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THE MORAL ASPECTS
By SIDNEY BALL, M.A.
St. John's College, Oxford.
PUBLISHED AND SOLD BY
THE FABIAN SOCIETY.
PRICE ONE PENNY.
THE FABIAN SOCIETY, 3 CLEMENT'S INN, STRAND, W.C. PUBLISHED NOVEMBER, 1896. SECOND REPRINT April, 1906.
THE MORAL ASPECTS OF SOCIALISM.*
Socialism and Character. MODERN SOCIALISM, or Collectivism, is often regarded as a typical expression of the neglect, or even the denial, of the principle that in social reform character is "the condition of conditions. At first sight, it seems true that character has not been put in the foreground of Socialist discussion : its emphasis appears to be laid almost exclusively on machinery, on a reconstruction of the material conditions and organization of life. But machinery is a means to an end, as much to a Socialist as to anyone else ; and the end, at any rate as conceived by the Socialist, is the development of human power and capacity of life. The quarrel with Socialists cannot be, then, that they mistake the means for the end, but either that they take a low or narrow view of human nature, or that the means they suggest will lower rather than raise the scale of human life.
The Evolution in Modern Socialism. It is important that we should realize the nature of the development which has been at work in the conception of Socialism. If Socialism repeats itself, it repeats itself with a difference. If we fairly compare the Socialism of the earlier with that of the latter part of the century, we shall find that, however much they have in common, there is a sense in which the conception of Socialism is entirely modern. Socialism would not be the vital thing it is, if it remained unaffected by the development of social and industrial experience, and the general progress of scientific thought. The context is different, and even when the language is the same, the meaning is changed.+ The claim of modern Socialism to be "scientific” may be just or not, but it means by “scientific" such an economy as shall be on a line with the modern scientific treatment and conception of life. Its dominating idea is that of conscious selection in social life, or of the expression of practical economics in terms of quality of life. From the point of view of its alleged indifference to character, the aims of modern Socialism may be described as an endeavor to readjust the machinery of industry in such a way that it can at once depend upon and issue in a higher
Reprinted (by permission) from the International Journal of Ethics, April, 1896, with some omissions and additions.
† To give one example. State Socialism means one thing to a German, another to an Englishman; and one thing to an Englishman of Adam Smith's time, and another to an Englishman of our own time: the State, in the latter context, mans the community democratically organized for collective purposes, whether parochially, locally, or nationally.
kind of character and social type than is encouraged by the conditions of ordinary competitive enterprise. If it does, in a sense, want to make things easier, it is only for the worker, and not for the idler; and the problem with which it is concerned is not primarily a more or less of enjoyment, but a more or less of opportunity for develop\ment of character and individuality. Its criterion of economic machinery is simply-does it or does it not make for a greater amount and quality of life and character ?
The older Socialism rested upon such ideas as “the right to live," "the right to work," "payment according to needs," the denial of “the rent of ability,” expropriation without compensation,"
minimizing" “materializing” of wants-all ideas of retrogressive rather than of progressive" selection." But it would not be too much to say that all these ideas are either silently ignored or expressly repudiated by modern Socialism. The “ideology" of the older Socialists has given way to a deliberately, and in some ways rigidly, scientific treatment of life. Modern Socialism recognizes the laws of social growth and development in setting itself against catastrophic impossibilism and the manufacture of mechanical Utopias; it recognizes the moral continuity of society in its consideration for vested interests; it does not base industrial organization on “the right to work” so much as on the right of the worker, not on “payment according to needs” so much as “payment according to services "; it recognizes the remuneration of ability, provided that the ability does not merely represent a monopoly of privileged and non-competitive advantage; it is aware of the utility of capital, without making the individualist's confusion between the employment of capital and the ownership of it, between the productive and proprietary classes; it is not concerned about the inequality of property, except so far as it conflicts with sound national economy; it does not desire so much to minimize as to rationalize wants, and attaches the utmost importance to the qualitative development of consumption; and, finally, not to enumerate more distinctly economic developments, it recognizes “the abiding necessity for contest, competition, and selection," as means of development, when it presses for such an organization of industry as shall make selection according to ability and character the determining factor in the remuneration of labor.
Socialism and Competition. So far from attempting to eliminate "competition " from life, it cndeavors to raise its plane, to make it a competition of character and positive social quality. The competition which takes the form not of doing one's own work as well as possible, but of preventing any one else from doing the same work—the form of competition, that is, in which the gain of one man is the loss of another-is of no social value. The only competition that can advance individual or social life is simply a corollary of co-operation; it implies the recognition of a common good and a common interest which gives to our “individual” work its meaning, its quality, and its value ; and the
further recognition that a competitor is also a co-operator. If a seeker after truth regards another seeker merely as a competitor, it is a sure sign that it is not truth he cares for : and we are only too familiar with the consequences of a system of industry which does not provide for the disinterestedness of all genuine production. The competition to get as much as possible for one's self is incompatible with the competition to get a thing done as well as possible. It is this kind of socially selective rivalry that Socialism is concerned to maintain; and the two kinds of competition* belong, as Plato might have said, to two distinct "arts."
Socialism Affirms a Standard. This is the meaning, for instance, of a "standard" as opposed to a "market” wage. The Collectivist policy of the “Union" wage for skilled, and a minimum wage for unskilled labor, is a deliberate preference of a form of competition which promotes efficiency over a form of competition which aims at (apparent) cheapness. Which is the most productive method of selection The Individualist policy results in the degradation of labor and the increase of burdens upon the State ; the Socialist policy, so far from favoring the weak, favors the strong, if weakness and strength are interpreted as relevant to social value; it is a process of conscious social selection by which the industrial residuum is naturally sifted and made manageable for some kind of restorative, disciplinary, or, it may be, "surgical " treatment. The organization of dock laborers and the extension of factory inspection to sweated industries follow the same lines. Any such form of collective interference as the freeing of education, or the weakening of protected and non-competitive privilege, is in favor of the competition which is not simply a struggle for (unqualified) individual existence, but for existence in a society which rests upon the distribution of "rights” according to character and capacity. In this way it not only favors the growth of the fittest within the group, but also of the fittest group in the world-competition of societies. The whole point of Collectivism is the recognition by society of its interest as a society in a certain type of character and quality of existence. "Can there be anything better for the interests of a State," as Plato puts it, "than that its men and women should be as good as possible ?." It is just this social reference that explains the demand which Socialists make upon the organization of industry. Their whole quarrel with private competitive enterprise is that it does not give a qualitative form to the struggle for existence, and does not-or rather cannot-concern itself with the maintenance of a standard of life.
Individualism Denies a Standard.
as“ lying at the root of a compulsory, poor rate” (Charity. Organ. Rev.), reveals an astonishing incapacity for grasping the distinction between the organization of industry (upon selective lines) and the distribution
• Cf. Plato's “ Republic,” Bk. I., 347-8; also, Morris end Ruskin, passim.