Franklin Henry Giddings.

Democracy and empire; with studies of their psychological, economic, and moral foundations online

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progress is composed mainly of the most unprogressive
elements of the population, and he is not disappointed.
But he finds evidences also that to some extent the sufferers
are recruited by victims of pure misfortune, whose undoing
has been caused neither by their nature nor by their conduct.
When in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries the growth
of towns, money payments, and the commutation of week
work loosened the bonds of custom and law that had held
"the serf to the manor, the entire commonwealth of England
experienced an economic prosperity never before known.
Population and wealth increased, and the free tenants, as a
■class, rose steadily in social position. They could cultivate
more or less land, or engage in trade and obtain municipal
•charters. But the economic equality of an earlier day had
disappeared. The growth of population brought men into
the world for whom there were places enough, and more than
enough, but not places already allotted to them in the social
order. They were places that had to be discovered by intel-
ligence and enterprise, qualities that are not possessed by all
men equally. The full virgate of land was no longer secured
by customary law to each family. Since the energetic and
strong could control more, the easy-going and weak had to
get on with less. In the towns the far-seeing and forehanded
quickly monopolized trade and the more profitable crafts.
And so, while this comparative freedom of enterprise stimu-
lated activity in a hundred ways that made England, as a
matioHj richer and stronger, it destroyed the old economic


footing of the less competent members of society, and left
them to struggle on, thenceforth, as a wage-earning class.

Two hundred years later, in the sixteenth century, society
was again transformed by the results of geographical dis-
covery. Free capital and foreign commerce quickened in-
dustry and thought into intense and brilliant life. " It was
indeed a stirring time," writes Hyndman, obliged to admit that
this period, which he calls the "iron age" of the peasantry
and wage classes, was, nevertheless, one of marvellous prog-
ress in other respects. " A new world was being discovered
in art and in science in Europe, as well as in actual existence
on the other side of the Atlantic. . . . Never before had so
great an impulse been given to human enterprise and human
imagination." But the splendour had its price, a price that
socialists like Hyndman have superficially described and most
imperfectly understood. Political integration had been going
on. The struggle of contending factions had been costly,
and the reestablished national life, with its manifold activ-
ities, was more costly. Barons discharged the bands of re-
tainers that were no longer needed in civil strife. To better
their fortunes, the great lords enclosed common lands that
had been freely used by the yeomanry, and began evicting
tenants to convert agricultural lands into the sheep pastures
that required little labour and returned a quick money income
from sales of wool in Flanders. Now the misery of the people
thus displaced and forced into wage labour or vagabondage,
was not due to any actual lack of land or of industrial oppor-
tunity. There remained land enough and to spare, notwith-
standing enclosures and evictions, had it been used rightly ;
while the development of manufactures and of commerce had
only begun. If they had possessed the knowledge and the
will to cultivate arable land more intensively, they could not
have been driven from the soil ; if there had been a free mo-
bility of labour, they could have found employment quickly
in the best, instead of tardily in the worst markets, as too often
happened; if the organizing ability of employers had been
greater, the best markets would more quickly have found
them. But the social value of land had become too great for


their wasteful methods: they had to change or go. That
knowledge might increase, that freedom to come and go
might be established, that the organization of enterprise might
be perfected, it was necessary that just these economic and
social changes, which accomplished so much ruin, should take
place. Consequently, if the world was to become a larger
and a better place for the alert, on-moving many, the sacrifice
of the sluggish had to be.

The industrial revolution at the close of the eighteenth
century again occasioned displacements of labour, that bore
more distinctly the character of misfortunes to those who were
injured by them. No degree of skill, enterprise, or assiduity
could have enabled the handicraftsmen to hold their own in
competition with power-machinery and the steam-engine..
They could do nothing but leave their shops to wind and
weather, and begin life over, on new terms, in factory towns..
How many thousands of them never fully reestablished
themselves, how many succumbed to illness or even to
actual starvation before economic reorganization was fairly
completed, the reports of parliamentary inquiries bear vdt-
ness. Yet an unprecedented increase of population was
proof that, on the whole, the masses of the people had never
been so prosperous. Before 1751 the largest decennial in-
crease had been three per cent; before 1781 it did not-
exceed six per cent. Then, all at once, it rose, decade by
decade, to nine, eleven, fourteen, and finally, between 1811
and 1821, to eighteen per cent. At the present time the dis-
placement of manual labour by machinery is incessant, and
less than in any previous period is the suffering visited on
the least valuable portion of the population, since not infre-
quently it is men of a higher standard of life who are forced
out by the competition of a lower type. Nevertheless, so
enormous has been the net gain from improved methods-
of production that the consequences of displacement are
immeasurably less serious than they were a century ago.
The chances of finding reemployment quickly are, for com-
petent men, far greater than they have been at any former
time ; and the period of search is made endurable by accumu-


lated savings and varied forms of aid. All in all, industrial
history discloses a progressive diminution of the proportion of
inevitable suffering mixed with the gains of progress. But
the absolute increase remains. The_ personnel of the dis-
placed class changes more rapidly than in earlier times, but
the class, as a class, is endlessly renewed. As a class, it can
never disappear, so long as progress continues.

Such, in its simplest statement, is the law of the cost of
progress. " He that increaseth knowledge increaseth sorrow."
Whatever augments well-being destroys some livelihood. As
an abstract proposition, no well-informed student of social
phenomena would call this truth in question. But, unfortu-
nately, the law-makers, the social reformers, and the moralists
have not bound it upon their fingers nor written it upon the
tables of their hearts. They legislate, reform, and advise,
forgetful that their wisest endeavours can be at the best
only " something between a hindrance and a help " ; and the
world goes on, therefore, not only deceiving itself with
dreams, but wasting its resources on impossible undertakings.

For this principle is one that would make the instant
quietus of many vain questionings if it were an ever-present
element in our thinking. The poor have been always with
us. Must they be with us always ? Or may we hope that
economic prosperity and social justice will one day mete out
comfort, if not abundance, to all ? Not unless we can attain
" finality in a world of change." Not unless there is a definite
limit to the intellectual and moral progress of the race ; for
the conditions that would eliminate poverty from the earth
would infallibly terminate the life that is more than meat, in
society first, and afterwards in individuals. Unless all men
could be made equally prudent, equally judicious, neither an
increase of wealth nor changes in its distribution could pre-
vent the occasional sweeping away of possessions by the
social rearrangements that progress demands. The relative
dimensions of poverty will contract and its misery will be
alleviated, but there is no reason to believe that it will ever
wholly disappear.

Will multitudes of human beings remain always in prac-


tical subjection to individual or corporate masters ? Can we
not abolish economic slavery, as we have abolished legal
bondage ? Aristotle's argument that slavery inheres in civ-
ilization has shocked the sensitive and amused the shallow,
while both have quoted it to show what foolishness a philos-
opher can teach. But to the wise it will ever remain a pro-
found though mournful truth. Essential slavery has aptly
been described as the estate of a man who "can't get any
freedom." We have changed the legal conditions under
which millions of men and women perform ill-requited tasks
of daily toil. To some extent we have diminished the total
magnitude of their misery, if not in every individual case its
extreme intensity. But we have not enabled them to get
actual freedom. We have made it unlawful to buy and sell
their persons. The master can no longer obtain control of the
labourer's time and strength, and therefore of his freedom, from
any legal principal but the labourer himself. The labourer
cannot even sell his own freedom in perpetuity. But he can
sell any portion of it, or all of it subdivided into portions, for
a limited period of time, or for his whole life subdivided into
periods. Practically, therefore, any man or woman may sell
his or her entire freedom for life, and practically thousands
of both men and women are compelled by hunger to make
the sale on terms that are personally degrading. Yet that in-
terpretation of this melancholy fact which attributes it to the
wickedness and greed of a capital-owning class is a tissue of
economic and sociological fallacies. Another interpretation,
which explains it as unavoidable misfortune, becomes a perver-
sion of history when, in the desire to prove that the world
has grown better, it assumes that ancient legal slavery was a
consciously devised oppression. Neither oppression nor greed
has been at any time the first cause of legal bondage or of
economic dependence. Both are secondary causes, induced
by experiences with a slavery already existent.

Modern civilization does not require, it does not even need,
the drudgery of needle-women or the crushing toil of men in
a score of life-destroying occupations. If these wretched be-
ings should drop out of existence and no others stood ready


to fill their places, the economic activities of the world would
not greatly suffer. A thousand devices latent in inventive
brains would quickly make good any momentary loss. The
true view of the facts is that these people continue to exist
after the kinds of work that they know how to perform have
ceased to be of any considerable value to society. Society
continues to employ them for a remuneration not exceeding-
the cost of getting the work done in some other and perhaps
better way. The economic law here referred to is one that
has been too much neglected in scientific discussion. It
ought to be repeated and illustrated at every opportunity, for
at present it stands in direct contradiction to current pre-
possessions. We are told incessantly that unskilled labour
creates the wealth of the world. It would be nearer the truth
to say that large classes of unskilled labour hardly create
their own subsistence. The labourers that have no adaptive-
ness, that bring no new ideas to their work, that have no sus-
picion of the next best thing to turn to in an emergency,,
might much better be identified with the dependent classes
than with the wealth-creators. Precisely the same economic
law offers the true interpretation of ancient slavery. In strict-
ness, civilization did not rest on slavery. It was not in any
true sense maintained by slavery. The conditions that created
the civilization created economic dependence, and they are
working in the same way, with similar results, to-day. An-
cient civilization accepted the dependence and utilized it in
the crude form of slavery. Modern civilization accepts and
utilizes it in the slightly more refined form of the wages

Certain great social tasks of creative organization have
always confronted our race. The enforced effort to achieve
them has been history's great competitive examination. The
slaves and serfs have been those who have failed. The first
great necessity was social unity — the power to act together
in a disciplined way — and the first slaves were those who-
could not create a sufficiently coherent social organization to
sustain a growing civilization. They had to make way before
others who were equal to that great achievement, and they


became slaves, not solely nor chiefly because of a conqueror's
tyranny, but primarily because slavery or serfdom was prac-
tically the only economic disposition that could be made of
them. To-day social unity has been in good measure estab-
lished, and the world has entered on yet larger undertakings.
The condition and assurance of freedom to-day is the ability
to devise new things, to create new opportunities, to make
not only two blades of grass grow where one grew before, but
to make a hundred kinds of grass grow where before grew
none at all. Accordingly, the practically unfree task-workers
of this present time are those who, unaided, can accomplish
none of these new things. They are those who might do
well in old familiar ways, but who have nothing to turn to
when their ways cease to be of value to the world. To live,
they must force depreciated services upon society, on any
terms that society can continue to allow. They are unfree
task-workers, not because society chooses to oppress them, but
because society has not yet devised or stumbled upon any
other disposition to make of them. Civilization, therefore,
is not cruel : rather it is ever supporting and trying to utilize
the wrecks and failures of its own imperfect past.

But it may be said : All these negative conclusions are
based on the assumption that the regime of individualism is
to continue. Might not redemption from poverty and depend-
ence be possible under the reign of a beneficent socialism ?

Two systems of socialism have been proposed, if we classify
them according to plans of organization, and two if we classify
with reference to a proposed division of wealth. According
to one plan, industrial administration would be centralized ;
according to the other it would be decentralized. Either of
these systems might be communistic, incomes being made
equal throughout society, or either might be non-communistic,
the services of different men being valued unequally.

Decejfttxalized socialism woiild merely substitute competing
communities for competing private organizations. It would
follow that some communities would prosper more than others ;
and that some, therefore, would presently come under sub-
jection to the others. A centralized socialism would probably


attempt to establish a rigid and final system of occupations,
in the hope of preventing industrial derangements. If success-
ful, the attempt would make an end of' progress. If no such
attempt were made, men would be thrown, as now, from time
to time, out of that ideal arrangement in which each did the
work to which he was best adapted ; and therefore, if rewarded
in proportion to their services, the unfortunates would re-
ceive, as now, only the pittance that would barely support
life. The one difference would be that society in its corpo-
rate capacity would assume the responsibility of finding new
work for them ; but, rewarding them according to perform-
ance only, it would practically have them in absolute sub-
jection. They would only have exchanged masters, and
slavery to individuals for slavery to society.

If, vainly hoping to escape from this dilemma, society
should not only assume the responsibility of finding new op-
portunities for the displaced, but should undertake to com-
pensate them for the buffetings and losses that they had
suffered by reason of industrial changes, and regardless of
their resulting worth to the commonwealth, it would radically
transform the character of its socialism. Rewarding no longer
according to service, the socialism would become communism.
Men of unequal power to work and to use, of widely varying
capacities to enjoy, would share alike the common product of
their labour. Only one result could follow. Men of animal
natures, having as large incomes as men of a higher mental
and moral development, would spend inevitably a dispropor-
tionate share on the grosser sorts of gratification. Materialism
of life, with all its moral debasement, would be the unprofit-
able substitute for economic hardship. Income can never be
greatly disproportionate to the social value of a man's work,
talents, culture, and virtues, without degrading him. If it be
said that at present many men whose whole social value is of
the slightest do have, in fact, fabulous incomes, which social-
ism would diminish, the reply is that there are not, accurately
speaking, many such men, and that there would be no appar-
ent advantage in substituting a systematic breeding of dull
sensualists for the sporadic genesis of more brilliant de-


bauchees. Be that as it may, the men and women of this
class exemplify and verify the law. Their lives lend the
sting of truth to the saying, " How hardly shall they that
have riches enter into the kingdom of God ! "

Shall we, then, conclude that an unrestrained individualism,
eagerly working out those social changes that seem advan-
tageous to their promoters, can achieve limitless progress,
and that only harm could come from any checking of the rate
or intensity of its activity ? Shall we assume that the inevi-
table costs of progress, in economic loss and human suffering,
must be uncomplainingly borne by those on whom they fall,
because all private reforms are Utopian, and all public regula-
tion of industry or assumption of its losses, in accordance
with any form of socialism or of communism, would be worse
than folly ? Must we acknowledge that society has no moral
responsibility for the consequences of the processes and
changes by which its own well-being and ethical life are
maintained ? Shall we give ourselves over to the belief that
laissezfaire is the last word of social science and the first law
of ethics ? Assuredly and most emphatically, no ! Nothing
in the conditions of progress, as set forth in the foregoing
study, so much as hints at other than negative answers to
these questions. On the contrary, if the law of evolution as
exemplified in human society has been rightly understood,
we shall be prepared to find certain very real limitations of
the number and extent of the social, political, or industrial
metamorphoses which, within a given period, can combine
in genuine progress. We shall look to discover a growing
necessity for integral social action. We shall expect to hear
the ethical consciousness of humanity declaring that society
is morally responsible for the costs of its existence.

In dynamic phenomena of every kind results are a func-
tion, as the mathematicians express it, of time. With a given
amount of energy, you can go in an hour or a day a given
distance. Prolong the time, and you can increase the distance.
In the inconceivably complicated dynamic phenomena of life,
growth, organization, and development, are all functions of
time. Force the rate of transformation, and you simply


prevent the establishment of some relations of integration,
differentiation, or segregation, necessary to complete organi-
zation. And if organization is incomplete, there is a limit to
the life-possibilities of the organism: it can perform less
and enjoy less while it lives, and its dissolution will begin
earlier. Society on a great scale, as the individual life on a
smaller scale, exemplifies all these laws. If social evolution
is to continue, and the ethical life of man is to become larger
and richer with increasing happiness, social organization in
the future will be, not simpler than it is now, but immeasura-
bly more complex. In its larger being, individualism, social-
ism, and communism will not be the mutually exclusive
things that they now seem to be. There will be not a
narrower but a wider field for individual effort, not less but
more personal liberty. At the same time, more enterprises
will be brought under public control ; and more of the good
things of life will be distributed, like the sunshine and the air,
in free and equal portions. The displaced men and women
will be more quickly reestablished than now, their services
will be made of greater value, and society will assume a
larger portion of the burden of their misfortunes. All these
things are implications of the second of the limitations of
progress to which attention has been called, — namely, that
if the increase of social activity becomes disproportionate to
the constructive reorganization of social relationships, the
increase of suffering will become degeneration and moral
evil. Some of the facts in evidence must be briefly noted.

Dazzled by the magnificent results of material progress
already achieved, men throw themselves into the great enter-
prises of modern life with the zest of an ambition that knows
no bounds. The rate of industrial, professional, political, and
intellectual activity becomes proportionate to the swiftness
of electricity and steam. The intense struggle for success
causes three great demographic changes which profoundly
modify the social conditions of existence.

The first is a phenomenal increase of population, following
an enormous production of wealth. We have already seen
how improved industrial conditions in England, in the first


part of this century, were followed instantly by an unprece-
dented increase of population. At the present time, the increase
of population in England and Wales, by births in excess of
deaths, is not less than one thousand souls daily. The expan-
sion of the population of the United States from 3,929,214 in
1790 to 62,622,250 in 1890, while the population of Europe,
in spite of enormous emigration, has been rapidly multiplying,
is a phenomenon that LongstafE accurately describes as abso-
lutely unique in history.

The second change referred to is a rapid concentration of
this increasing population in large cities, where the great
prizes of worldly success are striven for and won. This
movement and its consequences are already attracting the
serious attention of sociologists to the grave problems they
present. Of the 1000 daily births in excess of deaths in Eng-
land and "Wales, 408 are born in the seventy-six largest cities
and towns, and 592 in the country ; but only 437 remain in
the country-places of their birth : 112 migrate to the cities,
and 43 to foreign lands. In the United States, in 1790, 3.35
per cent of the population lived in cities of 8000 or more in-
habitants. Now 29.12 per cent live in cities of equal or
larger size; while in the Atlantic coast division, comprising
the New England States, New York, New Jersey, Pennsyl-
vania, and Maryland, more than one-half of the population are
urban inhabitants. This means that population is flowing
into the cities much faster than the reorganization of the
manifold phases of town life, including municipal government,
is making urban conditions as wholesome as those of the
country. The result is that continual drain upon the fresh
vitality of the country, to meet the incessant destruction of
vitality in the towns, which makes the depopulation of rural
sections so grave a matter for the future of civilization. " By
a curious perversion," says LongstafE, "the advantage of
towns is said to be ' life.' There is in truth more life in a
given space, more high pressure, more rush; but it is the
rush of a clock running down."

A displacement, in certain industries, of men of a relatively
high standard of life by cheaper men of a lower standard,


more rapidly than the better men can find places in industries
requiring relatively intelligent labour, is the third demographic
consequence of intense activity. The normal displacement,

Online LibraryFranklin Henry GiddingsDemocracy and empire; with studies of their psychological, economic, and moral foundations → online text (page 7 of 29)