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taken considerably more than that length of time
for industrialism to grrow out of feudalism. I should
be much surprised, however, to learn that more than
a very few of the reputedly most scientific Collectiv-
ists are not fancying that Collectivism will come
almost as speedily as Comte supposed the Posit ivist
organisation of society would come. Of course, I
admit that were they less credulous and optimist
they would be also less popular as prophets, less
persuasive as proselytisers. To set forth at Hyde
Park corner on a Sunday evening that the coUec-
tivist regime might be expected to begin about the
year 2300, supposing no unforeseen conjunctures or
catastrophes powerful enough absolutely to prevent
or indefinitely to delay its advent intervened, would
not, indeed, gain many converts. To do so in an
assemblage of professedly scientific Socialists, be-
lievers alike in Marx and Darwin, at Berlin or Paris
on the first of May, might be dangerous.

Further, no evidences of the reality of an his-
torical evolution towards Socialism properly so
called have as yet been produced. The attempts
made by Marx and others to prove that in societies
which adopt the principles of industrial freedom the
rich will inevitably grow richer and the poor poorer,
and the number of landed proprietors and manu-
facturing and commercial capitalists steadily
diminish through the ruin of the smaller ones by
the laraer, until all wealth is concentrated in the


hands of a few magnates on whom the rest of the
population is entirely dependent for the necessaries
of life, are obvious failures. Free trade in land can
be shown to tend to a rational subdivision of the
land. Where it has become the property of a few
the chief causes thereof have been improper restric-
tions on liberty as to its sale and purchase. When
Marx wrote there was some excuse for supposing
that the growth of our industrial and commercial
system was steadily tending to the extinction of all
capitalists except the largest ; but there is none for
it now when the system may be everywhere seen to
necessitate by the very magnitude of its operations
the combination of numerous capitalists, large and
small, in sincj-le uudertakino-s of all sorts. The vast
manufactories and gigantic commercial enterprises
of the present day, instead of lessening are greatly
increasing the number of capitalists, and facilitating
the entrance of workmen into the ranks of capital-
ists. A multitude of the peasant proprietors of
France, and many of the cockers de Jlacre of Paris,
were investors in the unfortunate Panama scheme.

It must be added that the present order of society
cannot possibly pass into Collectivism by evolution.
If it do so at all it must be through revolution. It
is conceivable, although most improbable, that a
time may come when aU the possessors of capital in
Grreat Britain will deposit their capitals in a vast
fund to be administered and employed by one
directing body ; and that this result may be
brought about by a process of historical evolution
going on from day to day without any breach of


continuity, through generations and centuries. But
manifestly should a day ever come when the direc-
torate or the State undertook to grant to all the
non-capitalists in the nation equal rights to the
stock and profits of the fund as to the capitalists,
this measure of expropriation, collectivisation, or
spoliation, must be a revolutionary measure involv-
ing a breach of continuity, a rupture of social tissue,
unprecedented in the history of mankind. Radical
or revolutionary Socialists are right in maintaining
that Collectivism cannot be established by evolution.
Evolutionary Socialists conclusively argue that social
organisation cannot be satisfactorily or successfully
effected by revolution.

The true organisation of society must not only be
a gradual evolution, but must be due mainly to the
exercise of liberty, not to the action of authority.
It must be originated and carried on chiefly from
within, not from without. It must be to a far
i-Teater extent the combined and collective work of
the moral personalities who compose a nation than
of the officials who compose its Government. There
can be no good government of a conmiunity the
members of which are not already accustomed to
govern themselves aright. The healing of society
to be eflective must proceed on the whole from the
centre outwards.

Socialism has never seen this clearly or acknow-
ledged it fully. From its very nature it cannot do
so, for it undervalues the individual. It leads men
to exjiect extravagant results from merely repairing
or reconstructing the outward mechanism of society.


It encourages them to fancy that their welfare is
more dependent on what Government does than on
what they do themselves ; on the wisdom and power
of their legislators than on their own intelligence
and virtue. There can be no more foolish and
baneful illusion. Let any drunkard become sober,
or any profligate a man of clean and regular life,
and he has done far more for himself than any
Government can do for him. Let Irishmen deliver
themselves from the superstition that their clergy
can, by an act of excommunication, exclude them
from the pale of salvation, and they will thereby
obtain both for themselves and their country more
moral and political liberty than any Home Kule
Bill or other Act of Parliament can give them ;
while Almighty Power itself cannot make them free
either as citizens or as men so long as they retain in
their hearts that servile faith.

Nations have only enjoyed a healthy and vigorous
life when wisely jealous of the encroachments of autho-
rity on individual rights and liberties ; they have
sunk into helplessness and corruption whenever they
were content to be dependent on their Governments.
The men who have done most for society have been
those who were the least inclined to obey its bidding
when it had no moral claim to command. It is
because British men have been, perhaps above all
others, self-reliant men, with strongly marked
ditterences of character, with resolute, independent
wills, who would take their own way and work out
their own individurJ schemes and purposes, who
were not afraid of defying public opinion and social


authority, wlio were ready to do battle on their own
account against all comers, when they felt that they
had right on their side, that Britain stands now
where she does among the nations of the world.

All plans of social organisation which tend to
weaken and destroy individuality of character, inde-
pendence and energy of conduct, ought to be
rejected. In seeking to determine when collective
action, the exercise of social authority, is legitimate
or the reverse, we may very safely decide according
to the evidence as to whether it will fortify and
develop or restrict and discourage individual free-
dom and activity. Can there be any reasonable
doubt that, tested by this criterion, such a scheme
of social organisation as Collectivism must be con-
demned ? The whole tendency of Collectivism is to
replace a resistible capitalism by an irresistible
officialism ; to make social authority omnipotent
and individual wills powerless : to destroy liberty
and to establish despotism. Hence any society
which accepts it must find it, instead of a panacea
for its evils, a mortal poison. But happily the love
of liberty is too prevalent and its advantages too
obvious to allow of its general acceptance. It is so
manifestly contrary to the true nature of man and
inconsistent with the prosperity and progress of
society, that, notwithstanding all its pretensions to
a scientific and practical character, it must inevit-
ably come to be regarded as not less essentially
Utopian than the Phalansterianism of Fourier or
the Positive Polity of Comte.

One great reason why social organisation must


be mainly the work of individuals left free to act
for themselves and to associate together as they
please, so long as they abstain from injustice and
from encroachment on the freedom of others, is a
fact already referred to, namely, that man has
various aims in life, and these distinct aims, and
often difficult to harmonise. He is not only a
physical being with physical appetites, to whom
life is only an economic problem ; but also a moral
being, conscious of the claims of duty and charity ;
an intellectual being, to whose mind truth is as
necessary as light is to his eyes ; a being capable of
aesthetic vision and enjoyment and of artistic
creation ; and a religious being, who feels relation-
ship to the Divine, with corresponding hopes, fears,
and obligations. And, of course, if he would live
conformably to his nature he must seek to realise,
as far as he can, all the proximate aims to which it
tends, and to reconcile and unify them as best he
may, by reference to an ultimate and comprehensive
end. But who except himself can do this for any
human beino- ? And how can even he do it for
himself unless he be free to act and free to combine
with those who can aid him, in such ways as the
consciousness of his own wants may suggest to
him 1

Society is as complex as man. It has as many
elements and activities as human nature. It can
only be a fitting medium for the development of the
individual by having organs and institutions adapted
to all that is essential in the individual. Its true
organisation must consequently imply the evolution


of all that is involved in, and distinctive of, humanity.
Hence there was much truth in Gambetta's famous
declaration — " There is no social problem ; there are
only social problems." It is impossible to resolve all
social problems into one, or even to reduce all kinds
of social problems to a single class. From the very
nature of man, and therefore, from the very nature
of society, there are classes of social questions, all of
direct and vital importance to social organisation,
which although closely connected and not incapable
of co-ordination, are essentially distinct, and conse-
quently admit of no common solution.

Socialists almost always assume the contrary. And
for this plain reason that unless the natures of man
and of society be regarded as far meaner, poorer, and
simpler than they really are, the claim to regulate
human life and to organise human society socialisti-
cally is manifestly presumptuous. To render the claim
plausible it must sacrifice the individual to society,
and give inadequate views of the natures and ends
of both. The only modern Socialist, so far as I am
aware, who has made a serious and sustained attempt
to devise a comprehensive scheme of social organisa-
tion is Comte. Few men have possessed greater
synthetic and systematising j^ower. And yet his
attempt at social reconstruction was, notwithstanding
many valuable elements and indications, a grotesque
and gigantic failure. It assumed as a fundamental
truth that belief in the entire subordination of the
individual to society which more than any other
error vitiated the political philosophy and political
practice of classical antiquity, and from which


Christianity emancipated the European mind. It
proposed to organise the definitive society of the
future according to the mediaeval pattern ; to entrust
the government of it to a temporal and spiritual
power — a patriciate and a clergy — the former
centring in a supreme triumvirate and the latter in
a supreme pontiff — and the two conjointly regulating
the whole lives, bodily and mental, affective and
active, private and public, in minute conformity to
the creed of Comte ; and even, while forbidding
belief in the existence of God and of the immortality
of the soul, to impose a varied and elaborate worship.
It is unnecessary to criticise such a system, although
it is noteworthy as an almost unique attempt to
accomplish the task incumbent on Socialism as a
theory of social organisation.

Socialism generally concerns itself mainly or ex-
clusively with the organisation of industry. But it
manifestly thereby forfeits all claim to be considered
an adequate theory of society, if society really has
a religious, ethical, aesthetic, and intellectual work
to do as well as an economic one ; if it requires to
organise its science and speculation, its art and
literature, its law and morals, its faith and worship,
equally with its labour and wealth. When Social-
ism confines itself, as it commonly does, to the sphere
of industry, it can only prove itself to be a sufficient
and satisfactory^ theory of social organisation by
proving that there is far less in society to organise
than is generally supposed ; that men " live by
bread alone," and need only such advantages as
wealth properly distributed will procure for them;


that they are merely creatures of earth and time ;
and that all aims which presuppose thoughts of
absolute truth and right, of God and of eternity, are
to be discarded as illusory. Of course, it does not
prove this ; but it almost always assumes it as if it
had been proved. There is at present little Social-
ism properly so called which does not rest on an
atheistic or ao-nostic view of the universe, on a
hedonistic or utilitarian theory of conduct, and on a
conception of the natures of man and of society
which ejects or ignores much of the wealth of their

The f)i'6valent socialistic mode of solving the
problem of social organisation is that of simplifying
it by eliminating as many of its essential elements
as render the task of Socialism difficult. It is
wonderful to what an extent many Socialists thus
simplify it. Many of them look forward to the near
abolition even of politics. The two most eminent of
contemporary Socialists, Engels and Liebknecht,
expect that when the State establishes Collectivism
by socialising all capital and directing and controlling
all labour, so far from employing its enormous power
to extend its sphere of action and encroach on the
rights of individuals and of neighbouring States, it
will voluntarily die unto its old self, sacrifice its
very existence as a State by ceasing to be political
at all, and, as one of them has said, " concern itself
no longer with the government of persons but with
the administration of things." That such a notion
as this of the possible elimination of all political
interests and struggles from the life of society in the


future, and the possible reduction of all the activities
of srovernment to that of individual direction, should
have been entertained by the chief living theorist
and the greatest living tactician of the Socialism
which especially pretends to be scientific and prac-
tical, shows how absurd a thought may be generated
by an enthusiastic wish even in a naturally clear
and vigorous mind, and may well lead us to suspect
that much else in the system may be of the same
character and origin.

That there will be no serious religious difficulties
and troubles under the regime of Collectivism is
generally assumed by the advocates of the system.
With rare exceptions, they are decidedly hostile to
Theism, Christianity, and the Church, and only
repudiate the charge of being anti- religious on the
ground that Socialism itself so purifies and ennobles
human life as to be entitled to the name of religion.
But all that is commonly called religion, and all
that has been founded on it, they regard as per-
nicious superstition, and an obstacle to the organi-
sation of society on collectivist lines. While clear
and explicit, however, in their denunciation of it,
they are extremely vague and reticent as to how
they mean to deal with it. Can Collectivism be
established at all until religion and religious institu-
tions are got rid of? Some think that it cannot ;
others that it can. Those who think that it cannot
seem to me to have the clearer vision ; but I should
like them to explain how, then, they hope to get it
established. What do they mean to do with
Theists, Protestants, Catholics, Greek Christians,


Jews, and Mohammedans ? They are not Hkely for
centuries to convince them by arguments. They
are not strong enough to overcome them by force.
To assume that reHgion is so effete that those who
profess it are ready to renounce it without being
either intellectually convinced or physically coerced
is unjust and unwarranted.

On the other hand, suppose that Collectivism
is established, and yet that religions and Churches
are not overthrown. How, in this case, can
the collectivist society be governed and organ-
ised by a merely temporal or industrial power?
How can it fail to be governed and organised
also by the spiritual power, which may be,
perhaps, all the more influential and despotic
because the temporal power is at once despotic
and exclusively industrial ? How can a Collec-
tivism which is tolerant of religion be without
religious troubles ? I have sought in vain in the
writings of Collectivists for definite and reasoned
answers to these questions. I have only found
instead these two assumptions, alike without evi-
dence : that religion will either somehow speedily
disappear to make way for Collectivism ; or that if
it survive its establishment it will have chano-ed its
nature, lost the will and power to move and agitate
the hearts of men, and will allow the temporal
authority to mould and govern society with un-
divided sway.

If what we have been maintaininof is true even in
substance, social organisation is from its very nature
a complex operation, and incajjable of being so sim-


plified as Collectivlsts and most other Socialists
suppose. It must be carried on in a variety of
directions which are distinct, and none of which are
to be overlooked or nefrlected. It must be carried
on, therefore, not through the State alone, but
much more through the individual units which com
pose society, and those natural or voluntary groups
of individual units which may be considered the
organs of society ; not according to a single plan
laid down by authority, but along a number of lines
freely chosen.

The individual is of primary importance. Society
is composed of individuals, and their spirit is its
spirit. This is not to say that the individual is of
exclusive importance, or that we are not to take full
account of the dependence of character on social cir-
cumstances. It does not mean that we are Individ-
ualists ; that we sever the individual from society,
or absorb society in the individual, or oppose the
individual to society. It only signifies that with
the individualist error we set aside the socialist
error also ; that we refuse to regard individuals as
the mere creatures of society instead of as mainly
its creators, or to deny that they are ends in them-
selves, with lives of their own. The individualist
" abstraction " is bad ; the socialist " abstraction " is
still worse. The influence of the social atmosphere
and of social surroundings is great, but still it is
only secondary ; mainly product not producer. The
constitutive qualities and powers of human nature
have been modified in many respects from age to
age with the successive changes of society, but they


have not been certainly or conspicuously altered in
their essential character within the whole of re-
corded time. The Socialists of to-day who expect
a vast mental and moral improvement of individuals
from a mere reorganisation of society are just as
Utopian as their predecessors have been. Social
organisation without personal reformation will
always have poor and disappointing results. Dr.
Chalmers wrote his " Political Economy " to demon-
strate that the economic well-being of a people
is dependent on its moral well-being. Whether
he quite succeeded or not is of small consequence,
seeing that reason, experience, and history so amply
testify to the truth of his thesis. Those who would
reverse it and maintain that mere economic changes
will produce moral well-being or even economic
prosperity must be incompetent reasoners, slow to
learn from experience, and hasty readers of history.
What chiefly differentiates man from man is
character ; what chiefly elevates man, and secures
for him the rank and happiness of a man, is charac-
ter ; and character is always far less a product of
society than the growth of personal self-develop-
ment. Hence the extreme importance of the whole
art of education, and of all that directly aflects true
self-development or self-realisation. There is un-
doubtedly still abundant room and urgent need for
improvement in this sphere. A vast amount of
what passes for education is positively mischievous
and tends directly not to educe and strengthen, but
to repress and enfeeble, the personality. Perhaps of
all our social evils the least visible to the vulgar eye.


yet the most cruel, wasteful, and deplorable, is the
extent to which cramming is substituted for educa-
tion in all kinds of schools from the lowest to the
highest. If we only kn ew and felt what education
really is, and recognised aright nothing to be
worthy of the name which does not train the bodily
powers, or improve temper and disposition, or evoke
and widen the social sympathies, or awaken and
regulate imagination, or quicken and exercise
9gsthetic discernment, or deepen and elevate the
sense of reverence, or help to make conscience the
uncontested sovereign of the human mind, we
would have immensely less of poverty, of unmanly
helplessness, of bad workmanship, of low taste, of
scandalous luxury, of intemperance, of licentious-
ness, of dishonesty, of irreligion, and the like, to
complain of Appropriate training to bodily deft-
ness and dexterity, to intelligence, virtue, and
religion, although obviously a prime condition of
true social organisation, and just what education
should supply, is either not given at all, or only in
a wretchedly small measure by the so-called educa-
tion of the present day. Of course I cannot dwell
on this subject ; it would be unfair, however, not to
mention that as regards the true nature of educa-
tion, and especially as regards the relation of true
education to art, few have spoken worthier words
or done nobler work than two socialist men of
genius — John Ruskin and William Morris.

The importance of the Family follows from the
importance of individuals. Fathers and mothers
exert a far greater influence on the welfare of


society than politicians and legislators. " The
popular estimate of the family," says Westcott, " is
an infallible criterion of the state of societv. Heroes
cannot save a country where the idea of the Family
is degraded ; and strong battalions are of no avail
against homes guarded by faith and reverence and
love."* Comte has declared that "the first seven
years of life are the most decisive, because then a
mother's discipline lays so firm a foundation that
the rest of life is seldom able to affect it." Not
improbably he was right. Certainly there can be
no satisfactory organisation of any community or
nation in which the Family is not a healthy social

From the time of Plato to the present day the
constitution of the Family has been a favourite
subject of socialistic speculation ; and very naturally
so, both because of the vast influence of the Family
on society, and because at no period of its history
has it been free from grave and deplorable defects.
As we trace the evolution of the Familv from the
obscurity of the prehistoric age through various
stages in the oriental world, in Greece, in Rome,
and Christendom, terrible traces of the selfishness
and cruelty of man, of the oppression and suffering
of woman, of the maltreatment of the young, the
feeble, and the dependent, and of legislative folly
and iniquity, continually present themselves to our
contemplation. Truly the task of socialist criticism
is here very easy. But it is also of comparatively

• ii

Social Aspects of Christianity," p. 22.


little value. What Is needed is practical guidance
in the work of amelioration, instruction of a truly-
constructive character. Of this, however, Socialism
has singularly little to give us.

All the schemes of Family organisation proposed
by socialist theorists in the course of the last two

Online LibraryRobert FlintSocialism → online text (page 21 of 38)