Laurence Gronlund.

The coöperative commonwealth in its outlines. An exposition of modern socialism online

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their neighbors as they have now in consequence ot this ''let-
alone " policy. Every factory, mine, workshop and railroad


shows the working of it. The individual Vanderbilt has ac-
quired two hundred millions, while another individual — per-
haps the producer of p.vrt of his fortune, — is sent to prison as
a tramp

But that is all in order. For hear young Spencer: " The
shouldering aside the weak by the strong, which leaves so
many in shallows and miseries, is the decree of a large, for-
seeing benevolence, regarded not separately, but in connection
with the interests of universal humanity. To step in between
weakness and its consequences suspends the progress of weed-
ing out those of lower development " — and Vanderbilt and
Gould, of course, are the "■ strong," and men ot " higher de-
velopment! "

Why do not those men of property — of " higher develop-
ment" — abolish this good-for-nothing "State" altogether?
Would it not be a good speculation for them to let Courts of
Justice to the highest bidder, and farm out the prosecution of
wars to stock-companies? Can they not buy protection against
violence, as well as insurance against lire, and more cheaply
too, on the glorious free-competition plan? Why do they not
do it?

Well, perhaps the State is something else than an organ all.

Herbert Spencer, the mature and profound philosopher, pur-
sues the far more scientific method of studying Society, as it
is, and the process of its development, instead of evolving it,
as young Spencer did, out of his own inner consciousness.

His results now are, that the body politic, instead of being
a •'voluntary " association is, what Socialists claim that it is,
an Organism.

Beside arguments in his other works he devotes a very able
and ingenious essay to the drawing of parallels between a
highly developed State and the most developed animals, and
sums up r

" That they gradually increase in mass ; that they become, lit-
tle by little more complex ;that at the same time their parts grow
more mutually dependent; and that they continue to live and
grow as wholes, while successive generations of their umV


appear and disappear — are broad peculiarities, which bodies
politic display, in common with all living bodies, and in which
they and other living bodies differ from everything else."

In several striking passages Spencer farther shows with
what singular closeness correspondences can be traced in the
details between the two kinds of organisms, as, for instance,
between the distributing system of animal bodies and the dis-
tributing system of bodies politic, or between our economic
division of labor, and that prevailing in organic bodies, u so
striking, indeed, that the expression ' physiological division of
labor ' has been suggested by it."

And some of t he leading contrasts between the two kinds
of organisms, he shows, are far less important than appears
at first glance. Thus, the distinction that the living elements
of Society do not, as-in individual organisms, form one con-
tinuous mass, disappears, when we consider that the former
are not separated by intervals of dead space, but diffused
through space, covered with life of a lower order, which min-
isters to their life. And thus with this other peculiarity,
that the elements of a social organism are capable of moving
from place to place, is obviated by the fact, that as farmers,
manufacturers and traders, men generally carry on business
in tiie same localities; that, at all events, each great centie of
industry, each manufacturing town or district, continues al-
ways in the same place.

There is then but one distinction left that may be deemed
material. In the Social Organism the living units are con-
scious, while in the animal organism it is the whole that
possesses consciousness.

But then those other highly developed organisms, — to wit :
the vegetable ones, — have no consciousness at all. Society
could then be considered a mighty plant whose units are high-
ly developed animals.

Again, though the social organism has no consciousness of
its own, it certainly has a distinctive character of its owr; a
corporate individuality, a corporate " oneness." As a unit of
that organism every individual certainly displays a wholly dif-
ferent character from thai of the organism itself. Every Nation


Aas its own spirit, which the Germans call the " Volk&geist;"
a spirit which has its life in the national history, which pro-
duces specific traits of nationality, differing from the com-
mon traits of humanity. It generally lies deep, hidden, un-
suspected until such a moment arrives as that with us, when
Fort bumter was fired upon ; then rising, as it were, out of
an abyss it urges thinkers and actors resistlessly on to pursve,
unwittingly, the loftiest ideal of the race. This corporate in-
dividuality is far from being identical with average " Public
Opinion." It is sui generis and makes the Social Organism an
orgauism sui generis.

We therefore insist, with even greater force than Spencer
did, that the State is a living Organism, differing from other
organisms i:i no essential respect. This is not to be under-
stood in a simply metaphorical sense; it is not that the State
merely resembles an organism, but that it, including with the
people the land and all that the land produces, literally is
an organism, personal and territorial.

The 4i Government " — the punishing and restraining author-
ity — may possibly be dispensed with at some future time.
But the State — never. To dispense with the State would be
to dissolve Society.

It follows that the relation of the State, the body politic, to
us, its citizens, is actually that of a tree to its cells, and not
that of a heap of sand to its grains, to which it is entirely in-
different how many other grains of sand are scattered and
trodden under foot.

This is a conception of far-reaching consequence.

In the first place, it, together with the modern doctrine of
Evolution, as applied to all organisms, deals a mortal blow to
the theory of '•man's natural rights, 1 ' the theory of man's
" inalienable right" to life, liberty, property, " happiness ''
&c, the theory of which mankind during the last century has
heard and read so much ; the theory that has been so as-
siduously preached to our dispossessed classes, and which has
benefitted them so little!

Natural rights! The highest " natural right" we can im-


agine is for the stronger to kill and eat the weaker, and for
the weaker to be killed and eaten. One of the ' " natural rights."
left "man" now, is to act the brute towards wife and children,
and that "" right" the State lias already curtailed and will by-
and-by give it the finishing stroke. Another •* natural right,"
very highly prized by our autocrats, is the privilege they now
posses of '* saving" for themselves what other people pi in-
duce. In brief, k * natural rights " are the rights of the muscu-
lar, the cunning, the unscrupulous.

These so-called u natural rights" and an equally fictitious
"law of nature" were invented by Jean Jacques Rousseau
(who followed Luther and the other Reformers in the work of
making breaches in the old petrified system of the Middle
Ages) as a metaphysical expedient to get some sanction to
legitimate resistance to absolute authority in kings, nobility
and clergy. He derived them from a supposed * w state of na-
ture " which he and his disciples as enthusiastically praised as
if they had been there and knew all about it. Now, modern
historical comparative methods prove conclusively that this
*' state of natui e " never existed. A man, living from the
moment of his birth outside organized society, if this were
possible, would be no more a man than a hand would be a
hand without the body. Civil society is man's natural state.
This •* state of nature." on the other hand, would be for man
the most unnatural state of all, and fortunately so, for in it
we should not have been able to make the least headway
against our conditions, but must have remained, till the pres-
ent moment, hungry, naked savages, whose " rights " would
not procure us a single meal. And as to a " law of nature,"
if it is proper to use that term at all, it is nothing but the con-
science and reason of civil society.

No, Rousseau did say several things worth notice — as any
author who is being refuted a century after his deatli must
have done. These speculations of his are indeed worth notice,
to us Americans especially, since they formed the logical basis
of our own " epoch-making " Revolution — as a German might
happily call it — though we cannot help remarking that the
conclusion here justified the premises, rather than the reverse.


And, further, they also furnished the justification, the steam-
power, for the great French Revolution. The incidents of the
latter event, however, showed that Rousseau could, under cer-
tain circumstances, be a very unsaie guide ; they demonstrated
that the '"Natural Rights of Man " were good tools to tear
down rotten systems with, but sandy foundations on which
to erect new systems.

We have beet', out-spoken on this matter, because it is so im-
portant that thoughtful people should know that philosophic
Socialists repudiate that theory of ** natural rights,"' and in-
sist that the lesson taught by Rousseau and repeated (why
not say so outright?) in our own Declaration of Independ-
ence must be unlearned before any firm foundation can be
reached. Unfortunately nearly all our •'reformers"' — men with
the uooiest and often truly Socialist hearts — cling to it and build
on man's *' (iod-given Rights" as if they were the suecial
confidants of God.

lint Carlyle is emphatically right when he says *• Nothing
solid can be founded on shams; it must conform to the reali-
ties, the verities of things."

Here is such a reality :

It is Society, organized Society* the State that gives us all the
rights we have. To the State we owe our freedom. To it we
owe our living and property, for outside of organized Society
man's needs far surpasses his means. The humble beggar
ow es much to the State, but the haughty millionaire far more,
for outside of it they both would be worse off than the beggar
now is. To it we owe all that we are and all that we
have. To it we owe our civilization. It is by its help
that we have reached such a condition as man individual-
ly never would have been able to attain. Progress is the
struggle with Nature for mastery, is war with the misery and
inabilities of our " natural " condition. The St^te is the or-
ganic union of us all to wage that war, to subdue Nature, to
redress natural "defects and inequalities. The State therefore,
so far from being a burden to the •* good," a " necessary evil,"
is man's greatest good.

This concept ^ °* the State as an organism thus consigns


the ' ' rights of man " to obscurity and puts Duty in the fore-

In the second place, we now can ascertain the true sphere of
the State. That is, we now can commence to build something

We say Sphere on purpose; we do not ask what are the
'■'• rights," " duties " or "functions '" of the State, for ii it truly
is an organism it is just as improper to speak of its rights, du-
ties or functions towards its citizens as it is to speak of a
man's rights, duties and functions in relation to his heart, hjs
legs, or his head. The State has rights, duties and functions
in relation to other organisms, but towards its own members
it has only a sphere or activities.

Tlie sphere of the State simply consists in caring for its own
welfare, just as a man's sphere, as far as himself is concerned,
consists in caring for his own well-being, it' that be proper-
ly done, then his brain, his lungs and his stomach will have
nothing to complain of.

So with the State. Its whole sphere is the making all spec-
ial activities work together for one general end : its own wel-
fare, or the Public Gaud. Observe that the Public Good, the
General Welfare, implies far more than •• the greatest good to
the greatest number" on which our "practical " politicians
of today base their trilling measures. Their motto broadly sanc-
tions the sacrifice of minorities to majorities, while the •' Gen-
eral Welfare'' means the greatest good of every individual

To that end the State may do anything whatsoever which
is shown to be expedient.

Jt may, as it always has done, limit the right of a person to
dispone of himself in marriage as he pleases.

The State is, in the words of J. S. Mill, u fully entitled to
abrogate or alter any particular right of property which it
judges to stand in the way of the public good.'*

The State may tomorrow, if it judges it expedient, take all
the capital of the country from its present owners, without
any compensation whatsoever, and convert it into social Cap-


In Chapter 1 we showed that the whole wealth of the coun-
try (i.e. not natural wealth but the sum of all Values) is
the result of Labor. Ass against capitalists the producers,
therefore, would clearly be entitled to it. But as against the
State, the organized Society, even Labor does not give us a
particle of title to what our hands and brain produce.

One need not be a Socialist to acknowledge that.

Win. 1>. Weeden, a manufacturer in Providence, It. I., says
in a ciiticism on Henry George's book in the Atlantic Month-
ly for Dec. 1SS0 :

"The axe you use is not yours, though you may have made
it, instead of buying it in the market. The idea of the axe,
its potentiality, which enables it to prevail over nature, does
not belong to you. This is the result of long generations of
development, from the rudest stone-tool to the elegant steel-
blade which rings through the pine-woods of Maine. This
belongs to Society. Neither the laborer nor the capitalist owns
that principle. So everywhere. Neither Labor nor Capital
employs the other. It is Society which employs both."

To whom does the telegraph belong? To Society. Neither
Prof. Morse nor any other inventor can lay sole claim to it.
It grew little by little.

With still greater force the State may reclaim possession of
all the land within its limits, all laws, customs and deeds to
the contrary notwithstanding.

We say u with still greater force," not because the owner-
ship of land is on a different footing from that of other Cap-
ital. Its Value, like that of other Capital, is partly real, aris-
ing from the labor of this and former generations, and partly
unreal, due to the monopoly of it and the constantly increas-
ing necessities of the community. It therefore is the creation
of Society as much as other Capital. We say so because the
Common Law of Great Britain and our country has alwaj-s
claimed, and still does claim that the State is the sole landlord

u The first thing tin- student has to get rid of is the abso-
lute idea of ownership. Such an idea is quite unknown to the
Eng'ish law. No man is in law, the absolute owner of lauds;


he can only hold an estate in them." Williams : On the lam
of Heal Property.

When, therefore, the Trinity Church Corporation of Xew
York City claims to own city property of sufficient value to
pay all the debts of the State of New York, its cities and vil-
lages, a value mainly created by the tenants who have covered
that tract of land with buildings, graded and paved the. streets
and built the sewers, it is simply a glaring usurpation.

When, therefore, the increased values of Real Estate, due
simply to the progress of the country, are permitted, in the
form of increased rents " to drop into the mouths of landown-
ers as they sleep instead of being applied to the public neces-
sities of the Society which created it " in the words of Mill,
it is only because the too 4i enterprising " individual has got
the better of the State.

For the same reason the landowner has been permitted to
possess whatever treasure may be hidden in it, even treasure
of which no man knew anything, w hen the owner entered in-
to possession — an allowance, than which no one rnoie foolish
or absurd could be imagined.

For the same reason the splendid opportunities which our
country had, both in the reconstruction of the Southern states
and in the settlement of our public lauds, for making the Na-
tion the sole Landlord, were not so much as though! of.

Our landowners ought to admit with IHackstoiie: '* We
seem to fear, that our titles are not quite good; it is well the
great mass obey the laws without inquiring why they were
made so and not otherwise."

But there is no need to devote more space here to discuss
the supreme title of the State to the land since the appearance
of Henry George's book : "• Progress and Poverty," which
we hope all our readers have read. The main criticism which
Socialists have to make on this work is that it pushes the land
question — iu our country a secondary question iu importance
— so much into the foreground, that sight is entirely lost of
the principal question: Who should control the instruments
of production and transportation? Furthermore, George seems
to have written his book for Englishmen, Scotchmen and Irish-


men, rattier than for Americans. To start the solution of the
social problem in our country, where as yet the great majority
of farmers own the land which they cultivate, with a propo-
sition to divest all landowners of their titles, is 10 commence
by making a very large portion of the workers to be benefit-
ed hostile to all social change.

The State is thus fully entitled to take charge of a I in-
struments of Labor and Production, and to say that all social
activities shall be carried on in a perfectly different manner.

Undoubtedly the whole fleecing class will interpose their
socalltd " vested rights." That is to say because the State
for a long time tacitly allowed a certain class to divide the
common stock of social advantages among themselves and ap-
propriate it to their own individual benetit therefore the State
is estopped, they say, from ever recovering it. And not alone
will they claim undisturbed possession of what they have, but
also the right to use it in the future as they have in the past ;
that is, they will claim a il vested right" to fleece the masses
to all eternity.

But such a protest will be just as vain as was that of the
Pope against the loss of his temporal sovereignty. The theory
of V vested rights " never applies when a revolution has taker,
piace; when the whole structure of Society is changed. The
tail of a tadpole that is developing into a frog may protest as
much as it pleases; Nature heeds it not. And when the Irog
is an accomplished fact, there is no tail to protest.

This whole doctrine of " vested rights " moreover, has its
reason in the fact that from the dawn of history to the pres-
enttime we have had and \mve privileged classes. Ileary George
remarks very pointedly: "When we allow '• vested rights'
we still wear the collar of the Saxon thrall." The only 'vested
right " any man has is the right to such institutions as will best
promote the Public Good. A man has no other right what-
ever in a civilized community. If he is not satisfied with
that, he may exile himself to where there is no civilization, and
even there his defendants will necessarily grow up into a State.

Observe further, that the Public Welfare means more than
the welfare of all the living individuals composing it. Since


the State is an organism, it is more than all of us collectively.

It would be absurd to say, that a man is nothing but an ag-
gregation of his cells. Burke said rightly of the State, that
it includes the dead, the living and the coining generations.
We are what we are far more by the accumulated influence of
past generations than by our own efferts and our labor will
principally benefit those who are to follow us. The Public
Welfare thus includes the welfare of the generations to come.
This comprehensive conception places the pettiness and im-
potency of our " individualism *' in the most glaring light.
For how can it ever be the private interest of mortal individ-
uals to make immediate sacrifices for the distant future?

wk But if the State's Sphere is to be extended to everything
that may affect the Public Welfare, why! then there is no
stopping to what the State will attempt."

We let Professor Huxley reply ("Administrative Nihilism. ")
"• Surely the answer is obvious, that. 0:1 similar grounds, the
right of a man to eat when he is hungry, might be disputed,
because if you once allow that he may eat at all there is no
stopping, until he gorges himself and suffers all the ills of a

Does it not now seem more profitable, especially to our dis-
possessed classes, to lay stress on Duty rather than on Bights?

Does our conception of the Slate not furnish a very linn
foundation, firm enough to build a New Social Order 0.1 :

Let us then give due credit to Herbert Spencer for his pro-
found speculations on the Social Organism. He has indeed,
in them laid the foundation for constructive Socialism, as far
as the Anglo-Saxon peoples are concerned, just as IJicardo by
his speculations on Value did it for critical Socialism. T 1 ue,
Spencer is still the apostle of k * Individualism;" he exhibits
gtill a morbid aversion to all State-activity, but we have a right
to call his present utterances on tLttt point mere crotchets,
since they do not receive the least support from his splendid
arguments in favor of the organic character of Society.

That is also Professor Huxley's opinion. He says: "I
cannot but think, that the real force of the analogy is totally


opposed to the negative (individualistic) view of the State-
f miction.

mi Suppose that in accordance with this view, each muscle
were to maintain, that the nervous system had no right to in-
terfere with its contraction except to prevent it from hin-
dering the contraction of another muscle; or each gland,
that it had a right to secrete, as long as its secretion inter-
fired with no other; suppose every separate cell left five to
follow its own interests and be let alone.' Lord of all ! what
would become of the body physiological?''

This negative view of the State-function is a very modern
one. No thinker or philosophic Stateman up to the IStli cen-
tury anywhere dreamt of it. Not until the exaggerated form
of the Protestant doctrine of the independence of the individ-
ual had taken possession of men's minds; not until the great
delusion had become prevalent, that we have been brought
into this world, each for the sake of himself, did it come in-
to vogue. Then it was that William von Humboldt (who may
be said to be the father of the doctrine) deliberately degraded
the State below a peace-officer or a watch-dog.

But even ultra-Protestant nations that adopted this view in
theory have constantly been impelled by an inward necessity
to repudiate it in practice. It forbids the State, as we have
seen, to concern itself about the poor, and yet the Poor law
of Elizabeth (still in force in Great Britain and our country)
confers upon every man a legal claim to relief from funds ob-
tained by enforcing a contribution from the general communi-
ty. It forbids the State to concern itself about schools, libra-
ries, universities, asylums and hospitals, and yet it concerns it-
self more and more with them. England is to this day proud
of having spent a hundred million of dollars in abolishing
slavery in her colonies, and in these latter days she is spread-
ing her activity over railroads and telegraphs, without the
least apparent compunction of conscience. Arid our country,
(especially under democratic control the champion of this
w * let alone " abomination) finds today her chief glory in hav-
ing torn slavery up by the roots with its strong national arm.
But let it, in the third place, be emphatically understood,


that when we insist that the State ought to extend its sphere
over all social activities, we do not mean the present State
at all.

Our Republic is a State. Parliamentary Great Britain is a
State. Imperial Germany, autocratic Russia and bureaucratic
China. are all social organisms. But not one of them is a full

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Online LibraryLaurence GronlundThe coöperative commonwealth in its outlines. An exposition of modern socialism → online text (page 7 of 23)