should begin to know what it is that we ought to know. Such a work would
be stimulating to politician and psychologist. The statesman's
imagination would be guided and organized; it would give him a
starting-point for his own understanding of human beings in politics. To
the scientists it would be a challenge - to bring these facts under the
light of their researches, to extend these researches to the borders of
The statesman has another way of strengthening his grip upon the
complexity of life. Statistics help. This method is neither so conclusive
as the devotees say, nor so bad as the people who are awed by it would
like to believe. Voting, as Gabriel Tarde points out, is our most
conspicuous use of statistics. Mystical democrats believe that an
election expresses the will of the people, and that that will is wise.
Mystical democrats are rare. Looked at closely an election shows the
quantitative division of the people on several alternatives. That choice
is not necessarily wise, but it is wise to heed that choice. For it is a
rough estimate of an important part of the community's sentiment, and no
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statecraft can succeed that violates it. It is often immensely suggestive
of what a large number of people are in the future going to wish.
Democracy, because it registers popular feeling, is at least trying to
build truly, and is for that reason an enlightened form of government. So
we who are democrats need not believe that the people are necessarily
right in their choice: some of us are always in the minority, and not a
little proud of the distinction. Voting does not extract wisdom from
multitudes: its real value is to furnish wisdom about multitudes. Our
faith in democracy has this very solid foundation: that no leader's
wisdom can be applied unless the democracy comes to approve of it. To
govern a democracy you have to educate it: that contact with great masses
of men reciprocates by educating the leader. "The consent of the
governed" is more than a safeguard against ignorant tyrants: it is an
insurance against benevolent despots as well. In a rough way and with
many exceptions, democracy compels law to approximate human need. It is a
little difficult to see this when you live right in the midst of one. But
in perspective there can be little question that of all governments
democracy is the most relevant. Only humane laws can be successfully
enforced; and they are the only ones really worth enforcing. Voting is a
formal method of registering consent.
But all statistical devices are open to abuse and require constant
correction. Bribery, false counting, disfranchisement are the cruder
deceptions; they correspond to those enrolment statistics of a large
university which are artificially fed by counting the same student
several times if his courses happen to span two or three of the
departments. Just as deceptive as plain fraud is the deceptive ballot. We
all know how when the political tricksters were compelled to frame a
direct primary law in New York they fixed the ballot so that it botched
the election. Corporations have been known to do just that to their
reports. Did not E. H. Harriman say of a well-known statistician that he
could make an annual report tell any story you pleased? Still subtler is
the seven-foot ballot of stupid, good intentions - the hyperdemocratic
ballot in which you are asked to vote for the State Printer, and succeed
only in voting under the party emblem.
Statistics then is no automatic device for measuring facts. You and I are
forever at the mercy of the census-taker and the census-maker. That
impertinent fellow who goes from house to house is one of the real
masters of the statistical situation. The other is the man who organizes
the results. For all the conclusions in the end rest upon their accuracy,
honesty, energy and insight. Of course, in an obvious census like that of
the number of people personal bias counts for so little that it is lost
in the grand total. But the moment you begin inquiries into subjects
which people prefer to conceal, the weakness of statistics becomes
obvious. All figures which touch upon sexual subjects are nothing but the
roughest guesses. No one would take a census of prostitution,
illegitimacy, adultery, or venereal disease for a statement of reliable
facts. There are religious statistics, but who that has traveled among
men would regard the number of professing Christians as any index of the
strength of Christianity, or the church attendance as a measure of
devotion? In the supremely important subject of literacy, what
classification yet devised can weigh the culture of masses of people? We
say that such a percentage of the population cannot read or write. But
the test of reading and writing is crude and clumsy. It is often
administered by men who are themselves half-educated, and it is shot
through with racial and class prejudice.
The statistical method is of use only to those who have found it out.
This is achieved principally by absorbing into your thinking a lively
doubt about all classifications and general terms, for they are the basis
of statistical measurement. That done you are fairly proof against
seduction. No better popular statement of this is to be found than H. G.
Wells' little essay: "Skepticism of the Instrument." Wells has, of
course, made no new discovery. The history of philosophy is crowded with
quarrels as to how seriously we ought to take our classifications: a
large part of the battle about Nominalism turns on this, the Empirical
and Rational traditions divide on it; in our day the attacks of James,
Bergson, and the "anti-intellectualists" are largely a continuation of
this old struggle. Wells takes his stand very definitely with those who
regard classification "as serviceable for the practical purposes of life"
but nevertheless "a departure from the objective truth of things."
"Take the word chair," he writes. "When one says chair, one thinks
vaguely of an average chair. But collect individual instances, think of
armchairs and reading-chairs, and dining-room chairs and kitchen chairs,
chairs that pass into benches, chairs that cross the boundary and become
settees, dentists' chairs, thrones, opera stalls, seats of all sorts,
those miraculous fungoid growths that cumber the floor of the Arts and
Crafts Exhibition, and you will perceive what a lax bundle in fact is
this simple straightforward term. In co-operation with an intelligent
joiner I would undertake to defeat any definition of chair or
chairishness that you gave me." Think then of the glib way in which we
speak of "the unemployed," "the unfit," "the criminal," "the
unemployable," and how easily we forget that behind these general terms
are unique individuals with personal histories and varying needs.
Even the most refined statistics are nothing but an abstraction. But if
that truth is held clearly before the mind, the polygons and curves of
the statisticians can be used as a skeleton to which the imagination and
our general sense of life give some flesh and blood reality. Human
statistics are illuminating to those who know humanity. I would not trust
a hermit's inferences about the statistics of anything.
It is then no simple formula which answers our question. The problem of a
human politics is not solved by a catch phrase. Criticism, of which these
essays are a piece, can give the direction we must travel. But for the
rest there is no smooth road built, no swift and sure conveyance at the
door. We set out as if we knew; we act on the notions of man that we
possess. Literature refines, science deepens, various devices extend it.
Those who act on the knowledge at hand are the men of affairs. And all
the while, research studies their results, artists express subtler
perceptions, critics refine and adapt the general culture of the times.
There is no other way but through this vast collaboration.
There is no short cut to civilization. We say that the truth will make us
free. Yes, but that truth is a thousand truths which grow and change. Nor
do I see a final state of blessedness. The world's end will surely find
us still engaged in answering riddles. This changing focus in politics is
a tendency at work all through our lives. There are many experiments. But
the effort is half-conscious; only here and there does it rise to a
deliberate purpose. To make it an avowed ideal - a thing of will and
intelligence - is to hasten its coming, to illumine its blunders, and, by
giving it self-criticism, to convert mistakes into wisdom.
WELL MEANING BUT UNMEANING: THE CHICAGO VICE REPORT
In casting about for a concrete example to illustrate some of the points
under discussion I hesitated a long time before the wealth of material.
No age has produced such a multitude of elaborate studies, and any
selection was, of course, a limiting one. The Minority Report of the
English Poor Law Commission has striking merits and defects, but for our
purposes it inheres too deeply in British conditions. American tariff and
trust investigations are massive enough in all conscience, but they are
so partisan in their origin and so pathetically unattached to any
recognized ideal of public policy that it seemed better to look
elsewhere. Conservation had the virtue of arising out of a provident
statesmanship, but its problems were largely technical.
The real choice narrowed itself finally to the Pittsburgh Survey and the
Chicago Vice Report. Had I been looking for an example of the finest
expert inquiry, there would have been little question that the vivid and
intensive study of Pittsburgh's industrialism was the example to use. But
I was looking for something more representative, and, therefore, more
revealing. I did not want a detached study of some specially selected
cross-section of what is after all not the typical economic life of
America. The case demanded was one in which you could see representative
American citizens trying to handle a problem which had touched their
Vice is such a problem. You can always get a hearing about it; there is
no end of interest in the question. Rare indeed is that community which
has not been "Lexowed," in which a district attorney or a minister has
not led a crusade. Muckraking began with the exposure of vice; men like
Heney, Lindsey, Folk founded their reputations on the fight against it.
It would be interesting to know how much of the social conscience of our
time had as its first insight the prostitute on the city pavement.
We do not have to force an interest, as we do about the trusts, or even
about the poor. For this problem lies close indeed to the dynamics of our
own natures. Research is stimulated, actively aroused, and a passionate
zeal suffuses what is perhaps the most spontaneous reform enthusiasm of
our time. Looked at externally it is a curious focusing of attention. Nor
is it explained by words like "chivalry," "conscience," "social
compassion." Magazines that will condone a thousand cruelties to women
gladly publish series of articles on the girl who goes wrong; merchants
who sweat and rack their women employees serve gallantly on these
commissions. These men are not conscious hypocrites. Perhaps like the
rest of us they are impelled by forces they are not eager to examine. I
do not press the point. It belongs to the analyst of motive.
We need only note the vast interest in the subject - that it extends
across class lines, and expresses itself as an immense good-will. Perhaps
a largely unconscious absorption in a subject is itself a sign of great
importance. Surely vice has a thousand implications that touch all of us
directly. It is closely related to most of the interests of
life - ramifying into industry, into the family, health, play, art,
religion. The miseries it entails are genuine miseries - not points of
etiquette or infringements of convention. Vice issues in pain. The world
suffers for it. To attack it is to attack as far-reaching and real a
problem as any that we human beings face.
The Chicago Commission had no simple, easily measured problem before it.
At the very outset the report confesses that an accurate count of the
number of prostitutes in Chicago could not be reached. The police lists
are obviously incomplete and perhaps corrupt. The whole amorphous field
of clandestine vice will, of course, defeat any census. But even public
prostitution is so varied that nobody can do better than estimate it
roughly. This point is worth keeping in mind, for it lights up the
remedies proposed. What the Commission advocates is the constant
repression and the ultimate annihilation of a mode of life which refuses
discovery and measurement.
The report estimates that there are five thousand women in Chicago who
devote their whole time to the traffic; that the annual profits in that
one city alone are between fifteen and sixteen million dollars a year.
These figures are admittedly low for they leave out all consideration of
occasional, or seasonal, or hidden prostitution. It is only the nucleus
that can be guessed at; the fringe which shades out into various degrees
of respectability remains entirely unmeasured. Yet these suburbs of the
Tenderloin must always be kept in mind; their population is shifting and
very elastic; it includes the unsuspected; and I am inclined to believe
that it is the natural refuge of the "suppressed" prostitute. Moreover it
The 1012 women recognized on the police lists are of course the most
easily studied. From them we can gather some hint of the enormous
bewildering demand that prostitution answers. The Commission informs us
that this small group alone receives over fifteen thousand visits a
day - five million and a half in the year. Yet these 1012 women are only
about one-fifth of the professional prostitutes in Chicago. If the
average continues, then the figures mount to something over 27,000,000.
The five thousand professionals do not begin to represent the whole
illicit traffic of a city like Chicago. Clandestine and occasional vice
is beyond all measurement.
The figures I have given are taken from the report. They are said to be
conservative. For the purposes of this discussion we could well lower the
27,000,000 by half. All I am concerned about is in arriving at a sense of
the enormity of the impulse behind the "social evil." For it is this that
the Commission proposes to repress, and ultimately to annihilate.
Lust has a thousand avenues. The brothel, the flat, the assignation
house, the tenement, saloons, dance halls, steamers, ice-cream parlors,
Turkish baths, massage parlors, street-walking - the thing has woven
itself into the texture of city life. Like the hydra, it grows new heads,
everywhere. It draws into its service the pleasures of the city.
Entangled with the love of gaiety, organized as commerce, it is literally
impossible to follow the myriad expressions it assumes.
The Commission gives a very fair picture of these manifestations. A mass
of material is offered which does in a way show where and how and to what
extent lust finds its illicit expression. Deeper than this the report
does not go. The human impulses which create these social conditions, the
human needs to which they are a sad and degraded answer - this human
center of the problem the commission passes by with a platitude.
"So long as there is lust in the hearts of men," we are told, "it will
seek out some method of expression. Until the hearts of men are changed
we can hope for no absolute annihilation of the Social Evil." But at the
head of the report in black-faced type we read:
"Constant and persistent repression of prostitution the immediate method;
absolute annihilation the ultimate ideal."
I am not trying to catch the Commissioners in a verbal inconsistency. The
inconsistency is real, out of a deep-seated confusion of mind. Lust will
seek an expression, they say, until "the hearts of men are changed." All
particular expressions are evil and must be constantly repressed. Yet
though you repress one form of lust, it will seek some other. Now, says
the Commission, in order to change the hearts of men, religion and
education must step in. It is their business to eradicate an impulse
which is constantly changing form by being "suppressed."
There is only one meaning in this: the Commission realized vaguely that
repression is not even the first step to a cure. For reasons worth
analyzing later, these representative American citizens desired both the
immediate taboo and an ultimate annihilation of vice. So they fell into
the confusion of making immediate and detailed proposals that have
nothing to do with the attainment of their ideal.
What the commission saw and described were the particular forms which a
great human impulse had assumed at a specific date in a certain city. The
dynamic force which created these conditions, which will continue to
create them - lust - they refer to in a few pious sentences. Their
thinking, in short, is perfectly static and literally superficial. In
outlining a ripple they have forgotten the tides.
Had they faced the human sources of their problem, had they tried to
think of the social evil as an answer to a human need, their researches
would have been different, their remedies fruitful. Suppose they had kept
in mind their own statement: "so long as there is lust in the hearts of
men it will seek out some method of expression." Had they held fast to
that, it would have ceased to be a platitude and have become a fertile
idea. For a platitude is generally inert wisdom.
In the sentence I quote the Commissioners had an idea which might have
animated all their labors. But they left it in limbo, they reverenced it,
and they passed by. Perhaps we can raise it again and follow the hints it
If lust will seek an expression, are all expressions of it necessarily
evil? That the kind of expression which the Commission describes is evil
no one will deny. But is it the only possible expression?
If it is, then the taboo enforced by a Morals Police is, perhaps, as good
a way as any of gaining a fictitious sense of activity. But the ideal of
"annihilation" becomes an irrelevant and meaningless phrase. If lust is
deeply rooted in men and its only expression is evil, I for one should
recommend a faith in the millennium. You can put this Paradise at the
beginning of the world or the end of it. Practical difference there is
No one can read the report without coming to a definite conviction that
the Commission regards lust itself as inherently evil. The members
assumed without criticism the traditional dogma of Christianity that sex
in any manifestation outside of marriage is sinful. But practical sense
told them that sex cannot be confined within marriage. It will find
expression - "some method of expression" they say. What never occurred to
them was that it might find a good, a positively beneficent method. The
utterly uncriticised assumption that all expressions not legalized are
sinful shut them off from any constructive answer to their problem.
Seeing prostitution or something equally bad as the only way sex can find
an expression they really set before religion and education the
impossible task of removing lust "from the hearts of men." So when their
report puts at its head that absolute annihilation of prostitution is the
ultimate ideal, we may well translate it into the real intent of the
Commission. What is to be absolutely annihilated is not alone
prostitution, not alone all the methods of expression which lust seeks
out, but lust itself.
That this is what the Commission had in mind is supported by plenty of
"internal evidence." For example: one of the most curious recommendations
made is about divorce - "The Commission condemns the ease with which
divorces may be obtained in certain States, and recommends a stringent,
uniform divorce law for all States."
What did the Commission have in mind? I transcribe the paragraph which
deals with divorce: "The Vice Commission, after exhaustive consideration
of the vice question, records itself of the opinion that divorce to a
large extent is a contributory factor to sexual vice. No study of this
blight upon the social and moral life of the country would be
comprehensive without consideration of the causes which lead to the
application for divorce. These are too numerous to mention at length in
such a report as this, but the Commission does wish to emphasize the
great need of more safeguards against the marrying of persons physically,
mentally and morally unfit to take up the responsibilities of family
life, including the bearing of children."
Now to be sure that paragraph leaves much to be desired so far as
clearness goes. But I think the meaning can be extracted. Divorce is a
contributory factor to sexual vice. One way presumably is that divorced
women often become prostitutes. That is an evil contribution,
unquestionably. The second sentence says that no study of the social evil
is complete which leaves out the _causes_ of divorce. One of those causes
is, I suppose, adultery with a prostitute. This evil is totally different
from the first: in one case divorce contributes to prostitution, in the
other, prostitution leads to divorce. The third sentence urges greater
safeguards against undesirable marriages. This prudence would obviously
reduce the need of divorce.
How does the recommendation of a stringent and uniform law fit in with
these three statements? A strict divorce law might be like New York's: it
would recognize few grounds for a decree. One of those grounds, perhaps
the chief one, would be adultery. I say this unhesitatingly for in
another place the Commission informs us that marriage has in it "the
elements of vested rights."
A strict divorce law would, of course, diminish the number of "divorced
women," and perhaps keep them out of prostitution. It does fit the first
statement - in a helpless sort of way. But where does the difficulty of
divorce affect the causes of it? If you bind a man tightly to a woman he
does not love, and, possibly prevent him from marrying one he does love,
how do you add to his virtue? And if the only way he can free himself is
by adultery, does not your stringent divorce law put a premium upon vice?
The third sentence would make it difficult for the unfit to marry. Better
marriages would among other blessings require fewer divorces. But what of
those who are forbidden to marry? They are unprovided for. And yet who
more than they are likely to find desire uncontrollable and seek some
other "method of expression"? With marriage prohibited and prostitution
tabooed, the Commission has a choice between sterilization and - let us
say - other methods of expression.
Make marriage difficult, divorce stringent, prostitution impossible - is
there any doubt that the leading idea is to confine the sex impulse
within the marriage of healthy, intelligent, "moral," and monogamous
couples? For all the other seekings of that impulse what has the
Commission to offer? Nothing. That can be asserted flatly. The Commission
hopes to wipe out prostitution. But it never hints that the success of
its plan means vast alterations in our social life. The members give the
impression that they think of prostitution as something that can be
subtracted from our civilization without changing the essential character
of its institutions. Yet who that has read the report itself and put
himself into any imaginative understanding of conditions can escape
seeing that prostitution to-day is organic to our industrial life, our
marriage sanctions, and our social customs? Low wages, fatigue, and the
wretched monotony of the factory - these must go before prostitution can
go. And behind these stand the facts of woman's entrance into
industry - facts that have one source at least in the general poverty of
the family. And that poverty is deeply bound up with the economic system
under which we live. In the man's problem, the growing impossibility of
early marriages is directly related to the business situation. Nor can we
speak of the degradation of religion and the arts, of amusement, of the
general morale of the people without referring that degradation to
You cannot look at civilization as a row of institutions each external to
the other. They interpenetrate and a change in one affects all the
others. To abolish prostitution would involve a radical alteration of
society. Vice in our cities is a form of the sexual impulse - one of the
forms it has taken under prevailing social conditions. It is, if you