The Spirit of the Age is a really remarkable paper. I’ve been aware of it for some time, as the place where William B. Greene’s “Human Pantheism” appeared, and as one of the projects of William Henry Channing, who, like Greene and Orestes Brownson, was enthusiastic about the work of Proudhon’s rival, Pierre Leroux. Charles A. Dana’s work on Proudhon was published there as well, in the revised form that was eventually published separately. As I’ve turned so much of my attention to Joshua King Ingalls—for reasons which I trust are plain enough—The Spirit of the Age has assumed a new significance, as the successor to both the spiritualist Univercoelum and the associationist Harbinger, as well, really, as the radical transcendentalist journal, The Present, which was an earlier Channing project. What we find in the pages of The Spirit of the Age is a very interesting convergence of early “mutualisms.” Channing, Ingalls, Dana, and Albert Brisbane all made important contributions to the paper, and, despite significant differences between their proposals, it is probably not too much to suggest that they were all working at the same project, with means and influences that overlapped considerably. Greene was represented by the essay on transcendentalism as well as by one of his mutual banking petitions. And his brother-in-law, Francis George Shaw was represented by another proposal, for a “Mutual Bank of Discount and Deposit,” which had appeared in Hunt’s Merchants’ Magazine. That makes at least four advocates of one form or another of mutual banking. Brisbane and Ingalls both proposed “mutual township” models. Channing translated Leroux, as he had in The Present, and published translations from Proudhon’s Confessions of a Revolutionary. There’s a lot of stuff in these pages. Today’s addition to the blog is the first of an early series by J. K. Ingalls on political economy.
Note: Ingalls was prone to using the term “falses” to refer to social wrongs and moral inconsistencies. Apparently, the term was common among Swedenborgians. The details of Ingalls’ religious and spiritualist associations are emerging slowly from that literature, but here we have another clue to his influences.
MAN AND PROPERTY;
Organization is the general order, and its nature can only be affected by the character of the constituent elements. Its duration and service will be commensurate with the perfectibility of its materials, and the harmony of the combining forces. While mediation is therefore of great importance, it is not of the highest; for with, or without mediation, the combination will be formed. It is not so certain, however, that the exact proportions will be observed, or that all foreign and deleterious substances will be excluded. Any premature movement then, to realize association, before the proportions and mutual affinities of all the elements are ascertained, cannot fail to result in disaster. To this investigation there must be the utmost scope and freedom, or sight may be lost of some important principle of the science.
Impressed with this truth, the writer has thought to contribute his mite, towards the promotion of scientific, philosophic, and Christian views of the rights and relations signified above. The learned world has had enough of systems of political economy, more philosophy, &c., could they have taught it natural rights and social duty. It must be remembered, however, that these men, learned and good as most of them were, explain the economy, morality, and apprehensions of the past, not of the present. It is possible, that a difference exists between generalizing the practical morality and social institutions of the ages, and an appeal to natural laws and impartial right. At any rate, the latter, not the former, is the course which the reader of these numbers is requested to pursue. It is useless to think of patching up old worn out garments with new cloth, or of storing away new wine in old skins; we must begin de novo; sit down like children divested of all prejudices of sect or party, or case, or separate in these, and inquire of nature and of conscience. No approval shall be valued, no condemnation shall be feared, which flows from another condition of mind. In order to secure a full comprehension of the subject, and a just conception of the relation these question sustain to each other, they are represented in this complex form.
We need not refer to books, to show that relatively, at least, there is no proper apprehension of the rights of man or of property. Our daily experience convinces us, that somewhere exists a gross misunderstanding of the essential qualities of justice, in reference to men’s relations and dealings with each other. The universal conscience of the world bears witness that it will not do to be Christian more than one day in seven, and even then only in a formal way; also that business is not to be confounded at all with friendly and social intercourse, as the maxims of each are essentially different. Everywhere, the right of property is good against the right of man. Throughout the country it is acknowledge that the slave has the right of a man to freedom, and yet our civil polity is such, that the right of property, vested in the master, retains him in bondage, or brings him back to it, whenever he presumes to use his natural powers to assert his natural rights. The master has property invested in hum, and in the eye of practical law as expounded in this land, the right in that transcends all other rights.
When so glaring an instance as this meets us at the very threshold, the reader will not be surprised to find similar indications at every step as we proceed in the investigation. Though we may not find slavery in the precise form here presented; yet the same unjust subjection of the man to the wealth, which forms the basis of all slavery in civilized nations, will be seen to pervade the civil and business affairs of all christendom. Nor are the results essentially different. Whether the inverted relation of these rights enables the man of property to own my person, or the products of my labor, the injustice is potentially as great; because it is for the products of my labor alone, that possession of my person is sought. It may be remarked in this connection, that the most arbitrary master is not able to compel, under the chattel system more menial and debasing service, that he capitalist is able to secure, under the higher system of wages. The contrast, ultimately, between a smarting back and a famishing stomach, may not appear so very great. The same power of property and disregard of man, which enables the master to realize some hundred or two of dollars from the labor of the slave, above his own support, enables the man of equal nominal wealth to realize an equal or greater income. Now as all income is the result of labor, his property has worked for him the same or a better result, than the property of the slaveholder, and robbed the laborer of an equal proportion of the results of his toil.
But it was not intended to canvass the claims, or order of the reforms, indicated by these evils. It should be remembered, however, that all radical evils rest upon a common foundation, a disregard of the great principles of human brotherhood and reciprocal justice. To bring man up to an enlightened conception and love of these, is to secure the object sought by the projection of all fragmentary reforms. It must here be assumed that the intellect of the race is now capable of something more than partial views and purblind experiments. Empiricism needs longer trial in the social system, no more than in our systems of medical science. It is more competent to form a new order on scientific principles, than to remodel the old, by everlasting patchwork and attempts at approximation. Out object should be, to inquire in to the essential right and truth of things, for a natural system of civil and social organization; not to speculate as to what may be, to-day, or to-morrow, in accordance with the ever changing standard of the world’s indurated conscience. Without any attempt to decide what is right, or what is wrong, under the reign of Mammon, without intending to censure or praise individuals or classes, who find themselves surrounded by circumstances, which compel submission to some extent, where all serve, it may be inquire, what is wrong, and what would be right beneath the rule of God and fraternity. This latter be our aim; and elevated to a position of judgment, forget the lower questions of self-interest, or the success of an insolated sect, party or class. In this light alone should the “question of property” be discussed, as it regards the natural right of man, and just association of interests and distribution of the products of labor. This question covers the whole ground, where material difficulties are likely to arise; and once defined and fully comprehended and recognized, the process of organization would flow spontaneously from the new relations and conditions; because order, and not anarchy, is the divine method always. Anarchy itself may be regarded, indeed as an order, though of transition. This question practically underlies all the disputed points in politics, socialism, and industrial reforms. The organization of labor has no essential obstacle, but what exists in an ignorance or disregard of the generally received maxims of right, in their application to modes of distribution. Partnership can do nothing effectual for the laborer, or even the man of skill, while capital is allowed to share in that distribution; since the labor and talent, requisite to carry on a business, is very generally possessed, while the capital is so confined to a few hands. Antagonism must exist, as long as a false principle is involved, whether it be in the world or in the phalanx. Indeed the world itself would be a combination of infinite harmonies, were it not for the falses of its organization, which are working our their results in giant wrong, in wars, monopolies, systems of slavery and of wages.
Not to anticipate what is to be the second topic of discussion, but it may be remarked here, that the claim of capital to divide with labor, rests ultimately on the same foundations, with every species of oppression, which the world has heretofore shaken off, and which we feel so fortunate in having escaped. It is also very natural, for capital as well as labor to seek modifications of the system; since it continuance, in the present form, must bring ultimate universal bankruptcy to the business community, as well as want, deprivation and death to the producer. It is not the first time that wrong has sought compromise with its victim. The ancient, robber, who lived by plunder of the defenseless peasantry, soon discovered that his cruelty was fatal to himself as well as his victims. He therefore sought a mediation, sparing their lives to enslave their bodies. This was chattel slavery. Still further enlightened, he compromises again, and agreed, not only to spare the toiling from death and servitude, but to protect them from more barbarous foes than himself, simply in consideration of rent and military service. This was Feudalism, the second form of slavery, giving birth to the system of wages, under which we live. This last was also a mediation, where he becomes not only a protector and patron, but apparent benefactor, giving employment and rewarding industry! But uncertainty attaches now to all investments. The inhuman lie, working its way through cheats, and deception, begetting disappointment and poverty, where it promised plenty, has come up from the lowest even to the highest, and is now staring its authors in the face. In this emergency, what more available than another compromise, by which the old barbarous plunderer, divested of its outward name and form, but of none of its essential properties or aims, may be sent away on another world-tour, and this the day of judgment be again postponed, till the accomplishment of another cycle! Upon the promulgation of proper sentiment on this subject now depends the social and political character of the coming ages; and even their moral and religions; for a healthy morality, or exalted religion, cannot abide a habitual disregard of social and civil justice.
To incite attention to the subject canvassed in the succeeding numbers, the following general propositions are here offered. 1. To reward capital, is a direct inversion of natural right, as the right of man must be acknowledge paramount to that of property, and property cannot appropriate a portion of the products of labor, without asserting a better or superior right to it. 2. Any system, securing a premium to capital, however small, must result in the want, degradation and servitude of one class, and in bestowing unearned wealth and power upon another, the ultimation of which shall be general bankruptcy and ruin. This is capable of being proved, not only by the general principles of reasoning, but by mathematical demonstration. A thorough acquaintance with the subject of capital and labor as now existing, cannot lead to another conclusion. A few of the features it presents to the writer’s thought, will be here submitted. They may suggest a train of reflection, which will be serviceable in giving force to the conclusions, we shall arrive at, by a process of argumentation. The mere possession of a few thousand dollars, is rewarded now, the same as a life of industry. If a man have three or four thousand, to his idleness there is distributed the same amount as to the hard, life-long toil of a laboring man. Some ten or twenty thousands are equal to the best talent in the country; and the owners are rewarded for the merit of possessing it, as much as society gives its best teachers, engineers, builders, &c. If this were a matter merely of favor towards them, it would not appear so objectionable; but in order to be able to pay them so much for idleness, society has grasped the productions of labor; and, having no other resource, perpetuates the wrong, by whatever deceptive force he is able to wield.
Suppose a man of ordinary business talents to realize seven hundred dollars a year, and pay seven per cent on ten thousand dollars, to do business with. Then the reward of capital is equal to that of the skill and labor of the man. Nor in partnership, where dividend were made to capital, could the result be different. Suppose, that in place of that ten thousand dollars, the capitalists owned the man, how could be obtain from his exertions any greater advantage, than now accrues from the working of this principle? We shall see, ere we have done, that to reward capital at all, is to confound all distinctions between men and things, and reduce the human being, not only to a chattel, but a machine. Suppose the yearly income of a banker, from his money, to be a hundred thousand dollars. As this is all the result of labor or skill not his own, and is equal to the earning of about five hundred laborers, in what sense is his virtual relation to labor different from that of the owner of five hundred slaves?
Again; suppose a man’s property to consist of horses or oxen. In ordinary exchange of labor or of products, their labor is cancelled by the labor of men. In the joint stock association, the laboring ox and the laboring man would be dealt with on the same principle, nor would the actual result be essentially different, if the capitalist owned the men instead of the brutes, except the increased responsibility it would throw upon him.
An ordinary house in the City of New York will rent for as much as the wages of a man, and consequently will command that labor in the market. If the laws which create the necessity of the tenants, and enforce the collection of rents, gave the landlord power to buy a man with his money, in the place of the house, his relation to labor would, in no respect, be different from what it now is. If the premises are employed for legitimate purposes, to the amount of the rent, deducting repairs, &c., the labor of the tenants suffer what the French call exploitation. If used to purposes most destructive to public health and morals, the relation of the landlord is the same, and would not be different in result, if he was allowed by law to own men and women, and for personal gain to sell them to the infamy. In the name of brotherhood, it is asked, what meaning can there be in “cooperation,” “mutual guarantee,” and other cheering watchwords of socialism, when the mere chance of birth, or precarious fortunes, in a most antagonistic state, determines the position of numbers, as entitled to live in luxury, without toil, or to labor on a plane with cattle and machines! If the reader will patiently follow the discussion, in the numbers with are to follow he will be able to decide for himself on the correctness and importance of the general propositions.