"This was the situation which made it necessary previous to the conquest of the General Government by the revolutionary party, in order that the workingmen should be made free to vote for their own deliverance, that at least a provisional system of employment should be established whereby the wage-earner might be insured a livelihood when unable to find a private employer.
"In different States of the Union, as the revolutionary party came into power, slightly different methods were adopted for meeting this emergency. The crude and wasteful makeshift of indiscriminate employment on public works, which had been previously adopted by governments in dealing with similar emergencies, would not stand the criticism of the new economic science. A more intelligent method was necessary and easily found. The usual plan, though varied in different localities, was for the State to guarantee to every citizen who applied therefor the means of maintenance, to be paid for in his or her labor, and to be taken in the form of commodities and lodgings, these commodities and lodgings being themselves produced and maintained by the sum of the labor of those, past and present, who shared them. The necessary imported commodities or raw materials were obtained by the sale of the excess of product at market rates, a special market being also found in the consumption of the State prisons, asylums, etc. This system, whereby the State enabled the otherwise unemployed mutually to maintain themselves by merely furnishing the machinery and superintendence, came very largely into use to meet the emergencies of the transition period, and played an important part in preparing the people for the new order, of which it was in an imperfect way a sort of anticipation. In some of these State establishments for the unemployed the circle of industries was remarkably complete, and the whole product of their labor above expenses being shared among the workers, they enjoyed far better fare than when in private employment, together with a sense of security then impossible. The employer's power to control his workmen by the threat of discharge was broken from the time these co-operative systems began to be established, and when, later, the national industrial organization was ready to absorb them, they merely melted into it."
HOW ABOUT THE WOMEN?
"How about the women?" I said. "Do I understand that, from the first organization of the industrial public service on a complete scale, the women were expected, like the men, if physically able, to take their places in the ranks?"
"Where women were sufficiently employed already in housework in their own families," replied the doctor, "they were recognized as rendering public service until the new co-operative housekeeping was sufficiently systematized to do away with the necessity of separate kitchens and other elaborate domestic machinery for each family. Otherwise, except as occasions for exemption existed, women took their place from the beginning of the new order as units in the industrial state on the same basis with men.
"If the Revolution had come a hundred years before, when as yet women had no other vocation but housework, the change in customs might have been a striking one, but already at that time women had made themselves a place in the industrial and business world, and by the time the Revolution came it was rather exceptional when unmarried women not of the rich and idle class did not have some regular occupation outside the home. In recognizing women as equally eligible and liable to public service with men, the new order simply confirmed to the women workers the independence they had already won."
"But how about the married women?"
"Of course," replied the doctor, "there would be considerable periods during which married women and mothers would naturally be wholly exempt from the performance of any public duty. But except at such times there seems to be nothing in the nature of the sexual relation constituting a reason why a married woman should lead a more secluded and useless life than a man. In this matter of the place of women under the new order, you must understand that it was the women themselves, rather than the men, who insisted that they must share in full the duties as well as the privileges of citizenship. The men would not have demanded it of them. In this respect you must remember that during its whole course the Revolution had been contemporary with a movement for the enlargement and greater freedom of women's lives, and their equalization as to rights and duties with men. The women, married as well as unmarried, had become thoroughly tired of being effaced, and were in full revolt against the headship of man. If the Revolution had not guaranteed the equality and comradeship with him which she was fast conquering under the old order, it could never have counted on her support."
"But how about the care of children, of the home, etc.?"
"Certainly the mothers could have been trusted to see that nothing interfered with the welfare of their children, nor was there anything in the public service expected of them that need do so. There is nothing in the maternal function which establishes such a relation between mother and child as need permanently interfere with her performance of social and public duties, nor indeed does it appear that it was allowed to do so in your day by women of sufficient economic means to command needed assistance. The fact that women of the masses so often found it necessary to abandon an independent existence, and cease to live any more for themselves the moment they had children, was simply a mark of the imperfection of your social arrangements, and not a natural or moral necessity. So, too, as to what you call caring for a home. As soon as co-operative methods were applied to housekeeping, and its various departments were systematized as branches of the public service, the former housewife had perforce to find another vocation in order to keep herself busy."
THE LODGINGS QUESTION.
"Talking about housework," I said, "how did they manage about houses? There were, of course, not enough good lodgings to go around, now that all were economic equals. How was it settled who should have the good houses and who the poor?"
"As I have said," replied the doctor, "the controlling idea of the revolutionary policy at the climax of the Revolution was not to complicate the general readjustment by making any changes at that time not necessary to its main purpose. For the vast number of the badly housed the building of better houses was one of the first and greatest tasks of the nation. As to the habitable houses, they were all assessed at a graduated rental according to size and desirability, which their former occupants, if they desired to keep them, were expected to pay out of their new incomes as citizens. For a modest house the rent was nominal, but for a great house—one of the palaces of the millionaires, for instance—the rent was so large that no individual could pay it, and indeed no individual without a host of servants would be able to occupy it, and these, of course, he had no means of employing. Such buildings had to be used as hotels, apartment houses, or for public purposes. It would appear that nobody changed dwellings except the very poor, whose houses were unfit for habitation, and the very rich, who could make no use of their former habitation under the changed condition of things."
WHEN ECONOMIC EQUALITY WAS FULLY REALIZED.
"There is one point not quite clear in my mind," I said, "and that is just when the guarantee of equal maintenance for all citizens went into effect."
"I suppose," replied the doctor, "that it must have been when, after the final collapse of what was left of private capitalism, the nation assumed the responsibility of providing for all the people. Until then the organization of the public service had been on the wage basis, which indeed was the only practicable way of initiating the plan of universal public employment while yet the mass of business was conducted by the capitalists, and the new and rising system had to be accommodated at so many points to the existing order of things. The tremendous rate at which the membership of the national industrial army was growing from week to week during the transition period would have made it impossible to find any basis of equal distribution that would hold good for a fortnight. The policy of the Government had, however, been to prepare the workers for equal sharing by establishing, as far as possible, a level wage for all kinds of public employees. This it was possible to do, owing to the cheapening of all sorts of commodities by the abolition of profits, without reducing any one's income.
"For example, suppose one workman had received two dollars a day, and another a dollar and a half. Owing to the cheapening of goods in the public stores, these wages presently purchased twice as much as before. But, instead of permitting the virtual increase of wages to operate by multiplication, so as to double the original discrepancy between the pay of the two, it was applied by equal additions to the account of each. While both alike were better off than before, the disproportion in their welfare was thus reduced. Nor could the one previously more highly paid object to this as unfair, because the increased value of his wages was not the result of his own efforts, but of the new public organization, from which he could only ask an equal benefit with all others. Thus by the time the nation was ready for equal sharing, a substantially level wage, secured by leveling up, not leveling down, had already been established. As to the high salaries of special employees, out of all proportion to workmen's wages, which obtained under private capitalism, they were ruthlessly cut down in the public service from the inception of the revolutionary policy.
"But of course the most radical innovation in establishing universal economic equality was not the establishment of a level wage as between the workers, but the admission of the entire population, both of workers and of those unable to work or past the working age, to an equal share in the national product. During the transition period the Government had of necessity proceeded like a capitalist in respect to recognizing and dealing only with effective workers. It took no more cognizance of the existence of the women, except when workers, or the children, or the old, or the infirm, crippled, or sick, or other dependents on the workers than the capitalists had been in the habit of doing. But when the nation gathered into its hands the entire economic resources of the country it proceeded to administer them on the principle—proclaimed, indeed, in the great Declaration, but practically mocked by the former republic—that all human beings have an equal right to liberty, life, and happiness, and that governments rightfully exist only for the purpose of making good that right—a principle of which the first practical consequence ought to be the guarantee to all on equal terms of the economic basis. Thenceforth all adult persons who could render any useful service to the nation were required to do so if they desired to enjoy the benefits of the economic system; but all who acknowledged the new order, whether they were able or unable to render any economic service, received an equal share with all others of the national product, and such provision was made for the needs of children as should absolutely safeguard their interests from the neglect or caprice of selfish parents.
"Of course, the immediate effect must have been that the active workers received a less income than when they had been the only sharers; but if they had been good men and distributed their wages as they ought among those dependent on them, they still had for their personal use quite as much as before. Only those wage-earners who had formerly had none dependent on them or had neglected them suffered any curtailment of income, and they deserved to. But indeed there was no question of curtailment for more than a very short time for any; for, as soon as the now completed economic organization was fairly in motion, everybody was kept too busy devising ways to expend his or her own allowance to give any thought to that of others. Of course, the equalizing of the economic maintenance of all on the basis of citizenship put a final end to the employment of private servants, even if the practice had lasted till then, which is doubtful; for if any one desired a personal servant he must henceforth pay him as much as he could receive in the public service, which would be equivalent to the whole income of the would-be employer, leaving him nothing for himself."
THE FINAL SETTLEMENT WITH THE CAPITALISTS.
"There is one point," I said, "on which I should like to be a little more clearly informed. When the nation finally took possession absolutely in perpetuity of all the lands, machinery, and capital after the final collapse of private capitalism, there must have been doubtless some sort of final settling and balancing of accounts between the people and the capitalists whose former properties had been nationalized. How was that managed? What was the basis of final settlement?"
"The people waived a settlement," replied the doctor. "The guillotine, the gallows, and the firing platoon played no part in the consummation of the great Revolution. During the previous phases of the revolutionary agitation there had indeed been much bitter talk of the reckoning which the people in the hour of their triumph would demand of the capitalists for the cruel past; but when the hour of triumph came, the enthusiasm of humanity which glorified it extinguished the fires of hate and took away all desire of barren vengeance. No, there was no settlement demanded; the people forgave the past."
"Doctor," I said, "you have sufficiently—in fact, overwhelmingly—answered my question, and all the more so because you did not catch my meaning. Remember that I represent the mental and moral condition of the average American capitalist in 1887. What I meant was to inquire what compensation the people made to the capitalists for nationalizing what had been their property. Evidently, however, from the twentieth-century point of view, if there were to be any final settlement between the people and the capitalists it was the former who had the bill to present."
"I rather pride myself," replied the doctor, "in keeping track of your point of view and distinguishing it from ours, but I confess that time I fairly missed the cue. You see, as we look back upon the Revolution, one of its most impressive features seems to be the vast magnanimity of the people at the moment of their complete triumph in according a free quittance to their former oppressors.
"Do you not see that if private capitalism was right, then the Revolution was wrong; but, on the other hand, if the Revolution was right, then private capitalism was wrong, and the greatest wrong that ever existed; and in that case it was the capitalists who owed reparation to the people they had wronged, rather than the people who owed compensation to the capitalists for taking from them the means of that wrong? For the people to have consented on any terms to buy their freedom from their former masters would have been to admit the justice of their former bondage. When insurgent slaves triumph, they are not in the habit of paying their former masters the price of the shackles and fetters they have broken; the masters usually consider themselves fortunate if they do not have their heads broken with them. Had the question of compensating the capitalists been raised at the time we are speaking of, it would have been an unfortunate issue for them. To their question, Who was to pay them for what the people had taken from them? the response would have been, Who was to pay the people for what the capitalist system had taken from them and their ancestors, the light of life and liberty and happiness which it had shut off from unnumbered generations? That was an accounting which would have gone so deep and reached back so far that the debtors might well be glad to waive it. In taking possession of the earth and all the works of man that stood upon it, the people were but reclaiming their own heritage and the work of their own hands, kept back from them by fraud. When the rightful heirs come to their own, the unjust stewards who kept them out of their inheritance may deem themselves mercifully dealt with if the new masters are willing to let bygones be bygones.
"But while the idea of compensating the capitalists for putting an end to their oppression would have been ethically absurd, you will scarcely get a full conception of the situation without considering that any such compensation was in the nature of the case impossible. To have compensated the capitalists in any practical way—that is, any way which would have preserved to them under the new order any economic equivalent for their former holdings—would have necessarily been to set up private capitalism over again in the very act of destroying it, thus defeating and stultifying the Revolution in the moment of its triumph.
"You see that this last and greatest of revolutions in the nature of the case absolutely differed from all former ones in the finality and completeness of its work. In all previous instances in which governments had abolished or converted to public use forms of property in the hands of citizens it had been possible to compensate them in some other kind of property through which their former economic advantage should be perpetuated under a different form. For example, in condemning lands it was possible to pay for them in money, and in abolishing property in men it was possible to pay for the slaves, so that the previous superiority or privilege held by the property owner was not destroyed outright, but merely translated, so to speak, into other terms. But the great Revolution, aiming as it did at the final destruction of all forms of advantage, dominion, or privilege among men, left no guise or mode possible under which the capitalist could continue to exercise his former superiority. All the modes under which in past time men had exercised dominion over their fellows had been by one revolution after another reduced to the single form of economic superiority, and now that this last incarnation of the spirit of selfish dominion was to perish there was no further refuge for it. The ultimate mask torn off, it was left to wither in the face of the sun."
"Your explanation leaves me nothing further to ask as to the matter of a final settling between the people and the capitalists," I said. "Still, I have understood that in the first steps toward the substitution of public business management for private capitalism, consisting in the nationalizing or municipalizing of quasi-public services, such as gas works, railroads, telegraphs, etc., some theory of compensation was followed. Public opinion, at that stage not having accepted the whole revolutionary programme, must probably have insisted upon this practice. Just when was it discontinued?'
"You will readily perceive," replied the doctor, "that in measure as it became generally recognized that economic equality was at hand, it began to seem farcical to pay the capitalists for their possessions in forms of wealth which must presently, as all knew, become valueless. So it was that, as the Revolution approached its consummation, the idea of buying the capitalists out gave place to plans for safeguarding them from unnecessary hardships pending the transition period. All the businesses of the class you speak of which were taken over by the people in the early stages of the revolutionary agitation, were paid for in money or bonds, and usually at prices most favorable to the capitalists. As to the greater plants, which were taken over later, such as railroads and the mines, a different course was followed. By the time public opinion was ripe for these steps, it began to be recognized by the dullest that it was possible, even if not probable, that the revolutionary programme would go completely through, and all forms of monetary value or obligation become waste paper. With this prospect the capitalists owning the properties were naturally not particularly desirous of taking national bonds for them which would have been the natural form of compensation had they been bought outright. Even if the capitalists had been willing to take the bonds, the people would never have consented to increase the public debt by the five or six billions of bonds that would have been necessary to carry out the purchase. Neither the railroads nor the mines were therefore purchased at all. It was their management, not their ownership, which had excited the public indignation and created the demand for their nationalization. It was their management, therefore, which was nationalized, their ownership remaining undisturbed.
"That is to say, the Government, on the high ground of public policy and for the correction of grievances that had become intolerable, assumed the exclusive and perpetual management and operation of the railroad lines. An honest valuation of the plants having been made, the earnings, if any, up to a reasonable percentage, were paid over to the security holders. This arrangement answered the purpose of delivering the people and the security holders alike from the extortions and mismanagement of the former private operators, and at the same time brought a million railroad employees into the public service and the enjoyment of all its benefits quite as effectively as if the lines had been bought outright. A similar plan was followed with the coal and other mines. This combination of private ownership with public management continued until, the Revolution having been consummated, all the capital of the country was nationalized by comprehensive enactment.
"The general principle which governed the revolutionary policy in dealing with property owners of all sorts was that while the distribution of property was essentially unjust and existing property rights morally invalid, and as soon as possible a wholly new system should be established, yet that, until the new system of property could as a whole replace the existing one, the legal rights of property owners ought to be respected, and when overruled in the public interest proper provision should be made to prevent hardship. The means of private maintenance should not, that is to say, be taken away from any one until the guarantee of maintenance from public sources could take its place. The application of this principle by the revolutionists seems to have been extremely logical, clean cut, and positive. The old law of property, bad as it was, they did not aim to abolish in the name of license, spoliation, and confusion, but in the name of a stricter and more logical as well as more righteous law. In the most nourishing days of capitalism, stealing, so called, was never repressed more sternly than up to the very eve of the complete introduction of the new system.
"To sum up the case in a word," I suggested, "it seems that in passing from the old order into the new it necessarily fared with the rich as it did when they passed out of this world into the next. In one case, as in the other, they just absolutely had to leave their money behind them."
"The illustration is really very apt," laughed the doctor, "except in one important particular. It has been rumored that the change which Dives made from this world to the next was an unhappy one for him; but within half a dozen years after the new economic system had been in operation there was not an ex-millionaire of the lot who was not ready to admit that life had been made as much better worth living for him and his class as for the rest of the community."
"Did the new order get into full running condition so quickly as that?" I asked.
"Of course, it could not get into perfect order as you see it now for many years. The personnel of any community is the prime factor in its economic efficiency, and not until the first generation born under the new order had come to maturity—a generation of which every member had received the highest intellectual and industrial training—did the economic order fully show what it was capable of. But not ten nor two years had elapsed from the time when the national Government took all the people into employment on the basis of equal sharing in the product before the system showed results which overwhelmed the world with amazement. The partial system of public industries and public stores which the Government had already undertaken had given the people some intimation of the cheapening of products and improvement in their quality which might follow from the abolition of profits even under a wage system, but not until the entire economic system had been nationalized and all co-operated for a common weal was it possible completely to pool the product and share it equally. No previous experience had therefore prepared the public for the prodigious efficiency of the new economic enginery. The people had thought the reformers made rather large promises as to what the new system would do in the way of wealth-making, but now they charged them of keeping back the truth. And yet the result was one that need not have surprised any one who had taken the trouble to calculate the economic effect of the change in systems. The incalculable increase of wealth which but for the profit system the great inventions of the century would long before have brought the world, was being reaped in a long-postponed but overwhelming harvest.
"The difficulty under the profit system had been to avoid producing too much; the difficulty under the equal sharing system was how to produce enough. The smallness of demand had before limited supply, but supply had now set to it an unlimited task. Under private capitalism demand had been a dwarf and lame at that, and yet this cripple had been pace-maker for the giant production. National cooperation had put wings on the dwarf and shod the cripple with Mercury's sandals. Henceforth the giant would need all his strength, all his thews of steel and sinews of brass even, to keep him in sight as he flitted on before.
"It would be difficult to give you an idea of the tremendous burst of industrial energy with which the rejuvenated nation on the morrow of the Revolution threw itself into the task of uplifting the welfare of all classes to a level where the former rich man might find in sharing the common lot nothing to regret. Nothing like the Titanic achievement by which this result was effected had ever before been known in human history, and nothing like it seems likely ever to occur again. In the past there had not been work enough for the people. Millions, some rich, some poor, some willingly, some unwillingly, had always been idle, and not only that, but half the work that was done was wasted in competition or in producing luxuries to gratify the secondary wants of the few, while yet the primary wants of the mass remained unsatisfied. Idle machinery equal to the power of other millions of men, idle land, idle capital of every sort, mocked the need of the people. Now, all at once there were not hands enough in the country, wheels enough in the machinery, power enough in steam and electricity, hours enough in the day, days enough in the week, for the vast task of preparing the basis of a comfortable existence for all. For not until all were well-to-do, well housed, well clothed, well fed, might any be so under the new order of things.
"It is said that in the first full year after the new order was established the total product of the country was tripled, and in the second the first year's product was doubled, and every bit of it consumed.
"While, of course, the improvement in the material welfare of the nation was the most notable feature in the first years after the Revolution, simply because it was the place at which any improvement must begin, yet the ennobling and softening of manners and the growth of geniality in social intercourse are said to have been changes scarcely less notable. While the class differences inherited from the former order in point of habits, education, and culture must, of course, continue to mark and in a measure separate the members of the generation then on the stage, yet the certain knowledge that the basis of these differences had passed away forever, and that the children of all would mingle not only upon terms of economic equality, but of moral, intellectual, and social sympathy, and entire community of interest, seems to have had a strong anticipatory influence in bringing together in a sentiment of essential brotherhood those who were too far on in life to expect to see the full promise of the Revolution realized.
"One other matter is worth speaking of, and that is the effect almost at once of the universal and abounding material prosperity which the nation had entered on to make the people forget all about the importance they had so lately attached to petty differences in pay and wages and salary. In the old days of general poverty, when a sufficiency was so hard to come by, a difference in wages of fifty cents or a dollar had seemed so great to the artisan that it was hard for him to accept the idea of an economic equality in which such important distinctions should disappear. It was quite natural that it should be so. Men fight for crusts when they are starving, but they do not quarrel over bread at a banquet table. Somewhat so it befell when in the years after the Revolution material abundance and all the comforts of life came to be a matter of course for every one, and storing for the future was needless. Then it was that the hunger motive died out of human nature and covetousness as to material things, mocked to death by abundance, perished by atrophy, and the motives of the modern worker, the love of honor, the joy of beneficence, the delight of achievement, and the enthusiasm of humanity, became the impulses of the economic world. Labor was glorified, and the cringing wage-slave of the nineteenth century stood forth transfigured as the knight of humanity."
THE BOOK OF THE BLIND.
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?