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THE DIFFICULTIES OF
Of all the intellectual difficulties of Individualism, the greatest, perhaps, is that which is presented by the constant flux of things. Whatever may be the advantages and conveniences of the present state of society, we are, at any rate, all of us, now sure of one thing -that it cannot last.
The Constant Evolution of Society. We have learnt to think of social institutions and economic relations as being as much the subjects of constant change and evolution as any biological organism. The main outlines of social organization, based upon the exact sphere of private ownership in England to-day, did not "come down from the Mount."
The very last century has seen an almost complete upsetting of every economic and industrial relation in the country, and it is irrational to assume that the existing social order, thus new-created, is destined inevitably to endure in its main features unchanged and unchangeable. History did not stop with the last great convulsion of the Industrial Revolution, and Time did not then suddenly cease to be the Great Innovator. Nor do the Socialists offer us a statical heaven to be substituted for an equally statical world here present. English students of the last generation were accustomed to think of Socialism as a mere Utopia, spun from the humanity-intoxicated brains of various Frenchmen of the beginning of this century. Down to the present generation every aspirant after social reform, whether Socialist or Individualist, naturally embodied his ideas in a detailed plan of a new social order, from which all contemporary evils were eliminated. Bellamy is but a belated Cabet, Babeuf, or Campanella.
а But modern Socialists have learnt the lesson of evolution better than their opponents, and it cannot be too often repeated that Socialism, to Socialists, is not a Utopia which they have invented, but a prin ciple of social organization which they assert to have been discovered by the patient investigators into sociology whose labors have distin. guished the present century. That principle, whether true or false, has, during a whole generation, met with an ever-increasing, though often unconscious, acceptance by political administrators.
• Reprinted, with minor changes, from the Economic Journal for June 1891.
Thus, it is the constant flux of things which underlies all the “difficulties" of Individualism. Whatever we may think of the existing social order, one thing is certain-namely, that it will undergo modification in the future as certainly and steadily as in the past.
Those modifications will be partly the result of forces not consciously initiated or directed by human will. Partly, however, the modifications will be the results, either intended or unintended, of deliberate attempts to readjust the social environment to suit man's real or fancied needs. It is therefore not a question of whether the existing social order shall be changed, but of how this inevitable change shall be made.
“ Social Problems." In the present phase of acute social compunction, the maladjustments which occasion these modifications appear to us in the guise of “social problems." But whether or not they are the subjects of conscious thought or conscious action, their influence is perpetually at work, silently or obtrusively modifying the distribution of social pressure, and altering the weft of that social tissue of which our life is made. The characteristic feature of our own age is not this constant evolution itself—for that, of course, is of all time—but our increasing consciousness of it. Instead of unconscious factors we become deliberate agents, either to aid or resist the developments coming to our notice. Human selection accordingly becomes the main form of natural selection, and functional adaptation replaces the struggle for existence as the main factor in social progress. Man becomes the midwife of the great womb of Time, and necessarily undertakes the responsibility for the new economic relations which he brings into existence.
Hence the growing value of correct principles of social action, of valid ideals for social aspiration. Hence, therefore, the importance, for weal or for woe, of the change in social ideals and principles which marks off the present generation of Socialists from the surviving economists and statesmen brought up in the "Manchester school." We may, of course, prefer not to accept the watchwords or shibboleths of either party ; we may carefully guard ourselves against “the falsehood of extremes”; we may believe that we can really steer a middle course. This comforting reflection of the practical man is, however, an unphilosophical delusion. As each difficulty of the present day comes up for solution, our action or inaction must, for all our caution, necessarily incline to one side or the other. We may help to modify the social organism either in the direction of a more general Collectivism or in that of a more perfect Individualism ; it
1 will be hard, even by doing nothing, to leave the balance just as it was. It becomes, accordingly, of vital importance to examine not only our practical policy but also our ideals and principles of action, even if we do not intend to follow these out to their logical conclusion.
Individualism and Collectivism. It is not easy, at the present day, to be quite fair to the opinions of the little knot of noble-minded enthusiasts who broke for us the chains of the oligarchic tyranny of the eighteenth century. Their work was essentially destructive, and this is not the place in which to estimate how ably they carried on their statical analysis, or how completely they misunderstood the social results of the industrial revolution which was falsifying all their predictions almost before they were uttered. But we may, perhaps, not unfairly sum up as follows the principles which guided them in dealing with the difficulties of social life : that the best government is that which governs least ; that the utmost possible scope should be allowed to untrammelled individual enterprise ; that open competition and complete freedom from legal restrictions furnish the best guarantees of a healthy industrial community ; that the desired end of "equality of opportunity" can be ultimately reached by allowing to each person the complete ownership of any riches he may become possessed of ; and that the best possible social state will result from each individual pursuing his own interest in the way he thinks best.
Fifty years' further social experience have destroyed the faith of the world in the validity of these principles as the basis of even a decent social order, and Mr. John Morley himself has told us that “the answer of modern statesmanship is that unfettered individual competition is not a principle to which the regulation of industry may be intrusted."
"It is indeed certain," sums up Dr. Ingram, at the end of his comprehensive survey of all the economic tendencies, “that industrial society will not permanently remain without a systematic organization. The mere conflict of private interests will never produce a well-ordered commonwealth of labor."'+
Modern Socialism is, accordingly, not a faith in an artificial Utopia, but a rapidly-spreading conviction, as yet only partly conscious of itself, that social health and consequently human happiness is something apart from and above the separate interests of individuals, requiring to be consciously pursued as an end in itself; that the lesson of evolution in social development is the substitution of consciously regulated co-ordination among the units of each organism for their internecine competition ;t that the production and distribution of wealth, like any other public function, cannot safely be intrusted to the unfettered freedom of individuals, but needs to be organized and controlled for the benefit of the whole community; that this can be imperfectly done by means of legislative restriction and taxation, but is eventually more advantageously accomplished through the collective enterprise of the appropriate administrative
• Life of Cobaon, vol. i., ch. xiii., pp. 298, 303.
† Article “Political Economy," in Ency. Britt., ninth edition, vol. xix., 1886, p. 382 ; republished as History of Political Economy.
See Professor Huxley's pregnant declaration to this effect in the Nineteenth Century, February, 1888. Compare D. G. Ritchie's Darwinism and Politics.
unit in each case ; and that the best government is accordingly that which can safely and successfully administer most.
The New Pressure for Social Reform. But although the principles of Individualism have long been tacitly abandoned by our public men, they have remained, until quite recently, enshrined in the imagination of the middle class citizen and the journalist. Their rapid supersession in these days, by principles essentially Socialist, is due to the prominence now given to social problems," and to the failure of Individualism to offer any practicable solution of these. The problems are not in themselves new; they are not even more acute or pressing than of yore; but the present generation is less disposed than its predecessors to acquiesce in their insolubility. This increasing social compunction in the presence of industrial disease and social misery is the inevitable result of the advent of political democracy. The power to initiate reforms is now rapidly passing into the hands of those who themselves directly suffer from the evils to be removed ; and it is therefore not to be wondered at that social re-organization is a subject of much more vital interest to the proletarian politicians of to-day than it can ever have been to the University professors or Whig proprietors of
Now the main “difficulties" of the existing social order, with which Individualist principles fail to deal, are those immediately connected with the administration of industry and the distribution of wealth. To summarize these difficulties before examining them, we may say that the Socialist asserts that the system of private property in the means of production permits and even promotes an extreme inequality in the distribution of the annual product of the united labors of the community. This distribution results in excess in the hands of a small class, balanced by positive privation at the other end of the social scale. 'An inevitable corollary of this unequal distribution is wrong production, both of commodities and of human beings; the preparation of senseless luxuries whilst there is need for more bread, and the breeding of degenerate hordes of a demoralized “residuum " unfit for social life. This evil inequality and disastrous malproduction are enabled to continue through the individual owner. ship of the instruments of industry, one inevitable accompaniment which is the continuance, in the commercial world, of that personal rule which is rapidly being expelled from political administration. The increasing integration of the Great Industry is, indeed, creating --except in so far as it is counteracted by the adoption of Socialist principles—a kind of new feudalism, based upon tenure, not of land, but of capital employed in the world-commerce, a financial autocracy against which the democracy sullenly revolts.' In the interests of this oligarchy, the real interests of each community tend to be ignored, to the detriment of its capacity to hold its own in the race struggle—that competition between communities rather than between individuals in a community which is perhaps now becoming the main field of natural selection.
In examining each of these difficuílies in greater detail, it will be fair to consider, not only how far they can be solved by the existing order and in what way they are actually being dealt with by the application of Socialist principles, but also what hope might, on the other hand, be found in the greatest possible development of Individualism. For to-day it is the Individualist who is offering us, as a solution of social difficulties, an untried and nebulous Utopia ; whilst the Socialist occupies the superior position of calling only for the conscious and explicit adoption and extension of principles of social organization to which the stern logic of facts has already driven the practical man. History and experiment have indeed changed sides, and rank now among the allies of the practical Socialist reformer. Factory Acts and municipal gas-works we know, but the voice of Mr. Auberon Herbert, advocating " voluntary taxation," is as the voice of one crying in the wilderness.
Inequality of Income. Inequality in wealth distribution is, of course, no new thing, and it is unnecessary to contend that the inequality of the present age is more flagrant than that of its predecessors. The extreme depth of poverty of those who actually die of starvation is, indeed, obviously no less than before; and when 30 per cent. of the five million inhabi. tants of London are found to be inadequately supplied with the bare necessaries of life, and probably a fourth of the entire community become paupers at 65, it would profit us little to enquire whether this percentage is greater or less than that during the Middle Ages. On the other hand, the wealth production of the community advances by leaps and bounds, being now far greater than ever it was, and greater than that of any other country of the Old World. The riches of a comparatively small number of the owners of our land and capital are colossal and increasing.
Nor is there any doubt or dispute as to the causes of this inequality. The supersession of the Small by the Great Industry has given the main fruits of invention and the new power over Nature to a comparatively small proprietary class, upon whom the mass of the people are dependent for leave to earn their living. When it suits any person having the use of land and capital to em. ploy the worker, this is only done on condition that two important deductions, rent and interest, can be made from his product, for the benefit of two, in this capacity, absolutely unproductive classes, those exercising the bare ownership of land and capital. The reward of labor being thus reduced, on an average, by about one-third, the remaining eightpence out of the shilling is then shared between the various classes who have co-operated in the production-including the inventor, the managing employer, and the mere wage-workerbut shared in the competitive struggle in such a way that at least fourpence goes to a favored set of educated workers, numbering less than one-fifth of the whole, leaving four-fifths to divide less than fourpence out of the shilling between them. The consequence is the social condition we see around us. A fortunate few, owing to