeois struggles against aristocracy and autocracy, against military and religious domination, of which Socialistic and other historians say so much and understand so little, now become perfectly clear in their origin and ultimate effects. The classes profiting most directly by the rise of capitalism were the first to feel the need for economic freedom, which, being the basis of freedom in all other aspects, led to the struggle for and acquirement of man’s rights in general, and lastly to the assertion of individual sovereignty as the complete formula of social justice.
The study of natural phenomena in the light of Evolution leading to the investigation of Man in relation to life in general,—to the scientific study of all the forces, internal and external, by which he is conditioned and in accordance with which he exists, develops, and continues to achieve a larger and larger amount of satisfaction out of life, both for each individual and for the race,—this method has disclosed an order or continuity in the phenomena which our reason is able to sift and classify, and from the seeming chaos we can formulate principles which guide us both in comprehending the nature of things and in further extending our knowledge. More than this, such formulated experience helps man to understand his own nature and further his welfare, and guides him in his social relations.
Principles thus established we term scientific laws. They are simply descriptions, easily intelligible to the intellect, of the sequences and relations which observation makes known to us. This explanation I trust will at once make clear just what is conveyed by the phrases natural law and scientific formula and indicate precisely their value.
According to the above method and in the sense just indicated has the law of equal freedom been laid down. When Herbert Spencer defines Justice to mean the liberty of each limited only by the like liberties of all and expresses it in the formula known as the law of equal freedom: Every man is free to do that which he wills, qualified thus, provided he infringes not the equal freedom of any other man, we are not, I apprehend, expected to find a new doctrine, but that the facts of evolution scientifically and philosophically interpreted justify us in accepting this brief description (law) as a necessary condition of social growth. Hence to observe it is to be guided by natural law.
The same principle, it is needless to remark, has often been laid down by the apostles of liberty and other advanced thinkers, both from intuitive reasoning and empirical generalizations, but it has been left to the builders of scientific evolution to give it the force it now commands when established as a scientific demonstration.
Our inquiry up to this point has been to exhibit the tendency of civilization, and especially in its relation to economic development, as a movement toward individual liberty. It needed but the above conclusion from the philosophy of evolution to complete this part of the work. In the light thus obtained we can go on with the inquiry in the belief that we shall be the more able to unravel the difficulties that overcome the obstacles which so thickly bestrew our path.
1.—Life, Liberty, and Property.
If the liberty of the individual, embracing in that idea the equal liberty of all, is accepted as a standard principle, the only measure of rights, and the fulfilment of justice; then, whatever ideas are entertained upon property must harmonize with that leading idea. Any conception of property which traverses it and denies complete individual liberty must be rejected: it is inconsistent with its acceptance.
Talking once with an ardent Socialist, he confessed to me, with innocent candor, that the very first notion in the communistic direction had yet to be acquired by the people. For, said he, the idea of individual or private property lies so deep in their minds and is so securely imbedded in their habits of thought, in their very nature, that any conception of property conditions opposed to this seems almost impossible: to effect a change would require a mental revolution more gigantic than has ever been known. And yet without such a change in property ideas no communistic revolution could last a day. ‘Twould be simply a dead letter.
How profoundly true!
Recalling this observation brings me to the point to be first noticed: the property idea, as we find it developed today among civilized and progressive people.
Not only is the belief in individual property general, it grows more intense, and is continually embracing a wider range of objects and ideas not previously considered as property at all.
It is unnecessary here to elaborate the rise and development of this idea, nor need we now discuss the question whether private property or common property is the more ancient, especially as so many conflicting theories upon the matter are held by those considered authorities.
Enough is known, beyond dispute, to show that the right of the individual to hold property has been allowed from the remotest times; that as his power of acquiring it and need for it have grown his right has become clearer and more imperative; and that private property develops with human progress. Its recognition advances with advancing civilization: experience, customs, laws, exemplify the fact.
Admitting this truth, the question for us to consider is: Does this tendency of property agree with individual liberty? Does the fact harmonize with our principle?
When an individual in the exercise of his liberty expends his energies in acquiring property without preventing others from so exercising the like liberty, he breaks not the law of individual liberty, he trespasses not on the freedom of others. So that property acquired under such conditions rightfully belongs to him who acquires it.
And research into the earliest known conditions of individual property proves that the limited forms of private property then recognized, as hunting weapons and other implements, clothing such as there was, and huts and habitations, were obtained by the individual without hindering others from becoming possessed of personal property in like manner.
On this condition, observed within the group or tribe, it grew and by slow degrees extended; and, although we shall presently notice other conditions which determined and still more today determine property rights, this remains the primary basis of the right to private property. All extensions of the property idea have their justification in this principle. It is embodied in laws framed with a view to equal rights and justice. It is in accord with prevailing ideas of right and equity. Even the formula used by the Communists, the product to the producer, entails its recognition.
Though all this is true in the abstract,—which, however, does not insure that, when we come to analyze the practice in regard to the distribution of property, we shall find it so in fact,—yet it is not sufficient warrant for us to establish private property as a right and accept it as we do the right to equal liberty. If we can show the necessity for it as a condition of existence, as part of the law of life, a biological fact which has been established by science, then no more is required of us; its justice and propriety become incontrovertible.
Continuous life is possible only when each individual receives the consequences of his own conduct, when benefits obtained are proportionate to actions performed, when he reaps the advantages of his life maintaining powers, when the good and the evil in his nature each brings its due reward.
Manifestly the possession of property, acquired without violating the liberty of others, is a direct consequence of conduct, the reward of life-sustaining energies.
To deny a man’s right to the fruits of his own exertions is a denial of his right to the use of his faculties, both bodily and mental, and finally of his right to life itself.
Admitting this claim as thus established, and as a necessary consequence of the sovereignty of the individual, we must recognize some truths which naturally follow. A man may acquire property—the term including all forms of wealth—by any method consistent with other men’s equal liberty. He may work for it by direct labor, he may gamble for it by any kind of speculation provided nobody is coerced, he may obtain it by gift or bequest or through unrestricted exchange, and his claim is equally valid, his right equally undeniable.
But he has no just claim to it when procured through the violation of other men’s rights, through the limitation or negation of their equal freedom. The same principle which establishes property rights destroys all arbitrary claims, all law-created rights. It denies all property rights due to legal privilege which is an assault upon individual liberty: to the forcible monopoly of natural resources and opportunities which establish property only through the denial of others’ right to obtain it; to all arbitrarily-enforced burdens, as taxes, rent of land, mines, water, and all natural media: interest—a direct creation of unequal liberty.
Private property may then be stated in terms of equality. It arises out of the equal right of each to complete liberty and life, which is justice.
I have taken up this question of property first in order, and established a definite principle with arguments, I trust, sufficiently clear, though but briefly indicated, and for which I make no claim of originality, because in dealing with the topics that are to follow much discussion will thus be avoided and future arguments be better understood.
2.—Wherein Property is Subversive of Liberty.
I have already indicated that to demonstrate a truth in the abstract, even when it is generally accepted as such, does not imply its practical recognition and existence in fact. Nothing more plainly shows this than an inquiry into property as it exists today. For it is not one simple system based on justice that we find, but a complicated mixture of practices and ideas—the latter entailed by the former—which lead to confusion of statement and reasoning by nearly all of those who, recognizing the enormous evils of the prevailing system, criticize it or advocate its destruction. No less hopeless is the confusion of arguments used by its champions and supporters.
Violence, either direct or through law, accounts for the greater part of actual proprietary rights from the remotest past to the present time; as much in so-called free and civilized societies as in the most barbarous. The upholders of the existing order maintain the justice of current methods of obtaining wealth and the validity of present owners’ titles to the possession of property, by hypocritically falling back on the true theory which declares, in the words of Adam Smith, that the property which each man has in his own labor, as it is the original foundation of all other property, so it is the most sacred and inviolable. They defend their property on the assumption that it is acquired under the same conditions as the rights of those who obtain it by their labor without violating others’ rights; and uplift their hands in holy horror in their desire to save the poor man’s goods and the toiler’s right to his own when the wicked Communists cry, in the words of Proudhon but without his meaning, Property is robbery.
They can show you that laws are continually being made to protect the property of the producer, to insure his rights to the fruits of his toil,—mental or physical: that the spirit of the age follows the same course, and that justice requires that every man shall be secure in the possession of his own.
And they say: Down with the revolutionist, the robber who would deny our rights to the wealth we possess! ‘Tis the poor we defend as well as the rich,—the workingman as quick as the capitalist.
And they go on building up wealth that other people produce, extracting it mercilessly from the rightful owners by means of customs, laws, and conditions that have grown up mostly in violence, wrong, and injustice, and are maintained today through force of arms and legal fraud; unmindful the while that this means of acquiring property denies completely the plain rights of others and renders private property, as conceived in the abstract and tacitly admitted by property defenders, impossible for the vast majority of its creators.
While conceding the fact that the just theory of property rights continues to gain ground both in general belief and in legal enactment, I am compelled to point out that its application is still extremely limited, and that in the industrial world under capitalistic conditions it does not obtain at all.
Modern industry and the accompanying economic conditions have arisen under the régime of status,—that is, under arbitrary conditions in which equal liberty had no place and law-made privileges held unbounded sway,—it is only to be expected that an equally arbitrary and unjust system of property should prevail.
On one side a dependent industrial class of wage-workers and on the other a privileged class of wealth-monopolizers each becoming more and more distinct from the other as capitalism advances, has resulted in a grouping and consolidation of wealth which grows apace by attracting all property, no matter by whom produced, into the hands of the privileged, and hence property becomes a social power, an economic force destructive of rights, a fertile source of injustice, a means of enslaving the dispossessed.
Under this system equal liberty cannot obtain.
The law of life, that each should receive the benefits of his own conduct, that nobody should obtain, without equivalent benefits given, the results of another’s life-sustaining actions, that every individual should reap the reward of his energies, the fruits of his labor,—this law, in conformity to which only can the race develop and any society of human beings continue to evolve, is not fulfilled. Industrialism, while growing up under the adverse circumstances just pointed out, has nevertheless developed the need and desire of complete individual freedom and consequently the demand for more equitable property conditions. So that, while private property in its true sense can hardly be said to exist, and certainly is outside the conception of modern capitalism, the abstract belief in it, showing the conscious need, has steadily grown.
History affords many examples of a growing belief, due to the realization of some pressing need and generally going along with a desire for enlargement of individual liberty, preceding the change which ends by making the belief an actuality. All true reforms are of this character. It is safe therefore to predict that the next step in the evolution of property, if it be not in the nature of a reaction,—a circumstance not impossible,—will be toward a fuller recognition of the right of private property.
3.—Communists and Property.
We can now with more confidence take up the issues which Communistic opponents of the existing order present. They demand the entire abolition of all property. Some writers of this school, or rather of one of the various schools, allow a title to property; use, they declare, should be the only valid title to the ownership of anything, possession the only claim.
The characteristic common to all advocates of common property in attacking the conditions now prevailing is to lay the blame for the evils that exist on the institution of private property.
Though the foregoing articles have indicated the nature of this fallacy, something more must be said in order to make it clear to those who are misled by it. It seems quite unknown to such reasoners that there exists today a body of thinkers who undoubtedly realize and deplore the vast and multitudinous evils with all their attendant miseries and injustices which arise out of the maladjustments of the present economic system, and who are as much opposed to the property scheme which it involves as the most violent revolutionary Communist.
But instead of taking effects for causes and believing the means to be the end, they examine more closely, search more deeply, and trace those evils, not to the institution of private property, but to causes that are as inimical to that institution as they are destructive of the conditions of a just social order.
Can the millionaire capitalist, the labor-robbing idler who lives on interest, the rich thugs of today and their army of parasites, be taken as the outcome of private property? Surely not. They are the direct result of restrictions and privileges, of legal and governmental origin, and of that social power and economic superiority before explained,—causes that render impossible the growth and diffusion of individual property among the mass of wealth-producers.
Inequalities in possession exist not so much because of inequalities in the power of individuals to acquire wealth under free conditions, but vastly more because political, social, and economic arrangements have always tended to create artificial inequality, to foster and increase whatever natural inequality did exist; a truth exemplified with as much force in the United States as in less free and progressive countries. How else explain the fact that society is divided economically into classes as distinct in the republic as in European countries, and the capitalistic form of property becoming even more concentrated in the hands of a privileged minority.
There certainly was a nearer approximation to a state of diffused individual property in the earlier stages of this nation’s career. Millionaires are a comparatively modern growth. Monopolies were few and had not then attained their present gigantic proportions. Privilege had not the same scope, nor had capitalism destroyed the power of the individual to acquire such wealth as he could produce by the exercise of his abilities.
Many modern economic evils were absent.
Prosperity was more general, if the standard of comfort was not so high. Yet who will claim that the institution of private property was less firmly established or less secure. The like truth holds of all newly-settled countries, in which artificial inequalities and the innumerable encroachments on equal freedom which the laws and arrangements of old societies present have not had time to manifest their influence. Still individual property in such places is none the less general.
The conclusion which is forced upon us, not only by such comparative considerations, but by a logical examination of existing circumstances, is that some other cause than the one which Communists ascribe is responsible for social evils.
It would appear that they sometimes realize this truth. Marx’s famous Communist Manifesto, which in 1848 made the ruling classes tremble in view of the Communist Revolution, and is to this day accepted as a text-book by various sections of the anti-property school, declares:
The Bourgeoisie are incensed because we aim to abolish private property. But in the very midst of society today private property has been made impossible for nine-tenths of its members. Its present existence in the hands of the Bourgeoisie is based on the fact that it does not exist at all for nine-tenths of the people. We are consequently accused of desiring to abolish that kind of property which involves as a necessary condition the absence of all property for the immense majority of society….
Communism deprives no one of the power to appropriate social products for his own use, it only deprives him of power to subject others’ labor by such appropriation…. Under the present system those who do work acquire no property, while those who do acquire property do no work.
If this reasoning means anything at all, it implies that private property should rest upon the right of the individual to the results of his labor, and that Communists condemn the existing property system because it is not based on this principle. But I am unable to affirm that the document as a whole would justify us in taking such a view.
Present-day exponents of Communism, however, seem to agree in the view of property rights which I have established. Says Kropotkine in his work, Socialistic Evolution:
Abolish the conditions which allow some to monopolize the fruits of the labor of others, apparently agreeing that each should be guaranteed the fruits of his activities. Another Communist, of no less pronounced views against the prevailing property relations, is still more emphatic on the same point. William Morris declares that, having labored towards the production is the only claim that can rightly be allowed to property or wealth…. The claim on any other grounds must lead to what in plain terms we must call robbery. (True and False Society, p. 17.)
As I shall presently show that there is no difference in their attitude towards private property between Communists of the type just quoted and the Social Democrats of the English Fabian Society, I may add to the above the Fabian view. Admitting, say they in Capital and Land, when treating of incomes from capital, admitting the fairness and advantage of guaranteeing to every man the equivalent of the result of his own industry, we deny that there is either justice or profit in the system which permits him to convert this claim into lien for a perpetual annuity….
In this sense, then, that we have in previous articles seen the justice of individual property, it is not denied by Communists; on the contrary, they agree in proclaiming the validity of its basis. And in so doing they admit that some other cause than the institution of private property must be sought in order to account for the evils and injustice which arise out of modern industrial and economic arrangements.
4.—Economic Fallacies vs. Property.
I am as desirous to be frank and avoid sophistical surprises in the course of the argument as I am anxious to convince the reader of its soundness in foundation and correctness in conclusion.
The conviction that is irresistibly forced upon me as the result of an unprejudiced investigation, conducted with tolerable care and some familiarity with the subject, is that modern Communists, whether of the imperfect type of cast-iron Socialists, like Gronlund and Bellamy, the modified school of quasi-scientific and evolutionary Social Democrats, like G. B. Shaw, Sidney Webb, and H. M. Hyndman, or the motley groups of revolutionary free Communists usually called Anarchists, the greatest of whom is probably Pierre Kropotkine, are from an economic standpoint substantially the same.
The basis of all their criticisms of existing social conditions are economically identical, and converge in a demand for the abolition of private property. It is needless to demonstrate the Communism of those who themselves accept the appellation, but many of the advocates of its milder forms would repudiate identity with its more logical and consistent exponents.
Free Communists like Morris avow their belief in an absolute equality of condition according to the formula To each according to his needs, from each according to his capacities. This necessarily involves the abolition of private property. The Communists who style themselves Anarchists accept the same creed, and attempt to prove that it expresses the tendency of civilization; nay, they go still farther, and, accepting the doctrine of evolution, argue that the realization of their ideas is its necessary outcome. Says Kropotkine in the work previously quoted, The prejudice in favor of private property is passing away…. The tendency of the nineteenth century is toward free Communism,—not from the brains of philosophers and thinkers, but germinating in the thoughts of the working masses.
Now, hear the political economists of the Fabian Society. In demonstrating the economic basis of Socialism G. B. Shaw takes us through the laws of rent, exchange, value, wages, etc., as set down by political economy, without, however, adding much to dispel the fog in which it is still enveloped. Summing up the result he says:
This then is the economic analysis which convicts private property of being unjust even from the beginning, and utterly impossible as a final solution of even the individualist aspect of the problem of adjusting the share of the worker in the distribution of wealth to the labor incurred by him in its production. All attempts yet made to construct true societies upon it have failed. … That our own civilization is already in an advanced stage of rottenness may be taken as statistically proved. That further decay instead of improvement must ensue if the institution of private property be maintained is economically certain. Fortunately private property in its integrity is not now practicable. (Essays in Socialism, pp. 23–24, 1890.)
This quotation epitomizes the whole book. Here we have the essence of the teaching of every school of Communism, in the most careful, rational, unrevolutionary, and scientific popular work that has yet appeared; not from the pen of an irresponsible and imaginative story-teller lacking clear knowledge of economic principles, but the collaborated efforts of practical political economists abreast of the scientific and sociological teaching of our time. For this reason alone have I introduced it here and shall use it as the mirror of those views of which it is my purpose to prove the unsoundness.
If we find that such an attack upon the principle of private property has no valid foundation, and that it is due not to any facts or proved conclusions to be found therein, we may then dispense with the necessity of discussing the point with less rational, less able, and more imaginative and revolutionary opponents of the institution of individual property. Before proceeding with the argument, I shall give some further extracts in order to conclusively show that no real economic difference exists between the Social Democrats and the extremest Communists. On page 131 we are told that the respect for the rights of property has diminished since the many lost their individual possessions (!); it is now little more than a tradition inherited from a former state.
In the essay on Property under Socialism, page 139, we read: To whatever extent private property is permitted, to that extent the private taking of rent and interest must be also permitted. If you allow a selfish man to own a picture by Raphael, he will lock it up in his own room, unless you let him charge something for the privilege of looking at it. Such a charge is at once interest. If we wish all Raphael’s pictures to be freely accessible to everyone, we must prevent men, not merely from exhibiting them for payment, but also from owning them. This argument applies to other things besides Raphael’s pictures. Then follows the doctrine of socialization of capital, etc., and public organization of labor.
I am tempted here to analyze the above statement, which is Communistic in the baldest manner, and show its utter ridiculousness, but pause a moment first.
It will have been observed that I did not discuss the grounds, which are set out in some twenty pages preceding the extract I have given, upon which G. B. Shaw convicts private property of being unjust even from the beginning. Why not? Because after the most sympathetic examination of his evidence I find not one single reason, neither fact, law, nor inference, no ground whatever for convicting private property, as I understand it, of any of the enormous crimes laid at its door. The only possible explanation I can give of this paradox is that before the writer of the Economic Basis of Socialism began the work he entertained an opinion against private property; and in reviewing the teachings of political economy as well as in stating the evils that exist in the industrial world today he naturally throws all the blame upon that institution. But not one single evil, not even that most pessimistic economic law of subsistence wages, does he trace to private property as the primary cause.
With just as much reason we might say it was the desire of obtaining happiness with the least exertion that has produced economic evils, and could trace them to that tendency in mankind with as much logical proof as the Fabian essayist adduces to show their origin in the desire of man to own property.
In a later portion of this work I shall take up this question and show the nature of the fallacy common to all Communistic Socialists of sacrificing effects to causes that are not causes at all, but merely preceding conditions, which are themselves only effects of causation further removed and not as plainly seen. We shall then, I trust, see the true economic causes of the evils of capitalism. But in order to do so we must clear away the rubbish of prejudice, misconception, false theories, and impossible remedies in which nearly all writers and social panacea vendors have succeeded in burying the real issues.
Returning to our last extract from Essays in Socialism, let us endeavor to find its meaning. Passing over the error of taking as an example a rare picture impossible to duplicate to show that wealth, most of which can be reproduced indefinitely, should not be made private property, we shall take the argument as it stands. And indeed it behooves us to make the best of it, for it is the only direct attempt in the whole book to prove in the concrete that common or public property is a wise and necessary arrangement, and that private property is the reverse.
The first assumption that rent and interest are due to private property is not proven in any part of the work. We shall see in the course of our inquiry that on the contrary both rent and interest are the result of monopoly, of restricted individual liberty, and of the consequent limitation of private property. We are next told that, if we admit a man’s right to do, use, or possess a certain thing, say to own a picture,—a piece of property,—he may abuse that right, may act wrongly, or want to impose on others. Therefore we must deny the right, and this argument applies to other rights which he might abuse.
In other words, it is just to deny a man’s rights because he may not exercise them properly; it is unjust to permit anyone to own anything because some one may not be satisfied with merely owning something.
According to this mode of reasoning no man should be allowed to possess defensive weapons because it is easy to conceive of circumstances in which he would injure others; it would be justifiable to deprive all men of freedom and imprison them forever because some men abuse their liberty and commit aggressions.
Now, if, instead of dealing with imaginary evils which might arise under some circumstances, and making private ownership responsible for abuses of which it is merely the instrument, but not the cause, we were to seek what would be the natural consequences which would flow from free conditions unhampered by evils and abuses that are no essential part of the property institution, and find the natural results under natural conditions, then we should avoid the absurdities which the above method of reasoning entails.
There is one thing which easily explains many of the fallacies into which Socialists have fallen in reasoning upon economics. They have habitually taken the conclusions and generalizations of a crude and immature economic science, especially where it coincided with the Socialistic pessimism which sees nothing but evil in the existing order and prophesies increased misery, constitutional decay, and a speedy and violent end for our whole civilization. So that they have fallen easy victims to the traps prepared for them by bourgeois economists, who, finding things so bad, and having no other function than to justify them, have set to work and constructed theories to fit into the ever shifting facts, and then labeled them laws, the laws of Political Economy, with as much effrontery as if they had discovered the law of gravitation or invented the atomic theory. The law of rent, the law of wages, the iron law, as it has been fitly named, though it would have been still more aptly styled the cast-iron law, for it will break in pieces with the first fall,—these pessimistic generalizations were seized upon by Socialists, whole systems built upon them, theories woven, and history written years in advance upon the strength of the structures thus raised, all of which has proven as delusive as the foundation upon which it was erected. This will be sufficiently exemplified with ample evidence in due course. I touch upon it here merely to show cause why the otherwise able Socialists of the Fabian Society have accomplished so little of positive results, unless it has been to fill the air with decomposed dust of the dry bones they have shaken up with so much vigor and skill.
Generally speaking, Socialist economics are Marxian economics, which in turn are of the uncertain and suspicious nature just described. Social Democrats, Communists, and Revolutionaries alike accept their economic reasoning from this source. The works I have referred to bear evidence on every page. Witness also the chapters from Marx’s Capital, which Albert R. Parsons gives as the economic basis of his Philosophy of Anarchism. The erroneous nature of this teaching will shortly be demonstrated.
The latter portion of this article may seem a digression from the main course of the argument; it could hardly be avoided, however, in dealing with the economic arrangements of the avowed opponents of private property. The next will also partake in the digression, as it will review some other considerations, not directly dealing with property alone, but still closely related to it.
5.—Socialists and the Social Organism.
The enlightened modern opponents of private property not only allege that they can demonstrate its abolition to be the certain outcome of evolution,—economic, industrial, moral, and historic,—but also claim that this end is being furthered by the vast and ever growing productions of modern legislators, and that it is the ultimate goal of Democracy. With this purpose in view they exploit the theory of the social organism, accepting it with as little discrimination as they have displayed in adopting general evolutionary teaching on which to construct their pleasant theories of hopeful delusions. Society is an organism, they say; therefore the perfect development of each individual is not necessarily the highest cultivation of his own personality, but the filling of his humble function in the great social machine. Hence the coördination of functions through government regulation is a progressive and beneficent step in the evolution of the organism, society. The enlargement of the power of authority and the function of the State is hailed with joy and trumpeted in notes of evolution by the champions of the new social order to be erected on the ruins of individual property.
So we find Socialists and other writers of this type devoting their literary talents to exemplify and eulogize the growth of laws for the regulation of industry and the limitation of private property; pointing with unbounded admiration to the State and governmental direction and gradual absorption of multitudinous enterprises of general utility,—all in the name and for the imaginary welfare of the community. Numerous prominent examples could be given to show the delight with which such writers hail every manifestation of paternalism. To cite one of the ablest will at present, however, suffice. Sidney Webb, the Socialist-Economist, writing on the Historic Basis of Socialism in the essays before referred to, draws a glowing picture of the rapid growth in recent times of governmental inspection, regulation, and organization of labor, showing the extension of authoritative activity into a bewildering variety of fields; from letter-carrying at a low charge to the gratuitous provision of novel reading, medicine, and midwifery; from the maintenance of penitentiaries, art galleries, slaughter houses, and courts of justice to the licensing and inspection of dancing rooms, dogs, lawyers, and brothels. The citizen, we are boastingly informed, is now furnished, willy-nilly, with free schooling gratis weather predictions, and the putrefaction of compulsory vaccination without cost. Selah!
Accepting the view of the social organism as formulated by philosophic evolution, it is unhesitatingly assumed that the above line of development indicates a healthy growth, which will gradually eliminate both individual property and enterprise and thereby establish the millennium of social perfection. Mr. Webb tells us that it still rests with the individual to resist or promote the social evolution, consciously or unconsciously, according to his character and information. The importance of complete consciousness of the social tendencies of the age lies in the fact that its existence and comprehensiveness often determine the expediency of our particular action; we move with less resistance with the stream than against it. (Fabian Essays, p. 50.)
I have italicized the words in the quotation which seem to me to unfold the cardinal error at the bottom of his whole social philosophy. Taken along with the assumption already made clear that the social tendencies of the age are in the line of unlimited governmental extension, it displays commendable worldly wisdom on Mr. Webb’s part to become a State Socialist and move with the stream. But his loose method of reasoning really begs the whole question. If we treat society as an organism, we must first decide wherein healthy growth consists; we must determine how far the analogy with the individual organism holds good, and make clear the distinctions, if any exist, and, above all, we must make sure that the tendencies beloved of Mr. Webb are in the true sense progressive , and not organically retrogressive, before we fling ourselves into the line of least resistance to float only with the stream.
The neglect of these precautions, essential in a scientific treatment of social economics, has landed this school of reformers in a maze of contradictions, absurdities, and hopeless confusion, from which they are by no means likely to extricate themselves.
The Fabian Socialists profess to be diametrically opposed to the sociological views of Herbert Spencer, while at the same time borrowing from him whatever substratum of truth there is in their conception of the social organism. In the Moral Basis of Socialism , we find nothing but a transposed and imperfect version of the evolutional theory of ethics as worked out by Spencer in his Synthetic Philosophy. So also we have Sidney Webb declaring that a society is something more than an aggregate of so many individual units,—that it possesses existence distinguishable from those of any of its components. … The community must necessarily aim, consciously or not, at its continuance as a community: its life transcends that of any of its members; and the interests of the individual must often clash with those of the whole. … Without the continuance and sound health of the social organism no man can now live or thrive; and its persistence is accordingly his paramount end. (Fabian Essays, pp. 56, 57.)
All of which, except the final clause, is manifestly Spencerian . But, to show how little is really comprehended of the doctrine he attempts to exploit, I shall give one more quotation before proceeding to demonstrate the erroneous nature of the Fabian conception of the social organism. After giving examples of the necessity of certain qualities proper to the military type of society, which he evidently makes no attempt to distinguish from the industrial type, though his ideal society belongs exclusively to the latter, he informs us that we must take even more care to improve the social organism, of which we form part, than to perfect our own individual development. Or, rather, the perfect and fitting development of each individual is not necessarily the utmost and highest cultivation of his own personality, but the filling, in the best possible way, of his humble function in the great social machine. We must abandon the self-conceit of imagining that we are independent units, and bend our jealous, absorbed in their own cultivation, to this subjection to the higher end, the common weal. (P. 58, ibid.)
The italicized portion, together with the last sentence, furnish unmistakable evidence that the author never reached the true and scientific conception of the social organism. The above is utterly at variance with any sound theory of organic growth and development, even without noting the fundamental distinction between the hypothetical social organism and the actual organization of the living animal. In consideration of the intelligence and erudition of its propounder, I feel not a little diffident in characterizing it as it deserves. The argument is fitly crowned with the ultimatum that liberty must be subordinated to equality, that the latter in social science is more important than the former. (See p. 59, ibid.) A conclusion as impotent as it is reactionary.
One of the first principles of biological science is that organic evolution consists of a differentiation of functions. The lowest forms of life are almost homogeneous, there is no separation of parts for the purpose of life -sustaining acts. Complexity denotes advancement. When the organism evolves heart, lungs, brain, and so forth, it attains a higher form of life. And the highest of all manifestations of sentient existence yet evolved, a civilized man, shows the greatest specialization, the most complete separation of the functions which combine their work in the life of the perfect organism. Mark: the development of a living organism is characterized by the separation of each part, by its specialization for the performance of certain functions, each organ doing its own work and in the healthy state confining itself solely to the work it is fitted to perform. The greater the degree to which this physiological division of labor has attained, the more perfect is the animal. True, this implies a combination, which, however, arises naturally, without artificial or conscious arrangement; and life was of a lower form before the differentiation and specialization set in; it is the separation and consequent heterogeneity, in distinction to the combined homogeneity, that denotes progress.
What is biologically true of individual life in this respect is observed to hold good in the life of society. Not only is the sociological differentiation a measure of human development, but it is equally so in all other gregarious creatures. Yet we are asked to believe that a process the reverse of this, the return from differentiated functions exercised by highly specialized parts of the social organism, individuals and groups spontaneously combined, to the homogeneous structure in which all social, economic, and regulative functions converge toward one point, collective ownership, is the certain tendency of social evolution: we are to accept this phase of a transitory stage as the true goal and highest aim of a civilized society. Moreover, in so far as such a tendency does exist, it is quite possible to furnish a rational and satisfactory explanation of its import and origin without recourse to the system adopted by Mr. Webb. Believing, as he does, that collectivism is the way toward which social evolution tends, he is quite consistent in working to hasten such a consummation. But when he endeavors to bolster up his conception with principles culled from evolutional data and Spencerian philosophy, the resulting inconsistency becomes grotesque.
We have seen how the common weal is set up to be the paramount end of individual action, and how it is required of each to subordinate his interests and his conduct to society. Now, this line of argument is possible only by ignoring the vital distinction between the social and individual organism. As Spencer says: Society exists for the benefit of its members, not its members for the benefit of society. It has ever to be remembered that, great as may be the efforts made for the prosperity of the body politic, yet the claims of the body politic are nothing in themselves, and become something only in so far as they embody the claims of its component individuals. (Sociology, vol. I, third ed., p. 450):
Another distinction, equally important, is lost sight of by the Fabian philosophers. I refer to the difference between the needs of a military form of social organization and the industrial type. The former represents a temporary, imperfect, and undesirable stage of social evolution, the latter a permanent, necessary, and wholly desirable condition. The one necessitates a highly centralized, regulating system and great subordination of the individual members, and the degree to which this is carried is the measure of its perfection. Judged by temporary requirements, it becomes the highest type. But the other, the industrial form of organization, which is the ideal type, requires quite the opposite conditions. The industrial regulating system evolves as a separate and independent function from the central or political authority. This kind of society is to be judged by the degree of voluntary interdependence and the freedom from all authority and enforced regulation which its members, both individually and collectively, attain. And, to again quote Spencer’s words, relatively to their ultimate requirements societies become high in proportion to the evolution of their industrial systems, and not in proportion to the evolution of their centralized regulating systems fitting them for carrying on war. (P. 587, ibid.)
So that, looking at the social organism from whatever point we choose, we are driven to reject the theory of development which Mr. Webb and all other Nationalizers attempt to weave around social evolution. It were much better for these good folk to give up all attempts to establish in the name of evolution the fallacies for which they claim scientific truth.
6.—True Individualism Means Economic Freedom.
The attack on the principle of private property frequently with Socialists takes the form of an arraignment and denunciation of what they somewhat vaguely term Individualism. In their view it is synonymous with the worst features of the most unscrupulous phases of capitalism. It would seem that private enterprise and all individual effort directed toward acquiring wealth are for a like reason accursed, besides being in themselves unsocial, opposed to the public weal, and therefore unjust.
Harmonizing with such ideas are those which recognize in every extension of collective activity a blow at individualism, and in every encroachment on private property and individual liberty, with a correlative growth of public property and authoritative control, a positive step in social well-being and economic reform. That under the present system the evils exist which Socialists make private property responsible for, and would attempt to abolish by collective control, it is useless to deny. But if, by inductive reasoning, by citing unimpeachable facts, it can be shown that private property and individual enterprise are more conducive to human welfare than public property and collective enterprise, leaving out of consideration the hypothetical evidence of the benefits of the latter furnished by the unstinted imagination of dreamers about future social perfection; if it be established that, taking society as an organism, no scientific grounds exist for believing individualism to be in any way opposed to social progress, but rather that a movement in any other direction, as the abolition of private property, is necessarily and on fundamental principles a social retrogression; if it becomes manifest that the growing demand for governmental interference with the object of diminishing economic evils is due to greater consciousness of their existence and consequent desire for their removal, and not because collective authority is proved to be thus able to remove them; if it be made clear that such action can be but palliative, a mere substitute for the end to be achieved, that the removal of obstructions to free individualism rather than the increase of barriers to its development would bring more desirable results; and, finally, if the proposed remedy of collectivism would intensify the evils it is meant to cure, and is impotent as a permanent method, while freedom of property, of enterprise, and of opportunity offer more hope for a better society,—then the attack on individualism and private property at once falls to the ground.
All these propositions can be demonstrated by evidence which to the unprejudiced thinker will appear conclusive. Though a simple application of the principle which has been developed in the course of this work—namely, equal freedom—would alone clear away all doubts, yet I shall not discard induction where facts lie so near at hand.
In order to make myself perfectly plain and avoid all chance of misconception, I must here explain that where I use the term collectivism I also include in the accompanying arguments the broader conception of Communism. so far as the principles involved in the discussion are concerned, both these terms are of equal value. The adherents of collectivism and Communism respectively draw a dividing line, the former holding that common property in the implements of production—land, capital, etc.—is sufficient to ensure justice, leaving the distribution of the product to take place with some regard for individual merit, according to deed rather than need, while the latter would make common property and have distribution simply according to needs, aiming thus at absolute equality. But as both conceptions subordinate the individual to the collectivity, and put equality before liberty, the one being merely an incomplete version of the other, without any fundamental difference, it is not too much to claim that whatever argument or evidence tells against the principle in the one case weighs with no less force in the other, for in each it is the Communistic principle which is at fault.
The class of social reformers referred to at the beginning of this chapter includes the greater number of modern trade-unionists, labor leaders, and agitators, both in England and America. Many of them are unconscious Socialists, and would hotly repudiate being so called, but from our point of view there is no clear ground of distinction. One can hardly read or hear an utterance today from some of the sources just mentioned but what the ideas which the avowed Socialist, Mr. Webb, elaborates are met in the most unmistakable form. Let us sample a few of Mr. Webb’s own, for convenience of illustration. He makes economic inequality and individualism identical, and sees no remedy but in the destruction of the latter and the unlimited growth of collectivism. In Fabian Essays, p. 39, he says: The record of the century in English social history begins with the trial and hopeless failure of an almost complete individualism, but with the progress of political emancipation private ownership of the means of production has been in one direction or another successively regulated, limited, and superseded. The first proposition displays an utter recklessness in the use of words, as if it was possible for individualism—that is, freedom—to exist when the working people forming the vast majority were entirely disenfranchised, forbidden by law to organize for their own protection or to agitate or hold public meetings, and had no means of obtaining education or knowledge that might have enabled them to successfully fight their oppressors, economic and political. Then were they more helpless before their masters than at any subsequent time, and therefore more dependent; yet in the Fabian mind this period represents an almost complete individualism.
The second propositions again turns up in another form: The liberty of property owners to oppress the propertyless by the levy of the economic tribute of rent and interest began [and continues] to be circumscribed, pared away, obstructed, and forbidden in various directions (pages 46–47):
In reply it might be pointed out that as to rent his collaborator, G. B. Shaw, argues that private property must be abolished and Socialism established because rent tends to rise till no part of the produce but bare subsistence-wages is left to the producer. (See essay on Historic Basis.) And it is indisputable that rents have in fact unceasingly increased, absorbing at present about one-sixth of the total annual product in England. With regard to interest, where competition operates at all, the inevitable tendency of civilization is toward a lower and lower rate of profit and interest, in accordance with economic conditions that operate entirely independent of legislative enactments. Hence the fall in the rate of interest is not due to Socialistic laws.
In earlier chapters there will be found ample data to refute such statements as the following from the same source: The use of the new motors [speaking of modern machinery] has been for a generation destroying the individualist conception of property, and the landlord and capitalist are both finding that the steam engine is a Frankenstein which they had better not have raised, for with it comes Democracy, the study of political economy, and Socialism (page 38): Continuing the same idea, he says: Individual liberty in the sense of freedom to privately appropriate the means of production reached its maximum at the commencement of the century (page 40): All this is nothing but special pleading without foundation in fact. Next follows a piece of downright misrepresentation. We are told that Mr. Herbert Spencer and those who agree in his worship of individualism apparently desire to bring back the legal position which made possible the white slavery of which the sins of legislators have deprived us.
Such are the arguments that are meant to upset the principle of private property. Is it needful to refer to the absurdity of charging those who desire equal freedom for all and the abolition of every form of slavery with wanting to revive the condition of status and disability existing a century ago?
After enumerating the child labor, long hours, and other abuses which the weakness, ignorance, and legal disabilities of the working classes compelled them to endure, he audaciously concludes: These and other nameless iniquities will be found recorded as the results of freedom of contract and Laissez Faire in the impartial pages of successive blue books (page 41): People who employ methods so loose and inexact in discussing social problems are not likely to be much impressed with the importance of liberty as a factor in their solution. As for freedom of contract, a moment’s thought will make it evident that it can exist only between men who are free and independent in their relations with each other. No person who is really free and independent will contract with others to his own injury; it is only when he is dependent and economically un-free that the principle of contract, or voluntary agreement, can operate injuriously. And the greater part of the laboring portion of society are neither independent nor truly free; so that under the present monopolistic and legally privileged system the contracts they make are forced on them by necessity, their agreements, as in working for wages, are not voluntary, for there is no choice between submission and starvation.
But this result is not directly the outcome of capitalism; it is the consequence of the survival of conditions belonging to pre-capitalistic forms of society. Land monopoly, special legislation creating classes who enjoy privileges at the expense of others, the abnormal power of wealth concentrated in the hands of the few, are consequences of an un-free society and take their part in keeping the producers from obtaining the equivalent of their labor. If capitalism were not thus a superstructure reared upon the past, we should expect to see it develop into the ideal industrial society, in which each unit would be independent, and voluntary agreement between free men would replace the compulsory contracts into which most men are now driven.
Monopoly and privilege, as we have seen, are erroneously called individualism, and the latter is held up as the source of social injustice. Yet individualism, in the sense I have defined it, is the sworn foe to every vestige of privilege and monopoly.
And, after all, the most extreme Socialist is an individualist, and to that end points his whole philosophy. Happiness can be enjoyed only by each individual through sense-impression. Collective happiness otherwise is meaningless and impossible. There is no collective organ of sense, no Socialistic apparatus for distinguishing pleasure and pain, but in each individual alone exists the perceptive power, the possibility of being happy.
7. Collectivism. The Facts Speak
We are unable to go back to a time in which the property idea did not in some degree exist. For not only do the lowest types of man exhibit a keen sense of ownership, but sub-human animals also show distinct consciousness of it. And that the conception of property has throughout the various stages of civilization grown in an individualist direction is still more certain. In an earlier chapter it was pointed out that with human progress personal possession becomes ever more absolute and inviolable. Collectivists may attempt to refute these facts by pointing to the apparent growth of public property and industrial functions as evidence of the decline of the idea of personal property. This line of argument has been dealt with, and its invalidity from the viewpoint of sociological and economic science made sufficiently clear. We may now consider some broad and well-established truths which will leave no tangible room for doubt as to the soundness of the position we occupy. A comparison between the individual organism and the social organism has shown us that the tendency to supplant private by public activity, or voluntary industrial organization by compulsory collective organization, must inevitably be in the nature of a reversion, a social retrogression. And a study of the leading facts of social phenomena will render the same truth still more conclusive.
Let us compare different races and unlike social structures. Setting aside the savage and the barbarous, it is a mere truism that the more advanced the race the more complete do we find the development of individual property. The Russian peasantry still continue, in one form or another, the property customs of that early phase of social growth, the Village Community. Land till recently was held in common, but is fast giving place to the system of individual property. The methods of cultivation are still those belonging to the communal form. But the American agriculturalist, with an intensely individualized system of property, is vastly ahead of the communal peasants, both in his individualistic methods of cultivation and in material well-being. In many parts of Germany and central Europe the peasants also follow the communal land system, but they are ages behind the average British farmer, not to speak of the American, whose methods are based on the clearest recognition of private property and enterprise.
In China the regulative functions of government reach a point at present unknown in any State in western Europe; in Russia the authorities are so anxious for the welfare of the individual that almost every action from the cradle to the grave becomes a subject of their constant solicitude; and in Germany the functions exercised by State officials, and their minute and unlimited interference with the private life of each citizen, seem incredible, as they would be unbearable, to an Englishman or an American. These characteristics are simply extensions of the same principle which the paternalistic legislation of England and the United States is rapidly following, and in which social reformers like those referred to find so much encouragement. Yet I doubt whether the most enthusiastic paternalist, even Mr. Webb himself, is prepared to claim that the diffused autocracy of China, the brutal, regulative despotism of Russia, or the iron-bound, martial régime of Germany produces a higher type of society than the more capitalistic, individualistic, and unregulated English and American democracies. Moreover, the present fashion of historical research in the economic field has made trite the facts relating to the legal and authoritative regulation of industry and commerce, and the direction and restriction of each individual’s daily life, before the days of modern capitalism. Individualism—that is, personal freedom—had a back seat in past times, and private property was by no means secure. Still, if the Fabian view of the social organism is correct, the temporary revival of the same spirit in the handiwork of latter-day lawmakers is direct evidence of the evolution of society into Socialism.
Has the social organism, then, in its metamorphosis from mediævalism into capitalism, been retrograding? The answer to this question compels us either to give up entirely the theory of social evolution and ignore sociological facts, or to set aside the Fabian interpretation of it; the latter course will prove the better choice. In any case an application of the principles of social evolution which modern collectivists profess to accept unmistakably demonstrates that every step in the direction of compulsory collectivism or governmental control of property is reactionary and against the ultimate welfare of the race.
These reformers unceasingly enlarge on the blessings of the moderate amount of municipal Socialism already accomplished. Here the Nationalists find the monopolistic post-office an institution worthy of unbounded admiration and beyond the power of private enterprise to attain. The readers of Liberty, who have some little opportunity to judge, will doubtless sustain this view. In England we have Mr. Webb and others depicting the glories of aldermanic Socialism and flippantly admitting that it is made possible only by the creation of a gigantic and ever-increasing public debt, upon which a few years ago an annual tribute of over fifty million dollars was paid in the form of interest. Local rates are everywhere, says our Fabian author, in consequence rapidly rising. Now what more does the capitalist want than a safe opening for investment where there is the minimum of risk and a steady return? He would probably on an average receive less and be obliged to perform more service in return if he had himself to find employment in the open market for his capital. But the growth of this form of collectivism is no evidence at all that private property or enterprise is disappearing before public control. Yet it is the very point which our Fabian reformers are endeavoring to prove. On the contrary, it is the intensifying and perpetuation of the existing unjust system of property that is being effected. It does not strike even the first blow at the most rapacious of all foes to property and to the property producer. That foe is usury. Such advocates are the true bourgeois reformers. Society would still remain organized on a system of status. There would be three classes: first, the interest-takers, or bondholders, comprising all the existing capitalists; second, the bureaucracy, the entrepreneurs,—managers, law-makers, and go-betweens, the nominal rulers; third, there would still be the mass of people sustaining by their labor all three classes.
This conclusion remains unshaken till the Socialist reformers have demonstrated how to abolish interest and rent, which, they imagine, can be gradually confiscated by mere legislative enactment,—an economic fallacy.
Some of the effects of municipalization which are least noted by critics of collectivism will now be in order. In the English cities where the authorities maintain a close monopoly of the gaslight supply, electric lighting on an extensive scale is entirely unknown. Why? Because private enterprise in all such cases is debarred, legally, from entering into competition with the authorities. Their permission must be obtained before attempting to perform a service as private citizens for the public. Hence there is the spectacle of the people’s representatives in the name and on behalf of the public refusing to allow an industry to exist which can live only by performing a service the people require and demand. Would it not, if allowed, at once enter into competition with the Socialistic article, diminish the profits the public make out of themselves, and finally, perhaps, abolish the effete system altogether? Have not the practical Socialists of the city councils reason to be jealous of the would-be innovators? The latest methods in rapid transit in the cities are for kindred reasons barred out. Municipalities in one way or another control the existing systems; either as in Huddersfield owning and operating it, or as in Manchester possessing the tracks which they rent to the company that operates, or finally and more generally, as in the latter city and elsewhere, the members of the municipality individually as stockholders have financial interests at stake. The control or interference in any way by the city authorities results everywhere in establishing a monopoly, private or public, which resists improvement, neglects the people’s convenience, and, when they complain, defies them.
The manner in which industrial corporations and political rings own American city governments for their own emolument at the cost of the public requires no enlargement here. Like the brigands and pirates of former times they swoop down upon the unwitting and defenceless people, not with pistol and dagger, but by the more insidious and no less dangerous methods of political manipulation and legal imposition in the guise of majority rule. They contaminate everything they touch; incapacity marks every act, dishonesty all their dealings. No city, large or small, escapes. Philadelphia has its gas ring and jobbery in all departments, creating a state of chronic scandal; New York its boodlers and Tammany rings; Chicago, perpetual corruption and rascality in its government and administration; Boston has its West End Railroad Company, which not only makes puppets of those in power and buys the silence of the press, but is commonly said to have in its pay the whole State legislature. Every city presents no less conclusive testimony. Mr. Joseph Chamberlain recently proved in the Forum that the best governed (?) city in the States, Boston, requires five times as much money to run the government as a city of equal size, Birmingham, in England, and at the same time fails to give anywhere near as much return in efficiency and services to the citizens. Yet English municipal organizations are no less open to objection, either on principle or on practical achievement, than their American counterparts. Before the advocates of municipalization and nationalization can make out a claim for serious attention to their schemes, they must furnish evidence to rebut the almost overwhelming testimony which demonstrates the utter failure, moral and industrial, of all existing manifestations of practical authoritative Socialism. In default, their demands are unworthy of notice and their proposed reforms abortive. It is not, however, the theories of these schools alone which have to be disproved; the principles they uphold have entered largely into practical politics, and there exists a body of opinion, to all appearance on the increase, which sees nothing but good for the people in the indefinite expansion of the principle of compulsory collectivism. Thus we may observe continuous efforts to show that every time a new function is assumed by the authorities, as the supplying of light in cities, a cheapening of the commodity to the people is effected. Prices of the municipal product are compared with those of private companies, and sometimes the latter are shown to be higher. But it is nearly always forgotten that private corporations carrying on such operations do so in accordance with franchises obtained from the authorities which choke off competition and virtually create the closest of monopolies. Where exclusive rights exist, the benefits of free industry need not be looked for; the choice in such cases lies between a private and a public monopoly, either of which is a direct infringement on individual liberty and clearly unjust.
An erroneous assumption underlies this desire for enlarging public or common property and organization of labor. It is assumed that the profits accruing to private enterprise, to the capitalists, out of business which might be run socialistically, would in the latter circumstance go directly into the collectivist treasury and be used for the general good. Of what do such profits consist? Chiefly interest; yet the collectivists are willing that the authorities take over these functions and pay interest for the necessary capital. True, they imagine that interest would speedily be abolished by some legal enactment or popular plebiscite. But no sound conception of economic principles will admit the efficacy of such methods. Nevertheless, this desire is a tacit admission that the elimination of interest is an essential feature of economic reform, while it must always be insisted that no merely political method can permanently secure this desirable result.
The other factors usually included in profits arising either out of risk, superior facilities, or skill in management could not by any possibility be transferred to the collective authority. With the substitution of industrial Socialism for voluntary enterprise they would simply cease to exist. The source which created them being destroyed, society would be just so much the poorer. And the evidence is against the belief that collectivism would enrich the community, by its ability to manage and administer property and enterprise, beyond what competitive effort has proved itself capable of doing. In short, the advocates of the collectivist movement overlook the fact that the earnings of industrial enterprise above the current rate of interest are properly returns for services rendered, and should not be confounded with the unearned increment of either interest or rent. An exception to this must be mentioned. In the case of a monopoly a tax may be exacted which, though called profit, is neither interest nor payment for services, but simply an unjust abuse of power. The United States government, when its shuts out all competitors and charges a rate for letters beyond the cost of that branch of the service and uses the accruing profit to make good the deficit caused by its unsound management of the newspaper and periodical branch, is a pertinent example. We could add also the English post-office and telegraph service, upon which the government raises a large income in the name of profits, but which is truly a tax on the people, and the English municipal authorities, who realize big profits on the gas monopoly which they use in improvements, whose principal effects are to enhance the value of real estate and increase rents. Unofficial capitalistic monopolies by legislative aid not infrequently do the same thing.
Therefore the one possible benefit which collectivism might be expected to accomplish,—namely, the saving to the producers of that portion of profits which is interest proper,—it offers no promise of effecting. And it has just been shown that the remaining portions would not be saved. Hence we arrive at the conclusion that the claim made on behalf of Socialism to return to the producers the profits now received by the capitalist class without foundation. The analysis in this chapter harmonizes with the preceding by showing that collective ownership of property and compulsory industrial organization offer no advantages over private property and capitalism. So that, judging only by expediency, by the observed results and the possible benefits, collectivism as a solution of the social problem cannot be entertained.
8.—How Collectivist Ideas Survive
In explanation of the belief in government agency as the proper method for getting rid of existing social and economic maladjustments I wish to offer a few suggestions. While it is not true that society is more hopelessly diseased or economic conditions more unjust now than in former times, it is well to observe that much greater attention is directed to social problems and more efforts made to understand them than ever before. The propertyless class, the wage-workers, who bear the greatest burden, are realizing the extent of the weight that keeps them down and growing more discontented and ready to grasp at any means which seems to promise an improvement of their lot. At least an influential part of organized labor pins its faith to governmental extension in the control of industry and property, and nearly all the working classes favor some amount of authoritative regulation—in their own interests, of course—of industrial conditions. Add to this that they hold the semblance of political power through manhood suffrage, and that statesmen and politicians profess, before election most unreservedly, to do the bidding of the majority and enact such laws as Demos shall demand. And as a result we find the doctrinaire collectivist, the opportunist reformer who wants to turn over the whole machinery of civilization to the all-wise and all-just majority and its still wiser and juster representatives and official servants, which will banish forever want and injustice and straightway usher in a new era. Of this type the more wily discard the notion of performing the feat by a sudden uprising or popular barricade revolution, and insist that the process must be gradual, a bit today, another bit tomorrow; believing that existing institutions can be socialized by popular vote, they go in for municipalization of gas and electric works, railroad and land nationalization, and kindred schemes; a policy that is finally to put an end to capitalism and wage slavery. The position is something after this fashion. A man comparatively weak, who has been incessantly clubbed by a superior, at length finds himself in possession of the stick and immediately starts to belabor his adversary, forgetting that the removal of his original weakness should make the weapon lose its terrors for him.
The working classes, becoming more alive to their inferior status and dimly realizing that authority is the weapon which has held them down, would now seize it to work their sweet will by short-hour laws, property confiscation, and government control, but fail utterly to comprehend that the weakness which brings about their oppression is the point which should first be reformed.
If the laboring classes, instead of extending the scope and power of government, which still retains its primal character, though nominally controlled by the majority of the people, would curtail its authority, take away its ability to privilege and protect the propertied class at the expense of the rest, and clear the way for free initiative and industrial effort, which would at once diminish their economic weakness, they would thus take a step on the road to social independence, and not merely be changing places with those they deem their oppressors.
All schemes of communal property and municipal or State Socialism rest their claim to support on the ground that they will be directly and primarily beneficial to the wage workers. Thus these schemes imply that this class labors under peculiar disabilities and grievances from which other classes of society are free. If this be the fact, and the injustice consist—as it must under the circumstances—of economic oppression, then its precise nature should first be ascertained. The law of equal liberty, according to our demonstration, entitles each individual to the full benefit of his energies, the product of his activities exercised without hindering others to enjoy the like. Now the working classes as a whole either do or do not under existing regulations benefit to the full extent of their industrial efforts. If they do receive their full return, it would be manifestly unjust to alter things so that they would obtain more than this, for others would get less than the equivalent of their activities. And if, on the other hand, the wage workers do not reap the rewards due to their own acts and services, justice is not fulfilled, and the first duty of the reformer should be to learn the causes in order to establish conditions whereby it will be possible for each and all to receive the whole benefits of their individual exertions. When, as before observed, the existing injustice is economic, the reform, to be effective, must be of like character. But none of the schemes of collective Socialism and common property meet the question in this manner. They aim at doing something, anything that will on the fact of it compensate the propertyless wealth producers for the injustice from which they suffer. It may be free education, cheap transportation, compulsory short hours, public libraries, municipal profit-saving industries, government organization of labor, or nationalization of land effected by such means as taxes on ground rents, incomes, capitalist profits, and inheritance, or through the suppression of competition, individual contract, and private property; the spirit in each case is coercive philanthropy, and the effect only palliative. None of these reforms offers a permanent and scientific solution of the economic problem underlying the whole subject. The belief in them, however, seems to me perfectly intelligible, and arises naturally out of historic conditions, just as theological beliefs and superstitions have done, but like these is illogical and untenable in the face of the more comprehensive and exact knowledge now at our command.
When the nature of justice is so obscured that the need for individual liberty receives imperfect recognition, and the prime condition of progressive life is not fulfilled, that each should receive the consequences of his own conduct, enjoy the fruits of his life-sustaining activities undiminished by external or coercive power; and when the origin, claims, and sphere of government are as little understood as the nature of God, soul, and immorality, then there is nothing surprising about the widely extended craze for authoritative collectivism and common property. Its connection with the militant spirit of political authority becomes more evident the closer we investigate. For example, the government control of railways in Germany, France, Russia, and other European countries arises from a purely military motive, and likewise with other industrial functions. England’s first move to control her merchant marine by contracts with ocean steamships has the same end in view, as we also see in recent Congressional action with regard to ocean greyhounds. Bismarck and the present Kaiser have made collectivism an adjunct of militancy, and in the attempt to retain authority continue to administer to the German people increasing doses of Socialistic chloroform. It is now recognized that the Tory element in England and the Republicans in this country, both representing the jingo spirit, are the parties most willing to coquet with the like schemes. The effects of this marriage of the militant spirit with paternalism are well displayed in the policy of the English Post-office toward its employés who formed a union to improve their position. The latter were speedily taught that they had about as much right to complain and not quite so much liberty as a soldier in the army. Similarly have the municipal authorities dealt with their workmen engaged in Socialistic industries. The public funds have been used unstintingly to crush all manifestations of independence, termed insubordination; and notwithstanding the fact that Socialists generally protest against a comparison of their ideal Socialism with the bastard forms of it just cited, though hailing every extension as a triumph of their principles, I must confess that the prick of a pin is often sufficient to display the identity. Witness the recent declaration of the veteran leader of the German Social Democracy, Herr August Bebel, in the Reichstag, in reply to Herr Richter: If the citizens of our Socialist State did not obey, we would refuse them bread (vide New York papers, Feb. 12):
My own experience with less famous advocates of collectivism furnishes still more convincing proof of its despotic and authoritarian spirit. Some, if not most, men are, however, better than their principles, and I have no desire to impute to such as George Bernard Shaw personally the tendencies which the party he is identified with so unmistakably betrays.
Chief amongst the reasons, then, for the seeming progress of national collectivism is the surviving military character of government. The growth of local or municipal collectivism seems to be due principally to the unpopularity of private monopolies, which, performing services of a semi-public nature, have succeeded in annulling competition by securing privileges from those in authority and retaining them by legal force, and so, by overcharging for their services, robbing the people, who under existing laws have no redress. Thus the evil erroneously charged to private enterprise, but arising out of legal privilege, is sought to be removed by the creation of public monopoly,—a panacea fostered by the influential element, which sees an opening for jobs, emoluments, and power in every extension of the sphere of government. That such a movement will ultimately develop into common property, as Socialists appear to believe, is not a conclusion warranted by the facts. Moreover, social tendencies are not worked out by conscious and intentional effort, but are the result of causes seldom perceived or understood during the evolutional process. And because certain theorists have assumed compulsory Socialism to be the only means of salvation, which, were it true, would be no proof that society will next evolve that way, must we therefore regard the death of individual property as imminent, notwithstanding abundant evidence to the contrary?
In accordance with what is known of social growth, we believe that the militant function of government in industrial societies is sure to decline and finally disappear; and we also believe, for like reasons, that industrial monopoly is not a permanent phase, but will be undermined by the growth of scientific discoveries and mechanical inventions, which, as competition becomes more general, will offer an ever-increasing choice of means and services to meet all the wants and purposes of man; while the increasing intelligence and independence of the people manifested through voluntary association, and, where it proves itself the more competent, industrial coöperation, will eliminate every excuse for coercive political collectivism. This view is strengthened by remembering that to private effort and individual energy in fact of authoritative discouragement and opposition are due to the wonderful achievements of modern science. For one purpose only do European governments spend large sums every year in scientific experiment and discovery. In the art of human destruction, termed murder when practised on a small scale, we see inventive genius taxed to its utmost capacity under pressure of government patronage and reward. Yet here in its own unchallenged sphere we learn the same lesson which the analysis of government activity in other directions has made plain. State-built ships blow up, guns explode, and inefficiency marks every production of the government workshops, though the cost is much above the outside market rate for more reliable work. And it is found that private enterprise in these murderous industries, both in fertility of invention and mechanical skill, can successfully compete with government works. The only reason why the latter continue to exist lies in the unavoidable connection of corruption, jobbery, soft berths, and control or expenditure with political power. A history of the British government dockyards and arms factories and of attempts at reform would bring all this home to the reader with conclusive force. He must be left, however, to seek out the facts for himself.
The purpose of this chapter has been to show that, although we cannot acquiesce in any form of collectivism or believe it a probable outcome of social evolution, yet we should recognize the sources of the movement to lie deeper than mere ephemeral agitation, while at the same time we must disentangle the conception of private property as a deduction from individual freedom from the actual property conditions that now exist.
9.—On the Method of Investigation
To trace even briefly the main facts relating to the origin and development of the institution of private property as furnished by the modern science of ethnology would doubtless prove both instructive and valuable, and would assuredly leave little room from the evolutionist point of view for belief in any social reform claiming to undermine or supplant individual property. Such was my first intention, but the amount of space already taken up under the present head in what may seem rather discursive criticism, and the advisability of getting to the essential part of the work, have led me to omit this subject; and, as I have had occasion to refer from time to time to facts which might thus have been brought together and classified, I would suggest to the reader who is sufficiently interested that a study of one or more of the many works on early property institutions and their growth would supply many deficiencies in these articles, especially if the data thus obtained relate to existing races in which all the stages of development can with certainty be traced. The absence of an attempt to discuss the question of landed property will probably seem least excusable. Its magnitude, however, is sufficient to deter me from treating as a mere section of one division, and the fact that property in land has followed exactly the same order of development as other property, though from its nature more slowly, and has not yet among most nations reached the stage long since attained by other forms, together with my intention to deal with the subject of land later, are among the reasons I have for here skipping property in land. None of the foregoing principles or arguments are invalidated by at present overlooking their application to natural resources. What now remains to be done is to formulate the results of the inquiry.
The right of private property is a corollary of the law of equal freedom. Both arise out of the inherent necessities of conscious and intelligent existence. If property be justified on this principle, it must be limited so as to exclude the right when the principle is violated. Hence the monopoly of natural resources in such a way that others are debarred from using except by paying tribute, in rent, royalties, taxes, etc., is not in harmony with the law of property. The use of force, whether the power be legal, political, or otherwise, in defiance of the law, does not justify such property rights and privileges. Thus acquired property is robbery.
What was formulated then about property was an ideal law. Existing conditions do not fit it quite. Yet this method of investigation is not thereby less valuable; it is the only means of reaching scientific truth, and will be exemplified more fully in what is to follow, when other principles for our guidance in discovering the truth buried beneath economic discussions will be sought. Having a clear conception of the conditions and then formulating a law in harmony with them, the next work to do is to observe differences or discrepancies between the ideal and the actual; then the task is to find out the causes of disagreement, whether they are accidental and removable, or due to circumstances that permit no change. Let us exemplify the point. The conditions of freedom are agreed upon, not by mere empiricism, but in accordance with the knowledge and insight into life afforded by a scientific conception of evolution; this gives us the law of equal freedom. An intelligent understanding of it is enough to assure acquiescence in the principle. This in turn forms the basis for seeking a principle in property rights. We have the conditions, clear and understood, but ideal: the resultant property law is clear enough, but also ideal, for the most important circumstances are lacking to its realization. Yet as justice, itself an ideal, is our guide and aim, we desire the social environment most closely approaching to the realization of our law of property rights. Hence the need for understanding existing social conditions. As far as it relates to property, the problem we thus get to solve is the discovery and demonstration of the causes which prevent our law from being fulfilled. Here then lies the direction of at least one important part of the subject. It must be pursued in company with other subjects in the inquiry. A discussion of labor and capital, the laws of wages and of interest, land, and taxes is entailed.
The critical discussion that followed the demonstration of the true law of property aimed chiefly at showing that modern opponents of the existing property customs have utterly failed to establish any sound objection to the law. Their attack on private property has been proved to be really on incidentals, on abuses that do not arise out of property as we have defined it. At some length the main fallacies of their alternative schemes were pointed out, and their inability to solve the problems they raise, and we have also established some important points that are worth re-stating. First, the evolutional theory of the social organism cannot be used effectively to prove the impending downfall of private property; individualism as opposed to collectivism is supported by the theory, not, as Socialists allege, overthrown by it. Second, it has been abundantly proved that private property and enterprise have hitherto done more and continue to do more for the welfare of mankind than any form of collectivism. Third, at best the reforms attained by overriding the principle of private property are merely temporary palliatives, which will in the long run intensify the evils they set out to remove; while property under freedom offers more hope. Fourth, we have seen that the demand for collectivism and seeming opposition to private property arise, not from any proof of the efficacy of the former or defect of the latter, but from a failure to trace the real sources of the evil. This point will at more length be dealt with, and a determined effort made to bring out what are the lines of change most likely to result in real and permanent improvement of social conditions. Nevertheless, if we are to adhere to established truth and scientific principles, the treatment of the question will be chiefly negative; social reform is mere fantasy if it ignores vital economic principles and fails to allow for all the known factors, and economics, like other sciences, can recognize no data that are not the result of observation and classified experience. Hence there is little room for positive assertion about the effects of circumstances still enveloped in the mysteries of the future, and no more is safe to do than learn precisely the lines on which society has evolved and is now moving. Such methods of ideally formulating our knowledge, so that it applies over the widest possible field and embraces in a general way the largest range of phenomena, as have been attempted in treating first of liberty and then of property seem to me best to secure the above end. It may be observed that principles thus derived hold good throughout many and changing conditions, as the true principle of property remains as valid and as just under competitive capitalism as in undeveloped primitive society.
1.—The Meaning of the Labor Question.
This is a living question; its interest lies not in the past, nor in other lands among unknown peoples, or even in the dim and distant future, but is of the age, the hour, here and now. Neither is it a question of abstract rights, of metaphysical ideas, of academic teaching or belief, for it supremely concerns living, thinking, toiling men and women, the generation of today. The life of the people is bound up in it; their morals, happiness, social progress, are all interwoven with the conditions of the labor problem. Hence it matters not that books have been written, thinkers have thought and studied, agitations and movements have arisen to reconcile the conflicting interests and adjust economic forces to better conditions, only to demonstrate the multitudinous variety of opinion, dogma, and conjecture in which the issues are enwrapped; the matter is still fresh, still needing more light, still inviting closer study, intelligent exposition, and a clear solution. Only to the thoughtless, the unsympathetic, and the unsocial person can its discussion seem useless and unattractive. In our day great achievements have become quite common, rapid progress the rule, and it is easy to point to the wonders of science, industry, and commerce, the mighty strides, the incalculable advantages that mark the age, the growing power of man over natural forces, the increase of wealth and facilities for its unlimited production; to deny the benefit that all classes derive from these signs of change or to attempt to belittle it were stupidity and folly. The growth and concentration of wealth, we often hear, are evils indicating a diseased society, an approaching and overwhelming crash. Yet in this very increase of wealth we can see the evidence of greater stability, easier and more certain life for society. And here as in other instances we see that what may tend to the security and welfare of society is not necessarily identical with the immediate welfare of the individual. Many indeed are crushed and suppressed that the aggregate may live and advance. While admitting so much, it must also be said that such facts in no wise justify the result, they but point to an undeveloped, conflicting, and transitional stage, the sooner over and out of the better. Let us look a little closer. Among the working classes today could be paralleled some of the worst phases of human suffering and degradation that the past can furnish. Even chattel slavery would appear to be an improvement on some features of modern wage slavery. The assured life of society as a whole is hardly compensation for the uncertain, precarious, and unsuccessful lives which many individuals must inevitably lead. Increased productive power, machinery, mechanical and scientific improvements, are in many ways beneficial and essential to the progress of the race. Labor-saving inventions cannot increase too fast. Wealthy capitalist and great corporate enterprises seeking their own interests are impelled to improve facilities for the production and distribution of wealth. The ever-increasing power of labor, partly through its more intelligent use and largely through increasing application of capital, results in more uniformity in the supply and price with a continual tendency to reduce the cost of all the means of life.
But the application of inventive skill is unceasingly adding to the unemployed; machinery in every industry seems to replace men; the aggregation of productive wealth and the combination of capitalists set the wage-workers more and more at the mercy of their masters. While competition and improved methods lower the cost, labor not unfrequently loses more under the strain than is gained thereby on the part of society. And while the well-to-do classes in modern society tend to increase in proportion to the whole, there is no reason to believe that the poorer classes are decreasing; indeed, the uncertainty and aimlessness of life on the part of the weaker victims become more intense. Modern society can do so well without its weaker members. Small wonder that, seeing the power for evil possessed by the ruling authorities, though not discerning its effects, so many people who feel the importance of the labor problem clamor continually to the law-makers for relief. Vaguely it is seen that the use or abuse of power is responsible for much of the injustice that is endured, that political authority should shoulder the responsibility for the crying economic evils that confront us. Not knowing how to abolish political and legal coercion, or clearly recognizing the need to do so, it is surmised that such powers are intimately related to the trouble, and as a consequence we have the continual cry for government help, for labor legislation that will save the worker from the consequences of the system, for relief from the burdens of a one-sided capitalism and individualism, from the injustices of monopoly, and all other real or imaginary grievances. The discontent spreads, but the demand for relief indicates the helplessness and dependence of the wage-workers; their sense of self-reliance is not strong enough to make them throw their faith in authoritative institutions to the winds and boldly face the question themselves without the direction of their political rulers.
To speak of classes in society today, especially in America, may appear arbitrary and unscientific. No sharply defined lines can be drawn socially or economically, as the gradations are imperceptible and the transitions from one grade to another continuous and with no fixed barriers between. But it is agreed on all sides that distinct classes exist, and that economic conditions account for the division. One need not go to the political economists to learn the classification, for it is exemplified in the experience of practical life. And what is worthy of note, the class divisions of capitalism arise without the aid of feudal and aristocratic institutions, as we see in the present state of American society. Nor is it necessary in observing the effects of economic classes to go to Europe, for here also we know that the capitalist and professional classes are as a rule better off and more secure, both in income and accumulated wealth, as they grow older, and so pass on their possessions to their children; while the wage-workers, though none the less industrious and essential in the social machinery, from the start receive less recompense, are seldom able to accumulate wealth, and in the declining years of life suffer loss of income as wage-workers, and, if they reach old age at all, are without property, dependent on their children or on society for support, and of course to their offspring leave no legacy but the poverty and necessity to sell their labor which was their own birthright. And mark that this result is not due to the greater usefulness or ability of the one class over the other; it is not the virtue, industry, or abstinence of the one, the vice, indolence, or improvidence of the other, which produce such opposite effects, but these results are the inevitable and unavoidable outcome of the existing economic system. If the laboring classes would live on half their earnings, work three hundred and sixty-five days a year, and save the surplus, they would not attain the circumstances of the classes above, who enjoy life, deny themselves nothing, and yet, when they die, leave a patrimony to their children. No change affecting only the habits and personal conduct of the workers can remove economic evils. The tendency of the time is to intensify the class distinctions just pointed out. Generally it is true that the offspring of the well-to-do retain their status in society, and wealth remains practically in the hands of a class passing on from generation to generation. And, except in a few instances, where great talent or special opportunity makes a workingman wealthy,—instances greatly overestimated,—the children of the wage-workers simply replace their parents in the labor market. While this is approximately correct of present conditions in America, it is bound to be more apparent as wealth and population increase.
The reality of the class division is well illustrated in the attitude of political authority when labor troubles arise. Why is it that the power of the State, police, militia, soldiery, is always used in one way and for a single person when the conflicting interests of the wage-workers and their masters take an acute form? In spite of democracy and manhood suffrage, the economically superior class, the part of society having permanent economic advantage through its monopoly of wealth and privilege, never fails to control the coercive machinery of government in its own interest. Strikers are rebels against existing economic arrangements, which the capitalists believe to be for their benefit and are therefore determined to maintain. And as government in its merely political capacity suppresses every attempt at rebellion against its authority so in its capacity as upholder of economic authority, the power of the capitalists, it is ever ready to mete out the same penalty upon the industrial rebel, the wage-worker on strike. The analogy between the British government suppressing a rebellion in India or Ireland and the American State or Federal government putting down an industrial revolt at Homestead or Buffalo is no fanciful similitude, but has a significant meaning. Remembering also what the Kaiser said to the Westphalian miners who were on strike, and how the French republican government acted, not only with the Communards, but in recent days with the workingmen at Decazeville, Fourmies, and other places, to say nothing of the fate of the Chicago martyrs, we may conclude that political power will show more virulence and less mercy in dealing with economic rebels than with those who revolt against its political authority.
These considerations should prove to the labor reformer that something more than a change of power is required to make the workers free. It is true that governmental coercion maintains existing conditions by forcibly preventing any radical attempt at change, but the evil exists in the economic arrangements, which themselves must be reformed to effect an improvement. If the Carnegies had not an advantage over the wage-workers by means of their monopoly of capital and opportunities for producing wealth,—a superiority inherent in the conditions making the laborers dependent on the monopolists,—then the working classes would have nothing to fear from a refusal to accede to the terms of their masters; but, being so dependent, they are doubly enslaved both by monopoly of the means of labor and by governmental power which the capitalists have at their command to enforce submission. It is not control of the militia that the workers need; it is control of their own labor and the opportunities to employ it. The latter will not be obtained by securing the former. Hence democracy, or the popular control of political power, being a purely negative aim, is no remedy for wage slavery; it does not even lead to the remedy, and is not an indispensable weapon.
We have seen that the workman’s right to vote does not prevent the capitalist from wielding the machinery of authority in his own interest, and we should also keep in mind that legislative and judicial power are equally beyond the grasp of the laborer. Laws are made directly or indirectly in the interest of the capitalist class, and they are always administered and interpreted by judges and lawyers in the same spirit. If a striker escapes the policeman’s club and the militiaman’s bullet, he has still to run the gauntlet of the judge and the jailer, who sometimes hand him on to the hangman. Those inductions are entirely within the data furnished by current history in this great republic.
In seeking to understand the labor problem it is evident from the foregoing that we should know the cause of the economic power which the possession of capital gives, and learn how our social system produces classes that are not due to differences of character, virtues, or industry, among whom, as Mill fifty years ago wrote, the produce of labor is apportioned almost in an inverse ratio to the labor, the largest portions to those who have never worked at all, the next largest to those whose work is almost nominal, and so in a descending scale, the remuneration dwindling as the work grows harder and more disagreeable, until the most fatiguing and exhausting bodily labor cannot count with certainty on being able to earn even the necessaries of life.
Our investigation will necessarily be occupied as much in sifting out the chaff and rejecting the untrustworthy conceptions among established teaching as in the discovery of reliable and useful principles. To narrow the scope of the inquiry by exhausting false views and to show that the remedy does not lie this way or that is a method essentially scientific. When, for example, it is demonstrated that perpetual motion is unattainable by mechanical device, that gold cannot be synthetically manufactured in a laboratory, and that the philosopher’s stone is an impossible dream, much otherwise valuable effort is saved and true science is advanced. A like gain is made when human intelligence ceases to concern itself with the soul’s hereafter, but turns its attention to realizing a better life in the present world. In social and economic reform the same process has to be gone through, will-o’-the-wisps are pursued on all sides, and every door that is closed by logic and science with the sign fallacy or error writ over it is a step nearer the attainable and the true.
2.—On the Law of Labor and How to Discover It.
The abstract nature of the conceptions of liberty and property we have already recognized, and, while noting that existing conditions do not conform to our ideal principles, we saw that the tendency of social evolution lay in that direction. In this lies the virtue of such generalizations, for, while affirming only tendencies, they serve as a guide in the investigation of the facts of social science. To find the causes that stand in the way of realizing the abstract law or ideal conception in the realities of social life becomes the main object of our inquiry. The labor problem may be elucidated by a generalization which, while embodying our ideal as to the true aim of justice, will harmonize with the principles already established. At the same time we must carefully avoid the mistake made by all the classical economists, who, after setting up abstractions, drew conclusions therefrom and deemed it unnecessary to compare them with actual conditions or to seek the causes of disagreement, but, instead, put forward their unverified results as laws to explain phenomena on which they were originally not based and hence could not explain.
In order to simplify our conception, let us imagine that equal liberty actually prevails, society no longer displaying an ordered series of exceptions to the law: assume that each individual realizes the benefits of his own activities, property rights conforming to the principle by which we have agreed to represent justice; we thus eliminate privilege and monopoly, and suppose freedom of exchange and contract the only basis of relations in industrial as in all other affairs between men. What under these circumstances would be the law of labor? No new idea is involved in the answer, for but one deduction from the hypothesis is logically possible. The reward of labor would equal the product of labor. And the social value of the service would measure its price. Exchange would be in reality what it is now only in theory,—a return of service for service; not, however, as erroneously believed by Warren and the early Individualist reformers on the one hand, and Marx and his followers on the other, who, in measuring service against service, projected the time-measure of comparison, a standard based on the time theory of value. For services and commodities of like kinds are not exchanged, but only those which are unlike; and though a time-measure is unobjectionable as a standard for quantities of the same service or commodity,—as, for example, a coat that takes six hours to make will be of like value to a similar garment made in the same time because the labor is of like kind,—yet for labor or commodities of different kinds, which alone originate exchange, such a standard is inadequate, useless, and misleading. So that, while postulating the principle that labor should be remunerated with the value of its product, or that service should repay service, I feel it necessary to distinguish against the notion that value is measured by labor-time, or that labor is under all circumstances the measure of value, but in doing so I do not give up the idea that the cost of labor, though not measured in hours, is the chief determining factor in exchange value. Returning from this digression on value, which will turn up again in its own place, let us see what the above generalization is worth in regard to the wages question.
Did labor obtain in wages the value of the product, no theory would be required as at present to determine how much of the product should go to the producer, and what proportion to the landlord, the capitalist, and the tax-gatherer; the only question to determine being the causes operating to raise or lower the exchange value of the product, the whole of which would constitute the wages of labor. For there is no reason to believe that we shall ever reach a stage wherein the proportions in which commodities will exchange for each other will cease to fluctuate, and, while any variation is possible, exchange value must vary accordingly. With ultimate questions of this nature we need not, however, concern ourselves.
Having established a principle in harmony with our earlier generalizations, which will serve as the ideal law of labor, the theories that are concerned with temporary phases may be studied and compared. Marx’s great theory of wages, the explanation of capitalism by the conception of surplus value, pocketed by the employer in the form of profits representing simply unpaid labor, is found on close scrutiny to rest on some erroneous assumptions that once formed the stock in trade of the economists. The wage-fund theory, which undoubtedly at one time answered a purpose and for want of a more comprehensive formula served to express the economic relations existing in a transitional stage, is an accepted dogma underlying Marx’s most important arguments in support of his position. Then the labor-time theory of value adopted by Ricardo and fully accepted by Marx, combined with the wage-fund idea, naturally gave rise to the conception of the iron law of wages, a belief in which was essential to the Marxian exposition of capital and the surplus value theory of labor. Now, if Marx were scientifically sound in this train of reasoning, the condemnation of capitalism, as the individualistic system of production, which the tentative and inadequate generalizations of political economy rendered easy on the part of Socialists, would still rest on the same grounds, and no economic system embodying private ownership of capital, competition, and the wage system could offer the slightest hope to the laboring classes. A social system based on individualism or the law of equal liberty would always present the evils now accompanying capitalism, and common ownership of the means of production would seem the sole and inevitable way of escape for the wage-worker.
But if the generalization of the iron law of wages is unscientific and incapable of resuming the widest truths of economics, the foundation disappears from the conception of surplus value, and we shall still be able to accept the sociological laws traversed by the Marxian dogmas. Economists of the present day discard the theories of wages accepted almost without question a generation ago. And the system of Marx, which was built upon them, is rejected in many important particulars by some of the leading men who accept his general scheme of Socialism. Francis A. Walker’s theory of wages, for want of a better, is currently accepted by the professors as a masterly statement of the labor question. But perhaps its only value lies in the fact that it is not a law of wages, not a comprehensive résumé of the phenomena, but simply an intelligible restatement of the data which we need a scientific law to elucidate and resume. Walker’s theory does not increase our knowledge of the causes which produce and maintain the present arrangement in the division of the product. Wages, he affirms, consist of the value of what is produced, less rent and interest, with an allowance (taxes) to the governing authority. But to tell the wage-worker who groans beneath the load of landlord, capitalist, and tax-grabber that he has really nothing to complain of, for all he produces returns to him as wages, except the trifling slice that these sources justly and necessarily absorb, is not to console him for the hardship of his lot, but only to apologize for the plunderers.
In examining the labor problem a truth should be kept in view that has an important bearing on the further elucidation of the points at issue. Rent and interest must be recognized as economic facts naturally arising out of present economic conditions, and there is no means of lessening or eliminating their burden except by such a modification of those conditions as will naturally result in their diminution and extinction. In other words, the laborer must be prepared to pay, as he is now forced to pay, both landlord and capitalist’s share out of the product of industry, which share will continue to be fixed by supply and demand, until he is ready to adopt or to obtain such a change in social and political institutions as will result in an economic state wherein this share will grow less and less, leaving more and more of the product to the producer. Now, the first thing to do is to be sure about the way in which the present system works, to find out how the wage-worker’s share is at present determined to do which we must eliminate from the discussion both rent and interest by assuming them either as fixed or absent. And after separately arriving at a conclusion as to the manner in which the wages of labor are determined, the effect of competition, where it is inoperative, the meaning of value in relation to labor and price, and the way the wage system as a whole acts in giving the laborer more or less of his product, then we take up the problem of capital and the factors which determine interest, leaving out rent as before, and knowing already just how wages are determined and how under conditions ideally free they would be fixed, thus investigating in each case from known and actual conditions and finally comparing the separate results obtained. Rent would next demand our study, and, whether or not any conditions can be found that would modify or reduce it, the conclusion in the other cases would be unchanged. And if it is possible to demonstrate the laws of interest and rent are such that means may be adopted to reduce the proportion of the total product that either can demand, we shall have formulated the means of securing to the worker higher wages, a larger share of the product, and so approach our ideal law, which demands the wages of labor to be the full value of the product of labor.
3.—The True Function of Competition
When we remember that the most conspicuous aspect of competition is to be seen in the struggle for work and existence continually going on among the wage-workers, the supply of laborers always apparently exceeding the demand and so keeping wages down to an average that scarcely covers subsistence; and when the competition is not confined to one industry, but spreads itself without respect for persons throughout every class of workers who sell their labor, and in every country in which modern capitalism has arisen; when the immediate effects of machinery and all improvements in the methods of production are observed to intensify the competition of laborers with one another, mechanical invention itself proving an irresistible competitor; when the struggle reduces the skilled and the educated to the common level and adds to the uncertainties and insecurity of the wage-earners’ lot, increasing the burden of life by the ever-present dread of failure and starvation,—is it any wonder that competition is looked upon as a monstrous evil, held up to the working classes by social reformers as the source of all their suffering and, together with the whole system of which it is a part, to be forthwith eliminated. Let us admit the fact: competition runs rampant among the toilers, and, despite the efforts of trade unions, determines the inadequate rates of wages they are compelled to accept. But before making up our minds what to do to avert these evils, we must form a clear conception of the nature of the supposed cause. What is competition, how does it arise, where is it limited, and in what manner is it confined? Is it possible to remove it if we learn its origin, or is it one of those natural forces which cannot be overcome and must therefore be reckoned with and made the best of? The effects that we observe in the presence of competition, however undesirable, do not warrant us in rushing at it bullheaded to send it to smithereens; because further evidence is required to show that no other cause contributes to the result and to prove that competition, exclusive of all other forces, is the source of the results we deprecate.
Competition, as it exists among the mass of workers, is, with good reason, denounced and condemned. When through capitalist enterprise in the expansion of business and creation of new industries workers are in demand and competition for labor runs up wages, is it still an object of suspicion from the laborer’s standpoint? If, by such a process, wages coincide with the value of the laborer’s product, is competition his deadly enemy? When, with the accumulation of capital, competition vastly increases not only the power but the scale of production, makes wealth more plentiful and drives the capitalists, merchants, and other traders to lower the price of all commodities, can it be denied that the result is beneficial to the wage-earners? We are told that competition among the capitalists leads also to low wages, to lying, adulteration, and all manner of deception; that it is responsible for the miserable wages of sales-girls and other women workers in our cities that throw them by the thousands on the streets to eke out a living. Also it is said that competition is the parent of monopoly, that it drives the capitalists to combine, and gives us the trusts by means of which they rob the people with impunity.
But this kind of reasoning is superficial. The law of equal freedom gives every man the right to carry on his activities in any way he may choose so long as nobody else is forcibly prevented from doing likewise. His liberty to produce, to sell, and to make contracts with whomsoever among free men chooses to agree with him cannot lightly be set aside; it is the very essence of freedom’s law, which we must either reject altogether or else admit that those things are to be allowed. The right to property entails the power to dispose of it. Hence, the fundamental principle in competition we have already seen the justice of and established. Competition cannot exist without freedom; where it is assailed today, a close analysis reveals, not the evil effect of competition, but the need of more liberty.
Any theory of society that implies the downfall of competition is in the same position as moral notions that proclaim the negation of self and seek through universal unselfishness, which, they say, should be the guiding principle of each individual’s conduct, to attain social perfection. The fatality of this is exemplified in the history of Christianity, which, after nineteen hundred years of experiment in reconciling the theory with individual practice, leaves the mainspring of character and conduct precisely the same as before,—that is, selfish. Egoism is demonstrably a natural, necessary, and wholly ineradicable force, which may be directed but never destroyed. Competition is simply the same force in the economic field. It is the necessary outcome of the relations of men with one another; the more pronounced it is, the freer they become. To eliminate it is neither possible nor desirable, but to direct it is within the sphere of intelligence. Like every other force that arises naturally and results from known conditions, it serves a purpose so essential and beneficial that no artificially arranged substitute can replace it or perform its work.
What essential function, then, in the social economy does competition serve? Remember, it is but a means to an end, and as such alone must be judged. That end is for each individual to find his most fitting place in society. We shall presently see that all the conditions essential to complete competition are not now fulfilled, and therefore the ideal results of its realization can neither be expected nor obtained. The individuals composing society do not yet find the sphere to which they are best adapted, or, to use an old metaphor, round men get thrust into square holes and square men wriggle in holes that are round. The right man in the right place is a worthy ideal and the more general the action of competition the more is this ideal fulfilled. Indeed the degree in which this function is attained is the measure of the value of competition and its only justification.
If we attempt to imagine a society without competition and the attendant phenomena of supply, demand, money, and price, we must either blot out from our minds the great complex communities of modern civilization with their unconscious independence, or else invent some hitherto unknown mechanism which will inadequately replace and fulfil the functions performed by them in the world today. Every Utopian and Communistic scheme formulated that attempts to do without the economic competitive forces replaces them by a reactionary and insufferable hierarchy, or else, like the Communist Anarchists, ignores the necessity for any machinery to adjust economic activities to their ends, leaving the choice between a newly evolved competitive arrangement and some form of authoritarian regulation, the force of power or of numbers, autocracy or mobocracy. Any theory of society that denies competition as one of its corner-stones is bound to replace it by an artificial coercive power (it cannot be replaced by any natural un-coercive force), as do the State Socialists, or else involve itself in the same contradiction and absurdity that cripples the school of Communists just mentioned, who, while denying that competition is indispensable, believe in individual freedom, the natural outcome of which, as we have seen, is competition. For, if they proclaim liberty and ignore the need for an economic mechanism, which competition, etc., now supplies, they exalt a chaotic and unbalanced condition to the dignity of an ideal; otherwise, they must face the issue and admit the need of economic order which arises from the action of competitive forces in a state of individual freedom. In face of this economic necessity the Communists are logically compelled to either stand with the authoritarians, accept a chaotic ideal, or admit a competitive basis as the only machinery for securing economic order in a free society.
I have already indicated the need of ascertaining whether the evil effects of competition arise under all the circumstances and different phases in which its working is observed, before we can proclaim it to be the real and only cause of such evils, or attempt to cure them by its overthrow. But a little thought and unbiased inquiry at once show us that only under certain conditions is competition opposed to the welfare of the laborer, and that in its widest operation it is wholly beneficent in its effects. Every modern improvement that makes life easier and raises the condition of the masses, all the methods that facilitate wealth production and distribution, the countless advantages of this over all preceding generations of men, can be traced to the breakdown of status and privilege and consequent growth, intensity, and general comprehensiveness of competition. It is the only known antidote to social stagnation, the mainspring of industrial progress, the whip that drives slothful humanity towards general well-being and happiness. What seem its shortcomings are really traceable to its restriction through various causes. The supply of labor in channels where it appears to always exceed demand will be found to be due to removable causes maintained by special interests upheld by law and authority, and only possible because of the ignorance of the victims. The demand for labor in like manner is limited, the natural channels for adjusting the activities of the producers to their needs are by custom and law choked up, the means made subservient to class interests, and thus competition is one-sided, its benefits diminished and the main purpose ignored. Institutions that maintain land monopoly, creating artificial values which without legal instrument could not exist, erect the mechanism of exchange, which becomes more and more important with the development of industry and trade, into a close monopoly, permit wealth to flow toward the idlers, and fail to apportion rewards to the value of services performed,—such institutions are the disturbing elements in the way of a rational society and must be laid bare, their precise nature and action understood, and their uselessness and vicious influence established, before intelligent reform is possible.
4.—Limitations of the Effect of Competition on Wages.
All Socialists and most labor reformers assert that competition as an industrial force is destructive of the interests of the working class, and believe that by its elimination alone can the laborer become free. A clear analysis of the working of competition, its effects and limitations, does not sustain this view. To the absence of competition, as before intimated, we may with equal reason charge the economic disabilities of the wage-workers. As in other errors of Socialist economics, I believe that this one is derived from the orthodox expounders of political economy. Competition is assumed by them to be in perfect operation under what they are pleased to accept as industrial freedom in modern capitalistic society. Production and exchange are conducted in accordance with this principle, which operates with no less force in the realm of distribution. But, while we need not dispute the motive power of competition in capitalist production and exchange, when it comes to the distribution of wealth and the determination of the laborers’ share no such general principle prevails. Yet the economists assume its existence, and thereupon justify the present result of distribution and wage system, while the Socialists find fault with distribution and the unjust reward of labor, and denounce competition as the source of the evil. At this point begins the confusion of ideas on the subject. Atmospheric pressure is equal to some fifteen pounds to the square inch, and no evil results, because it is distributed equally from every side; but once let this equality of pressure be set aside, and the force of atmospheric weight at once becomes dangerous. In theory competition with the economists is like the normal pressure of air,—it is perfect when acting in all directions; but in reality it never is so,—a fact they too often forget. Moreover, it is impossible that competition could fulfil the theory under any conditions that have ever existed. Certainly the present system is far from such a consummation. So that those who exalt competition as a perfect economic regulator and those who assail it as the cause of existing wrongs are equally under a delusion.
A narrow view of the subject is displayed by those who on seeing that low wages are connected with a particular aspect of competition, attack the whole principle in all its relations and demand its abolition, without studying the other elements that affect the price of labor and determine the extent of the operation of competition itself. So that, instead of treating a primary and natural force inseparable from the free relations of men as the source of the robbery of labor, a broader view would reveal monopoly in its various forms propped up by authority, restriction of industry and the demand for labor chiefly through an inadequate medium of exchange, as more potent elements in the case.
The limited scope of competition under present conditions in the problem of securing the just reward of labor has been noted by a few economists. While it is practically inoperative between different industrial grades, it is unduly intensified between the members of each class, especially in the lower ranks of labor, wherein supply is artificially maintained beyond the effective demand and wages at the lowest point. Education, social position, and privileges arising out of the command of wealth determine the degree of competition to which the members of each class are exposed. Differences of income, except within the same industrial grade, are due neither to general competition nor the economic value of the services rendered. The higher grades have a monopoly of advantages not possessed by the classes below, which serves to explain the want of relation between the utility of services and their reward. Hence this social monopoly depending on the monopoly of wealth tends to defeat competition and prevents the equalization of the benefits it would otherwise produce.
This view is, however, applicable only to a transitional stage, and tends to become less important with the progress even of capitalist society. In America it is of less account than in England, though competition there continually grows more effective. Education as commonly understood has become of less value in earning a living than the ability to perform almost any kind of manual labor. While no less requisite than formerly, it is now but an adjunct to some sort of specialized training, and, as mere education in the academic sense, has no market value except in pedagogy. A literary vocation is worth less from the pecuniary standpoint than hod-carrying, taking, not the rare specialists whose big earnings are very exceptional, but the combined returns of all who follow it for a living. Owing to the wide facilities open to almost all classes for acquiring the usual medical or legal training, these professions, reckoning all who are in them, compare unfavorably with the average earnings of a skilled mechanic. In Germany and France the glut in the professions is still greater than in the United States. Such are the leveling tendencies of a more general competition. Not the grade or calling that will in future count, but the individual qualities of each in the earning of a livelihood. Specialists in any branch whose services are of great utility in the conditions at the time prevailing, men of genius, great organizers, orators at the bar, and all whose peculiar qualifications supply excessive and intense needs must as at present, however great be the economic reforms, secure to themselves remuneration phenomenally high. I cannot accept the usual Socialistic view, not uncommon among Anarchists, that inequalities of this kind will disappear.
The wages these classes obtain for their services are not likely, even under much freer conditions than now prevail, to be brought down by competition to the common level; though average work not specialized into individual monopolies must inevitably become equalized in value and remuneration. The effects of competition with regard to commodities may with safety be postulated, but not in the case of men. To identify labor and wages with commodities and their prices is the source of much confusion in theories on the subject. Nearly all the economists have done so, and with their economic men travestied the method and purpose of scientific investigation. Karl Marx, though setting up as a critic of the classic and vulgar teachers, in working out his special theory adopts most of their pseudo-laws, treating labor and commodities as economically identical and subject to the same laws; while in the parts of his work where his theory is not under discussion he recognizes this and many other fallacies,—such, for example, as the reduction of all labor to a quantitative standard measured in hours of work,—which are essential to the elaboration of the doctrine of surplus value.
 I use the word natural here in the sense of being free from artificial and unnecessary conditions—anti-normal—statist; of course everything that is may be called natural.
 Since this was written we have had examples in the Ann Arbor, New Orleans, and other cases of the true function of the bench in administering the law between labor and capital. Even the laws enacted with much flourish of trumpets and flapping of labor reformers’ wings against capital in the interest of the people are with their usual impartiality interpreted by the legal parasites to the utter damnation of the workingman.
 See No. 272 for preceding chapter.