If the reader were to judge merely from what has been set down in these pages he would be likely to infer that my most absorbing interest during these days I am endeavoring to recall was the study of the political economy and social philosophy of the modern world, which I was pursuing under the direction of Dr. Leete. That, however, would be a great mistake. Full of wonder and fascination as was that occupation, it was prosaic business compared with the interest of a certain old story which his daughter and I were going over together, whereof but slight mention has been made, because it is a story which all know or ought to know for themselves. The dear doctor, being aware of the usual course of such stories, no doubt realized that this one might be expected presently to reach a stage of interest where it would be likely, for a time at least, wholly to distract my attention from other themes. No doubt he had been governed by this consideration in trying to give to our talks a range which should result in furnishing me with a view of the institutions of the modern world and their rational basis that would be as symmetrical and rounded out as was at all consistent with the vastness of the subject and the shortness of the time. It was some days after he had told me the story of the transition period before we had an opportunity for another long talk, and the turn he gave to our discourse on that occasion seemed to indicate that he intended it as a sort of conclusion of the series, as indeed it proved to be.
Edith and I had come home rather late that evening, and when she left me I turned into the library, where a light showed that the doctor was still sitting. As I entered he was turning over the leaves of a very old and yellow-looking volume, the title of which, by its oddity, caught my eye.
"Kenloe's Book of the Blind," I said. "That is an odd title."
"It is the title of an odd book," replied the doctor. "The Book of the Blind is nearly a hundred years old, having been compiled soon after the triumph of the Revolution. Everybody was happy, and the people in their joy were willing to forgive and forget the bitter opposition of the capitalists and the learned class, which had so long held back the blessed change. The preachers who had preached, the teachers who had taught, and the writers who had written against the Revolution, were now the loudest in its praise, and desired nothing so much as to have their previous utterances forgotten. But Kenloe, moved by a certain crabbed sense of justice, was bound that they should not be forgotten. Accordingly, he took the pains to compile, with great care as to authenticity, names, dates, and places, a mass of excerpts from speeches, books, sermons, and newspapers, in which the apologists of private capitalism had defended that system and assailed the advocates of economic equality during the long period of revolutionary agitation. Thus he proposed to pillory for all time the blind guides who had done their best to lead the nation and the world into the ditch. The time would come, he foresaw, as it has come, when it would seem incredible to posterity that rational men and, above all, learned men should have opposed in the name of reason a measure which, like economic equality obviously meant nothing more nor less than the general diffusion of happiness. Against that time he prepared this book to serve as a perpetual testimony. It was dreadfully hard on the men, all alive at the time and desiring the past to be forgotten, on whom he conferred this most undesirable immortality. One can imagine how they must have anathematized him when the book came out. Nevertheless it must be said that if men ever deserved to endure perpetual obloquy those fellows did.
"When I came across this old volume on the top shelf of the library the other day it occurred to me that it might be helpful to complete your impression of the great Revolution by giving you an idea of the other side of the controversy--the side of your own class, the capitalists, and what sort of reasons they were able to give against the proposition to equalize the basis of human welfare."
I assured the doctor that nothing would interest me more. Indeed, I had become so thoroughly naturalized as a twentieth-century American that there was something decidedly piquant in the idea of having my former point of view as a nineteenth-century capitalist recalled to me.
"Anticipating that you would take that view," said the doctor, "I have prepared a little list of the main heads of objection from Kenloe's collection, and we will go over them, if you like, this evening. Of course, there are many more than I shall quote, but the others are mainly variations of these, or else relate to points which have been covered in our talks."
I made myself comfortable, and the doctor proceeded:
THE PULPIT OBJECTION.
"The clergy in your day assumed to be the leaders of the people, and it is but respectful to their pretensions to take up first what seems to have been the main pulpit argument against the proposed system of economic equality collectively guaranteed. It appears to have been rather in the nature of an excuse for not espousing the new social ideal than a direct attack on it, which indeed it would have been rather difficult for nominal Christians to make, seeing that it was merely the proposal to carry out the golden rule.
"The clergy reasoned that the fundamental cause of social misery was human sin and depravity, and that it was vain to expect any great improvement in the social condition through mere improvements in social forms and institutions unless there was a corresponding moral improvement in men. Until that improvement took place it was therefore of no use to introduce improved social systems, for they would work as badly as the old ones if those who were to operate them were not themselves better men and women.
"The element of truth in this argument is the admitted fact that the use which individuals or communities are able to make of any idea, instrument, or institution depends on the degree to which they have been educated up to the point of understanding and appreciating it.
"On the other hand, however, it is equally true, as the clergy must at once have admitted, that from the time a people begins to be morally and intellectually educated up to the point of understanding and appreciating better institutions, their adoption is likely to be of the greatest benefit to them. Take, for example, the ideas of religious liberty and of democracy. There was a time when the race could not understand or fitly use either, and their adoption as formal institutions would have done no good. Afterward there came a time when the world was ready for the ideas, and then their realization by means of new social institutions constituted great forward steps in civilization.
"That is to say, if, on the one hand, it is of no use to introduce an improved institution before people begin to be ready for it, on the other hand great loss results if there be a delay or refusal to adopt the better institution as soon as the readiness begins to manifest itself.
"This being the general law of progress, the practical question is, How are we to determine as to any particular proposed improvement in institutions whether the world is yet ready to make a good use of it or whether it is premature?
"The testimony of history is that the only test of the fitness of people at any time for a new institution is the volume and earnestness of the popular demand for the change. When the peoples began in earnest to cry out for religious liberty and freedom of conscience, it was evident that they were ready for them. When nations began strongly to demand popular government, it was proof that they were ready for that. It did not follow that they were entirely able at once to make the best possible use of the new institution; that they could only learn to do by experience, and the further development which they would attain through the use of the better institution and could not otherwise attain at all. What was certain was that after the people had reached this state of mind the old institution had ceased to be serviceable, and that however badly for a time the new one might work, the interest of the race demanded its adoption, and resistance to the change was resistance to progress.
"Applying this test to the situation toward the close of the nineteenth century, what evidence was there that the world was beginning to be ready for a radically different and more humane set of social institutions? The evidence was the volume, earnestness, and persistence of the popular demand for it which at that period had come to be the most widespread, profound, and powerful movement going on in the civilized world. This was the tremendous fact which should have warned the clergy who withstood the people's demand for better things to beware lest haply they be found fighting even against God. What more convincing proof could be asked that the world had morally and intellectually outgrown the old economic order than the detestation and denunciation of its cruelties and fatuities which had become the universal voice? What stronger evidence could there be that the race was ready at least to attempt the experiment of social life on a nobler plane than the marvelous development during this period of the humanitarian and philanthropic spirit, the passionate acceptance by the masses of the new idea of social solidarity and the universal brotherhood of man?
"If the clergymen who objected to the Revolution on the ground that better institutions would be of no utility without a better spirit had been sincere in that objection, they would have found in a survey of the state and tendencies of popular feeling the most striking proof of the presence of the very conditions in extraordinary measure which they demanded as necessary to insure the success of the experiment.
"But indeed it is to be greatly feared that they were not sincere. They pretended to hold Christ's doctrine that hatred of the old life and a desire to lead a better one is the only vocation necessary to enter upon such a life. If they had been sincere in professing this doctrine, they would have hailed with exultation the appeal of the masses to be delivered from their bondage to a wicked social order and to be permitted to live together on better, kinder, juster terms. But what they actually said to the people was in substance this: It is true, as you complain, that the present social and economic system is morally abominable and thoroughly antichristian, and that it destroys men's souls and bodies. Nevertheless, you must not think of trying to change it for a better system, because you are not yet good enough to try to be better. It is necessary that you should wait until you are more righteous before you attempt to leave off doing evil. You must go on stealing and fighting until you shall become fully sanctified.
"How would the clergy have been scandalized to hear that a Christian minister had in like terms attempted to discourage an individual penitent who professed loathing for his former life and a desire to lead a better! What language shall we find then that is strong enough fitly to characterize the attitude of these so-called ministers of Christ, who in his name rebuked and derided the aspirations of a world weary of social wrong and seeking for a better way?"
THE LACK OF INCENTIVE OBJECTION.
"But, after all," pursued the doctor, turning the pages of Kenloe, "let us not be too hard on these unfortunate clergymen, as if they were more blinded or bigoted in their opposition to progress than were other classes of the learned men of the day, as, for example, the economists. One of the main arguments--perhaps the leading one--of the nineteenth-century economists against the programme of economic equality under a nationalized economic system was that the people would not prove efficient workers owing to the lack of sufficiently sharp personal incentives to diligence.
"Now, let us look at this objection. Under the old system there were two main incentives to economic exertion: the one chiefly operative on the masses, who lived from hand to mouth, with no hope of more than a bare subsistence; the other operating to stimulate the well-to-do and rich to continue their efforts to accumulate wealth. The first of these motives, the lash that drove the masses to their tasks, was the actual pressure or imminent fear of want. The second of the motives, that which spurred the already rich, was the desire to be ever richer, a passion which we know increased with what it fed on. Under the new system every one on easy conditions would be sure of as good a maintenance as any one else and be quite relieved from the pressure or fear of want. No one, on the other hand, by any amount of effort, could hope to become the economic superior of another. Moreover, it was said, since every one looked to his share in the general result rather than to his personal product, the nerve of zeal would be cut. It was argued that the result would be that everybody would do as little as he could and keep within the minimum requirement of the law, and that therefore, while the system might barely support itself, it could never be an economic success."
"That sounds very natural," I said. "I imagine it is just the sort of argument that I should have thought very powerful."
"So your friends the capitalists seem to have regarded it, and yet the very statement of the argument contains a confession of the economic imbecility of private capitalism which really leaves nothing to be desired as to completeness. Consider, Julian, what is implied as to an economic system by the admission that under it the people never escape the actual pressure of want or the immediate dread of it. What more could the worst enemy of private capitalism allege against it, or what stronger reason could he give for demanding that some radically new system be at least given a trial, than the fact which its defenders stated in this argument for retaining it--namely, that under it the masses were always hungry? Surely no possible new system could work any worse than one which confessedly depended upon the perpetual famine of the people to keep it going."
"It was a pretty bad giving away of their case," I said, "when you come to think of it that way. And yet at first statement it really had a formidable sound."
"Manifestly," said the doctor, "the incentives to wealth-production under a system confessedly resulting in perpetual famine must be ineffectual, and we really need consider them no further; but your economists praised so highly the ambition to get rich as an economic motive and objected so strongly to economic equality because it would shut it off, that a word may be well as to the real value of the lust of wealth as an economic motive. Did the individual pursuit of riches under your system necessarily tend to increase the aggregate wealth of the community? The answer is significant. It tended to increase the aggregate wealth only when it prompted the production of new wealth. When, on the other hand, it merely prompted individuals to get possession of wealth already produced and in the hands of others, it tended only to change the distribution without at all increasing the total of wealth. Not only, indeed, did the pursuit of wealth by acquisition, as distinguished from production, not tend to increase the total, but greatly to decrease it by wasteful strife. Now, I will leave it to you, Julian, whether the successful pursuers of wealth, those who illustrated most strikingly the force of this motive of accumulation, usually sought their wealth by themselves producing it or by getting hold of what other people had produced or supplanting other people's enterprises and reaping the field others had sown."
"By the latter processes, of course," I replied. "Production was slow and hard work. Great wealth could not be gained that way, and everybody knew it. The acquisition of other people's product and the supplanting of their enterprises were the easy and speedy and royal ways to riches for those who were clever enough, and were the basis of all large and rapid accumulations."
"So we read," said the doctor; "but the desire of getting rich also stimulated capitalists to more or less productive activity which was the source of what little wealth you had. This was called production for profit, but the political-economy class the other morning showed us that production for profit was economic suicide, tending inevitably, by limiting the consuming power of a community, to a fractional part of its productive power to cripple production in turn, and so to keep the mass of mankind in perpetual poverty. And surely this is enough to say about the incentives to wealth-making which the world lost in abandoning private capitalism, first general poverty, and second the profit system, which caused that poverty. Decidedly we can dispense with those incentives.
"Under the modern system it is indeed true that no one ever imagined such a thing as coming to want unless he deliberately chose to, but we think that fear is on the whole the weakest as well as certainly the cruelest of incentives. We would not have it on any terms were it merely for gain's sake. Even in your day your capitalists knew that the best man was not he who was working for his next dinner, but he who was so well off that no immediate concern for his living affected his mind. Self-respect and pride in achievement made him a far better workman than he who was thinking of his day's pay. But if those motives were as strong then, think how much more powerful they are now! In your day when two men worked side by side for an employer it was no concern of the one, however the other might cheat or loaf. It was not his loss, but the employer's. But now that all work for the common fund, the one who evades or scamps his work robs every one of his fellows. A man had better hang himself nowadays than get the reputation of a shirk.
"As to the notion of these objectors that economic equality would cut the nerve of zeal by denying the individual the reward of his personal achievements, it was a complete misconception of the effects of the system. The assumption that there would be no incentives to impel individuals to excel one another in industry merely because these incentives would not take a money form was absurd. Every one is as directly and far more certainly the beneficiary of his own merits as in your day, save only that the reward is not in what you called 'cash.' As you know, the whole system of social and official rank and headship, together with the special honors of the state, are determined by the relative value of the economic and other services of individuals to the community. Compared with the emulation aroused by this system of nobility by merit, the incentives to effort offered under the old order of things must have been slight indeed.
"The whole of this subject of incentive taken by your contemporaries seems, in fact, to have been based upon the crude and childish theory that the main factor in diligence or execution of any kind is external, whereas it is wholly internal. A person is congenitally slothful or energetic. In the one case no opportunity and no incentive can make him work beyond a certain minimum of efficiency, while in the other case he will make his opportunity and find his incentives, and nothing but superior force can prevent his doing the utmost possible. If the motive force is not in the man to start with, it can not be supplied from without, and there is no substitute for it. If a man's mainspring is not wound up when he is born, it never can be wound up afterward. The most that any industrial system can do to promote diligence is to establish such absolutely fair conditions as shall promise sure recognition for all merit in its measure. This fairness, which your system, utterly unjust in all respects, wholly failed to secure, ours absolutely provides. As to the unfortunates who are born lazy, our system has certainly no miraculous power to make them energetic, but it does see to it with absolute certainty that every able-bodied person who receives economic maintenance of the nation shall render at least the minimum of service. The laziest is sure to pay his cost. In your day, on the other hand, society supported millions of able-bodied loafers in idleness, a dead weight on the world's industry. From the hour of the consummation of the great Revolution, this burden ceased to be borne."
"Doctor," I said, "I am sure my old friends could do better than that. Let us have another of their objections."
AFRAID THAT EQUALITY WOULD MAKE EVERYBODY ALIKE.
"Here, then, is one which they seem to have thought a great deal of. They argued that the effect of economic equality would be to make everybody just alike, as if they had been sawed off to one measure, and that consequently life would become so monotonous that people would all hang themselves at the end of a month. This objection is beautifully typical of an age when everything and everybody had been reduced to a money valuation. It having been proposed to equalize everybody's supply of money, it was at once assumed, as a matter of course, that there would be left no points of difference between individuals that would be worth considering. How perfectly does this conclusion express the philosophy of life held by a generation in which it was the custom to sum up men as respectively 'worth' so many thousands, hundred thousands, or millions of dollars! Naturally enough, to such people it seemed that human beings would become well-nigh indistinguishable if their bank accounts were the same.
"But let us be entirely fair to your contemporaries. Possibly those who used this argument against economic equality would have felt aggrieved to have it made out the baldly sordid proposition it seems to be. They appear, to judge from the excerpts collected in this book, to have had a vague but sincere apprehension that in some quite undefined way economic equality would really tend to make people monotonously alike, tediously similar, not merely as to bank accounts, but as to qualities in general, with the result of obscuring the differences in natural endowments, the interaction of which lends all the zest to social intercourse. It seems almost incredible that the obvious and necessary effect of economic equality could be apprehended in a sense so absolutely opposed to the truth. How could your contemporaries look about them without seeing that it is always inequality which prompts the suppression of individuality by putting a premium on servile imitation of superiors, and, on the other hand, that it is always among equals that one finds independence? Suppose, Julian, you had a squad of recruits and wanted to ascertain at a glance their difference in height, what sort of ground would you select to line them up on?"
"The levelest piece I could find, of course."
"Evidently; and no doubt these very objectors would have done the same in a like case, and yet they wholly failed to see that this was precisely what economic equality would mean for the community at large. Economic equality with the equalities of education and opportunity implied in it was the level standing ground, the even floor, on which the new order proposed to range all alike, that they might be known for what they were, and all their natural inequalities be brought fully out. The charge of abolishing and obscuring the natural differences between men lay justly not against the new order, but against the old, which, by a thousand artificial conditions and opportunities arising from economic inequality, made it impossible to know how far the apparent differences in individuals were natural, and how far they were the result of artificial conditions. Those who voiced the objection to economic equality as tending to make men all alike were fond of calling it a leveling process. So it was, but it was not men whom the process leveled, but the ground they stood on. From its introduction dates the first full and clear revelation of the natural and inherent varieties in human endowments. Economic equality, with all it implies, is the first condition of any true anthropometric or man-measuring system."
"Really," I said, "all these objections seem to be of the boomerang pattern, doing more damage to the side that used them than to the enemy."
"For that matter," replied the doctor, "the revolutionists would have been well off for ammunition if they had used only that furnished by their opponents' arguments. Take, for example, another specimen, which we may call the aesthetic objection to economic equality, and might regard as a development of the one just considered. It was asserted that the picturesqueness and amusement of the human spectacle would suffer without the contrast of conditions between the rich and poor. The question first suggested by this statement is: To whom, to what class did these contrasts tend to make life more amusing? Certainly not to the poor, who made up the mass of the race. To them they must have been maddening. It was then in the interest of the mere handful of rich and fortunate that this argument for retaining poverty was urged. Indeed this appears to have been quite a fine ladies' argument. Kenloe puts it in the mouths of leaders of polite society. As coolly as if it had been a question of parlor decoration, they appear to have argued that the black background of the general misery was a desirable foil to set off the pomp of the rich. But, after all, this objection was not more brutal than it was stupid. If here and there might be found some perverted being who relished his luxuries the more keenly for the sight of others' want, yet the general and universal rule is that happiness is stimulated by the sight of the happiness of others. As a matter of fact, far from desiring to see or be even reminded of squalor and poverty, the rich seem to have tried to get as far as possible from sight or sound of them, and to wish to forget their existence.
"A great part of the objections to economic equality in this book seems to have been based on such complete misapprehensions of what the plan implied as to have no sort of relevancy to it. Some of these I have passed over. One of them, by way of illustration, was based on the assumption that the new social order would in some way operate to enforce, by law, relations of social intimacy of all with all, without regard to personal tastes or affinities. Quite a number of Kenloe's subjects worked themselves up to a frenzy, protesting against the intolerable effects of such a requirement. Of course, they were fighting imaginary foes. There was nothing under the old social order which compelled men to associate merely because their bank accounts or incomes were the same, and there was nothing under the new order that would any more do so. While the universality of culture and refinement vastly widens the circle from which one may choose congenial associates, there is nothing to prevent anybody from living a life as absolutely unsocial as the veriest cynic of the old time could have desired.
OBJECTION THAT EQUALITY WOULD END THE COMPETITIVE SYSTEM.
"The theory of Kenloe," continued the doctor, "that unless he carefully recorded and authenticated these objections to economic equality, posterity would refuse to believe that they had ever been seriously offered, is specially justified by the next one on the list. This is an argument against the new order because it would abolish the competitive system and put an end to the struggle for existence. According to the objectors, this would be to destroy an invaluable school of character and testing process for the weeding out of inferiority, and the development and survival as leaders of the best types of humanity. Now, if your contemporaries had excused themselves for tolerating the competitive system on the ground that, bad and cruel as it was, the world was not ripe for any other, the attitude would have been intelligible, if not rational; but that they should defend it as a desirable institution in itself, on account of its moral results, and therefore not to be dispensed with even if it could be, seems hard to believe. For what was the competitive system but a pitiless, all-involving combat for the means of life, the whole zest of which depended on the fact that there was not enough to go round, and the losers must perish or purchase bare existence by becoming the bondmen of the successful? Between a fight for the necessary means of life like this and a fight for life itself with sword and gun, it is impossible to make any real distinction. However, let us give the objection a fair hearing.
"In the first place, let us admit that, however dreadful were the incidents of the fight for the means of life called competition, yet, if it were such a school of character and testing process for developing the best types of the race as these objectors claimed, there would be something to have been said in favor of its retention. But the first condition of any competition or test, the results of which are to command respect or possess any value, is the fairness and equality of the struggle. Did this first and essential condition of any true competitive struggle characterize the competitive system of your day?"
"On the contrary," I replied, "the vast majority of the contestants were hopelessly handicapped at the start by ignorance and lack of early advantages, and never had even the ghost of a chance from the word go. Differences in economic advantages and backing, moreover, gave half the race at the beginning to some, leaving the others at a distance which only extraordinary endowments might overcome. Finally, in the race for wealth all the greatest prizes were not subject to competition at all, but were awarded without any contest according to the accident of birth."
"On the whole, then, it would appear," resumed the doctor, "that of all the utterly unequal, unfair, fraudulent, sham contests, whether in sport or earnest, that were ever engaged in, the so-called competitive system was the ghastliest farce. It was called the competitive system apparently for no other reason than that there was not a particle of genuine competition in it, nothing but brutal and cowardly slaughter of the unarmed and overmatched by bullies in armor; for, although we have compared the competitive struggle to a foot race, it was no such harmless sport as that, but a struggle to the death for life and liberty, which, mind you, the contestants did not even choose to risk, but were forced to undertake, whatever their chances. The old Romans used to enjoy the spectacle of seeing men fight for their lives, but they at least were careful to pair their gladiators as nearly as possible. The most hardened attendants at the Coliseum would have hissed from the arena a performance in which the combatants were matched with such utter disregard of fairness as were those who fought for their lives in the so-called competitive struggle of your day."
"Even you, doctor," I said, "though you know these things so well through the written record, can not realize how terribly true your words are."
"Very good. Now tell me what it would have been necessary to do by way of equalizing the conditions of the competitive struggle in order that it might be called, without mockery, a fair test of the qualities of the contestants."
"It would have been necessary, at least," I said, "to equalize their educational equipment, early advantages, and economic or money backing."
"Precisely so; and that is just what economic equality proposed to do. Your extraordinary contemporaries objected to economic equality because it would destroy the competitive system, when, in fact, it promised the world the first and only genuine competitive system it ever had."
"This objection seems the biggest boomerang yet," I said.
"It is a double-ended one," said the doctor, "and we have yet observed but one end. We have seen that the so-called competitive system under private capitalism was not a competitive system at all, and that nothing but economic equality could make a truly competitive system possible. Grant, however, for the sake of the argument, that the old system was honestly competitive, and that the prizes went to the most proficient under the requirements of the competition; the question would remain whether the qualities the competition tended to develop were desirable ones. A training school in the art of lying, for example, or burglary, or slander, or fraud, might be efficient in its method and the prizes might be fairly distributed to the most proficient pupils, and yet it would scarcely be argued that the maintenance of the school was in the public interest. The objection we are considering assumes that the qualities encouraged and rewarded under the competitive system were desirable qualities, and such as it was for the public policy to develop. Now, if this was so, we may confidently expect to find that the prize-winners in the competitive struggle, the great money-makers of your age, were admitted to be intellectually and morally the finest types of the race at the time. How was that?"
"Don't be sarcastic, doctor."
"No, I will not be sarcastic, however great the temptation, but just talk straight on. What did the world, as a rule, think of the great fortune-makers of your time? What sort of human types did they represent? As to intellectual culture, it was held as an axiom that a college education was a drawback to success in business, and naturally so, for any knowledge of the humanities would in so far have unmanned men for the sordid and pitiless conditions of the fight for wealth. We find the great prize takers in the competitive struggle to have generally been men who made it a boast that they had never had any mental education beyond the rudiments. As a rule, the children and grandchildren, who gladly inherited their wealth, were ashamed of their appearance and manners as too gross for refined surroundings.
"So much for the intellectual qualities that marked the victors in the race for wealth under the miscalled competitive system; what of the moral? What were the qualities and practices which the successful seeker after great wealth must systematically cultivate and follow? A lifelong habit of calculating upon and taking advantage of the weaknesses, necessities, and mistakes of others, a pitiless insistence upon making the most of every advantage which one might gain over another, whether by skill or accident, the constant habit of undervaluing and depreciating what one would buy, and overvaluing what one would sell; finally, such a lifelong study to regulate every thought and act with sole reference to the pole star of self-interest in its narrowest conception as must needs presently render the man incapable of every generous or self-forgetting impulse. That was the condition of mind and soul which the competitive pursuit of wealth in your day tended to develop, and which was naturally most brilliantly exemplified in the cases of those who carried away the great prizes of the struggle.
"But, of course, these winners of the great prizes were few, and had the demoralizing influence of the struggle been limited to them it would have involved the moral ruin of a small number. To realize how wide and deadly was the depraving influence of the struggle for existence, we must remember that it was not confined to its effect upon the characters of the few who succeeded, but demoralized equally the millions who failed, not on account of a virtue superior to that of the few winners, or any unwillingness to adopt their methods, but merely through lack of the requisite ability or fortune. Though not one in ten thousand might succeed largely in the pursuit of wealth, yet the rules of the contest must be followed as closely to make a bare living as to gain a fortune, in bargaining for a bag of old rags as in buying a railroad. So it was that the necessity equally upon all of seeking their living, however humble, by the methods of competition, forbade the solace of a good conscience as effectually to the poor man as to the rich, to the many losers at the game as to the few winners. You remember the familiar legend which represents the devil as bargaining with people for their souls, with the promise of worldly success as the price. The bargain was in a manner fair as set forth in the old story. The man always received the price agreed on. But the competitive system was a fraudulent devil, which, while requiring everybody to forfeit their souls, gave in return worldly success to but one in a thousand.
"And now, Julian, just let us glance at the contrast between what winning meant under the old false competitive system and what it means under the new and true competitive system, both to the winner and to the others. The winners then were those who had been most successful in getting away the wealth of others. They had not even pretended to seek the good of the community or to advance its interest, and if they had done so, that result had been quite incidental. More often than otherwise their wealth represented the loss of others. What wonder that their riches became a badge of ignominy and their victory their shame? The winners in the competition of to-day are those who have done most to increase the general wealth and welfare. The losers, those who have failed to win the prizes, are not the victims of the winners, but those whose interest, together with the general interest, has been served by them better than they themselves could have served it. They are actually better off because a higher ability than theirs was developed in the race, seeing that this ability redounded wholly to the common interest. The badges of honor and rewards of rank and office which are the tangible evidence of success won in the modern competitive struggle are but expressions of the love and gratitude of the people to those who have proved themselves their most devoted and efficient servants and benefactors."
"It strikes me," I said, "so far as you have gone, that if some one had been employed to draw up a list of the worst and weakest aspects of private capitalism, he could not have done better than to select the features of the system on which its champions seem to have based their objections to a change."
OBJECTION THAT EQUALITY WOULD DISCOURAGE INDEPENDENCE AND ORIGINALITY.
"That is an impression," said the doctor, "which you will find confirmed as we take up the next of the arguments on our list against economic equality. It was asserted that to have an economic maintenance on simple and easy terms guaranteed to all by the nation would tend to discourage originality and independence of thought and conduct on the part of the people, and hinder the development of character and individuality. This objection might be regarded as a branch of the former one that economic equality would make everybody just alike, or it might be considered a corollary of the argument we have just disposed of about the value of competition as a school of character. But so much seems to have been made of it by the opponents of the Revolution that I have set it down separately.
"The objection is one which, by the very terms necessary to state it, seems to answer itself, for it amounts to saying that a person will be in danger of losing independence of feeling by gaining independence of position. If I were to ask you what economic condition was regarded as most favorable to moral and intellectual independence in your day, and most likely to encourage a man to act out himself without fear or favor, what would you say?"
"I should say, of course, that a secure and independent basis of livelihood was that condition."
"Of course. Now, what the new order promised to give and guarantee everybody was precisely this absolute independence and security of livelihood. And yet it was argued that the arrangement would be objectionable, as tending to discourage independence of character. It seems to us that if there is any one particular in which the influence upon humanity of economic equality has been more beneficent than any other, it has been the effect which security of economic position has had to make every one absolute lord of himself and answerable for his opinions, speech, and conduct to his own conscience only.
"That is perhaps enough to say in answer to an objection which, as I remarked, really confutes itself, but the monumental audacity of the defenders of private capitalism in arguing that any other possible system could be more unfavorable than itself to human dignity and independence tempts a little comment, especially as this is an aspect of the old order on which I do not remember that we have had much talk. As it seems to us, perhaps the most offensive feature of private capitalism, if one may select among so many offensive features, was its effect to make cowardly, time-serving, abject creatures of human beings, as a consequence of the dependence for a living, of pretty nearly everybody upon some individual or group.
"Let us just glance at the spectacle which the old order presented in this respect. Take the women in the first place, half the human race. Because they stood almost universally in a relation of economic dependence, first upon men in general and next upon some man in particular, they were all their lives in a state of subjection both to the personal dictation of some individual man, and to a set of irksome and mind-benumbing conventions representing traditional standards of opinion as to their proper conduct fixed in accordance with the masculine sentiment. But if the women had no independence at all, the men were not so very much better off. Of the masculine half of the world, the greater part were hirelings dependent for their living upon the favor of employers and having the most direct interest to conform so far as possible in opinions and conduct to the prejudices of their masters, and, when they could not conform, to be silent. Look at your secret ballot laws. You thought them absolutely necessary in order to enable workingmen to vote freely. What a confession is that fact of the universal intimidation of the employed by the employer! Next there were the business men, who held themselves above the workingmen. I mean the tradesmen, who sought a living by persuading the people to buy of them. But here our quest of independence is even more hopeless than among the workingmen, for, in order to be successful in attracting the custom of those whom they cringingly styled their patrons, it was necessary for the merchant to be all things to all men, and to make an art of obsequiousness.
"Let us look yet higher. We may surely expect to find independence of thought and speech among the learned classes in the so-called liberal professions if nowhere else. Let us see how our inquiry fares there. Take the clerical profession first--that of the religious ministers and teachers. We find that they were economic servants and hirelings either of hierarchies or congregations, and paid to voice the opinions of their employers and no others. Every word that dropped from their lips was carefully weighed lest it should indicate a trace of independent thinking, and if it were found, the clergyman risked his living. Take the higher branches of secular teaching in the colleges and professions. There seems to have been some freedom allowed in teaching the dead languages; but let the instructor take up some living issue and handle it in a manner inconsistent with the capitalist interest, and you know well enough what became of him. Finally, take the editorial profession, the writers for the press, who on the whole represented the most influential branch of the learned class. The great nineteenth-century newspaper was a capitalistic enterprise as purely commercial in its principle as a woolen factory, and the editors were no more allowed to write their own opinions than the weavers to choose the patterns they wove. They were employed to advocate the opinions and interests of the capitalists owning the paper and no others. The only respect in which the journalists seem to have differed from the clergy was in the fact that the creeds which the latter were employed to preach were more or less fixed traditions, while those which the editors must preach changed with the ownership of the paper. This, Julian, is the truly exhilarating spectacle of abounding and unfettered originality, of sturdy moral and intellectual independence and rugged individuality, which it was feared by your contemporaries might be endangered by any change in the economic system. We may agree with them that it would have been indeed a pity if any influence should operate to make independence any rarer than it was, but they need not have been apprehensive; it could not be."
"Judging from these examples of the sort of argumentative opposition which the revolutionists had to meet," I observed, "it strikes me that they must have had a mighty easy time of it."
"So far as rational argument was concerned," replied the doctor, "no great revolutionary movement ever had to contend with so little opposition. The cause of the capitalists was so utterly bad, either from the point of view of ethics, politics, or economic science, that there was literally nothing that could be said for it that could not be turned against it with greater effect. Silence was the only safe policy for the capitalists, and they would have been glad enough to follow it if the people had not insisted that they should make some sort of a plea to the indictment against them. But because the argumentative opposition which the revolutionists had to meet was contemptible in quality, it did not follow that their work was an easy one. Their real task--and it was one for giants--was not to dispose of the arguments against their cause, but to overcome the moral and intellectual inertia of the masses and rouse them to do just a little clear thinking for themselves.
POLITICAL CORRUPTION AS AN OBJECTION TO NATIONALIZING INDUSTRY.
"The next objection--there are only two or three more worth mentioning--is directed not so much against economic equality in itself as against the fitness of the machinery by which the new industrial system was to be carried on. The extension of popular government over industry and commerce involved of course the substitution of public and political administration on a large scale for the previous irresponsible control of private capitalists. Now, as I need not tell you, the Government of the United States--municipal, State, and national--in the last third of the nineteenth century had become very corrupt. It was argued that to intrust any additional functions to governments so corrupt would be nothing short of madness."
"Ah!" I exclaimed, "that is perhaps the rational objection we have been waiting for. I am sure it is one that would have weighed heavily with me, for the corruption of our governmental system smelled to heaven."
"There is no doubt," said the doctor, "that there was a great deal of political corruption and that it was a very bad thing, but we must look a little deeper than these objectors did to see the true bearing of this fact on the propriety of nationalizing industry.
"An instance of political corruption was one where the public servant abused his trust by using the administration under his control for purposes of private gain instead of solely for the public interest--that is to say, he managed his public trust just as if it were his private business and tried to make a profit out of it. A great outcry was made, and very properly, when any such conduct was suspected; and therefore the corrupt officers operated under great difficulties, and were in constant danger of detection and punishment. Consequently, even in the worst governments of your period the mass of business was honestly conducted, as it professed to be, in the public interest, comparatively few and occasional transactions being affected by corrupt influences.
"On the other hand, what were the theory and practice pursued by the capitalists in carrying on the economic machinery which were under their control? They did not profess to act in the public interest or to have any regard for it. The avowed object of their whole policy was so to use the machinery of their position as to make the greatest personal gains possible for themselves out of the community. That is to say, the use of his control of the public machinery for his personal gain--which on the part of the public official was denounced and punished as a crime, and for the greater part prevented by public vigilance--was the avowed policy of the capitalist. It was the pride of the public official that he left office as poor as when he entered it, but it was the boast of the capitalist that he made a fortune out of the opportunities of his position. In the case of the capitalist these gains were not called corrupt, as they were when made by public officials in the discharge of public business. They were called profits, and regarded as legitimate; but the practical point to consider as to the results of the two systems was that these profits cost the people they came out of just as much as if they had been called political plunder.
"And yet these wise men in Kenloe's collection taught the people, and somebody must have listened to them, that because in some instances public officials succeeded in spite of all precautions in using the public administration for their own gain, it would not be safe to put any more public interests under public administration, but would be safer to leave them to private capitalists, who frankly proposed as their regular policy just what the public officials were punished whenever caught doing--namely, taking advantage of the opportunities of their position to enrich themselves at public expense. It was precisely as if the owner of an estate, finding it difficult to secure stewards who were perfectly faithful, should be counseled to protect himself by putting his affairs in the hands of professional thieves."
"You mean," I said, "that political corruption merely meant the occasional application to the public administration of the profit-seeking principle on which all private business was conducted."
"Certainly. A case of corruption in office was simply a case where the public official forgot his oath and for the occasion took a businesslike view of the opportunities of his position--that is to say, when the public official fell from grace he only fell to the normal level on which all private business was admittedly conducted. It is simply astonishing, Julian, how completely your contemporaries overlooked this obvious fact. Of course, it was highly proper that they should be extremely critical of the conduct of their public officials; but it is unaccountable that they should fail to see that the profits of private capitalists came out of the community's pockets just as certainly as did the stealings of dishonest officials, and that even in the most corrupt public departments the stealings represented a far less percentage than would have been taken as profits if the same business were done for the public by capitalists.
"So much for the precious argument that, because some officials sometimes took profits of the people, it would be more economical to leave their business in the hands of those who would systematically do so! But, of course, although the public conduct of business, even if it were marked with a certain amount of corruption, would still be more economical for the community than leaving it under the profit system, yet no self-respecting community would wish to tolerate any public corruption at all, and need not, if only the people would exercise vigilance. Now, what will compel the people to exercise vigilance as to the public administration? The closeness with which we follow the course of an agent depends on the importance of the interests put in his hands. Corruption has always thrived in political departments in which the mass of the people have felt little direct concern. Place under public administration vital concerns of the community touching their welfare daily at many points, and there will be no further lack of vigilance. Had they been wiser, the people who objected to the governmental assumption of new economic functions on account of existing political corruption would have advocated precisely that policy as the specific cure for the evil.
"A reason why these objectors seem to have been especially short-sighted is the fact that by all odds the most serious form which political corruption took in America at that day was the bribery of legislators by private capitalists and corporations in order to obtain franchises and privileges. In comparison with this abuse, peculation or bribery of crude direct sorts were of little extent or importance. Now, the immediate and express effect of the governmental assumption of economic businesses would be, so far as it went, to dry up this source of corruption, for it was precisely this class of capitalist undertakings which the revolutionists proposed first to bring under public control.
"Of course, this objection was directed only against the new order while in process of introduction. With its complete establishment the very possibility of corruption, would disappear with the law of absolute uniformity governing all incomes.
"Worse and worse," I exclaimed. "What is the use of going further?"
"Patience," said the doctor. "Let us complete the subject while we are on it. There are only a couple more of the objections that have shape enough to admit of being stated."
OBJECTION THAT A NATIONALIZED INDUSTRIAL SYSTEM WOULD THREATEN LIBERTY.
"The first of them," pursued the doctor, "was the argument that such an extension of the functions of public administration as nationalized industries involved would lodge a power in the hands of the Government, even though it were the people's own government, that would be dangerous to their liberties.
"All the plausibility there was to this objection rested on the tacit assumption that the people in their industrial relations had under private capitalism been free and unconstrained and subject to no form of authority. But what assumption could have been more regardless of facts than this? Under private capitalism the entire scheme of industry and commerce, involving the employment and livelihood of everybody, was subject to the despotic and irresponsible government of private masters. The very demand for nationalizing industry has resulted wholly from the sufferings of the people under the yoke of the capitalists.
"In 1776 the Americans overthrew the British royal government in the colonies and established their own in its place. Suppose at that time the king had sent an embassy to warn the American people that by assuming these new functions of government which formerly had been performed for them by him they were endangering their liberty. Such an embassy would, of course, have been laughed at. If any reply had been thought needful, it would have been pointed out that the Americans were not establishing over themselves any new government, but were substituting a government of their own, acting in their own interests, for the government of others conducted in an indifferent or hostile interest. Now, that was precisely what nationalizing industry meant. The question was, Given the necessity of some sort of regulation and direction of the industrial system, whether it would tend more to liberty for the people to leave that power to irresponsible persons with hostile interests, or to exercise it themselves through responsible agents? Could there conceivably be but one answer to that question?
"And yet it seems that a noted philosopher of the period, in a tract which has come down to us, undertook to demonstrate that if the people perfected the democratic system by assuming control of industry in the public interest, they would presently fall into a state of slavery which would cause them to sigh for the days of Nero and Caligula. I wish we had that philosopher here, that we might ask him how, in accordance with any observed laws of human nature, slavery was going to come about as the result of a system aiming to establish and perpetuate a more perfect degree of equality, intellectual as well as material, than had ever been known. Did he fancy that the people would deliberately and maliciously impose a yoke upon themselves, or did he apprehend that some usurper would get hold of the social machinery and use it to reduce the people to servitude? But what usurper from the beginning ever essayed a task so hopeless as the subversion of a state in which there were no classes or interests to set against one another, a state in which there was no aristocracy and no populace, a state the stability of which represented the equal and entire stake in life of every human being in it? Truly it would seem that people who conceived the subversion of such a republic possible ought to have lost no time in chaining down the Pyramids, lest they, too, defying ordinary laws of Nature, should incontinently turn upon their tops.
"But let us leave the dead to bury their dead, and consider how the nationalization of industry actually did affect the bearing of government upon the people. If the amount of governmental machinery--that is, the amount of regulating, controlling, assigning, and directing under the public management of industry--had continued to be just the same it was under the private administration of the capitalists, the fact that it was now the people's government, managing everything in the people's interest under responsibility to the people, instead of an irresponsible tyranny seeking its own interest, would of course make an absolute difference in the whole character and effect of the system and make it vastly more tolerable. But not merely did the nationalization of industry give a wholly new character and purpose to the economic administration, but it also greatly diminished the net amount of governing necessary to carry it on. This resulted naturally from the unity of system with the consequent co-ordination and interworking of all the parts which took the place of the former thousand-headed management following as many different and conflicting lines of interest, each a law to itself. To the workers the difference was as if they had passed out from under the capricious personal domination of innumerable petty despots to a government of laws and principles so simple and systematic that the sense of being subject to personal authority was gone.
"But to fully realize how strongly this argument of too much government directed against the system of nationalized industry partook of the boomerang quality of the previous objections, we must look on to the later effects which the social justice of the new order would naturally have to render superfluous well-nigh the whole machinery of government as previously conducted. The main, often almost sole, business of governments in your day was the protection of property and person against criminals, a system involving a vast amount of interference with the innocent. This function of the state has now become almost obsolete. There are no more any disputes about property, any thefts of property, or any need of protecting property. Everybody has all he needs and as much as anybody else. In former ages a great number of crimes have resulted from the passions of love and jealousy. They were consequences of the idea derived from immemorial barbarism that men and women might acquire sexual proprietorship in one another, to be maintained and asserted against the will of the person. Such crimes ceased to be known after the first generation had grown up under the absolute sexual autonomy and independence which followed from economic equality. There being no lower classes now which upper classes feel it their duty to bring up in the way they should go, in spite of themselves, all sorts of attempts to regulate personal behavior in self-regarding matters by sumptuary legislation have long ago ceased. A government in the sense of a coordinating directory of our associated industries we shall always need, but that is practically all the government we have now. It used to be a dream of philosophers that the world would some time enjoy such a reign of reason and justice that men would be able to live together without laws. That condition, so far as concerns punitive and coercive regulations, we have practically attained. As to compulsory laws, we might be said to live almost in a state of anarchy.
"There is, as I explained to you in the Labor Exchange the other morning, no compulsion, in the end, even as to the performance of the universal duty of public service. We only insist that those who finally refuse to do their part toward maintaining the social welfare shall not be partakers of it, but shall resort by themselves and provide for themselves.
THE MALTHUSIAN OBJECTION.
"And now we come to the last objection on my list. It is entirely different in character from any of the others. It does not deny that economic equality would be practicable or desirable, or assert that the machinery would work badly. It admits that the system would prove a triumphant success in raising human welfare to an unprecedented point and making the world an incomparably more agreeable place to live in. It was indeed the conceded success of the plan which was made the basis of this objection to it."
"That must be a curious sort of objection," I said. "Let us hear about it."
"The objectors put it in this way: 'Let us suppose,' they said, 'that poverty and all the baneful influences upon life and health that follow in its train are abolished and all live out their natural span of life. Everybody being assured of maintenance for self and children, no motive of prudence would be operative to restrict the number of offspring. Other things being equal, these conditions would mean a much faster increase of population than ever before known, and ultimately an overcrowding of the earth and a pressure on the food supply, unless indeed we suppose new and indefinite food sources to be found?'"
"I do not see why it might not be reasonable to anticipate such a result," I observed, "other things being equal."
"Other things being equal," replied the doctor, "such a result might be anticipated. But other things would not be equal, but so different that their influence could be depended on to prevent any such result."
"What are the other things that would not be equal?"
"Well, the first would be the diffusion of education, culture, and general refinement. Tell me, were the families of the well-to-do and cultured class in the America of your day, as a whole, large?"
"Quite the contrary. They did not, as a rule, more than replace themselves."
"Still, they were not prevented by any motive of prudence from increasing their numbers. They occupied in this respect as independent a position as families do under the present order of economic equality and guaranteed maintenance. Did it never occur to you why the families of the well-to-do and cultured in your day were not larger?"
"Doubtless," I said, "it was on account of the fact that in proportion as culture and refinement opened intellectual and aesthetic fields of interest, the impulses of crude animalism played less important parts in life. Then, too, in proportion as families were refined the woman ceased to be the mere sexual slave of the husband, and her wishes as to such matters were considered."
"Quite so. The reflection you have suggested is enough to indicate the fallacy of the whole Malthusian theory of the increase of population on which this objection to better social conditions was founded. Malthus, as you know, held that population tended to increase faster than means of subsistence, and therefore that poverty and the tremendous wastes of life it stood for were absolutely necessary in order to prevent the world from starving to death by overcrowding. Of course, this doctrine was enormously popular with the rich and learned class, who were responsible for the world's misery. They naturally were delighted to be assured that their indifference to the woes of the poor, and even their positive agency in multiplying those woes, were providentially overruled for good, so as to be really rather praiseworthy than otherwise. The Malthus doctrine also was very convenient as a means of turning the tables on reformers who proposed to abolish poverty by proving that, instead of benefiting mankind, their reforms would only make matters worse in the end by overcrowding the earth and starving everybody. By means of the Malthus doctrine, the meanest man who ever ground the face of the poor had no difficulty in showing that he was really a slightly disguised benefactor of the race, while the philanthropist was an injurious fellow.
"This prodigious convenience of Malthusianism has an excuse for things as they were, furnishes the explanation for the otherwise incomprehensible vogue of so absurd a theory. That absurdity consists in the fact that, while laying such stress on the direct effects of poverty and all the ills it stands for to destroy life, it utterly failed to allow for the far greater influence which the brutalizing circumstances of poverty exerted to promote the reckless multiplication of the species. Poverty, with all its deadly consequences, slew its millions, but only after having, by means of its brutalizing conditions, promoted the reckless reproduction of tens of millions--that is to say, the Malthus doctrine recognized only the secondary effects of misery and degradation in reducing population, and wholly overlooked their far more important primary effect in multiplying it. That was its fatal fallacy.
"It was a fallacy the more inexcusable because Malthus and all his followers were surrounded by a society the conditions of which absolutely refuted their theory. They had only to open then eyes to see that wherever the poverty and squalor chiefly abounded, which they vaunted as such valuable checks to population, humankind multiplied like rabbits, while in proportion as the economic level of a class was raised its proliferousness declined. What corollary from this fact of universal observation could be more obvious than that the way to prevent reckless overpopulation was to raise, not to depress, the economic status of the mass, with all the general improvement in well-being which that implied? How long do you suppose such an absurdly fundamental fallacy as underlay the Malthus theory would have remained unexposed if Malthus had been a revolutionist instead of a champion and defender of capitalism?
"But let Malthus go. While the low birth-rate among the cultured classes--whose condition was the prototype of the general condition under economic equality--was refutation enough of the overpopulation objection, yet there is another and far more conclusive answer, the full force of which remains to be brought out. You said a few moments ago that one reason why the birth-rate was so moderate among the cultured classes was the fact that in that class the wishes of women were more considered than in the lower classes. The necessary effect of economic equality between the sexes would mean, however, that, instead of being more or less considered, the wishes of women in all matters touching the subject we are discussing would be final and absolute. Previous to the establishment of economic equality by the great Revolution the non-child-bearing sex was the sex which determined the question of child-bearing, and the natural consequence was the possibility of a Malthus and his doctrine. Nature has provided in the distress and inconvenience of the maternal function a sufficient check upon its abuse, just as she has in regard to all the other natural functions. But, in order that Nature's check should be properly operative, it is necessary that the women through whose wills it must operate, if at all, should be absolutely free agents in the disposition of themselves, and the necessary condition of that free agency is economic independence. That secured, while we may be sure that the maternal instinct will forever prevent the race from dying out, the world will be equally little in danger of being recklessly overcrowded."