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effeminacy, and a class of idle rich. It tends to
degradation at the other pole of society by deaden-
ing men's hopes, destroying their ambition, concen-
trating their whole life's thought on the mere
problem of living, condemning them to a life of
drudgery, if not also to a spirit of servitude. It
imperils liberty. In America our most serious and
immediate danger is not that of reverting to mon-
archy or aristocracy, or going on to an unregulated
democracy: it is the danger of becoming a pluto-
cracy ; a government nominally controlled by the
people, but really administered by purchased agents
of a wealthy oligarchy. The peril from public
corruption is our greatest peril. '^ Give a man
power over my subsistence," said Alexander Hamil-
ton, " and he has power over the whole of my moral

1 For farm hands it averages about 75 cents a day {Dept. of
Agriculture Rej^ort, 1890) ; for day laborers in the towns, a little
more, perhaps SI a day; for factory laborers .$1.50 {Mass. Labor
Report, 1889, Miss. Labor Report, 1890) ; for skilled workmen
in the building- trades, from $2 to $4 a day ( U. S. Senate Report^
1394, Finance Com., 1893).


being." ^ At the present time, one small body of
men control the anthracite coal output, a second
small body the oil, a third small body the meat, a
fourth small body the transportation, and there are
not wanting indications that a fifth small body will
soon exercise a practical control over our currency,
or medium of exchange. This is a condition of
things perilously near a control over a people's
subsistence, against which Alexander Hamilton
warned his countrymen. Such concentration of
wealth itself destroys the value of wealth ; for the
products of industry are useful only as there are
men and women able not only to use them, but to
procure them by exchanging therefor the products
of their own industry. Whenever the wealth of
the community is concentrated in a few hands, the
products of industry no longer have a market. We
hear much of over-production as the cause of hard
times. Over-production ! Too many shoes, — there-
fore men go barefoot. Too much coal, — therefore
men freeze. Too many houses, — therefore men are
unsheltered. What a non sequitur ! It is not over-
production, it is under-demand, which produces hard
times. In an Irish village, with one wealthy family
possessing a million dollars and a peasant popula-
tion with no money at all, there is but one family
that wants shoes ; all the rest are shoeless, and the
shoemaker has nothing to do. In a New England
viUage, in which every family has adequate means
of livelihood, the shoemaker is busy all the day

1 Quoted ill Wealth or Commonwealth, p. 529.


long. When every woman in America can pur-
chase as many silk dresses as she wants, silk-mills
will not stand idle. Concentration of wealth para-
lyzes industry, diffusion of wealth stimulates in-
dustry ; the greater the diffusion the more prosper-
ous the nation. The economic problem of our age
is how to secure the benefits of organization in pro-
ducing wealth without incurring the evils of con-
centration in the possession and enjoyment of it.

It is not necessary here to consider by what pro-
cess a wider diffusion of wealth can be promoted.
It is enough to say, with Professor Sid g wick, that the
problem of political economy is not any longer the
acquisition, but is henceforth the equable distri-
bution, of wealth. This is certainly not to be pro-
moted by a blind distribution of the acquisitions of
one class among the insatiable of another ; nor by
laws limiting the products of industry, or denying
to the industrious the rewards of their toil. But
there are other methods open to the consideration
of the American student. He will remember that
unjust systems of taxation have favored the few at
the expense of the many, and he will question
whether we have yet found a system of taxation
absolutely just and equal. He will remember that
in America, by our abolition of the right of primo-
geniture, we have limited the power of the " dead
hand ; " and he will question whether we may not
still further limit the right of men whose wealth
has been largely dependent uj^on the community,
to control absolutely the disposition of that wealth


in the community after they are dead. He will
see that legislation has operated to discourage
gambling and encourage productive industry, and
he will ask whether further legislation in the same
direction may not be both wise and desirable.^ He
will remember that war has always cast its heavi-
est burdens on the poor, and he will question
whether some more economical method of solving
international difficulties cannot be discovered than
the expensive and inefficient method of brute force.
He will remember that, partly due to legislative
influences, partly to influences purely social and
industrial, the interest on capital has diminished
and the wages of labor have increased, and he
will ask himself the question whether this method
of equalization of profits has reached its consum-
mation. In short, he will believe that, as the effect

1 " The people of the country were startled — I certainly was —
when the statement was made in an article in one of the maga-
zines, a few weeks since, that one half the property and wealth of
this country were owned hy 36,000 persons. This statement,
while not authentic, I imagine is not far from correct. But I give
it as my deliberate judg'ment here and now that this condition of
things could have never come about had it not been for the
methods and devices that have grown up on the different ex-
changes of the country in the last twenty-five years. The million-
aires, the ten-millionaires, the forty-millionaires, or the one hun-
dred-millionaires, almost without exception, have neither created
nor earned their wealth. The ' royal road to wealth ' has been
through the illegitimate speculation, stock and grain gambling,
market-wrecking, railroad-wrecking, trusts, and the whole family
of iniquities that have developed under the nefarious methods of
the exchanges of this country." Speech by Hon. W. D. Washburn,
of Minnesota, in U. S. Senate, Jidy 11, 1895.


of Christianity has been the diffusion of religious
and intellectual life and of political power, so it
has been, and is yet to be, the diffusion of wealth
and its attendant comforts ; and he will not be
afraid to ask himself what can be done to promote
still further that progress toward popular pros-
perity w^iich Christ both promised and prophesied
in his sermon at Nazareth.

For that this democratizing process is a distinc-
tive characteristic of modern life can hardly be
doubted. Art has never surpassed that of Phidias,
but modern inventions put beauty into the homes
of the humblest workingman. AVe still go back
to Homer and to Aeschylus for literature, but the
printing-press and the common school put the best
literature within the reach of the poorer people.
Modern education is universal. Temples do not
outshine those of Jerusalem, Ephesus, Kome, but
there is a church in every village. There are no
saints who in spiritual vision and consecrated life
transcend the Apostle Paul, but into the slums of
every modern city, apostles with the Pauline spirit
are carrying the message of God's love for man
and of man's love for his fellow-men. The process
begun in Galilee, however, is not yet completed,
and will not be until political economy learns and
teaches the doctrine of distribution as well as of
accumulation; until fools cease to hoard and wise
men learn to scatter ; until every " boss " is dis-
missed, and every ring broken ; until our systems of
public education recognize the truth that to think


is more than to know, and to be is more than to
think ; until, in the words of the ancient prophet,
" every valley is filled, and every mountain is

brought low."



Count Tolstoi, in " My Religion," thus de-
scribes the condition of modern society : —

*' People come to a farm. They find there all that is
necessary to sustain life, — a house well furnished, barns
filled with grain, cellars and store-rooms well stocked with
provisions, implements of husbandry, horses and cattle, —
in a word, all that is needed for a life of comfort and
ease. Each wishes to profit by this abundance, but each
for himself, without tliinking of others, or of those who
may come after him. Each wants the whole for him-
self, and begins to seize upon all that he can possibly
grasp. Then begins a veritable pillage : they fight for
the possession of the spoils ; oxen and sheep are slaugh-
tered ; wagons and other implements are broken up into
firewood ; they fight for the milk and grain ; they grasp
more than they can consume. No one is able to sit down
to the tranquil enjoyment of what he has, lest another
take aAvay the spoils already secured, to surrender them
in turn to some one stronger. All these people leave
the farm bruised and famished. Thereupon the Master
puts everything to rights, and arranges matters so that
every one may live there in peace. The farm is again a
treasury of abundance. Then comes another group of
seekers, and the same struggle and tunmlt is repeated,
till these in their turn go away bruised and angry, curs-


ing the Master for providing so little and so ill. The
good Master is not discouraged ; he again provides for
all that is needed to sustain life, and the same incidents
are repeated over and over again." ^

This is not an inapt description of the results
of " free competition." It is true that the worst
forms of this competition have been in a measure
overcome. In the beginning of the eleventh cen-
tury, William the Conqueror formed an expedi-
tion, sailed across the Channel, conquered the king
whom the English people desired should reign over
them, and took his crown and his land from him.
Such a war of conquest could hardly be endured in
our time. International law, certainly, would not
recognize it as legitimate. It is true that, at the
close of the Franco-German War, Germany took
Alsace and Lorraine and demanded a money indem-
nity ; but the war was not declared for the sake of
acquiring Alsace and Lorraine, nor for the sake
of the money indemnity. Taking property from
another by open violence is no longer considered
permissible. The robber barons no longer sit upon
the Rhine and plunder the passer-by. Taking
money by stealth from other men's pockets is not
permissible. It is said that the Spartans did not
condemn thievery. We have grown in so far better
than the Spartans that we condemn thievery, even
if we sometimes practice it. Flagrant fraud is no
longer permissible. Gambling is no longer avowed
and defended as honorable, and in its more repu-
^ Tolstoi's My Religion, ch. vii., Crowell's edition, p. 129.


table forms wears a disguise and bears an alias.
The public sentiment of America has within the
last ten years broken up the Louisiana Lottery and
driven it out of the land. We have made some
progress toward a better understanding and use of
life. But we cannot say that the competition on
Tolstoi's farm, in which the implements are split up
into kindling-wood, is ended.

How are we to meet the evils that grow out of
misdirected and excessive acquisitiveness? Chris-
tianity and Communism give different answers to
this question. Each recognizes the evils, but they
recommend different remedies. The difference is
that between Christianity and asceticism, between
the spirit which seeks to overcome evil with good
and that which seeks to overcome it by prohibition
and extirpation.

Christianity recognizes neither absolute good nor
absolute evil in man. The highest faculties have
their perils, the lowest their useful purpose. Rev-
erence, if sensuous, becomes the mother of supersti-
tion ; love, if irrational, begets sentimentalism ;
conscience inflamed by self-will is cruder than
hate. On the other hand, appetite is necessary to
the maintenance of bodily vigor ; combativeness
and destructiveness are at once the progenitors and
the servants of courage, — there is no heroism with-
out them ; self-esteem is the backbone of the soul,
• — without it man is a worm and no man ; and ac-
quisitiveness, if a root of every manner of evil, is
also a root of every form of productive industry.


Christianity, therefore, proposes not to destroy, but
to counterbalance ; not to extirpate, but to inspire,
quicken, control. It does not destroy appetite, but
inspires conscience and self-esteem to control it;
nor eradicate combativeness and destructiveness, but
directs them to noble ends ; nor extirpate acquisi-
tiveness, but bids it serve benevolence. It is true
that Christ says it is better to enter life maimed
than, having two hands or two feet, to enter into hell
lire ; that is, asceticism is better than death. But
he who came eating and drinking did not set to his
followers an example of asceticism. On the con-
trary he declared of himself that he came that men
might have life, and might have it more abundantly.
To leave the world, or any part of the world, is to
follow John the Baptist ; to follow Christ is to
enter the world and every phase of the world.

Thus Christianity and asceticism start from dif-
ferent premises and proceed by different methods.
Asceticism assumes that there are inherently evil
faculties in man to be destoyed ; Christianity as-
sumes that man is made in the image of God, and
that every faculty, from the lowest to the highest,
is to find its proper place and render its divine
service. Asceticism seeks to conquer the evil that
is in the world by removing the temptation ; Chris-
tianity seeks to conquer it by making the individual
strong to meet and master temptation. Asceticism
endeavors to preserve innocence ; Christianity, to
promote virtue. Asceticism sees peril in life, and
seeks to escape the peril by lessening life ; Chris-


tianity sees the peril quite as clearly, but endea-
vors to deliver from it by a more abundant life.
Asceticism says, Abolish alcohol, then there will
be no drunkenness ; Christianity says. Make the
man strong to rule himself, teach him what alcohol
is for and how to use it. How shall we meet the
evils of an illicit imagination ? It is appealed to by
licentious pictures, by debasing novels, by a corrupt
drama. Puritanism saj^s. Take down all pictures
from the walls ; destroy all statues ; burn up all
novels ; shut the door of all theatres, and drive
the actors to more useful labor. Christianity says.
Hang pictures on the walls, keep the library doors
open ; teach men how to make art and fiction pure,
and how with the imagination to minister to the
higher life of man ; leave open the door of the
theatre, and learn how to discriminate between
the play which makes for life and the play which
impairs it.

How shall we deal with the evils of acquisitive-
ness ? Communism says. The existence of private
property sets on fire acquisitiveness ; because men
can get and keep, they are acquisitive ; therefore
abolish private property. In its extreme form
communism is expressed in the often-quoted but
misinterpreted aphorism of Proudhon, " Property
is robbery." He does not mean that every man
who owns property is a robber. But, as he ex-
plains, slavery is assassination, — that is, the right
of one man to own another man destroys all that
is valuable and sacred in the other man's life. So,


he says, the right of one man to own property sets
on fire within him a passion to get more property
from his neighbor, and is the parent of robbery.^
Abolish private property ; let all property be
owned in common ; let all industry produce a
common wealth : then, and not till then, will the
evils of acquisitiveness come to an end. That is
communism. In the family the brother does not
own more than the sister, nor the father more
than the child, nor the husband more than the
wife. There is a common property which is ad-
ministered in a common interest. According to
the communist, the family is the ideal of all social
organism, and we shall not reach the ideal until
we come to be one household and own all property
in common.

Nor can we set this notion of common property
aside as unworthy of serious consideration. We
cannot forget that this was the dream of Plato, —
and Plato was a wise man. From his time to the
days of " Looking Backward " it has been an ideal
of noble men. They have conceived it, pondered
it, prayed for it, expected it. He who accepts the
fundamental principle that innocence, not virtue,
the absence of evil, not victory over it, is the end
of life ; that the extirpation of dangerous elements,
not the retention and subordination of them to the
reason and conscience, is the aim of moral develop-
ment, — will if logical be a communist. If he be-
lieves that the way to remedy the evils of life is to

^ Proudhon, Works^ vol. i. p. 11 and ff.


lessen life, his creed will conduct him straight to
communism. If he thinks the way to promote
temperance is to abolish alcohol ; the way to pre-
vent licentiousness is to prohibit paintings, statu-
ary, fiction, and the drama ; the way to abolish war
is to extirpate from man combativeness and de-
structiveness, — I do not see how he can escape tlje
conclusion that the way to abolish the evils of
acquisitiveness is to abolish private property. But
virtue, not innocence, was Christ's aim, enlargement,
not diminution, of life his principle, victory over
temptation, not escape from it, his method.

To make clear the contrast between the teach-
ings of Christianity and communism, it is necessary
to define the latter wdth a little more exactitude,
and this is the more important because there is a
great deal of misapprehension respecting the mean-
ing of the word.

The doctrine that the community ought to own
some property in common is not communism. The
best of our modern cities own hundreds of acres
in parks and are continually adding to their hold-
ings. It is not communism for the community
to administer certain forms of industry, and to
own the property necessary for that purj^ose. In
the time of Thomas Jefferson it was questioned
whether the carriage of letters ought not to be
left to private enterprise, as now the express busi-
ness and the telegraph, that is, the carriage of
parcels and intercommunication by electricity, are
left to private enterprise ; but the people of the


United States thought differently as to the post-
office, and to-day they carry on the post-office
themselves. It is not communistic for the nation
to own its post-office property, and to administer
the post-office. In Europe the post-office is also
the express office, and the complex duties of the
post-office are enlarging. Glasgow owns and oper-
ates its city railroads ; Australia, all its railroads.
Such ownership is not communism, and is not com-
munistic. The question whether this country ought
to own and operate its railroads, and its telegraph
system, and its express business, are questions
in political economy which I do not propose here
to discuss. In my judgment it is indispensable
to national welfare that the nation should exer-
cise a control over the great interstate lines of
railroads, while the peril to a Federal system in-
volved in governmental ownership appears to me
a serious if not an insuperable obstacle. On the
other hand, the sooner our cities own the city lines
of railroad the better both for the convenience
of the people ^^nd the purity of our municipal gov-
ernments. But, whatever opinions we may enter-
tain on these and kindred questions, it is, or ought
to be, quite clear that such ownership of railroads,
whether by city, state, or nation, is not commu-
nism and is not communistic, because it does not
involve a denial of the rights of private property,
and does not aj^proximate such a denial. It is not
communistic for a community to be formed for the
purpose of owning and enjoying property in com-


mon. A club forms in the Adirondacks. Its mem-
bers buy a thousand acres, and go there every
summer to enjoy the acres in common. It is a
common property held for a common purpose and
enjoyed in common. That is not communism,
because it recognizes the right of private property,
and is a combination for a particular purpose.
Each of our great railroad systems is owned jointly
by several thousand stockholders. Such a joint-
ownership is not communistic. The church at
Jerusalem is sometimes referred to as having
adopted a species of communism because the dis-
ciples held property in common. But it was not
communism, and it was not, strictly speaking, com-
munistic. For the church did not deny — on the
contrary it affirmed — the rights of private property.
The members of the church might turn their prop-
erty into the common stock or not, as they pleased,
and might turn in as much or as little as they
pleased. The contribution to a common treasury
was a wholly voluntary contribution. When Ana-
nias and Sapphira sold a possession and pretended
to offer the proceeds of the sale to the church,
while they really gave only a part, Peter, in his
condemnation of them, affirmed the right of pri-
vate property, and the recognition of that right by
the infant church. " Whiles it remained," said
he, " was it not thine own ? And after it was sold,
was it not in thine own power? " ^ A brotherhood
which has a common treasury, and to which any
1 Acts V. 4.


member may contribute all or part of his property
as he pleases, is not, properly speaking, a commu-
nistic brotherhood. Such holding of property in
common for special purposes is not communism
nor communistic, for it does not tend to the doc-
trine that there is no true right of private prop-
erty. The doctrine that some things held as prop-
erty are not proper subjects for property is not
itself communism. In 1824 the State of New York
gave a license by which it bestowed upon Living-
ston and Fulton an exclusive right to use the navi-
gable waters about New York city. It treated
navigable waters as proper subjects for private
property. Daniel Webster maintained before the
Supreme Court of the United States that the navi-
gable rivers of this nation are not private property,
and that no exclusive right to use them can ever
be given, and the Supreme Court sustained his
position.! That is not communism. When Henry
George, borrowing his affirmation from the Mosaic
legislation, says that land is not a proper subject
of private ownership, whether he is right or wrong,
his doctrine is not communism. It is not commu-
nism to affirm that certain things — air, water,
navigable rivers, the soil and its contents — are
not proper subjects for private property. For
communism is the doctrine that all property should
be held in common, — not that some things should
be held in common, — and therefore is not, strictly
speaking, property at all. A state of society in

1 Webster's Great Speeches, Gibbons v. Ogden, 1824, p. 111.


which the property is vested in one set of men who
administer it, or are supposed to administer it, with
regard to the interests of another set of men, is not
communism. The Roman Catholic Church owned,
we are told, in the seventh century one third of
the territory in France, in the ninth century one
half the territory in Italy, and in the eleventh one
half the territory in Germany and in England,
and we are told — at least by the advocates of
a communistic system — that it administered the
trust better than it is administered to-day, — that
wages were better, that the church was a better
landlord, and that the houses were kept in better
condition.^ Perhaps ! But the doctrine that the
religious people ought to own all the property,
and administer it for the irreligious people, is not
communism. And there does not appear to be any
immediate danger of its present introduction into
American life.

Communism is, j)rimarily, the doctrine that there
is no right of personal j^roperty, — that all prop-

Online LibraryLyman AbbottChristianaity and social problems → online text (page 5 of 25)