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“the unity of his material life"? “A man must know what he can count on and judge what to do with,"—this is stated to be a requirement of morality (as it is certainly is of Socialism). But how is this condition realized under a system which not only lends itself to the most violent contrasts between careless ease and careworn want, between lavish indulgence and narrow penury, but makes it the (apparent) interest of the employing classes that the employed shall not have property-a situation which Trades-Unions were meant to meet. Moral ideas are, after all, relevant to a particular working organization of life. The "moral Socialist" seems to require a Socialist ethics of property and employment from an economic system which is worked upon an individualistic conception of property and employment. But the moralist who insists on the fulfilment by society of ideas for which its actual institutions and every-day life give no warrant seems to suggest that ethics are not relative, that moral conceptions are not ideas of life, but ideas about life. To this abstract moral idealism and transcendentalism, Socialism, at any rate, furnishes a needful corrective. Is there anything, the Socialist asks, in men's ordinary industrial life which suggests the “lofty and ennobling” ideas they are to have about it? And I conceive that the Socialist who criticises the economic arrangements of society from the standpoint of these ideas is the more helpful moralist of the two. He has done well if he has simply called attention to the antinomy ; and, in a sense, that is the only remedy, for, unless it is felt and recognized, there is nothing from which anything better can grow up. If institutions depend on character, character depends on institutions : it is upon their necessary interaction that the Socialist insists. The greatness of Ruskin as a moralist lies in his relevance, and in his recognition of the inseparability of the moral and the material, of ethics and economics. But the practical man calls him a moral rhetorician and an insane economist.
“ Moral” and “ Material ” Reform. Apart from the general value of economic organization or of the consideration of it, the moral Socialist certainly tends in theory) to minimize, if not to discount, the influence of material conditions on the betterment of life. The great thing, we are told, is to “moralize " the employer, or “moralize" the workman. The only radical cure for the sanitary atrocities of the Factory system lies, it is said, in a wider interpretation of their duty by the employers. Why is it, one may ask, that a system against which it is considered superficial, or indeed immoral, to " agitate," lends itself to this appeal from the employer's sense of interest to the employer's sense of duty ? The Socialist suggests a system of industry in which self-interest does not require to be checked. And is it quite reasonable or consistent to complain, on the one hand, that Socialism does not provide the economic motive of private profit, and, on the other hand, to look for the improvement of the conditions of the laborer to the moralization or socialization of the motives of the employer? The evils which the moral Socialist admits are just those for which a radical
cure can only be found in the popular control of industry. Or, are we to say that "the morality of the working classes" depends, not upon “circumstances,” but upon some mysterious gift of grace or redemption? The intimate connection between “ circumstances " and drinking, the degrading effect of material uncertainty (which the doctrinaire moralist seems to regard as an unmixed moral benefitfor the working classes), are, at any rate, as normal phenomena as. the powerlessness of a "degenerate" to cope with such conditions at all. A good deal more investigation is surely needed of the conditions under which “character and ideas” operate before we can so easily assume their spontaneous generation and their indefinite possibilities. Universalize the principle, and it is doubtless good for all persons that they should not be above the possibility of falling into distress by lack of wisdom and exertion; competition is in this sense a sovereign condition of life, and the Socialist regrets that more room is not made for its beneficent operation in the “moral development” of our "splendid paupers." There seems to be just a tendency on the part of the Charity Organization Society to treat the working-classes as if they had peculiar opportunities for independent life, just because their circumstances are so difficult ; the eye of the moral disciplinarian should surely also be turned upon the many people who are as much pensioners of society as if they were maintained in an alms-house. The poor man's poverty (it would seem) is his moral opportunity. But this kind of beatitude for the poor would have more point if it were always their own lack of wisdom and exertion which occasions their "falling into distress.” It must be admitted that the existence of an unemployed rich is as great a source of danger and deterioration to society as that of an unemployed poor, and to a great extent the one is an aggravating cause of the other. Much of the casual employment of the employed classes directly ministers to the unproductive and exclusive consumption of the rich ; and one great difficulty in the way of the organization of production on the basis of rational and persistent wants, and the provision of a true industrial basis to the life of the worker, lies in the irregular, capricious, and characterless expenditure of superfluous incomes. The Insufficiency of the Charity Organization Society.
All that our "Poor Law Reformers " have to say about the policy of "relief works," " shelters," and relaxation of the Poor Law is. undeniable ; but the corollary that in "refraining from action" we are helping on a better time seems hardly adequate, however graphically it can be illustrated from the history of unwise philanthropy. So long as the Charity Organization Society contents itself with the demonstration that devices of this kind only drive the evil further in, it is really helpful ; but in refusing to look for any source of the evils except foolish benevolence on the one side and reckless improvidence on the other, it seems to be unduly simplifying the conditions of the problem. It is, at any rate, scarcely justified in deprecating the inquiry as to whether the absence of any rational organization of
industry may not be a part of the situation. Thinkers of this school are so much concerned for the moral independence of the worker that his actual economic dependence hardly enters into their consideration. The circumstances beyond the control of great masses of workers engaged in machine industries are much larger than those that their own action goes to make up, and here again Collectivism endeavors to bring these circumstances much more within their control. Lack of employment means, we are told, lack of character; but where, after all, does character come from? The contention of Socialists is that the absence of any permanent organization of industry, by setting a premium upon partial and discontinuous employment, is itself a contributory cause of shiftless character; and where the character is hopeless, the best way of dealing with it is such an organization as would really sift out and eliminate the industrial residuum. All permanent organization means the withdrawal of partial and inadequate employment from a certain class.*
Surely in this case system and character act and react : discourage intermittent employment, and you save the "marginal" cases from social wreckage ; while it becomes possible to deal with the industrial residuum in some restorative or restrictive way. But is not this the point of Collectivism ? The Fabian Society has repudiated the false economics of "relief works" with quite as much energy as the Charity Organization Society. But the real objection to relief works, as also to "Old Age Pensions," is that they have no logical connection with the system they are designed to palliate. "Continuity
“ of employment" and "superannuation pensions" would be a logical part of a Socialist state ; but the idea of “the State" as a relief society to the employees of private industry can only be satisfactory to the employer, whose irresponsibility it would effectually sanction. Under a system of individualistic industry, "State relief" and "State pensions " can only mean an allowance in aid of reckless speculation and low wages; and these devices only serve to distract reform from the true line of deliverance—the best possible organization of industry and the improvement of the conditions of labor. It is not the Socialist who contemplates the "ransom" of the capitalistic system by relief work and old age pensions.t I do not think that even the most impatient Socialist has ever suggested that out-door relief in any shape was Socialism ; while the scientific Socialist has never regarded so-called wholesale “Socialistic remedies" of this kind as other than the herring across the track. Socialism means the organization not of charity, nor of relief, but of industry, and in such a way that the problem of finding work which is not apparently wanted, and of devising pensions for no apparent service, would not be “normal.”
* The net result of organization at the Docks was, we are told, in the direction of confining to about 6,000 people the work which had previously been partial employ. ment for between 12,000 and 20,000. Cf. also the unorganized"cab-tout," etc.
† On the other hand, Pensions—and even carefully guarded and exceptional reliel schemes-might be regarded as part of a transitional policy. The Socialist who advocates Old Age Pensions is at the same time advocating a different conception and consequent method of industry, and not simply trying to save the credit of discredited system.
Socialism and Natural Selection. The real danger of Collectivism, indeed, is not that it would take the form of the charity that fosters a degraded class, but that it would be as ruthless as Plato in the direction of " social surgery." It may take a hard and narrow view of the "industrial organism and the conditions of its efficiency. For the progress of civilization gives a social value to other qualities, other kinds of efficiency, than merely industrial or economic capacity. “Invalidism” may be said to develop valuable states of mind, and to strengthen the conception of human sympathy and solidarity. It is possible to apply the conception of an industrial organism in two ways: the State is an organism, and therefore it should get rid of its weak ; the State is an organism, and therefore it should carry its weak with it. Perhaps, it might be said that the modern problem is not so much to get the weak out of the way, as to help them to be useful. There is no reason in the process of natural selection, as such, why every member of society, provided he be not criminal, should not be preserved and helped to live as effectively as possible. But this would depend upon the possibility of such a readjustment of the economic system that would enable all members to maintain an efficient existence under it, and, conversely, upon the condition that each person should do the work for which he is best fitted. “ Weakness" and "unfitness" are, after all, relative; and in any more systematic organization of society what is now a man's weakness might become his strength. One advantage of the organization of industry would be the increased possibility of “grading" work, as also of estimating desert. The problem is no other than that of finding a distribution of work which would allow the weak to render a service proportioned to their ability in the same ratio as the service is required of the strong. The present system makes too little use of the weak and too much of the strong ; instead of helping the growth of all after their kind, it fosters an overgrowth of an exclusive and imperfect kind. And, lastly, if it be said that any form of Socialism would be immoral if it denied the necessity for individual responsibility, it may also be urged that the compulsory elevation by municipal and State activity of the most degraded classes is a necessary preliminary to their further elevation by individual effort and voluntary association. But none of these considerations seem germane to private competitive enterprise, which can hardly afford to “treat life as a whole." From all these points of view, therefore, I venture to think that the question of morality is largely a question of machinery, and that the consideration of morality apart from machinery reduces ethics to the level of a merely “formal" science.
Socialism and Property. Socialism recognizes the value of property by demanding its wider distribution. The social situation is, upon its showing (rightly or wrongly), largely created by the divorce of the worker from property and the means of production, which means that the arrangement and disposition of his life is outside his control. Private Property may be said to have an ethical value and significance so far as it is at once a sign and expression of individual worth, and gives to individual life some sort of unity and continuity. It follows that wages and salaries, on which society is largely, and under Collectivism would be wholly based, fulfil the principle of private property so far as they are in some degree permanent and calculable ; otherwise, there is a discontinuity in the life of the individual ; he cannot look before and after, cannot organize his life as a whole. Socialists not only accept the “idea" of individual property, but demand some opportunity for its realization.* One point of the public organization of industry is that it would admit of more permanency, stability, and continuity in the life of the worker than is provided by the precariousness of modern competition. His life, it is contended, is much more exposed than it need be to the worst of material evils—uncertainty. The “Trust" organization of industry, as also the organization of dock labor, are in this point in the line of Socialist advance ; and it is well known that the civil service attracts because it not only secures the livelihood of the employed, but leaves him time for volunteer work in pursuit of his interests and duties, private and public. Or, again, we are told that the social need is to make the possession of property very responsive to the character and capacity of the owner. Could the endeavor of Socialism be better expressed?
. Socialism does not, like certain forms of Communism, rest upon the idea that no man should have anything of his own ; it is concerned with such an organization of industry as shall enable a man to acquire property in proportion to his character and capacity, but will cease to make the mere accumulation of private property a motive force of industry. Just to the extent that property serves the needs of individuality, Socialism would encourage its acquisition : the idea of hand-to-mouth existence or “dependence," the ideal of the slave or the child, is probably much more encouraged by the fluctuations of competitive industry than by the routine but regular and calculable vocation of the public servant.
It may be further considered that it is the object of Collectivism not merely to give a true industrial and calculable basis to the life of the worker, but to give to the possession of property character and propriety. There is a justifiable pleasure in surrounding one's self with things which really express and respond to one's own character and choice of interest, and in the feeling that they are one's own in a peculiar and intimate sense. But the number of books, pictures, and the like, which one "desires for one's own," is comparatively small, and would be much smaller, if one had within reach a museum, a library, and a picture gallery. The property that is revolting is that which is expressive, not of character, but of money; the house, for instance, of "a successful man made beautiful “by contract.” Emerson's exhortation to put our private pictures into public galleries is perhaps extreme, and not altogether
Throughout this discussion I am thinking of "the enjoyment of individual Property" as distinct from the employment of private Capital and the private possession of Land.