Democracy and Social Ethics
by Jane Addams
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According to the same law, the positive evils of corrupt government are bound to fall heaviest upon the poorest and least capable. When the water of Chicago is foul, the prosperous buy water bottled at distant springs; the poor have no alternative but the typhoid fever which comes from using the city's supply. When the garbage contracts are not enforced, the well-to-do pay for private service; the poor suffer the discomfort and illness which are inevitable from a foul atmosphere. The prosperous business man has a certain choice as to whether he will treat with the "boss" politician or preserve his independence on a smaller income; but to an Italian day laborer it is a choice between obeying the commands of a political "boss" or practical starvation. Again, a more intelligent man may philosophize a little upon the present state of corruption, and reflect that it is but a phase of our commercialism, from which we are bound to emerge; at any rate, he may give himself the solace of literature and ideals in other directions, but the more ignorant man who lives only in the narrow present has no such resource; slowly the conviction enters his mind that politics is a matter of favors and positions, that self-government means pleasing the "boss" and standing in with the "gang." This slowly acquired knowledge he hands on to his family. During the month of February his boy may come home from school with rather incoherent tales about Washington and Lincoln, and the father may for the moment be fired to tell of Garibaldi, but such talk is only periodic, and the long year round the fortunes of the entire family, down to the opportunity to earn food and shelter, depend upon the "boss."

In a certain measure also, the opportunities for pleasure and recreation depend upon him. To use a former illustration, if a man happens to have a taste for gambling, if the slot machine affords him diversion, he goes to those houses which are protected by political influence. If he and his friends like to drop into a saloon after midnight, or even want to hear a little music while they drink together early in the evening, he is breaking the law when he indulges in either of them, and can only be exempt from arrest or fine because the great political machine is friendly to him and expects his allegiance in return.

During the campaign, when it was found hard to secure enough local speakers of the moral tone which was desired, orators were imported from other parts of the town, from the so-called "better element." Suddenly it was rumored on all sides that, while the money and speakers for the reform candidate were coming from the swells, the money which was backing the corrupt alderman also came from a swell source; that the president of a street-car combination, for whom he performed constant offices in the city council, was ready to back him to the extent of fifty thousand dollars; that this president, too, was a good man, and sat in high places; that he had recently given a large sum of money to an educational institution and was therefore as philanthropic, not to say good and upright, as any man in town; that the corrupt alderman had the sanction of the highest authorities, and that the lecturers who were talking against corruption, and the selling and buying of franchises, were only the cranks, and not the solid business men who had developed and built up Chicago.

All parts of the community are bound together in ethical development. If the so-called more enlightened members accept corporate gifts from the man who buys up the council, and the so-called less enlightened members accept individual gifts from the man who sells out the council, we surely must take our punishment together. There is the difference, of course, that in the first case we act collectively, and in the second case individually; but is the punishment which follows the first any lighter or less far-reaching in its consequences than the more obvious one which follows the second?

Have our morals been so captured by commercialism, to use Mr. Chapman's generalization, that we do not see a moral dereliction when business or educational interests are served thereby, although we are still shocked when the saloon interest is thus served?

The street-car company which declares that it is impossible to do business without managing the city council, is on exactly the same moral level with the man who cannot retain political power unless he has a saloon, a large acquaintance with the semi-criminal class, and questionable money with which to debauch his constituents. Both sets of men assume that the only appeal possible is along the line of self-interest. They frankly acknowledge money getting as their own motive power, and they believe in the cupidity of all the men whom they encounter. No attempt in either case is made to put forward the claims of the public, or to find a moral basis for action. As the corrupt politician assumes that public morality is impossible, so many business men become convinced that to pay tribute to the corrupt aldermen is on the whole cheaper than to have taxes too high; that it is better to pay exorbitant rates for franchises, than to be made unwilling partners in transportation experiments. Such men come to regard political reformers as a sort of monomaniac, who are not reasonable enough to see the necessity of the present arrangement which has slowly been evolved and developed, and upon which business is safely conducted. A reformer who really knew the people and their great human needs, who believed that it was the business of government to serve them, and who further recognized the educative power of a sense of responsibility, would possess a clew by which he might analyze the situation. He would find out what needs, which the alderman supplies, are legitimate ones which the city itself could undertake, in counter-distinction to those which pander to the lower instincts of the constituency. A mother who eats her Christmas turkey in a reverent spirit of thankfulness to the alderman who gave it to her, might be gradually brought to a genuine sense of appreciation and gratitude to the city which supplies her little children with a Kindergarten, or, to the Board of Health which properly placarded a case of scarlet-fever next door and spared her sleepless nights and wearing anxiety, as well as the money paid with such difficulty to the doctor and the druggist. The man who in his emotional gratitude almost kneels before his political friend who gets his boy out of jail, might be made to see the kindness and good sense of the city authorities who provided the boy with a playground and reading room, where he might spend his hours of idleness and restlessness, and through which his temptations to petty crime might be averted. A man who is grateful to the alderman who sees that his gambling and racing are not interfered with, might learn to feel loyal and responsible to the city which supplied him with a gymnasium and swimming tank where manly and well-conducted sports are possible. The voter who is eager to serve the alderman at all times, because the tenure of his job is dependent upon aldermanic favor, might find great relief and pleasure in working for the city in which his place was secured by a well-administered civil service law.

After all, what the corrupt alderman demands from his followers and largely depends upon is a sense of loyalty, a standing-by the man who is good to you, who understands you, and who gets you out of trouble. All the social life of the voter from the time he was a little boy and played "craps" with his "own push," and not with some other "push," has been founded on this sense of loyalty and of standing in with his friends. Now that he is a man, he likes the sense of being inside a political organization, of being trusted with political gossip, of belonging to a set of fellows who understand things, and whose interests are being cared for by a strong friend in the city council itself. All this is perfectly legitimate, and all in the line of the development of a strong civic loyalty, if it were merely socialized and enlarged. Such a voter has already proceeded in the forward direction in so far as he has lost the sense of isolation, and has abandoned the conviction that city government does not touch his individual affairs. Even Mill claims that the social feelings of man, his desire to be at unity with his fellow-creatures, are the natural basis for morality, and he defines a man of high moral culture as one who thinks of himself, not as an isolated individual, but as a part in a social organism.

Upon this foundation it ought not to be difficult to build a structure of civic virtue. It is only necessary to make it clear to the voter that his individual needs are common needs, that is, public needs, and that they can only be legitimately supplied for him when they are supplied for all. If we believe that the individual struggle for life may widen into a struggle for the lives of all, surely the demand of an individual for decency and comfort, for a chance to work and obtain the fulness of life may be widened until it gradually embraces all the members of the community, and rises into a sense of the common weal.

In order, however, to give him a sense of conviction that his individual needs must be merged into the needs of the many, and are only important as they are thus merged, the appeal cannot be made along the line of self-interest. The demand should be universalized; in this process it would also become clarified, and the basis of our political organization become perforce social and ethical.

Would it be dangerous to conclude that the corrupt politician himself, because he is democratic in method, is on a more ethical line of social development than the reformer, who believes that the people must be made over by "good citizens" and governed by "experts"? The former at least are engaged in that great moral effort of getting the mass to express itself, and of adding this mass energy and wisdom to the community as a whole.

The wide divergence of experience makes it difficult for the good citizen to understand this point of view, and many things conspire to make it hard for him to act upon it. He is more or less a victim to that curious feeling so often possessed by the good man, that the righteous do not need to be agreeable, that their goodness alone is sufficient, and that they can leave the arts and wiles of securing popular favor to the self-seeking. This results in a certain repellent manner, commonly regarded as the apparel of righteousness, and is further responsible for the fatal mistake of making the surroundings of "good influences" singularly unattractive; a mistake which really deserves a reprimand quite as severe as the equally reprehensible deed of making the surroundings of "evil influences" so beguiling. Both are akin to that state of mind which narrows the entrance into a wider morality to the eye of a needle, and accounts for the fact that new moral movements have ever and again been inaugurated by those who have found themselves in revolt against the conventionalized good.

The success of the reforming politician who insists upon mere purity of administration and upon the control and suppression of the unruly elements in the community, may be the easy result of a narrowing and selfish process. For the painful condition of endeavoring to minister to genuine social needs, through the political machinery, and at the same time to remodel that machinery so that it shall be adequate to its new task, is to encounter the inevitable discomfort of a transition into a new type of democratic relation. The perplexing experiences of the actual administration, however, have a genuine value of their own. The economist who treats the individual cases as mere data, and the social reformer who labors to make such cases impossible, solely because of the appeal to his reason, may have to share these perplexities before they feel themselves within the grasp of a principle of growth, working outward from within; before they can gain the exhilaration and uplift which comes when the individual sympathy and intelligence is caught into the forward intuitive movement of the mass. This general movement is not without its intellectual aspects, but it has to be transferred from the region of perception to that of emotion before it is really apprehended. The mass of men seldom move together without an emotional incentive. The man who chooses to stand aside, avoids much of the perplexity, but at the same time he loses contact with a great source of vitality.

Perhaps the last and greatest difficulty in the paths of those who are attempting to define and attain a social morality, is that which arises from the fact that they cannot adequately test the value of their efforts, cannot indeed be sure of their motives until their efforts are reduced to action and are presented in some workable form of social conduct or control. For action is indeed the sole medium of expression for ethics. We continually forget that the sphere of morals is the sphere of action, that speculation in regard to morality is but observation and must remain in the sphere of intellectual comment, that a situation does not really become moral until we are confronted with the question of what shall be done in a concrete case, and are obliged to act upon our theory. A stirring appeal has lately been made by a recognized ethical lecturer who has declared that "It is insanity to expect to receive the data of wisdom by looking on. We arrive at moral knowledge only by tentative and observant practice. We learn how to apply the new insight by having attempted to apply the old and having found it to fail."

This necessity of reducing the experiment to action throws out of the undertaking all timid and irresolute persons, more than that, all those who shrink before the need of striving forward shoulder to shoulder with the cruder men, whose sole virtue may be social effort, and even that not untainted by self-seeking, who are indeed pushing forward social morality, but who are doing it irrationally and emotionally, and often at the expense of the well-settled standards of morality.

The power to distinguish between the genuine effort and the adventitious mistakes is perhaps the most difficult test which comes to our fallible intelligence. In the range of individual morals, we have learned to distrust him who would reach spirituality by simply renouncing the world, or by merely speculating upon its evils. The result, as well as the process of virtues attained by repression, has become distasteful to us. When the entire moral energy of an individual goes into the cultivation of personal integrity, we all know how unlovely the result may become; the character is upright, of course, but too coated over with the result of its own endeavor to be attractive. In this effort toward a higher morality in our social relations, we must demand that the individual shall be willing to lose the sense of personal achievement, and shall be content to realize his activity only in connection with the activity of the many.

The cry of "Back to the people" is always heard at the same time, when we have the prophet's demand for repentance or the religious cry of "Back to Christ," as though we would seek refuge with our fellows and believe in our common experiences as a preparation for a new moral struggle.

As the acceptance of democracy brings a certain life-giving power, so it has its own sanctions and comforts. Perhaps the most obvious one is the curious sense which comes to us from time to time, that we belong to the whole, that a certain basic well being can never be taken away from us whatever the turn of fortune. Tolstoy has portrayed the experience in "Master and Man." The former saves his servant from freezing, by protecting him with the heat of his body, and his dying hours are filled with an ineffable sense of healing and well-being. Such experiences, of which we have all had glimpses, anticipate in our relation to the living that peace of mind which envelopes us when we meditate upon the great multitude of the dead. It is akin to the assurance that the dead understand, because they have entered into the Great Experience, and therefore must comprehend all lesser ones; that all the misunderstandings we have in life are due to partial experience, and all life's fretting comes of our limited intelligence; when the last and Great Experience comes, it is, perforce, attended by mercy and forgiveness. Consciously to accept Democracy and its manifold experiences is to anticipate that peace and freedom.


Alderman, basis of his political success, 226, 228, 240, 243, 248, 267; his influence on morals of the American boy, 251, 255, 256; on standard of life, 257; his power, 232, 233, 235, 246, 260; his social duties, 234, 236, 243, 250.

Art and the workingman, 219, 225.

"Boss," the, ignorant man's dependence on, 260, 266.

Business college, the, 197.

Charity, administration of, 14, 22; neighborly relations in, 29, 230; organized, 25; standards in, 15, 27, 32, 38, 49, 58; scientific vs. human relations in, 64.

Child labor, premature work, 41, 188; first laws concerning, 167, 170.

City, responsibilities of, 266.

Civil service law, its enforcement, 231, 233.

Commercial and industrial life, social position of, compared, 193.

Commercialism and education, 190-199, 216; morals captured by, 264; polytechnic schools taken by, 202.

Cooeperation, 153, 158.

Cooper, Peter, 202.

Dayton, Ohio, factory at, 216.

Death and burials among simple people, 238.

Domestic service, problem of, in France, England, and America, 135; industrial difficulty of, 106; moral issues of, 106.

Education, attempts at industrial, 201; commercialism in, 196, 201; in commercialism, 216; in technical schools, 201; lack of adaptation in, 199, 208, 212; of industrial workers, 180, 193, 199, 219; offset to overspecialization, 211; public school and, 190, 192; relation of, to the child, 180, 185, 193; relation of, to the immigrant, 181-186; university extension lectures and settlements, 199; workingmen's lecture courses, 214.

Educators, mistakes of, 212; new demands on, 178, 192, 201, 211.

Family claim, the, 4, 74, 78; daughter's college education, 82; employer's vs. domestic's, 123, 124; on the daughter, 82; on the son, ibid.

Family life, misconception of, 116.

Filial relations, clash of moral codes, 94.

Funerals, attitude of simple people toward, 238.

Household employee, the, 108, 109; character of, 112; domestic vs. factory, 116, 118, 119, 122; isolation of, 109, 111, 117, 120, 132; morals of, 125; unnatural relation of, 113, 120, 121, 126, 127; unreasonable demands on, 113, 115; residence clubs for, 133; social position of, 114, 119, 122.

Household employer, the, undemocratic ethics of, 116; reform of, in relation to employee, 126.

Household, the, advantages and disadvantages of factory work over, 129; competition of factory work with, 128; difficulties of the small, 135; industrial isolation of, 117; industry of, transferred to factory, 104, 105; lack of progress in, 117; origin of, 104; social vs. individual aspects of, 103; suburban difficulties of, 134; wages in, 131.

Hull-house experiences, 43, 53, 58, 59, 240, 247.

Human life, value of, 7, 178.

Individual action vs. associated, 137, 153, 158; advantages of, 158, 162; limitations of, 165; moral evolution involved in, 226.

Individual vs. social needs, 155, 269.

Individual vs. social virtues, 224, 227, 265.

Italian immigrant, the, conception of abstract virtue among, 229; dependence of, on their children, 184; education of, 185; new conditions of life of, 181.

Juvenile criminal, the, evolution of, 53-56, 187.

Labor, division of, 210, 213; reaction from, 215.

Law and order, 172, 174, 234.

Moral fact and moral idea, 227, 229, 273.

Morality, natural basis of, 268; personal and social, 6, 176, 103.

Philanthropic standpoint, the, its dangers, 150, 155-157.

Philanthropist, the, 154, 175-176.

Political corruption, ethical development in, 270; formation of reform clubs, 246; greatest pressure of, 260; individual and social aspect of, 264; leniency in regard to, 239; responsibility for, 256, 263; selling of votes, 244-246; street railway and saloon interest, 262.

Political leaders, causes of success of, 224.

Political standards, 228, 229, 251-253, 261; compared with Benjamin Franklin's, 255.

Referendum method, the, 164.

Reformer, the, ethics of, 270.

Reform movements in politics, causes of failure in, 222, 240, 262, 272, 274; business men's attitude toward, 265.

Rumford, Count, 117.

Ruskin, 219.

Saloon, the, 243, 264.

Social claim, the, 4, 77; child study and, 92, 180; misplaced energy and, 90.

Social virtues, code of employer, 143, 148; code of laboring man, ibid.

Technical schools, 201; adaptation of, to workingmen, 204; compromises in, 203; polytechnic institutions, 202; textile schools, 203; women in, ibid.

Thrift, individualism of, 31, 40, 212.

Trades unions, 148, 158, 167, 169, 171; sympathetic strikes, 174.

Workingman, the, ambition of, for his children, 191, 258; art in relation to, 218; charity of, 154; evening classes and social entertainment for, 189; grievance of, 211; historical perspective in the work of, ibid.; organizations of, 214; standards for political candidate, 257.

[Footnote 1: This index is not intended to be exhaustive.]


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