THE kinship of pity to love is shown among other ways in this, that it idealizes its object. Sympathy with one in suffering suppresses, for the time being, remembrance of his transgressions. The feeling which vents itself in “poor fellow!” on seeing one in agony, excludes the thought of “bad fellow,” which might at another time arise. Naturally, then, if the wretched are unknown or but vaguely known, all the demerits they may have are ignored; and thus it happens that when, as just now, the miseries of the poor are depicted, they are thought of as the miseries of the deserving poor, instead of being thought of, as in large measure they should be, as the miseries of the undeserving poor. Those whose hardships are set forth in pamphlets and proclaimed in sermons and speeches which echo throughout society are assumed to be all worthy souls, grievously wronged, and none of them are thought of as bearing the penalties of their own misdeeds.
On hailing a cab in a London street, it is surprising how generally the door is officiously opened by one who expects to get something for his trouble. The surprise lessens after counting the many loungers about tavern-doors, or after observing the quickness with which a street-performance, or procession, draws from neighboring slums and stable-yards a group of idlers. Seeing how numerous they are in every small area, it becomes manifest that tens of thousands of such swarm through London. “They have no work,” you say. Say rather that they either refuse work or quickly turn themselves out of it. They are simply good-for-nothings, who in one way or other live on the good-for-somethings—vagrants and sots, criminals and those on the way to crime, youths who are burdens on hard-worked parents, men who appropriate the wages of their wives, fellows who share the gains of prostitutes; and then, less visible and less numerous, there is a corresponding class of women.
Is it natural that happiness should be the lot of such? or is it natural that they should bring unhappiness on themselves and those connected with them? Is it not manifest that there must exist in our midst an immense amount of misery which is a normal result of misconduct and ought not to be dissociated from it? There is a notion, always more or less prevalent and just now vociferously expressed, that all social suffering is removable, and that it is the duty of somebody or other to remove it. Both these beliefs are false. To separate pain from ill-doing is to fight against the constitution of things, and will be followed by far more pain. Saving men from the natural penalties of reckless living eventually necessitates the infliction of artificial penalties in solitary cells, on tread-wheels, and by the lash. I suppose a dictum on which the current creed and the creed of science are at one may be considered to have as high an authority as can be found. Well, the command “if any would not work neither should he eat” is simply a Christian enunciation of that universal law of Nature under which life has reached its present height—the law that a creature not energetic enough to maintain itself must die; the sole difference being that the law which in the one case is to be artificially enforced is, in the other case, a natural necessity. And yet this particular tenet of their religion which science so manifestly justifies is the one which Christians seem least inclined to accept. The current assumption is that there should be no suffering, and that society is to blame for that which exists.
“But surely we are not without responsibilities, even when the suffering is that of the unworthy?”
If the meaning of the word “we” be so expanded as to include with ourselves our ancestors, and especially our ancestral legislators, I agree. I admit that those who made, and modified, and administered, the old poor-law, were responsible for producing an appalling amount of demoralization, which it will take more than one generation to remove. I admit, too, the partial responsibility of recent and present law-makers for regulations which have brought into being a permanent body of tramps, who ramble from union to union; and also their responsibility for maintaining a constant supply of felons by sending back convicts into society under such conditions that they are almost compelled again to commit crimes. Moreover, I admit that the philanthropic are not without their share of responsibility; since, while anxiously aiding the offspring of the unworthy, they do nothing for the offspring of the worthy save burdening their parents by increased local rates. Kay, I even admit that these swarms of good-for-nothings, fostered and multiplied by public and private agencies, have, by sundry mischievous meddlings, been made to suffer more than they would otherwise have suffered. Are these the responsibilities meant? I suspect not.
But now, leaving the question of responsibilities, however conceived, and considering only the evil itself, what shall we say of its treatment? Let me begin with a fact.
A late uncle of mine, the Rev. Thomas Spencer, for some twenty years incumbent of Hinton Charterhouse, near Bath, no sooner entered on his parish duties than he proved himself anxious for the welfare of the poor, by establishing a school, a library, a clothing club, and land-allotments, besides building some model cottages. Moreover, up to 1833 he was a pauper’s friend—always for the pauper against the overseer. There presently came, however, the debates on the poor-law, which impressed him with the evils of the system then in force. Though an ardent philanthropist, he was not a timid sentimentalist. The result was that, immediately the new poor-law was passed, he proceeded to carry out its provisions in his parish. Almost universal opposition was encountered by him; not the poor only being his opponents, but even the farmers on whom came the burden of heavy poor-rates. For, strange to say, their interests had become apparently identified with maintenance of this system which taxed them so largely. The explanation is, that there had grown up the practice of paying out of the rates a part of the wages of each farm-servant—”make-wages,” as the sum was called. And though the farmers contributed most of the fund out of which “make-wages” were paid, yet, since all other rate-payers contributed, the farmers seemed to gain by the arrangement. My uncle, however, not easily deterred, faced all this opposition and enforced the law. The result was that in two years the rates were reduced from £700 a year to £200 a year, while the condition of the parish was greatly improved. “Those who had hitherto loitered at the corners of the streets, or at the doors of the beer-shops, had something else to do, and one after another they obtained employment”; so that, out of a population of eight hundred, only fifteen had to be sent as incapable paupers to the Bath Union Workhouse, in place of the one hundred who received out-door relief a short time before. If it be said that the £20 telescope which, a few years after, his parishioners presented to my uncle, marked only the gratitude of the rate-payers, then my reply is the fact that, when, some years later still, having killed himself by overwork, in pursuit of popular welfare, he was taken to Hinton to be buried, the procession which followed him to the grave included not the well-to-do only but the poor.
Several motives have prompted this brief narrative. One is the wish to prove that sympathy with the people and self-sacrificing efforts on their behalf do not necessarily imply approval of gratuitous aids. Another is the desire to show that benefit may result, not from multiplication of artificial appliances to mitigate distress, but, contrariwise, from diminution of them. And a further purpose I have in view is that of preparing the way for an analogy.
Under another form and in a different sphere, we are now yearly extending a system which is identical in nature with the system of “make-wages” under the old poor-law. Little as politicians recognize the fact, it is nevertheless demonstrable that these various public appliances for working-class comfort, which they are supplying at the cost of rate-payers, are intrinsically of the same nature as those which, in past times, treated the farmer’s man as half-laborer and half-pauper. In either case the worker receives, in return for what he does, money wherewith to buy certain of the things he wants; while, to procure the rest of them for him, money is furnished out of a common fund raised by taxes. What matters it whether the things supplied by rate-payers for nothing, instead of by the employer in payment, are of this kind or that kind? the principle is the same. For sums received let us substitute the commodities and benefits purchased; and then see how the matter stands. In old poor-law times, the farmer gave for work done the equivalent, say of house-rent, bread, clothes, and fire; while the rate-payers practically supplied the man and his family with their shoes, tea, sugar, candles, a little bacon, etc. The division is, of course, arbitrary; but unquestionably the farmer and the rate-payers furnished these things between them. At the present time the artisan receives from his employer in wages the equivalent of the consumable commodities he wants; while from the public comes satisfaction for others of his needs and desires. At the cost of rate-payers he has in some cases, and will presently have in more, a house at less than its commercial value; for of course when, as in Liverpool, a municipality spends nearly £200,000 in pulling down and reconstructing low-class dwellings, and is about to spend as much again, the implication is that in some way the rate-payers supply the poor with more accommodation than the rents they pay would otherwise have brought. The artisan further receives from them, in schooling for his children, much more than he pays for; and there is every probability that he will presently receive it from them gratis. The rate -payers also satisfy what desire he may have for books and newspapers, and comfortable places to read them in. In some cases too, as in Manchester, gymnasia for his children of both sexes, as well as recreation-grounds, are provided. That is to say, he obtains, from a fund raised by local taxes, certain benefits beyond those which the sum received for his labor enables him to purchase. The sole difference, then, between this system and the old system of “make-wages” is between the kinds of satisfactions obtained; and this difference does not in the least affect the nature of the arrangement.
Moreover, the two are pervaded by substantially the same illusion. In the one case, as in the other, what looks like a gratis benefit is not a gratis benefit. The amount which, under the old poor-law, the half-pauperized laborer received from the parish to eke out his weekly income was not really, as it appeared, a bonus, for it was accompanied by a substantially equivalent decrease of his wages, as was quickly proved when the system was abolished and the wages rose. Just so is it with these seeming boons received by working-people in towns. I do not refer only to the fact that they unawares pay in part through the raised rents of their dwellings (when they are not actual ratepayers); but I refer to the fact that the wages received by them are, like the wages of the farm-laborer, diminished by these public burdens falling on employers. Read the accounts coming of late from Lancashire concerning the cotton-strike, containing proofs, given by artisans themselves, that the margin of profit is so narrow that the less skillful manufacturers, as well as those with deficient capital, fail, and that the companies of co-operators who compete with them can rarely hold their own; and then consider what is the implication respecting wages. Among the costs of production have to be reckoned taxes, general and local. If, as in our large towns, the local rates now amount to one third of the rental or more if the employer has to pay this, not on his private dwelling only, but on his business-premises, factories, warehouses, or the like, it results that the interest on his capital must be diminished by that amount, or the amount must be taken from the wages-fund, or partly one and partly the other. And if competition among capitalists in the same business and in other businesses has the effect of so keeping down interests that, while some gain, others lose, and not a few are ruined—if capital, not getting adequate interest, flows elsewhere and leaves labor unemployed—then it is manifest that the choice for the artisan under such conditions lies between diminished amount of work or diminished rate of payment for it. Moreover, for kindred reasons these local burdens raise the costs of the things he consumes. The charges made by distributors, too, are, on the average, determined by the current rates of interest on capital used in distributing businesses; and the extra costs of carrying on such businesses have to be paid for by extra prices. So that as in the past the rural worker lost in one way what he gained in another, so in the present does the urban worker; there being, too, in both cases, the loss entailed on him by the cost of administration and the waste accompanying it.
“But what has all this to do with ‘the coming slavery’?” will perhaps be asked. Nothing directly, but a good deal indirectly, as we shall see after yet another preliminary section.
It is said that, when railways were first opened in Spain, peasants standing on the tracks were not unfrequently run over, and that the blame fell on the engine-drivers for not stopping, rural experiences having yielded no conception of the momentum of a large mass moving at a high velocity.
The incident is recalled to me on contemplating the ideas of the so-called “practical” politician, into whose mind there enters no thought of such a thing as political momentum, still less of a political momentum which, instead of diminishing or remaining constant, increases. The theory on which he daily proceeds is that the change caused by his measure will stop where he intends it to stop. He contemplates intently the things his act will achieve, but thinks little of the remoter issues of the movement his act sets up, and still less its collateral issues. When, in war-time, “food for powder” was to be provided by encouraging population—when Mr. Pitt said, “Let us make relief in cases where there are a number of children a matter of right and honor, instead of a ground for opprobrium and contempt” it was not expected that the poor-rates would be quadrupled in fifty years, that women with many bastards would be preferred as wives to modest women because of their incomes from the parish, and that hosts of rate-payers would be pulled down into the ranks of pauperism. Legislators who in 1833 voted £20,000 a year to aid in building school-houses never supposed that the step they then took would lead to forced contributions, local and general, now amounting to £6,000,000; they did not intend to establish the principle that A should be made responsible for educating B’s offspring; they did not dream of a compulsion which should deprive poor widows of the help of their elder children; and still less did they dream that their successors, by requiring impoverished parents to apply to boards of guardians to pay the fees which school-boards would not remit, would initiate a habit of applying to boards of guardians and so cause pauperization. Neither did those who in 1834 passed an act regulating the labor of women and children in certain factories imagine that the system they were beginning would end in the restriction and inspection of labor in all kinds of producing establishments where more than fifty people are employed; nor did they conceive that the inspection provided would grow to the extent of requiring that, before a “young person” is employed in a factory, authority must be given by a certifying surgeon, who, by personal examination (to which no limit is placed), has satisfied himself that there is no incapacitating disease or bodily infirmity, his verdict determining whether the “young person” shall earn wages or not. Even less, as I say, does the politician who plumes himself on the practicalness of his aims conceive the indirect results that will follow the direct results of his measures. Thus, to take a case connected with one named above, it was not intended through the system of “payment by results” to do anything more than give teachers an efficient stimulus; it was not supposed that in numerous cases their health would give way under the stimulus; it was not expected that they would be led to adopt a cramming system and to put undue pressure on dull and weak children, often to their great injury; it was not foreseen that in many cases a bodily enfeeblement would be caused which no amount of grammar and geography can compensate for. Nor did it occur to the practical politicians who provided a compulsory loadline for merchant-vessels, that the pressure of ship-owners’ interests would habitually cause the putting of the load-line at the very highest limit, and that from precedent to precedent, tending ever in the same direction, the load-line would gradually rise—as from good authority I learn that it has already done. Legislators who, some forty years ago, by act of Parliament compelled railway companies to supply cheap locomotion, would have ridiculed the belief, had it been expressed, that eventually their act would punish the companies which improved the supply; and yet this was the result to companies which began to carry third-class passengers by fast trains, since a penalty to the amount of the passenger-duty was inflicted on them for every third class passenger so carried. To which instance concerning railways, add a far more striking one disclosed by comparing the railway policies of England and France. The law-makers who provided for the ultimate lapsing of French railways to the state never conceived the possibility that inferior traveling facilities would result—did not foresee that reluctance to depreciate the value of property eventually coming to the state would negative the authorization of competing lines, and that in the absence of competing lines locomotion would be relatively costly, slow, and infrequent; for, as Sir Thomas Farrar has shown, the traveler in England has great advantages over the French traveler in the economy, swiftness, and frequency with which his journeys can be made.
But the “practical” politician, who, in spite of such experiences repeated generation after generation, goes on thinking only of proximate results, naturally never thinks of results still more remote, still more general, and still more important than those just exemplified. To repeat the metaphor used above he never asks whether the political momentum set up by his measure, in some cases decreasing but in other cases greatly increasing, will or will not have the same general direction with other such momenta; and whether it may not join them in presently producing an aggregate energy working changes never thought of. Dwelling only on the effects of his particular stream of legislation, and not observing how other such streams already existing, and still other streams which will follow his initiative, pursue the same average course, it never occurs to him that they may presently unite into a voluminous flood utterly changing the face of things. Or to leave figures for a more literal statement, he is unconscious of the truth that he is helping to form a certain type of social organization, and that kindred measures, effecting kindred changes of organization, tend with ever-increasing force to make that type general, until, passing a certain point, the proclivity toward it becomes irresistible. Just as each society aims when possible to produce in other societies a structure akin to its own—just as, among the Greeks, the Spartans and the Athenians severally struggled to spread their respective political institutions, or as, at the time of the French Revolution, the European monarchies aimed to re-establish monarchy in France, so, within every society, each species of structure tends to propagate itself. Just as the system of voluntary co-operation by companies, associations, unions, to achieve business ends and other ends, spreads throughout a community, so does the antagonistic system of compulsory co-operation under state-agencies spread, and the larger becomes its extension the more power of spreading it gets. The question of questions for the politician should ever be, “What type of social structure am I tending to produce?” But this is a question he scarcely ever entertains.
Here we will entertain it for him. Let us now observe the general course of recent changes, with the accompanying current of ideas, and see whither they are carrying us.
The blank form of a question daily asked is, “We have already done this; why should we not do that?” And the regard for precedent suggested by it is ever pushing on regulative legislation. Having had brought within their sphere of operation more and more numerous businesses, the acts restricting hours of employment and dictating the treatment of workers are now to be made applicable to shops. From inspecting lodging-houses to limit the numbers of occupants and enforce sanitary conditions, we have passed to inspecting all houses below a certain rent in which there are members of more than one family, and are now passing to a kindred inspection of all small houses. The buying and working of telegraphs by the state is made a reason for urging that the state should buy and work the railways. Supplying children with food for their minds by public agency is being followed in some cases by supplying food for their bodies; and, after the practice has been made gradually more general, we may anticipate that the supply now proposed to be made gratis in the one case will eventually be proposed to be made gratis in the other, the argument that good bodies as well as good minds are needful to make good citizens being logically urged as a reason for the extension. And then, avowedly proceeding on the precedents furnished by the church, the school, and the reading-room, all publicly provided, it is contended that “pleasure, in the sense it is now generally admitted, needs legislating for and organizing at least as much as work.”
Not precedent only prompts this spread, but also the necessity which arises for supplementing ineffective measures, and for dealing with the artificial evils continually caused. Failure does not destroy faith in the agencies employed, but merely suggests more stringent use of such agencies or wider ramifications of them. Laws to check intemperance, beginning in early times and coming down to our own times, when further restraints on the sale of intoxicating liquors occupy nights every session, not having done what was expected, there come demands for more thorough-going laws, locally preventing the sale altogether; and here, as in America, these will doubtless be followed by demands that prevention shall be made universal. All the many appliances for “stamping out” epidemic diseases not having succeeded in preventing outbreaks of small-pox, fevers, and the like, a further remedy is applied for in the shape of police-power to search houses for diseased persons, and authority for medical officers to examine any one they think fit, to see whether he or she is suffering from an infectious or contagious malady. Habits of improvidence having for generations been cultivated by the poor-law, and the improvident enabled to multiply, the evils produced by compulsory charity are now proposed to be met by compulsory insurance.
The extension of this policy, causing extension of corresponding ideas, fosters everywhere the tacit assumption that Government should step in whenever anything is not going right. “Surely you would not have this misery continue!” exclaims some one, if you hint a demurrer to much that is now being said and done. Observe what is implied by this exclamation. It takes for granted, first, that all suffering ought to be prevented, which is not true: much suffering is curative, and prevention of it is prevention of a remedy. In the second place, it takes for granted that every evil can be removed: the truth being that, with the existing defects of human nature, many evils can only be thrust out of one place or form into another place or form—often being increased by the change. The exclamation also implies the unhesitating belief, here especially concerning us, that evils of all kinds should be dealt with by the state. There does not occur the inquiry whether there are at work other agencies capable of dealing with evils, and whether the evils in question may not be among those which are best dealt with by these other agencies. And obviously, the more numerous governmental interventions become, the more confirmed does this habit of thought grow, and the more loud and perpetual the demands for intervention.
Every extension of the regulative policy involves an addition to the regulative agents a further growth of officialism and an increasing power of the organization formed of officials. Take a pair of scales with many shot in the one and a few in the other. Lift shot after shot out of the loaded scale and put it into the unloaded scale. Presently you will produce a balance, and, if you go on, the position of the scales will be reversed. Suppose the beam to be unequally divided, and let the lightly loaded scale be at the end of a very long arm; then the transfer of each shot, producing a much greater effect, will far sooner bring about a change of position. I use the figure to illustrate what results from transferring one individual after another from the regulated mass of the community to the regulating structures. The transfer weakens the one and strengthens the other in a far greater degree than is implied by the relative change of numbers. A comparatively small body of officials, coherent, having common interests, and acting under central authority, has an immense advantage over an incoherent public which has no settled policy, and can be brought to act unitedly only under strong provocation. Hence an organization of officials, once passing a certain stage of growth, becomes less and less resistible; as we see in the bureaucracies of the Continent.
Not only does the power of resistance of the regulated part decrease in a geometrical ratio as the regulating part increases, but the private interests of many in the regulated part itself make the change of ratio still more rapid. In every circle conversations show that now, when the passing of competitive examinations renders them eligible for the public service, youths are being educated in such ways that they may pass them and get employment under Government. One consequence is, that men who might otherwise reprobate some further growth of officialism are led to look on it with tolerance, if not favorably, as offering possible careers for those dependent on them and those related to them. Any one who remembers the numbers of upper-class and middle-class families anxious to place their children will see that no small encouragement to the spread of legislative control is now coming from those who, but for the personal interests thus arising, would be hostile to it.
This pressing desire for careers is enforced by the preference for careers which are thought respectable. “Even if his salary is small, his occupation will be that of a gentleman,” thinks the father, who wants to get a Government-clerkship for his son. And this relative dignity of state-servants, as compared with those occupied in business, increases as the administrative organization becomes a larger and more powerful element in society, and tends more and more to fix the standard of honor. The prevalent ambition with a young Frenchman is to get some small official post in his locality, to rise thence to a place in the local center of government, and finally to reach some head office in Paris. And in Russia, where that universality of state-regulation which characterizes the militant type of society has been carried farthest, we see this ambition pushed to its extreme. Says Mr. Wallace, quoting a passage from a play, “All men, even shopkeepers and cobblers, aim at becoming officers, and the man who has passed his whole life without official rank seems to be not a human being.”
These various influences, working from above downward, meet with an increasing response of expectations and solicitations proceeding from below upward. The hard-worked and overburdened who form the great majority, and still more the incapables perpetually helped, who are ever led to look for more help, are ready supporters of schemes which promise them this or the other benefit by state agency, and ready believers of those who tell them that such benefits can be given and ought to be given. They listen with eager faith to all builders of political air-castles, from Oxford graduates down to Irish irreconcilables, and every additional tax-supported appliance for their welfare raises hopes of further ones. Indeed, the more numerous public instrumentalities become, the more is there generated in citizens the notion that everything is to be done for them, and nothing by them. Each generation is made less familiar with the attainment of desired ends by individual actions or private combinations, and more familiar with the attainment of them by governmental agencies; until, eventually, governmental agencies come to be thought of as the only available agencies. This result was well shown in the recent Trades-Unions Congress at Paris. The English delegates, reporting to their constituents, said that, between themselves and their foreign colleagues, “the point of difference was the extent to which the state should be asked to protect labor”: reference being thus made to the fact, conspicuous in the reports of the proceedings, that the French delegates always invoked governmental power as the only means of satisfying their wishes.
The diffusion of education has worked, and will work still more, in the same direction. “We must educate our masters,” is the well-known saying of a Liberal who opposed the last extension of the franchise. Yes, if the education were worthy to be so called, and were relevant to the political enlightenment needed, much might be hoped from it. But knowing rules of syntax, being able to add up correctly, having geographical information, and a memory stocked with the dates of kings’ accessions and generals’ victories, no more imply fitness to form political conclusions than acquirement of skill in drawing implies expertness in telegraphing, or than ability to play cricket implies proficiency on the violin. “Surely,” rejoins some one, “facility in reading opens the way to political knowledge.” Doubtless; but will the way be followed? Table-talk proves that nine out of ten people read what amuses them or interests them rather than what instructs them, and that the last thing they read is something which tells them disagreeable truths or dispels groundless hopes. That popular education results in an extensive reading of publications which foster pleasant illusions, rather than of those which insist on hard realities, is beyond question. Says “A Mechanic,” writing in the “Pall Mall Gazette” of December 3, 1883:
And, that the connection of cause and effect here alleged is a real one, we may see clearly enough in the present state of Germany.
Being possessed of electoral power, as are now the mass of those who are thus led to nurture sanguine anticipations of benefits to be obtained by social reorganization, it results that whoever seeks their votes must at least refrain from exposing their mistaken beliefs, even if he does not yield to the temptation to express agreement with them. Every candidate for Parliament is prompted to propose or support some new piece of ad captandum legislation. Nay, even the chiefs of parties, these anxious to retain office and those to wrest it from them, severally aim to get adherents by outbidding one another. Each endeavors to score a trick by trumping his antagonist’s good card, as we have lately seen. And then, as divisions in Parliament show us, the traditional loyalty to leaders overrides questions concerning the intrinsic propriety of proposed measures. Representatives are unconscientious enough to vote for bills which they regard as essentially wrong in principle, because party-needs and regard for the next election demand it. And thus a vicious policy is strengthened even by those who see its viciousness.
Meanwhile there goes on out-of-doors an active propaganda to which all these influences are ancillary. Communistic theories, partially indorsed by one act of Parliament after another, and tacitly if not avowedly favored by numerous public men seeking supporters, are being advocated more and more vociferously under one or other form by popular leaders, and urged on by organized societies. There is the movement for land-nationalization which, aiming at a system of land-tenure equitable in the abstract, is, as all the world knows, pressed by Mr. George and his friends with avowed disregard for the just claims of existing owners, and as the basis of a scheme going more than half-way to state-communism. And then there is the thorough-going Democratic Federation of Mr. Hyndman and his adherents. We are told by them that “the handful of marauders who now hold possession [of the land] have and can have no right save brute force against the tens of millions whom they wrong.” They exclaim against “the shareholders who have been allowed to lay hands upon (!) our great railway communications.” They condemn “above all, the active capitalist class, the loan-mongers, the farmers, the mine-exploiters, the contractors, the middlemen, the factory-lords—these, the modern slave-drivers “who exact” more and yet more surplus value out of the wage-slaves whom they employ.” And they think it “high time” that trade should be “removed from the control of individual greed and individual profit.”
It remains to point out that the tendencies thus variously displayed are being strengthened by press-advocacy, daily more pronounced. Journalists, always chary of saying that which is distasteful to their readers, are some of them going with the stream and adding to its force. Legislative meddlings which they would once have condemned they now pass in silence, if they do not advocate them; and they speak of laisser-faire as an exploded doctrine. “People are no longer frightened at the thought of socialism,” is the statement which meets us one day. On another day, a town which does not adopt the Free Libraries Act is sneered at as being alarmed by a measure so moderately communistic. And then, along with editorial assertions that this economic evolution is coming and must be accepted, there is prominence given to the contributions of its advocates. Meanwhile those who regard the recent course of legislation as disastrous, and see that its future course is likely to be still more disastrous, are being reduced to silence by the belief that it is useless to reason with people in a state of political intoxication.
See, then, the many concurrent causes which threaten continually to accelerate the transformation now going on. There is that spread of regulation caused by following precedents, which become the more authoritative the further the policy is carried. There is that increasing need for administrative compulsions and restraints which results from the unforeseen evils and short-comings of preceding compulsions and restraints. Moreover, every additional state-interference strengthens the tacit assumption that it is the duty of the state to deal with all evils and secure all benefits. Increasing power of a growing administrative organization is accompanied by decreasing power of the rest of the society to resist its further growth and control. The multiplication of careers opened by a developing bureaucracy tempts members of the classes regulated by it to favor its extension, as adding to the chances of safe and respectable places for their relatives. The people at large, led to look on benefits received through public agencies as gratis benefits, have their hopes continually excited by the prospects of more. A spreading education, furthering the diffusion of pleasing errors rather than of stern truths, renders such hopes both stronger and more general. Worse still, such hopes are ministered to by candidates for public choice to augment their chances of success; and leading statesmen, in pursuit of party ends, bid for popular favor by countenancing them. Getting repeated justifications from new laws harmonizing with their doctrines, political enthusiasts and unwise philanthropists push their agitations with growing confidence and success. Journalism, ever responsive to popular opinion, daily strengthens it by giving it voice; while counter-opinion, more and more discouraged, finds little utterance.
Thus influences of various kinds conspire to increase corporate action and decrease individual action. And the change is being on all sides aided by schemers, each of whom thinks only of his pet project, and not at all of the general reorganization which his, joined with others such, are working out. It is said that the French Revolution devoured its own children. Here an analogous catastrophe seems not unlikely. The numerous socialistic changes made by act of Parliament, joined with the numerous others presently to be made, will by-and-by be all merged in state-socialism—swallowed in the vast wave which they have little by little raised.
“But why is this change described as ‘the coming slavery’?” is a question which many will still ask. The reply is simple. All socialism involves slavery.
What is essential to the idea of a slave? We primarily think of him as one who is owned by another. To be more than nominal, however, the ownership must be shown by control of the slave’s actions—a control which is habitually for the benefit of the controller. That which fundamentally distinguishes the slave is that he labors under coercion to satisfy another’s desires. The relation admits of sundry gradations. Remembering that originally the slave is a prisoner whose life is at the mercy of his captor, it suffices here to note that there is a harsh form of slavery in which, treated as an animal, he has to expend his entire effort for his owner’s advantage. Under a system less harsh, though occupied chiefly in working for his owner, he is allowed a short time in which to work for himself, and some ground on which to grow extra food. A further amelioration gives him power to sell the produce of his plot and keep the proceeds. Then we come to the still more moderated form which commonly arises where, having been a free man working on his own land, conquest turns him into what we distinguish as a serf; and he has to give to his owner each year a fixed amount of labor or produce, or both, retaining the rest himself. Finally, in some cases, as in Russia until recently, he is allowed to leave his owner’s estate and work or trade for himself elsewhere, under the condition that he shall pay an annual sum. What is it which, in these cases, leads us to qualify our conception of the slavery as more or less severe? Evidently the greater or smaller extent to which effort is compulsorily expended for the benefit of another instead of for self-benefit. If all the slave’s labor is for his owner the slavery is heavy, and if but little it is light. Take now a further step. Suppose an owner dies, and his estate with its slaves comes into the hands of trustees, or suppose the estate and everything on it to be bought by a company; is the condition of the slave any the better if the amount of his compulsory labor remains the same? Suppose that for a company we substitute the community; does it make any difference to the slave if the time he has to work for others is as great, and the time left for himself is as small, as before? The essential question is, How much is he compelled to labor for other benefit than his own, and how much he can labor for his own benefit? The degree of his slavery varies according to the ratio between that which he is forced to yield up and that which he is allowed to retain; and it matters not whether his master is a single person or a society. If, without option, he has to labor for the society, and receives from the general stock such portion as the society awards him, he becomes a slave to the society. Socialistic arrangements necessitate an enslavement of this kind; and toward such an enslavement many recent measures, and still more the measures advocated, are carrying us. Let us observe, first, their proximate effects, and then their ultimate effects.
The policy initiated by the Industrial Dwellings Acts admits of development, and will develop. “Where municipal bodies turn house-builders, they inevitably lower the values of houses otherwise built, and check the supply of more. Every dictation respecting modes of building and conveniences to be provided diminishes the builder’s profit, and prompts him to use his capital where the profit is not thus diminished. So, too, the owner, already finding that small houses entail much labor and many losses—already subject to troubles of inspection and interference and to consequent costs, and having his property daily rendered a more undesirable investment—is prompted to sell; and, as buyers are for like reasons deterred, he has to sell at a loss. And now these still multiplying regulations, ending, it may be, as Lord Grey proposes, in one requiring the owner to maintain the salubrity of his houses by evicting dirty tenants, and thus adding to his other responsibilities that of inspector of nuisances, must further prompt sales and further deter purchasers—so necessitating greater depreciation. What must happen? The multiplication of houses, and especially small houses, being increasingly checked, there must come an increasing demand upon the local authority to make up for the deficient supply. More and more, the municipal or kindred body will have to build houses, or to purchase houses rendered unsalable to private persons in the way shown; houses which, greatly depreciated in value as they must become, it will, in many cases, pay to buy rather than to build new ones. And then, when in towns this process has gone so far as to make the local authority the chief owner of houses, there will be a good precedent for publicly providing houses for the rural population, as proposed in the Radical programme, and as urged by the Democratic Federation, which insists on “the compulsory construction of healthy artisans’ and agricultural laborers’ dwellings in proportion to the population.” Manifestly, the tendency of that which has been done, is being done, and is presently to be done, is to approach the socialistic ideal in which the community is sole house-proprietor.
Such, too, must be the effect of the daily growing policy on the tenure and utilization of the land. More numerous public benefits, to be achieved by more numerous public agencies, at the cost of augmented public burdens, must increasingly deduct from the returns on land; until, as the depreciation in value becomes greater and greater, the resistance to change of tenure becomes less and less. Already, as every one knows, there is in many places difficulty in obtaining tenants, even at greatly reduced rents; and land of inferior fertility in some cases lies idle, or when farmed by the owner is often farmed at a loss. Clearly the margin of profit on capital invested in land is not such that taxes, local and general, can be greatly raised to support extended public administrations, without an absorption of it which will prompt owners to sell, and make the best of what reduced price they can get by emigrating and buying land not subject to heavy burdens, as, indeed, some are now doing. This process, carried far, must have the result of throwing inferior land out of cultivation; after which there will be raised more generally the demand made by Mr. Arch, who, addressing the Radical Association of Brighton lately, and contending that existing landlords do not make their land adequately productive for the public benefit, said “he should like the present Government to pass a Compulsory Cultivation Bill”: an applauded proposal which he justified by instancing compulsory vaccination (thus illustrating the influence of precedent). And this demand will be pressed, not only by the need for making the land productive, but also by the need for employing the rural population. After the Government has extended the practice of hiring the unemployed to work on deserted lands, or lands acquired at nominal prices, there will be reached a stage whence there is but a small further step to that arrangement which, in the programme of the Democratic Federation, is to follow nationalization of the land—the “organization of agricultural and industrial armies under state control on co-operative principles.”
If any one doubts that such a revolution may be so reached, facts may be cited to show its likelihood. In Gaul, during the decline of the Roman Empire, “so numerous were the receivers in comparison with the payers, and so enormous the weight of taxation, that the laborer broke down, the plains became deserts, and woods grew where the plow had been.” In like manner, when the French Revolution was approaching, the public burdens had become such that many farms remained uncultivated, and many were deserted: one quarter of the soil was absolutely lying waste; and in some provinces one half was in heath. Nor have we been without incidents of a kindred nature at home. Besides the facts that under the old poor-law the rates had in some parishes risen to half the rental, and that in various places farms were lying uncultivated, there is the fact that in one case the rates had absorbed the whole proceeds of the soil.
The commissioners add that “the benevolent rector recommends that the whole of the land should be divided among the able-bodied paupers”: hoping that, after help afforded for two years, they might be able to maintain themselves. These facts, giving color to the prophecy made in Parliament that continuance of the old poor-law for another thirty years would throw the land out of cultivation, clearly prove that increase of public burdens may end in forced cultivation under public control.
Then, again, comes state-ownership of railways. Already this exists to a large extent on the Continent. Already we have had here a few years ago loud advocacy of it. And now the cry which was raised by sundry politicians and publicists is taken up afresh by the Democratic Federation, which proposes “state-appropriation of railways, with or without compensation.” Evidently, pressure from above joined by pressure from below is likely to effect this change, dictated by the policy everywhere spreading; and with it must come many attendant changes. For railway-proprietors, at first owners and workers of railways only, have been allowed to become masters of numerous businesses directly or indirectly connected with railways; and these will have to be purchased by Government when the railways are purchased. Already exclusive carrier of letters, exclusive transmitter of telegrams, and on the way to become exclusive carrier of parcels, the state will not only be exclusive carrier of passengers, goods, and minerals, but will add to its present various trades many other trades. Even now, besides erecting its naval and military establishments, and building harbors, docks, breakwaters, etc., it does the work of ship-builder, cannon-founder, small-arms maker, manufacturer of ammunition, etc., etc.; and, when the railways have been appropriated “with or without compensation,” as the Democratic Federationists say, it will have to become locomotive-engine builder, carriage-maker, tarpaulin and grease manufacturer, passenger-vessel owner, coal-miner, stone-quarrier, omnibus-proprietor, etc. Meanwhile its local lieutenants, the municipal governments, already in many places suppliers of water, gas-makers, owners and workers of tramways, proprietors of baths, will doubtless have undertaken various other businesses. And when the state, directly or by proxy, has thus come into possession of, or has established, numerous concerns for wholesale production and for wholesale distribution, there will be good precedents for extending its function to retail distribution: following such an example, say, as is offered by the French Government, which has long been a retail tobacconist.
Evidently, then, the changes made, the changes in progress, and the changes urged, are carrying us not only toward state-ownership of land and dwellings and means of communication, all to be administered and worked by state-agents, but toward state-usurpation of all industries; the private forms of which, disadvantaged more and more in competition with the state, which can arrange everything for its own convenience, will more and more die away just as many voluntary schools have, in presence of board-schools. And so will be brought about the desired ideal of the socialist.
And now when there has been reached this desired ideal, which “practical” politicians are helping socialists to reach, and which is so tempting on that bright side which socialists contemplate, what must be the accompanying shady side which they do not contemplate? It is a matter of common remark, often made when a marriage is impending, that those possessed by strong hopes habitually dwell on the promised pleasures and think nothing of the accompanying pains. A further exemplification of this truth is supplied by these political enthusiasts and fanatical revolutionists. Impressed with the miseries existing under our present social arrangements, and not regarding these miseries as caused by the ill-working of a human nature but partially adapted to the social state, they imagine them to be forthwith curable by this or that rearrangement. Yet, even did their plans succeed, it could only be by substituting one kind of evil for another. A little deliberate thought would show that under their proposed arrangements their liberties must be surrendered in proportion as their material welfares were cared for.
For no form of co-operation, small or great, can be carried on without regulation and an implied submission to the regulating agencies. Even one of their own organizations for effecting social changes yields them proof. It is compelled to have its councils, its local and general officers, its authoritative leaders, who must be obeyed under penalty of confusion and failure. And the experience of those who are loudest in their advocacy of a new social order under the paternal control of a government shows that, even in private voluntarily-formed societies, the power of the regulative organization becomes great, if not irresistible; often, indeed, causing grumbling and restiveness among those controlled. Trades-unions which carry on a kind of industrial war in defense of workers’ interests versus employers’ interests find that subordination almost military in its strictness is needful to secure efficient action; for divided councils prove fatal to success. And even in bodies of co-operators, formed for carrying on manufacturing or distributing businesses, and not needing that obedience to leaders which is required where the aims are offensive or defensive, it is still found that the administrative agency acquires so great a power that there arise complaints about “the tyranny of organization.” Judge, then, what must happen when, instead of combinations, small, local, and voluntary, to which men may belong or not as they please, we have a national combination in which each citizen finds himself incorporated, and from which he can not separate himself without leaving the country! Judge what must under such conditions become the power of a graduated and centralized officialism, holding in its hands the resources of the community, and having behind it whatever amount of force it finds requisite to carry out its decrees and maintain what it calls order! Well may a Prince Bismarck display leanings toward state-socialism.
And then, after recognizing, as they must if they think out their scheme, the power possessed by the regulative agency in the new social system so temptingly pictured, let its advocates ask themselves to what end this power must be used. Not dwelling exclusively, as they habitually do, on the material well-being and the mental gratifications to be provided for them by a beneficent administration, let them dwell a little on the price to be paid. The officials can not create the needful supplies; they can but distribute among individuals that which the individuals have joined to produce. If the public agency is required to provide for them, it must reciprocally require them to furnish the means. There can not be, as under our existing system, agreement between employer and employed—this the scheme excludes. There must in place of it be command by local authorities over workers, and acceptance by the workers of that which the authorities assign to them. And this, indeed, is the arrangement distinctly, but as it would seem inadvertently, pointed to by the members of the Democratic Federation. For they propose that production should be carried on by “agricultural and industrial armies under state control”; apparently not remembering that armies presuppose grades of officers, by whom obedience would have to be insisted upon, since otherwise neither order nor efficient work could be insured. So that each would stand toward the governing agency in the relation of slave to master.
“But the governing agency would be a master which he and others made and kept constantly in check, and one which therefore would not control him or others more than was needful for the benefit of each and all.”
To which reply the first rejoinder is that, even if so, each member of the community as an individual would be a slave to the community as a whole. Such a relation has habitually existed in militant communities, even under quasi-popular forms of government. In ancient Greece the accepted principle was that the citizen belonged neither to himself nor to his family, but belonged to his city—the city being with the Greek equivalent to the community. And this doctrine, proper to a state of constant warfare, is a doctrine which socialism unawares reintroduces into a state intended to be purely industrial. The services of each will belong to the aggregate of all; and for these services such returns will be given as the authorities think proper. So that even if the administration is of the beneficent kind intended to be secured, slavery, however mild, must be the outcome of the arrangement.
A second rejoinder is that the administration will presently become not of the intended kind, and that the slavery will not be mild. The socialist speculation is vitiated by an assumption like that which vitiates the speculations of the “practical” politician. It is assumed that officialism will work as it is intended to work, which it never does. The machinery of communism, like existing social machinery, has to be framed out of existing human nature; and the defects of existing human nature will generate in the one the same evils as in the other. The love of power, the selfishness, the injustice, the untruthfulness, which often in comparatively short times bring private organizations to disaster, will inevitably, where their effects accumulated from generation to generation, work evils far greater and less remediable; since vast and complex and possessed of all the resources, the administrative organization once developed and consolidated must become irresistible. And, if there needs proof that the periodic exercise of electoral power would fail to prevent this, it suffices to instance the French Government, which, purely popular in origin, and subject from time to time to popular judgment, nevertheless tramples on the freedom of citizens to an extent which the English delegates to the late Trades Union Congress say “is a disgrace to, and an anomaly in, a republican nation.”
The final result would be a revival of despotism. A disciplined army of civil officials, like an army of military officials, gives supreme power to its head—a power which has often led to usurpation, as in mediæval Europe and still more in Japan—nay, has thus so led among our neighbors within our own times. The recent confessions of M. de Maupas have shown how readily a constitutional head, elected and trusted by the whole people, may, with the aid of a few unscrupulous confederates, paralyze the representative body and make himself autocrat. That those who rose to power in a socialistic organization would not scruple to carry out their aims at all costs, we have good reason for concluding. When we find that shareholders, who, sometimes gaining, but often losing, have made that railway-system by which national prosperity has been so greatly increased, are spoken of by the council of the Democratic Federation as having “laid hands” on the means of communication, we may infer that those who directed a socialistic administration might interpret with extreme perversity the claims of individuals and classes under their control. And when, further, we find members of this same council urging that the state should take possession of the railways, “with or without compensation,” we may suspect that the heads of the ideal society desired, would be but little deterred by considerations of equity from pursuing whatever policy they thought needful—a policy which would always be one identified with their own supremacy. It would need but a war with an adjacent society, or some internal discontent demanding forcible suppression, to at once transform a socialistic administration into a grinding tyranny like that of ancient Peru; under which the mass of the people, controlled by grades of officials, and leading lives that were inspected out-of-doors and in-doors, labored for the support of the organization which regulated them, and were left with but a bare subsistence for themselves. And then would be completely revived, under a different form, that régime of status—that system of compulsory co-operation, the decaying tradition of which is represented by the old Toryism, and toward which the new Toryism is carrying us back.
“But we shall be on our guard against all that—we shall take precautions to ward off such disasters,” will doubtless say the enthusiasts. Be they “practical” politicians with their new regulative measures, or communists with their schemes for reorganizing labor, the answer is ever the same: “It is true that plans of kindred nature have, from unforeseen causes and adverse accidents, or the misdeeds of those concerned, been brought to failure; but this time we shall profit by past experiences and succeed.” There seems no getting people to accept the truth, which nevertheless is conspicuous enough, that the welfare of a society and the justice of its arrangements are at bottom dependent on the characters of its members; and that improvement in neither can take place without that improvement in character which results from carrying on peaceful industry under the restraints imposed by an orderly social life. The belief, not only of the socialists but also of those so-called Liberals who are diligently preparing the way for them, is that by due skill an ill-working humanity may be framed into well-working institutions. It is a delusion. The defective natures of citizens will show themselves in the bad acting of whatever social structure they are arranged into. There is no political alchemy by which you can get golden conduct out of leaden instincts.
- Hansard’s “Parliamentary History,” xxxii, p. 710.
- “Fortnightly Review,” January, 1884, p. 17.
- “Factories and Workshops Act,” 41 and 42 Victoria, cap. 16.
- See letter of Local Government Board, “Times,” January 2, 1884.
- “Fortnightly Review,” January, 1884, p. 21.
- “Russia,” i, 422.
- “Socialism made Plain,” Reeves, 185 Fleet Street.
- “Fortnightly Review,” November, 1883, pp. 619, 620.
- Lactant., “De M. Persecut.,” cc. 7, 23.
- Taine, “La Revolution,” pp. 337, 338.
- “Report of Commissioners for Inquiry into the Administration and Practical Operation of the Poor-Laws,” p. 37, February 20, 1834.
SOURCE: Spencer, Herbert (1884), “The Coming Slavery” in Popular Science Monthly 24 (April 1884)