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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 81

Chapter I. — Foreword

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Chapter I.


Democracy is with us, and has become synonymous with rest-less political activity. The problem of problems is how to direct that activity along right lines. In all spheres of effort there is a great deal of wasted and misdirected energy, but especially is this characteristic of that sphere in which men are working to ameliorate the conditions of society. There are a thousand and one remedies proposed and earnestly advocated for all our social ills. Each remedy has its army of followers, who throw the strength of their mind and heart into its advancement. Yet these alleged panaceas are, in many cases, contradictory one of another. As a consequence, many earnest men and women are employing their faculties to no purpose. We all admire the man whose warmth of conviction in say cause leads to a consecration of life to that cause. It betokens a thoroughness of character which challenges respect and even homage. "Yet it is probable that the world suffers more from sincere error than from perversions of self-interest. Let this truth never be forgotten: a man may be the sincere, unsuspecting servant of error all his days, and error cannot endure. Truth alone holds the principle of everlasting life. From the foundation of the earth the fiat went forth that bankruptcy shall sweep down every lie and error sooner or later. He who builds on false theories builds on sand. It is therefore with painful emotions one observes the infatuations of social reformers. To spend a life in weaving ropes of sand is galling.

The writer has been induced to write the following few chapters because of the belief strong with him that the labouring class is wasting its substance and energy in the pursuit of reforms which, when grasped in the practical hand of experience, will be found to be bubbles filled with air. His sympathies are deep with the toilers of our cities. Dearly would he love to see the conditions of society such that the man who did not work should not eat. He abhors your class distinctions, and protests against the honour society pours upon its idlers. Labour, common and horny-handed, still lacks the homage winch is its right. The Grecian and Roman philosophies have left an aftermath of contempt for those who toil, and honour for those who appropriate the fruits of toil. We British folk still love a lord, though his function in life be simply that of "eating sumptuously dressing gracefully." With this superstitious reverence no thoughtful man can have any tolerance. And no wonder the leaders of Labour are in insurrection against it. No page 6 wonder they insist clamantly on the rights and all-worthiness of Labour. The working classes so-called smart under the poignant memory of a past, replete with oppression and spoliation. The freedom and modicum of justice they now enjoy has been purchased at the cost of much effort and blood. The foundations of society have been upheaved many and many a time. Britain, America, France have travailed in the great agony of revolution. In each case a mighty man-child of Liberty has been born to grow into strength and dominion. But in each case much loss and suffering was occasioned needlessly through misdirection of effort and impelled grasp of the means to ideals. What horror of great darkness there was in the French RevolutioN. Yet the ideals with which the movement set out were grand and unimpeachable. The supreme folly lay in the belief that only through social dissolution could come social renovation. That society required re-organising laws recasting on new principles, there could be no manner of doubt. But improvement lies along other roads than that of a weltering chaos. To establish justice in the relations of men, it is never necessary, and seldom wise, to snap all the bands which unite to the past, to scorn tradition, and indiscriminately play the iconoclast. The institutions of the present are the natural outcome of the social evolutionary process. They may, it is true, ham survived the reasons which gave them birth; hut in most cases continuity of existence argues some good, some power to meet the needs of the time.

Some insistence requires to be placed on the solid value of the principle of conservatism in this age of political ferment and unrest. As Burke says: "Men are not qualified to look forward to posterity who never look backward to their ancestors." The atmosphere is charged with storm. Around us whirl racing floods. A stable hand is needed to navigate them. No vision of a social millennium can be trustworthy which is not opened out by a reforming zeal chastened by a firm grasp of the lessons of history. The counsels of experience and economic history must be invoked in all departures from beaten tracks. In dealing with the problems of the day we seem to he in danger of falling into one of two opposite errors—too great or too slight a respect for existing institutions. The wealthy and contented tend to fall into the former error, the labouring poor into the latter. As a consequence we have on the one hand a senseless obduracy to reform, on the other a, precipitancy, an inappreciation of consequences which truly alarming. Demos gropes and wrestles like a blind giant With a foresight often that reaches no further than his own nose, he decides what must in its consequences reach to the world 's end. He is peculiarly susceptible to the empire of economic fallacies. With little to hazard, he manifests an amazing intrepidity in attacking social difficulties. The light that is in him being dim and tallowy, he often gets on to the wrong track, takes false steps, and strikes indiscriminately the good and evil. Conse- page 7 quently there is necessary much retracing of steps, and much doing has to be undone. Much energy and time is misspent and the march of progress impeded. To avoid this waste, these pages enter a plea for a careful analysis of the fundamental truths, of economics and for a strict scrutiny of the guiding facts which history supplies. Bacon well said: "A cripple in the right way will beat a racer in the wrong one. Nay, the fleeter the racer is who has once missed his way, the farther he leaves it behind." A calm and impartial study of principles is requisite if we are to start on the right way.

Unfortunately little guidance can be obtained from politicians. Their interest to warp the judgment and inflame the passions of men is a temptation hard for human flesh to resist. This is rendered doubly unfortunate from the fact that the mass of the people derive their knowledge of economic principles from the hustings and the stormy arena of parliamentary debates. The shiftiness of the politician has become proverbial. His close dependence on the popular will makes unswerving adherence to principle difficult except in men of rare strength. Often he is but a self-seeker with his ambition thinly varnished over with zeal. The temptations to temporise and skirt round a problem are the peculiar besetments of those who govern in the practical affairs of State and render them unsteady and untrustworthy lights of guidance. There is a danger, specially marked in politics, of speech and silence being set to the sympathies of one's own little public, like the words of a song to music. One who has felt the power of these temptations will, without hesitation, recognise the urgency of appealing to other leadership than that of the man pressed from all points to accommodate his opinions to those of the majority. There is an ever-growing need of an economic literature which shall instruct in first principles while avoiding the technical difficulties and terms of the schools. There is likewise an ever-growing appetite for books of small compass which shall apply first principles to those involved problems of society which confront our generation.

Political Economy, we are told, is the science and analysis of what is, not of what ought to be. But the generality of men invest the science with a more extended scope, and demand, with reason, the answer of Political Economy to the multitude of reforms that are clamouring for acceptance. Many of these proposed reforms are based on fallacies obvious to the slightest investigation. This little hook aims at a popular statement of fundamental principles, so that he who runs may read. By the light of these principles it hopes to reveal the essential illusoriness of many theories accredited by large bodies of public opinion. That done, it indicates, though with diffidence, the lines upon which true and lasting reform must run.