William Henry Van Ornum

Chronological Bibliography – William Henry Van Ornum


  • Co-Operation W. H. Van Ornum. Inter Ocean, (Chicago, IL) Wednesday, September 08, 1875; pg. 2; Issue 143;
  • Conservators’ League An Address to Business Men. The Daily Inter Ocean, (Chicago, IL) Sunday, June 27, 1886; pg. 7; Issue 95
  • “Call a Halt,” The Daily Inter Ocean, (Chicago, IL) Tuesday, April 03, 1888; pg. 4; Issue 10
  • William Henry Van Ornum, “Wheelbarrow and Land Values,” The Open Court 3, no. 80 (March 7, 1889): 1506.
  • The Australian Ballot (Letter to the editor) W. H. Van Ornum. The Daily Inter Ocean (Chicago, IL) Tuesday, May 27, 1890; Issue 64
  • William Henry Van Ornum, “The Study and Needs of Sociology,” The Arena, XXIV, 3 (September 1900), 328.
  • William Henry Van Ornum, “A Problem in Sociology,” The Arena 25, no. 1 (January 1901): 42-47.
  • Co-operation and Capitalism Mixed. Twentieth Century. September 7, 1893. 12-13.
  • William Henry Van Ornum, “Co-operation.—I,” The Twentieth Century 12, no. 19 (May 10, 1894): 5-6.
  • William Henry Van Ornum, “Co-operation.—In England.—II,” The Twentieth Century;; 12, no. 20 (May 17, 1894): 7-8.
  • William Henry Van Ornum, “Co-operation.—Its Ideal.—III,” The Twentieth Century 12, no. 22 (May 31, 1894): 7-8.
  • William Henry Van Ornum, “Co-operation.—Ancient Co-operation.—IV,” The Twentieth Century 12, no. 23 (June 7, 1894): 7-8.
  • William Henry Van Ornum, “Co-operation.—Some Experiments.—V,” The Twentieth Century 12, no. 24 (June 14, 1894): 7-9.
  • William Henry Van Ornum, “Co-operation.—Various Schemes.—VI,” The Twentieth Century 12, no. 25 (June 21, 1894): 8-10.
  • William Henry Van Ornum, “Co-operation.—Various Schemes.—VII,” The Twentieth Century 12, no. 26 (June 28, 1894): 7-9.
  • William Henry Van Ornum, “Co-operation.—European Credit Banks.—VIII,” The Twentieth Century 13, no. 1 (July 5, 1894): 7-8.
  • William Henry Van Ornum, “Co-operation.—European Credit Banks.—IX,” The Twentieth Century 13, no. 2 (July 12, 1894): 7-8.
  • William Henry Van Ornum, “Co-operation.—European Credit Banks.—X,” The Twentieth Century 13, no. 3 (July 19, 1894): 8-10.
  • William Henry Van Ornum, “Co-operation.—Friendly Societies.—XI,” The Twentieth Century 13, no. 4 (July 26, 1894): 7-8.
  • William Henry Van Ornum, “Co-operation.—Historical Summary.—XII,” The Twentieth Century 13, no. 5 (August 2, 1894): 7-9.
  • William Henry Van Ornum, “Co-operation.—A Foundation.—XIII,” The Twentieth Century 13, no. 6 (August 9, 1894): 7-9.
  • William Henry Van Ornum, “Co-operation.—A Plan.—XIV,” The Twentieth Century 13, no. 7 (August 16, 1894): 7-9.
  • William Henry Van Ornum, “Co-operation.—Dangers.—XV,” The Twentieth Century 13, no. 8 (August 23, 1894): 7-9.
  • William Henry Van Ornum, “Co-operation.—Development.—XVI,” The Twentieth Century 13, no. 9 (August 30, 1894): 8-10.
  • William Henry Van Ornum, “Co-operation.—Acquirement and Operation of Public Enterprises.—XVII,” The Twentieth Century 13, no. 10 (September 6, 1894): 7-10.
  • William Henry Van Ornum, “Co-operation.—The Co-operative Commonwealth.—XVIII,” The Twentieth Century 13, no. 11 (September 13, 1894): 6-8.
  • William Henry Van Ornum, “Co-operation.—Conclusion.—XIX,” The Twentieth Century 13, no. 12 (September 20, 1894): 6-7.
  • William Henry van Ornum, “What is Anarchy?The Twentieth Century 18 no. 18 (May 1, 1897): 11-12.
  • Mating or Marrying, Which?” (1898)
  • William Henry Van Ornum, “The Study and Needs of Sociology,” The Arena 24, no. 3 (September 1900): 328-336.
  • Why Government at All? (1892)
  • Local Labor. The Daily Inter Ocean, (Chicago, IL) Friday, July 02, 1886; pg. 7; Issue 100-101 [Conservators’ League]
  • Various Meetings. The Daily Inter Ocean, (Chicago, IL) Thursday, July 29, 1886; pg. 8; Issue 127 [Conservative League of America]
  • Various Meetings. The Daily Inter Ocean, (Chicago, IL) Friday, June 10, 1887; pg. 6; Issue 78 [Land and Labor Club]
  • The Rev. Dr. M’glynn. The Daily Inter Ocean, (Chicago, IL) Monday, June 27, 1887; pg. 8; Issue 95
  • Political Notes. The Daily Inter Ocean, (Chicago, IL) Friday, February 08, 1889; pg. 7; Issue 319
  • Brevities. The Daily Inter Ocean, (Chicago, IL) Sunday, January 04, 1891; pg. 7; Issue 285

Miscellaneous Articles


THE need of a science of social relations becomes painfully manifest the moment we realize that there is nothing today that meets this requirement. Almost all the social questions that vex the people and threaten the existence of social order would quickly disappear if there were formulated a body of scientific principles based on known facts and in harmony with the nature, aspirations, and tendencies of the people who constitute all society. I will try to make this clear.

Science is defined by Webster as “knowledge duly arranged, and referred to general truths and principles on which it is founded, and from which it is derived; a branch of learning considered as having certain completeness, philosophical knowledge, profound knowledge, complete knowledge, true knowledge.” This is what I mean by science; and this is what I plead for when I present the needs of the time for a science of sociology. It must be a science that stands or falls, at all times, upon the truth or falsity of its proclaimed facts and principles. A truth needs not the sanction of authority, the protection of law, or the safeguard of orthodoxy. These things are but an offense, a stench in the nostrils of truth. Whenever any proposition needs these supports, it is time to bring it to the bar of truth and call upon it to defend itself against the charge of error. It is only error—only falsehood that needs any sort of artificial crutch to lean upon outside of itself.

Now, taking sociology to mean “that branch of philosophy which treats of human society,” it is evident that as yet there is no such thing as a science of sociology. There is nothing within the realm of human knowledge hearing upon social relations that in any way answers the requirements as to philosophic truth and completeness which are called for by our definition of science. It is true that there exists a body of teaching which is given in some of the colleges and universities, under the name of sociology; but it lacks every element of science, as is readily seen even on slight examination. Nor is it possible that this should be different under the circumstances. The revenues of present institutions of learning, with rare exceptions, depend upon endowments made up of gifts, actual or prospective, from wealthy men who furnish the principal resources of these institutions. The governing bodies, the trustees, hold their places as the agents of their rich patrons, or else as suppliants begging for endowments with which to carry on their work. This necessarily makes them subservient to wealth as such, and prevents all teaching in those institutions that would offend those actual or prospective donors by attacking their private accumulations or the privileges by which they were obtained. It is obvious, then, that no matter how conscientious and faithful may be the instructors in those endowed institutions, or institutions seeking endowments, no body of teaching bearing upon social adjustments can ever prevail that tends to lessen the power of the rich over the poor or to prevent the accumulation of their riches. And it is just as impossible that a science of human society, the application of which, in practice, would equally preserve and protect all the members of that society, by providing for the needs of all without favor, should ever originate in such an environment.

To show that this is no fanciful statement of a remote and improbable contingency, I have only to point to the long list of professors who have been dismissed from their places within the last ten years, for teaching social doctrines at variance with the supposed interests of men of wealth, or who have espoused the cause of the poor against their rich oppressors. These cases have been too many and too conspicuous to require more than a general mention. In few of them has there been more than a pretense that the action taken was for other reasons than to gain the favor of those who make endowments to institutions of learning. When we come to the fundamental principles on which a science of sociology must be built, if we are ever to have such a science, it will be seen how vital it is to the wealthy and privileged classes not only that no such science should be taught but that there should be no such science to be taught.

That which is taught in the schools as social science is a jumble of partial facts and unsupported theories under the heads of “science of government,” “political economy,” finance, and “social problems.” The social problems include a few harmless things about wages, trades-unions, monopolies, pauperism, and criminality, all tending to foster the idea of some essential superiority and virtue on the part of the rich and justifying their rulership over the poor. They are harmless in that they do not endanger the privileges of the rich, but vicious and hurtful to the extent that they promote false notions of human relationships and hinder the development of better social adjustments. The science of government, so far as it is a science at all, is the science of rulership—of the mastery of a part of the people over others; the science of spoliation—of greed and of exploitation. It is based upon the principle of getting the utmost away from everybody else and giving the least possible in return. It is the philosophy of “dog eat dog.” Historically and philosophically, it is the direct antithesis of freedom and equality, upon which all scientific society must rest.

Their political economy and finance are no better. They make no pretense to economic justice. The schools are only propagating-grounds for spreading economic heresies that violate every principle of righteousness in the interest of the rich. Here are laid the foundations of schemes for taxing away the substance of the poor so subtly and silently that the poor shall never suspect that they are being robbed. And here are taught doctrines of finance that perpetuate the slavery of debt upon the whole world. So that there is no such thing as a science of sociology; and if such a science is ever to be constructed it must be done outside of the recognized institutions of learning.

It may be objected that all this takes no account of the great number of institutions for higher education under the control of the State and municipal authorities, and which are supported by taxation; but wealth governs here just as absolutely, only in a different way, as it does in those privately endowed. The contributions of the rich to the campaign funds of the political parties give to them the same influence over political administrations that they enjoy in the administration of endowed colleges. The one concern, greater than all others, of every political party or administration is to continue itself in power or to displace its opponent. To do this it must have money and lots of it. And those who furnish the money are the rich and privileged, who dictate the terms on which they make their contributions. No party can, except under rare circumstances, win an election and attain to power without the favor of these large contributors; and after it has obtained the power its only hope of keeping it is to maintain its standing with those contributors. Therefore, wealth exerts the same influence in the one class of institutions that it does in the other. In one case it operates through the college trustee, while in the other it is through the political boss; but in each the control is equally effective. It is idle to hope for relief from institutions controlled by either of these agencies.

This is not to blame either the authorities or instructors in these institutions. We can condemn the system without passing judgment on the men. If we tolerate the system we cannot justly find fault with those who take advantage of it. This condition of affairs must continue so long as the colleges and universities depend upon present methods of raising their revenues. The system of endowments and State support has outlived its usefulness. It has become an abuse. It no longer promotes human progress by increasing the facilities for education; but it hampers progress by limiting the opportunities for obtaining an education. It is only a small percentage at best, and that percentage is fast decreasing, of the people who can go to college and get what is termed a liberal education. With an adequate science of sociology, something that would be recognized as bearing the manifest stamp of truth, this would be changed. Society would quickly shape itself to meet the requirements. The privileges of the rich only continue by reason of the ignorance of the people. Once the nature and effect of those privileges became generally known they would be brought to a speedy termination. The people would no longer give up their earnings to support an idle and useless class. Instead of an almost universal poverty there would come a universal prosperity in which all could indulge their utmost ambitions in the line of study. There was a time when endowments promoted the spread of knowledge—when they were necessary to the growth and development of education; but that time has passed. When the production of wealth was slow and difficult and was mainly carried on by manual labor, it was only a few who could afford the time and expense required to obtain an education. The work of enlarging the field of human knowledge through original research had to be left to the rich. A leisure class was necessary. But now, when the machine has taken the place of human muscles, when steam and electricity furnish the motive power, and when labor has been subdivided until a few months at most, and often a few days, suffice for the acquirement of the skill needed for most of the mechanical occupations, there is no longer need of a leisure class as distinguished from a working class. Privilege has no longer a reason to be.

I shall be asked how it is possible to provide for the support of public institutions of learning except it be by taxation. It is not possible now. Things must go on much as they are until a better understanding is reached. A change can only come as a result of a distribution of wealth in which all shall share after a more scientific system has been found and applied. This may consist only in the destruction of class privileges whereby a few now exercise so preponderating an influence in public affairs. It is impossible to tell beforehand just what changes will come as a result of certain other changes. The political machine that we call the State may be abolished entirely; or it may slough off its present characteristics of force and violence and preserve only its administrative features. Or, again, a new business organization may develop from and through the cooperative needs of the people that will supply all the requirements of a public administration without restriction of the freedom of individuals. This is already done in a measure by the existing stock companies, which administer the affairs of the members without interfering with the personal liberty of those members. But one thing is certain—that, whatever form the new organization shall take on, the needs of the people will determine what that form shall be. At present I think the wise thing is to encourage private institutions of learning that depend upon fees of tuition for their revenues; and then bend every exertion to destroy privilege and increase the resources of the people, and therefore their ability to meet expenditures. Their resources will increase just in proportion as the power of privilege to expropriate their substance is decreased. The development of a science of sociology is the one thing needed to make plain the methods by which this can be accomplished.

On entering upon the study of sociology, from any possible starting-point, one is immediately struck with the multitude of theories that prevail in every branch into which the subject divides itself. Writers almost innumerable have formulated peculiar notions on special subjects, according to their own varied interests or inclinations, with slight regard to their bearing upon others. With rare exceptions these notions are the outgrowth of class prejudices accented by a dense ignorance of the facts and conditions in other classes than their own, which easily magnify the importance of minor facts and principles while missing entirely the greater and more general truths. In this way there has come to be a seeming wilderness of theories and speculations without order or harmony, oftentimes the most contradictory. Thus all manner of cure-alls are offered to the public, each warranted to correct every social ill and usher in a social millennium if only the plans formulated by its particular author are adopted and applied. As a result, we have the people divided into warring factions under different names, each struggling for the mastery, and conducting their warfare in a spirit of partisanship and intolerance well calculated to hide the truth rather than reveal it. And, still worse, we have the professed followers of the great Teacher—who, more than all others, laid down the fundamental principles on which all social science must rest—trying to care our social ills by an individual salvation: putting an individual plaster on a social sore.

There is nothing discouraging in this condition of things. On the contrary, it is a hopeful sign. This is the condition that must precede the formulation of a science of sociology. In this way all the facts and theories must be developed and brought to the attention of the real workers in the scientific field, who must find, by large generalizations, the underlying principles of human association. In the same way the sciences of zoology and botany were made possible. A vast amount of knowledge was collected about the physical structure, characteristics, and habitat of plants, and also of the structure, habits, and life history of the lower animals, before these sciences were possible. The same thing has been true of every other branch of science. It has been necessary that all these special theories on the subject of human relationships should be promulgated in order to compel the coming sociologist to take due account of all the factors in the problem before him.

One of the greatest obstacles in the way of the formulation of a science of sociology has been the problem of harmonizing two well-marked tendencies in human development that are seemingly antagonistic. One is, the aspiration everywhere of mankind toward liberty. In every country and in every age this has been the watchword of all popular uprisings and the stimulus to exalted endeavor. And yet, along with the struggles for the realization of this ideal, has gone another tendency to the enslavement of the individual. This has been a marked characteristic, increasingly so, particularly in industry, during the last hundred years, if not always. There has been a steady increase in the subdivision of labor and the application of machinery whereby each individual produces less and less of the things needed for the satisfaction of his own wants, until no man any longer produces more than an infinitesimal part of anything. Each is becoming more and more dependent upon all the others in the social organism for even the commonest necessaries of life. Along with this tendency has gone the rapid absorption, by a few individuals, of both the natural resources and the instruments of production, without which industry is impossible; so that the mass of the people are being enslaved, through their needs, to a small part of their fellows. Manifestly there can be no science of sociology that does not take these facts into account and does not harmonize them. This is one of the problems that must be mastered before such a science is possible; but it is only one. In the meantime, the facts of social relations must be studied, and taught in such schools as are free to teach them; and the various theories must be brought to the test of criticism until the time shall come when the knowledge shall be systematically arranged.

When a sufficient knowledge of the details has been obtained, some one with a vision broad enough to take in the whole field, and with keen enough insight to distinguish between essentials and non-essentials, will construct a science of sociology—or, at least, furnish a clew that will enable some one else to do it. Other investigators will correct the mistakes of the first, until the science comes to possess all the completeness and unity of botany or zoology. It will then meet the requirements of Webster’s definition already quoted. But it can never spring from the present endowed or State-supported schools and colleges; nor is it likely to be taught in them. When the time arrives that we have such a science, these schools and colleges will have disappeared. Nature has a way of killing any institution when it ceases to minister to human needs; and the killing process, in this case, has already begun, notwithstanding all their wealth and resources. They are getting more and more out of touch and sympathy with the people, which is both the first and final step to their decay. Their wealth cannot save them. The future society must provide for the preservation and sustenance of all the people; and a teaching that fails to give voice to that aspiration will be rejected. A society that fails to do this has no reason to be. And a sociology that formulates the structure of that society must spring from and be taught by agencies independent of endowments, or revenues derived from political sources, as we know politics now. The aspirations of the people toward liberty are certain to be realized.

William Henry Van Ornum.

Chicago, Ill.

  • William Henry Van Ornum, “The Study and Needs of Sociology,” The Arena 24, no. 3 (September 1900): 328-336.


In an article in the September, 1900, Arena, on “The Study and Needs of Sociology,” I mentioned two seemingly antagonistic tendencies in social development—one the aspiration toward freedom, which has been the characteristic of every people in every time, and the other the equally marked tendency toward slavery through the growing dependence of each person upon others for even the commonest necessities of life. These opposite tendencies were noted as one of the problems in sociology that must be studied and harmonized before such a thing as a science of sociology becomes possible. I will now consider that proposition and see if there is a way to solve it. But, first, let us understand what is meant by the tendency to slavery through the growing dependence of each person upon others for the common necessities of life.

The most conspicuous characteristic of our industrial system is the constantly growing subdivision of labor, whereby each occupation divides itself into a multitude of smaller occupations, each more specialized than its predecessor, and giving opportunity for the exercise of more skill in their smaller fields. For instance, it is within the memory of many now living when there were watchmakers: that is, when the watchmaker learned to make a whole watch. It required an apprenticeship of many of the best years of the lives of the artisans to learn their trade at all; and when learned, it was incomplete. The watches turned out by hand were, at best, crude and imperfect. But, as the occupation of watchmaking became more and more specialized and subdivided, so that one person performed less and less of the whole work of making a watch, greater and still greater accuracy of all the parts became possible; watches were made better on the whole, and less time was required both to produce the watch and to learn the trade. Other advantages were also made possible by this means. The greater the subdivision of the labor of watchmaking, the simpler became the different processes; consequently, the application of machinery to the art of watchmaking became more and more possible. This has gone on until almost the entire watch is made by machinery; watches are better and more accurately made; and, for the most part, nobody need spend much time in learning how to make watches. That is to say, the time required to learn how to do the little that any one is called upon to do in the making of watches is so small that any one can learn it in from a few hours to a few days. Of course, expertness only comes by practice; but almost anybody can learn to work in a factory at the making of watches so quickly that the old-time watchmaker would have regarded any person as a fool who should have hinted that such a thing would ever become possible.

The same tendencies noted in the industry of watchmaking are equally marked in every other: The movement toward an extreme subdivision of labor applies to every occupation, calling, and profession; arid, while it has added enormously to the productiveness of labor, it has added scarcely anything to the wages of labor. But, on the contrary, it has made the laborers more and more dependent upon one another and upon their employers for the commonest things of life. No man any longer produces the whole of any one thing that he consumes; and if one were thrown upon his own resources, aside from the possible assistance of others, in almost any part of the habitable world, he would certainly perish.

This mutual dependence of the workers is supplemented by certain social adjustments that have grown up along with the entire industrial system, forming a part of it, and that make that dependence one of almost absolute helplessness. Along with the artisan has developed the master, the owner of the factory and the machinery—the capitalist. He owns, not only the shop and tools and the machinery, but the land from which are taken the raw materials that the worker uses in making the goods he turns out. The new-born babe is scarcely more dependent than the artisan with no right to his tools or to the raw materials necessary to carry on his industry. Unless he can find a master he must starve, even though he is ready and willing to work for anybody that will hire him. And the further this system of industry develops, the more general the application of machinery becomes, and the more productive becomes that labor, the more completely the laborer is in the power of the master. At present his only recourse is in trades unions, which, at best, are wholly inadequate. This is what is meant by the “tendency toward slavery,” above referred to.

Nor is this tendency confined to what is called the working class. It extends to those of every other. There is no liberty for one class that does not extend to all. And there can be no slavery for one that is not shared by all. Human society is an organism that has been developed through ages of evolutionary growth; and, like the members of our physical bodies, all must suffer in sympathy with those afflicted. There is no way in which we can escape that suffering; hence, if we permit the continuance of a wrong that works injury to any member of this social organism, we are all sure to have our full share of that injury to bear. It bears upon us in a thousand ways in which we least expect it; so that the burdens that fall upon the artisans, the workers, are the very ones that bend the backs of every man, woman, and child in the land. Thus this “tendency toward slavery” is one that applies to all the members of our social organism. Contrasting this tendency, everywhere observable, with the love of liberty implanted in every heart, it is evident that there must come a condition of stress, of discontent, of strikes, and all manner of disturbances, and, when the stress becomes great enough, of insurrections and revolutions to break the surroundings and give opportunity for the aspirations toward liberty to find expression.

Why should these things be? Why should not the increased productiveness of labor bring increased comfort and enjoyment to the workers? It may be answered that it does; that the toilers are better housed, better fed, and better clothed than they were a hundred or even fifty years ago. Admit it, and still it proves nothing. Their bettered condition is as nothing compared to the increase in the productiveness of their labor. It is in nowise commensurate with their earnings. It has not even kept pace with the increase in their needs. But the aspiration toward liberty, which at times may sleep, is certain to reawaken and demand such a readjustment as will be more in accordance with those aspirations. There are periods when resistance to tyranny comes easy, when the very atmosphere seems charged with revolution, and when the great mass of men appear to rise as by some mighty impulse to achieve greater liberty. This impulse assumes different forms at different times. At one time it revolts against religious tyranny, at another it seeks freedom of speech and the press, while again it claims political equality. The particular form of the revolt is always determined by the special form of the oppression that for the time bears most heavily upon the people. The indications are that the world is approaching another such an era; but, unlike the others, it aims at economic freedom. The economic subjection already pointed out has become the most conspicuous abuse of our time, or of all times; and the resistance is certain to focus right there. Again, unlike other great epochs, the questions to be settled are economic ones. The struggle will be conducted along economic lines. It is the struggle that will solve the greatest problem in sociology that has ever been presented to the world—the problem of harmonizing the two seemingly opposite tendencies in human evolution: the one toward freedom and the other toward slavery. Let us see if we can make a forecast of that evolution.

The money question has been by far the most prominent question before the people, not only of this country but of the world, for the last twenty-five years. Every civilized country has had an experience with it, and some have been brought to the verge of ruin—this country in 1893, for instance. Its methods are the oldest, the greatest, and the most universal of all the methods of exploitation and oppression in this world. All others are but children of this parent, and are as pygmies by its side. The events of the last ten years have unmasked its subtle ways until it stands before the world without a rival in any age or time in the cruelty of its greed and its unrelenting avarice. Then, too, it has organized its power and fortified itself in the laws of almost every country—until it regards itself, and most others regard it, as invincible. It is just this condition that always precedes the fall of a tyrant. His destruction always comes at the time when he feels the most secure. The oppressor can never so fortify himself as to guard all the lines of approach. This is as true of oppressive institutions as of men. The greatest struggle that the world has ever seen, greatest at least in its outcome, is even now upon us in the economic movement to free the world from its dependence upon the money power, which consists in the world’s being obliged to use its money, and in order to get it to pay interest. The strength of that power is in its monopoly, and arrayed behind that it has every important government in the world. No wonder it feels secure! But “pride goeth before destruction, and a haughty look before a fall.”

Even now business men are beginning to see that money can be made unnecessary in the conduct of business. They are awakening to the fact that when they go to the bank to borrow money they only get the legalized certificates of their own credit —credit that they must have before they go, or they will get no money. They begin to see that every dollar they pay as interest, or discounts, or commissions on their loans, is really so much paid for the privilege of using their own credits— something for which the lender renders no equivalent whatever; and that the lender’s power to take arises wholly from his monopoly of certain tools of trade. Business men are asking themselves if there is not some way whereby they can certify to one another’s credit and arrange for an easy and safe transfer of those credits without being compelled to use legalized certificates that somebody else controls. The moneyed interests have grown rich trading on other people’s credits. They pretend to extend credit to their customers, but really do nothing of the kind. By certain schemes and manipulations they have obtained control of the sources of supply of the legalized certificates of credit, which they think the people must have in order to do their business; and when persons that have credit want certificates thereof they make them pay smartly under the idea that they are getting credit. The bankers have their clearing houses, and daily transfer vast credits practically without money. Other people can do the same if they want to. The same principle can be adapted to the transaction of business until not a hundredth part of the money now required will be necessary to carry on business. This will decrease the demand for money, and its price will fall until interest will disappear—and with it all danger of panics and periods of business depression.

Yet these are not the only nor the most important changes that will be brought about. Under such a system as this, every person will control his own credits and nobody’s else. The basis of every one’s credit will become the service that he can render to his fellow-men; that is, the labor he performs. Every one who works, either with head or hand, can realize on that labor in credits that he can utilize without waiting to turn those credits into money. Privilege will no longer give credit; so that everybody must render service—perform labor of some kind. It furnishes the basis of a reorganization of society upon that of mutual service. All this is within not only the possibilities but the probabilities of the near future. When it is once worked out, it will be the solution of the problem of the ages—the emancipation of man and the harmonizing of the two opposing tendencies in human society: because it will be the achievement of perfect economic liberty, which includes all and is the expression of every form of liberty. At the same time it will be coupled with the perfect dependence of each upon the other for mutual helpfulness.

William H. Van Ornum.

Chicago, Ill.

  • William Henry Van Ornum, “A Problem in Sociology,” The Arena 25, no. 1 (January 1901): 42-47.


Before proceeding to my real subject I want to say a word for the TWENTIETH CENTURY. Its present attitude is one which is so far in advance of anything that has characterized it since Mr. Pentecost left the helm that one can scarcely realize that it is the same paper. It no longer busies itself with little palliatives, but outlines a clear and distinct policy which goes at once to the very root of the whole matter. The number now before me, of August 24th, is especially gratifying. The TWENTIETH CENTURY is now fast regaining its proper place at the head of the advanced social thought in this country.

I wish to make one or two suggestions to Mr. Edward P. Faxon as to his scheme of a “Cooperative Industrial Union of America,” Does it not look a little incongruous that a “cooperative union” should start out as a “stock company” with a fixed capital, and then go into the business of issuing interest bearing bonds? What would anyone buy these bonds for ex[cept] for the interest they bear; and what is the difference between subsisting on the interest of these bonds and those issued by the United States Government? His ” cooperative union,” even if successful, would simply be one more department store run by capitalistic methods for the benefit of its stock and bond holders. It would, according to Mr. Faxon’s own showing, depend upon crushing competiturs in business, or forcing them to sell out to this new trust on “seeing the probability of their trade slipping away from them.” The only hint of cooperation in all this is in the name; its methods are those of capitalism. Its hand is that of Esau, but its voice is the voice of Jacob. Is cooperation so poor that it must borrow the mantle of capitalism to cover itself? Capitalism and cooperation are the two opposing principles of human association. One is based upon human slavery and the other human liberty. One implies subjection, servitude and inequality, and the other equality-a universal brotherhood. They are as opposite as midnight is to noonday. They will no more mix one with the other than oil will mix with water.

Mr. Faxon anticipates opposition from “those who would like to see the continuance of the present system;” but his fears are groundless. They are the ones who will favor it, in order to save the present system from entire destruction. It is an old trick of capitalism to change its form whenever it is seriously attacked, in order to reappear in a new guise. But it is always the same horrid monster. It must be destroyed.

Let me suggest to Mr. Faxon the principles of cooperative banking as a far-better basis of a cooperative union than the capitalistic scheme he has outlined. To my mind that offers a basis for universal cooperation without an admixture of capitalism. And if the present financial panic should result in the general adoption of this plan it will prove a blessing in disguise. It will be the beginning of the end to the whole capitalistic abomination. Nor does it require any “national labor congress” to set it on foot.

About Shawn P. Wilbur 2703 Articles
Independent scholar, translator and archivist.