The Social Future of Labourers.
Dunedin Printed By John Mackay, Princes Street North. 1872
Note.—The writer confesses his indebtedness to the works of the following writers:—Mr. Herbert Spencer, Mr. J. S. Mill, Mr. Thornton, Mr. W. R. Greg, and Professor Beesly.
The Social Future of Labourers.
"There was no bed in the room; no table. It was bare of furniture, comfortless, and freezing cold; but, with the exception of the plaster dropping from the roof, and the broken windows patched with rags and paper, there was a scrupulous neatness about the whole which contrasted strangely with the filth and slovenliness outside. On a broken chair by the chimney sat a miserable old woman, fancying that she was warming her hands over embers that had long been cold, and muttering to herself, with palsied lips, about the Guardians and the Workhouse. While upon a few rags on the floor lay a girl, ugly, marked with the small-pox, hollow-eyed, emaciated; her only bedclothes the skirt of a large handsome new riding habit, at which the other girls, wan and tawdry, were stitching busily as they sat right and left of her on the floor. The old woman took no notice of us as we entered; but one of the girls looked up, and, with a pleasing gesture of recognition, put her fingers on her lips, and whispered, 'Ellen's asleep.'"
"I shall be as particular," he says, "as a valuer, and describe what I have seen. The family sleeping-room measured 13 feet 6 inches by 14 feet. Opening out of this, and again on the landing of the third floor, was their kitchen and sitting-room; it was not quite so large as the other. Not to be described are the dinginess of the walls, the smokiness of the ceilings the grimy windows, the heavy, ever murky atmosphere of these rooms. The other side of the street was I 4 feet distant. Behind, the backs of similar tenements came up black and cowering over the little yard of number Five. As rare in the well thus formed was the circulation of air, as that of cash in the pockets of the inhabitants. I have seen the yard: let me warn you if you are fastidious not to enter it. They poor people knew nothing of sanitary reform, sanitary precautions, endemics, epidemics, deodorisers or disinfectants; they regarded disease with the fatalism of despair."
Nor can these descriptions be considered as exaggerated, when the following facts are remembered. In Edinburgh, for example, it is said one common stair alone has 260 souls dwelling there; sometimes actually two families in one room. The pauperism in England is reckoned to be about one in every twenty. More than a million paupers in England! And these are relieved by the state; but what of those who are always on the confines of poverty? who are labourers earning small wages, oft out of work, often hungry, having emphatically no place in this earth of ours that they can call by hallowed name of home. Who, when in work, have hours of drudgery, enlivened by no hope but the preservation until an old age of their life, and who look to the Workhouse as their final asylum. Who, after their dull hours of weary toil are over, go to homes where there are nothing but squalor and wretchedness; afflicted with diseases; their natural affections blunted; their children dying around them, by all kinds of diseases. For them, how joyless is life? Not a gleam of sunshine; no sweetness, no light to cheer them in their earthly career. Even the words of Scripture might be applied to them—"They wait for death, but it cometh not; they rejoice exceedingly and are glad when they find the grave." How hard is their lot. Tell us not of "honest poverty;" chant not its praises. It seems to me one of the greatest of curses. This is not, however, the condition of all "labourers." The ranks of the poor are filled up from other sources; but, as a class, compared with the wealth and luxury which some enjoy, the dukes, and lords, and millionaires, with thousands a day, it is a terrible anomaly. Just think of one class having all that the most luxurious can desire; and of the other, children of the same father, toiling and moiling, and in their efforts to save their lives losing them. But some say this poverty and wretchedness are only known in old countries, surely we in the colonies have got rid of this want. Is there then no pauperism here? And is it not fact that what is, is on the increase? I fear we often overlook the fact that even in the colonies there is much real poverty and misery. It is a great mistake to suppose that we here have not this question of "pauperism" to face. We have not, alas, solved this problem of the age; nay, we have not come page 5 one whit nearer a solution. Glance at our Benevolent Asylum, peep into our Hospitals, see our Industrial and other schools; think of the numbers of unemployed often in our midst; see the agitations that are continually arising for the government to step in and do this thing and the other. And what does this cry of government work for the unemployed signify? Does it not mean that the government should perform the function of parish unions in England—find work for those out of work. The patent and distressing fact that every now and then, and especially in the winter season, government has to expend public money in keeping willing workers from want, is a glaring anomaly which no sophistry of ours can explain away. It may be, nay it is true, that the causes of the want of work are different from those in older communities; and it is often also true that the colonial towns are crowded with some lazy and discontented men who get up "unemployed agitations." But, granting these things, the fact is patent that we have the poor in our midst, that we have labourers often in want and often out of work.
There is then here as in European countries a question to solve; and can we wonder when we think of the wretchedness, and even of the crimes which are often caused by poverty, that philanthropists should get impatient and be ready with utopias to set before us to cure our social defects. It is not surprising that benevolent men should, after surveying our social state, get dissatisfied with our present social laws, and demand their abrogation. They and all wise men who have looked at our present state, and also thought on our probable future, have asked—Can it be, that this world of ours is ever to remain a Pandemonium? Is there no future time fast hastening in which we can imagine that the labourers' families, fortified by their own wisdom against all the chances of fortune, would not have any more need, under any circumstances, of imploring the compassion of either the state or of their fellow-citizens? Can it be, that the sad scene pictured by Carlyle in burning words, of "a white European man, standing on his two legs, with his five-fingered hands at his shackle-bones, and miraculous head on his shoulders," should be worth nothing, should never be false. "If," says Mr. Mill," the bulk of the human race are always to remain as at present, slaves to toil in which they have no interest, and therefore feel no interest, drudging from early morning till late at night for bare necessaries, and with all the intellectual and moral deficiencies which this implies. Without interests or sentiments as members of society, and with a sense of injustice rankling in their minds—equally for what they have not and for what others have, I know not what there is which should make a person with any capacity of reason concern himself about the destinies of the human race. There would be no wisdom for any one, but in extracting from life, with Epicurean indifference, as much personal satisfaction for himself and those with whom he sympathises as it can yield without injury to any one, and let the unmeaning bustle of so-called civilised existence roll by unheeded.'page 6
There is then a problem, and that a vital one, to solve; all are agreed about that. It is only in the mode of solution that differences of opinion arise. Let us glance at the contending Utopias. Of course we shall only have time to take the main ones. They are—1st, Socialism; 2nd, Co-operation; 3rd, Positivism; 4th, Liberty. Regarding the solution offered to us in the colonies, namely "Protection," or as it is grandiloquently termed "Protection of Native Industry," allusion will be made under the head of Liberty.
I shall take Socialism first, because Socialism in one shape or another has been the remedy of most of the philanthropists of all ages. Traces of it are discerned amongst the ancient Hebrews, amongst the early Christians, amongst the Chinese, &c. But there is no agreement amongst the Socialists. "Some systems have been based on purely material principles, like Owens's; some have been profoundly religious, like the Moravians; some maintain the family arrangements, some altogether merge them; some recommend celibacy, some enforce it, like the Shakers;" some relax the marriage tie, some control it; some hold it sacred, and some even advocate doctrines regarding it which would destroy that pivot of English life—the family. Some would divide the property equally. But all have this maxim, that labour should be for the common good. Competition is to be unknown; the right to work and just wages is always asserted. The main agreement in the various socialistic Utopias consists in maintaining the equality of men, at least so far as right to support from each other is concerned. Another of the doctrines of most of the socialists is that external circumstances alone constitute the difference between man and man—circumstances are the basis of their morality. Their position may be asserted as this:—Society, they say, is out of joint; its anomalies, its inequalities, the sufferings of the mass, are monstrous and indefensible. Palliatives won't do, nor slow methods of evolution; we must remedy the evil at once. The society system that can permit such a state of things must be overthrown. Private property must be unknown, and grinding competition banished. The nexus that is to join man to his fellow is not competition, nor money, but "love"—hence we must labour for the common good. Such is very briefly the statement of the socialists. It would be a grave mistake to suppose that these opinions are held by only the revolutionary or the turbulent. Many able men, many philanthropically men, in all countries, are socialists. It would also be erroneous to suppose that they desire their system inaugurated by force. "What we have recently witnessed in France of the Communist rebellion has little to do with socialists; of course many of the communists were and are socialists. But the name "communist" is not from communion, or community of goods, but from the divisions of the city—the "commune" and their fight is for republicanism, and right of cities to certain functions without the control of the Government. So much for socialistic theories; let us glance at their defects. To me they seem to page 7 start on an entirely wrong basis. They assert, if their statements mean anything, an equality of men. So far as the right to labour, which means the right to enjoy the fruits of labour are concerned, they place all men on a level. But are all men equal? Can we say, as Carlyle has phrased it, that Quashee the nigger is equal to Socrates? and, if not equal, why should Quashee be told that he is equal? But a far greater difficulty meets us than this one of equality, for it is right in a sense, it is half a truth. Private property is to become unknown, competition to cease, and man to eat though he should not work. Once assert that private property is at an end, and what have we? We cannot have, in our present state, men united together content to surrender their property or their earnings for the benefit of all. Nor, were all the property once surrendered, could we hope that there would be an end of strife or of contention, nor that every one would fulfil his appointed share of work for the common weal. Unfortunately all men are not moral; some wish to live and enjoy the good things of this world without work. Here is the cardinal defect of socialism. Ir overlooks "human nature;" it is blind to the very patent fact that not only are all men not equal in any sense, but that they are not all unselfish, not all devoted to the common good. Nor does socialism present a remedy for this defect in our nature. Giving the idle, the ill-disposed, the selfish, all that they require—food, clothing, and lodging—and these for ever secured to them, can not rid them of their unselfishness, nor of their evil dispositions. And here I might dismiss socialism, did not there lie at its basis two doctrines erroneous, and found often coming form quarters not at all tinged with socialism. I mean the right of private property and competition. We are often told of usurers; we have it held up to us that money is the root of all evil; and it is pictured, by others than socialists in name, what a benefit it would be if all things were in common, and following this statement comes another, how wrong it is to claim interest. If we would only go to the root of the subject, and picture to ourselves the growth of private property, the beginning of usury, we would not call them by hard names. Go bank to man in the savage or semi-savage state, long after that time pictured by one of our scientific men, when our progenitors were of the monkey tribe. He is a hunter. He finds that by making certain implements he can the better catch his prey. Perhaps it is by the aid of a bow and an arrow, or by a polished stone whirled and thrown in a certain manner. He, to enable him to maintain himself, suddenly becomes possessed of his private property; he is a capitalist, for he has that wherewith he can obtain food easily. Through this means he has obtained more food than he needs for some time, and he can therefore rest for a season and apply himself to other pursuits. Getting rid of this continuous hunting, he begins to make other improvements. Once a capitalist, his capital increases. The other huntsmen come to him and examine his capital, and ask page 8 him for the loan of it. Now, he says, why should I give my capital for nothing; clearly if I give it to all I will have none for myself. If I give it to any, I enrich its possessor for the time being. But the borrower offers him interest, and promises him a share of the booty he may obtain. Getting usury, he is able to apply himself to other avocations, and in this way commences civilisation, for the arts arise; and competition, the socialists' bugbear, grows with it. "The vast disorganised mob scrambling each for what he can get," as the socialists phrase our social state, begins to be known. But this vast disorganised mob, however unlovely in appearance, has given us all our arts, all our inventions, all our discoveries. "Without competition, if that is thinkable, we would have been wonderfully equal, but the level would have been very low; we would have been all at one state of civilisation, and that a not very advanced one. All machinery would have been unknown. Wide through the woods we would have been roaming, noble, perhaps, but unrobed, and I fear not very intellectual in our pursuits. As to the right to labour, or the right to obtain work and be paid for it, which more than socialists assert, what is this but another way of destroying both private property and competition. For if some in a society have a right to demand labour, or work with pay as this phrase always signifies, from whom? Clearly from the capitalist. Of course from Government simply means from the capitalist, for who pay the taxes? But what is capital but past labour; and if past labour, if one cannot enjoy it, what is this but asserting in another shape that the capitalist, when he by abstinence or care or ability accumulated his labour—his capital—he did so to give it to those who perhaps had like opportunities, but neglected to do as he did.
Closely connected with socialism, in fact springing out of it, came Co-operation as a system. Many of its founders were tinged with socialism. Holding, however, theoretical views, they determined to become practical. Many of the socialists' Utopias had miserably failed, and they had not the means, if they had the inclination, to enter into any socialistic arrangements. The Rochdale Society, which is the pioneer society of co-operations, sprang from very small beginnings. The founders thought they were paying too dear for their groceries, and, besides, they said they did not get them of very excellent quality. They therefore met, and without any extraneous aid resolved to form a store for the supply of their necessaries. It was a very small beginning; 28 operatives of Rochdale started what is now a great movement. Most of them were flannel weavers, and provident men, who though having small wages had managed to keep out of debt. By payments of twopence or threepence per week they managed to obtain £28, and this was all their capital. With this sum they bought some sacks of flour, some oatmeal, sugar, and butter. They rented a shop at £10 per year. The opening of the shop was anxiously looked forward to by the Rochdale community, and when the weavers page 9 took the shutters down and exposed their small store, there was great laughter. But laughter would not dismay men like the Rochdale co-operators. They sold their goods, they gave no credit, and so much has the society increased—from this small beginning—that the business actually done now exceeds £300,000 a year. A great increase on the £28. This Rochdale Society is the parent society, and, emulating its noble example in many respects, thousands of co-operative stores have been opened all over the United Kingdom—I may say throughout Europe and America. Not content, however, with co-operative stores, the co-operators have gone further; they have attempted to solve the labour problem, by trying to get rid of an employer class. According to this section of them, all workmen are to form a partnership, or as they term it—to co-operate. They aim, after paying their foreman, at dividing the profits equally amongst the workmen. This attempt has been applied to many trades. One of the first attempts was in tailoring; but the most successful has been in farming. Time will not allow me to give you full details of the various schemes. While giving them every credit for their endeavours, for who would not give great praise to such efforts as those of the Rochdale and other co-operators? do not let us imagine, as some of them have vainly thought, that co-operation is that solution of the labour problem for which all were so anxiously awaiting the coming. There seems to be defects even in this however successful system: for what, after all, can co-operative stores do? Clearly the only way profit can be made is by the sale of groceries, and salesmen have to be employed. How the salesmen are paid is of little moment. If co-operators pay a little more to the co-operative store than to the grocer next door perhaps, there will of necessity, if the business is properly managed, be some profits to divide at the end of the year. If they obtain profits in any other way, it can only be in this way.—They may obtain a manager or shopmen at lower wage than the grocer, or shopkeeper charges for his care and toil and risk. Whatever they gain thus will also add to their profits; but in no other way can they make profits. Nor after all will it be found that their investment of their capital in co-operative stores will return them more interest or profit than if the investment had been made in another way. For competition is not banished, and there are capitalists with whom they have to come into contact. So far then we see co-operative stores give us nothing but this—a manner of investing capital in the business of grocers, and a probable obtaining at a cheaper rate shopmen to serve them, that the compeiting shopkeepers charge for their labour. This can hardly be called any solution at all of the labour problem. But co-operators have not been content, as I have stated, with the selling of groceries. They have aimed at something higher, and that is co-operative production as well as co-operative distribution of flour, butter, and sugar. Unfortunately the societies have generally resembled the socialistic Utopias—been miserable failures. page 10 And why? The question always to solve, who is to be head? who is to be foreman? who is to decide what work B shall do, and what A? has been left unanswered. All men are not equal, and all tailors share the same frailty. And what has happened? Nothing but perpetual wranglings. You see this was an attempt to get rid of the employer, or managing class, and such was the perversity of human nature, that, all being masters, all wanted to rule; and if a majority did fix on a suitable foreman, there were always some enemies in the camp, who considered they were shabbily treated. Had not one of the masters a right to say for what work he was the most suited? If not, was he not despotically ruled over? And on this rock have co-operative producing societies been wrecked. They alas, like the socialistic dreamers, did not recognise the fact that men are not all masters, but that to be fitted for their systems a long process of evolution is necessary.
Positivism aims to get rid of the evils of both these systems. It asserts with loud tongue that all men are not equal, that all are diverse; and that, as there are different functions to be fulfilled in the social organism, so there are amongst mankind individuals fitted to undertake them. But above this assertion there is a wider one, and one far more beautiful and as captivating as that of you're-as-good-as-another theory of the socialists, and it is that the highest worship is to worship humanity—the good of the mass is the highest duty of man,—and its divinity is man in the aggregate. With its religious views we have nothing to do, nor with its founders' classification of the sciences, etc. That these, and its principles of social reform, are believed in by some of the brightest intellects in England, should make us weigh carefully the solution offered by it. Its sanction is a religious one. It points to socialism, and says to the socialist:—"You have condemned the competition system because it was a disorganised mob, each of which was clambering and jostling his neighbor to obtain a living; but what are you? You are enthusiasts, who have presupposed what has never yet existed, and by a fatal sort of sleepwalking have proceeded to put into operation your system of unselfishness and love, while all the while men were selfish and at enmity. You have imagined men had reached a high standard of morality, when, alas! they had never approached to a low standard; and what are you but an organised mob waiting the auction of that which could alone unite you—an organised religion? The basis of positivism is therefore religious,"—but a religion of an ideal though earthly kind. It would organise society as an army; over all there would be a supreme pontiff, tinged with infallibility Under him there would be high priests and guilds—(I speak of it as modified and shadowed forth by some of its English disciples)—and under them labourers would be appointed and ruled. These rulers would be the wisest and best, and there would and could be no appeal from their decisions, should the less wise appeal against the decision of those more just than they. There must be no page 11 complaining, for those heirarchs are the wisest and best; and what right have the foolish and the bad to complain of the conduct of their superiors? Nor would the guilds and priests look after the labour problem alone. Believing as they do, and as many socialists do, that our marriage laws and customs have everything to do with our well-being, they would regulate marriage. Ruskin, who has in him something of the socialist and much of the positivist, although I believe he disclaims it, grapples with the marriage questionina way that would I have no doubt be pleasing to many in every community. He would have every one—and especially the bachelors—who had not married before twenty-five, looked upon by the community as persons who had committed a great wrong, in fact as social outcasts. Nor could everyone marry. Marriage is to be regulated and looked upon as a reward of merit. The young couple need not, however, be at all put out in money matters. Their honeymoon is to last for seven years—happy couples!—and during this time they are to be paid some two or three hundred a year; and all couples are to be placed upon the same footing. There is not to be one thing for the rich and another for the poor. If the rich have property, it is to be managed during their honeymoon by the Ruskinian bishops, the overseers as he terms them, and returned with accumulations when their sweet seven years of enjoyment are ended. Who would not support this social utopias? Nothing but happiness here! But, though kind to the newly married couples, the interference of the "overseers" and the priests would become perhaps irksome, for these "overseers" would come to the scientific men and say, you must spend your time only in those subjects which are beneficial to the community as a whole; and if he replied, but this will be beneficial, the overseers would reply, we think otherwise, and the heirarchy are supreme. Of the scientific aspects, however, of positivism, Professor Huxley in articles to the Fortnightly Review, republished in his Lay Sermons, has said perhaps all that can be said against its treatment of science and her votaries. With its social system I hardly think we will agree. It is at best a theocracy whose theus is humanity, and whose priests are all-powerful. To me it has two defects. First, it looks upon men, or the vast majority of men, in somewhat a similar way as Carlyle characterised his country- men—thirty-six millions, mostly fools. All men except the pontiff and his staff are in a state of pupilage, and they are ever to remain in this condition, for positivism is not a stepping-stone to something higher; there are always to be the rulers and the ruled, and the method of rule despotic. Its second defect is that it makes no provision, or does not show how the wisest are to be selected as the pontiff and rulers. All admit, and positivists continually affirm, that the men of gold will be always the few, and the men of iron the many. If it is to be a popular election, how can the men of iron select the men of gold; can iron detect gold? Here it fails, and will fail, or will become the purest despotism. Might page 12 there not be some of "iron" who imagined they were golden? There is nothing more difficult than to persuade some people that they are not Jacks-of-all-trades. To take an illustration. Tell a good comedian that he is good, praise him well. Ten to one he has a hankering after tragedy, and you cannot insult him more readily than by hinting that comedy is his sphere. Nor is this feeling confined to actors, we meet it cropping out amongst every class. Now positivists, leaving to a few the right to settle for the many their avocation, their wage, etc., what is this but a despotism pure and simple; and, asserting what perhaps is true, that the few mean it for the best, are they infallible? Infallibility is at all events, if it exists at all, a very rare thing. Before, however, dismissing positivism, let me state that to its great founder, M. Comte, we owe much. It is to him we are indebted for the founding of "sociology." It is perhaps not a science, yet but for the efforts of him and his disciples we would have been still far behind in discussing man's social relations in anything but a hap-hazard empirical manner. He has aimed at reducing social phenomena to a science, and if he has not succeeded, he has at all events pointed out the way for future philosophers to walk in. That the time may come when any political or social act will admit of no more discussion as to its effects than any act of the chemist or natural philosopher does at present, we may surely believe; and if so, to the positivists are we indebted for the attempt to found social science.
I now come to the last utopia, to that of Liberty. I have fixed on the name liberty for its brevity and comprehension. I might have termed it political economy, properly understood and, what is rarer, acted up to; or I might have termed it the system of justice. I have taken the term liberty as comprehending these. Unfortunately it has few disciples, for though there are men who pretend that they as citizens are guided by the dictates of political economy, their action belies their words. Few indeed will allow the liberty system to guide them in everything. Every now and then you find them taking their eye from it and casting about for expedients to rid them of some dilemma. Its followers, ignoring expediency, look to what is right, not to what is expedient. It is never expedient, say they, to do wrong. As a consequence of their action they are looked upon as vain theorists, not at all as practical men. But what is a practical man, and what a theorist? Is not the true difference between what is popularly termed a theorist and a practical man this? The theorist is not guided by his own experience, nor by the doings of the citizens of his own nation; he looks at the past, and scans carefully the present, and he, relying on his survey, gives utterance to his opinions. The practical man, again, takes a narrow range for his vision. He confines himself to his own experience, which is necessarily limited; to his own people and customs, necessarily contracted; and, glancing like the wayfarers of old at one side of the shield and presumes page 13 he has seen both, suddenly comes to a conclusion. Practical men are eminently unpractical. But the political economists have another and graver charge made against them than that of being theorists. When they proclaim as the cardinal doctrine of their system "equal liberty to all," and assert that it is not the duty of the Government—of society—to do aught but maintain "equal freedom," they have flung in their teeth, What right have you to speak? Have you not ruled us always. It is sickening to hear, so say some of the opponents of the equal freedom doctrine, this perpetual reference to equal freedom and political economy, as if these were not the causes of all our ills? Is this so—has political economy always guided us? An eminent writer thus retorts:—The assertion that "political economy has hitherto had it all its own way," and is therefore chargeable with the present state of things, we meet with the most indignant and peremptory denial. It is not only not true, but is precisely the reverse of true. Economists affirm, and with perfect justice, that the existing wretchedness of England is directly traceable to ignorance, neglect, and systematic violation of the principles of political economy. It is difficult to name a single precept of that science which has not been either lost sight of, or habitually contravened. Political economy says:—Industry ought to be as unshackled as the wind; restriction cripples it; protection misdirects it; the two together diminish its productiveness, and the number of mouths it can support. When has English industry been free and unimpeded? Political economy, reechoing christianity and common-sense, long since proclaimed "that if any man would not work neither should he eat;" our laws enact that a man shall eat whether he will work or not. Political economy, repeating the simple teachings of morality, pronounced that if a man married without means or prospects, and brought children into the world whom he was unable to support, he acted unjustly and selfishly, as well as imprudently, and that the correction of his fault should be left to its natural results;—the law stepped in between the cause and its consequence, between the folly and its cure, and declared that if he could not support his own children, the prudent, industrious, and the self- denying should do it for him. Political economy, reiterating the dictates of nature, proclaimed that the larger the family a man had to support by his labour, the scantier must be the allowance of each member of it. The common custom till 1834, in England, was to increase the peasant's wages or allowance with every additional child that was born to him. [And to the present day the clergy in some Churches are paid in proportion to the number of their family.] Political economy said to the labourer—If population increases faster than the field of employment enlarges or the demand for labour augments, your position will inevitably deteriorate;—even divines and county magistrates scouted such philosophy, and inculcated upon their hearers "increase and multiply—the strength of a country lies in its numbers—"dwell in the page 14 land and verily thou shalt be fed." Lastly, political economy said—Industry, frugality, forethought, and perseverance shall not fail of their reward; nor indolence, unthrift, and crime escape a bitter retribution. But no such thing. The English poor-laws, by enacting that all have a right to relief, allow the person who has wasted his time, his talents, and his earnings, to live in the workhouse; while the person who was prudent, careful, and abstemious, and perhaps earned less wages, is taxed to keep him there. Political economy has been neglected and wantonly thrown aside, and in these latter days its throwing aside is openly justified for the benefit of the labourer. There is no maxim that admits of more abundant proof than that "a country's wealth cannot be increased by taxing its inhabitants." Yes, this is what the protectionists say, if their statement means anything. The disciples of liberty say that as a society, social organism, or Government, all that should be done by the state is to maintain "equal freedom." What equal freedom is that which would assert the right to tax another to benefit his neighbour; yet what are poor laws, protection systems, etc., doing but this?—A species of robbery by the arm of the law. The liberty system would fail if it stopped at the assertion of the widest and fullest liberty, the doctrine of equal freedom. It goes much further. Like that system which, whether divine or not, has so enriched our world with its moral teachings and its religious enthusiasm, it comes to every soul of man and makes it a personal matter with him, this labour problem. It tells him, in tones of which there can be no mistaking their import, how he must labour, for whom, for what. It says to him that he must live justly, that he must not trample on the rights of any one, and that justice not expediency must be his rule in life; and it also points out clearly and unmistakeably a truth of which we are but slow to recognise the importance—that every infraction of law, of social law as well of other laws, is followed by punishment. If a labourer will be wasteful, will marry when he cannot afford to do so, will have a larger family than he can provide for, will spend his money in luxuries or in intoxicating beverages, that he will suffer for it. There is no getting rid of that. In terrible reality will he recognise this truth, that his sin will find him out. Nay, it also tells him that he has no right to demand from society when out of work, employment, nor when in want of food, temporary relief. To many it hence seems cruel and harsh. It is not so. It looks at society as an organism, and says that the members can only become strong by exercise. Of course its doctrine of individual sympathy is not left out, nor that of benevolence. But as a state it insists on this, that the individual who has erred in such way as to find himself reaping the reward of his conduct, should not be placed in peculiar circumstances, and freed from the punishment which should follow. Such are its aims. Though it also may lack something, it seems to me most rational, and at the same time most effective. It is not by forced processes page 15 that our social anomalies can be remedied; they can only be gradually and slowly got rid of.
"Through all the season of the golden year."
Do not imagine that this advance can be at once. Poverty will exist, nay, I may say must exist for a long time to come. As long as we find people selfish and ignorant, imprudent and waste- page 16 ful, poverty will exist as punishment for their selfishness, ignorance, wastefulness and imprudence. If we wish, however, to hasten the arrival of an utopia in which poverty will be reduced to a minimum, how should we act? It is worse than useless, it is mischievous, declaiming against out social state, and pourtraying in dark colours our terrible anomalies, and stopping there. We have duties to fulfil. It seems to me to be the highest duty in these days to assert and proclaim as loudly as possible, that we have no right to cripple those who come after us. That, on the contrary, it should be our highest aim and our constant desire so to act that those who have to succeed us may be benefited, not injured by our conduct. We must also show to the improvident, and let the self-indulgent know it, that we will not rid them of the penalty of their action. As they sow so must they reap. But, above all, we must regard ourselves not as accidents. We must believe that if there be a moral Governor of the Universe, He has in His wisdom designed us as agents for some purpose. "Not as adventitious, therefore, not as something which may be slighted and made subordinate to questions of policy, or the obtaining of a kind of popularity among our fellows, will we regard the faith that is in us." We may be wrong, as we are fallible, but we will never falter in uttering what we conceive to be the highest truth; nor will we stop until we can get, not by force, but by that which is greater than mere force, the enthusiasm of faith and hope and charity, our idealisms embodied in fact. Acting thus, we will discard all short and easy methods of social improvement, and recognise that it is only bit by bit that real advance is made. Nor will labourers be found competing merely for destructive purposes. They in that future to which we are now advancing will recognise that it is best to throw aside jealousies, rivalries, and everything ignoble. And amongst them the greatest will be those who are the noblest. As in one stage of our progress, the greatest man has been he who was the best warrior; as in another stage, the greatest was he who had most wealth; as in yet another, the greatest was he who had the highest intellect. So in the future, the greatest will be he who will manifest the greatest self-sacrifice, and who if need be "would be content to lay his body in the trench, that others might use it as a bridge to pass over to that emancipation from degradation, and to that victory which yet awaits our labourers."
My vision was of shadows thrown before
Coming events, things that shall surely be;
Nor now delayed, but until man, no more
Wholly on blinding lust intent, shall see—
That his own interest and his kind's are one,
Blended in individual destiny.