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the capitalists ; let the Democracy of America
become predominantly socialistic, in the sense of
being bent on attaining the equality which requires
the sacrifice of justice and of liberty ; and there will
happen in America what happened about two thou-
sand years ago, in the greatest republic of the
ancient world, a Caesar will be called for and a
Caesar will appear, and Democracy will be controlled
by despotism." *

* " Historical Philosophy in France and French Belgium and Switzer-
land," pp. 521-3.



Socialism has always occupied itself mainly with
the economic organisation of society. It does so at
the present day not less than during the earlier
periods of its history. Its advocates are still chiefly
engaged In urging the transference of property from
individuals and corporations to the State, and in
explaining how the production, distribution, and
consumption of wealth may be so regulated as best
to secure the advantages which they deem a social-
istic system capable of conferring. At the same
time, Socialism has, of course, not ignored morality
or the relations of morality to its own theses and
proposals. No scheme of social organisation can
afford to do that. Socialisation obviously cannot
be effected independently of moralisation. Any
pro2:)osed solution of a social problem is sufficiently
refuted as soon as it is shown logically to issue in
immorality. As the Duke of Argyll pithily says :
" In mathematical reasoning the ' reduction to
absurdity ' Is one of the most faniihar methods of
disproof. In political reasoning the ' reduction to
iniquity ' ought to be of equal value," *

* "The Unseen Foundations of Society," p. 419.


Besides, Socialism has itself moral presuppositions
and tendencies which obviously demand considera-
tion and discussion : moral presuppositions and ten-
dencies which its adherents must defend, and which
those who reject it are certain to regard with

Accordingly in the present chapter we shall treat
of the bearing of Socialism on Morality.

Socialists charge Political Economists with having
taught as science a system of doctrine which is non-
moral or even immoral. They denounce Economics
as it has been presented by its best accredited
teachers as not only a dismal and unfruitful science,
but one which has been falsified and vitiated by
being severed from, and opposed to, Ethics. They
profess to be alone in possession of an ethical Econo-
mics — an economic theory capable of satisfying the
heart and conscience as well as reason and self-
interest. But both the censure and the claim are
based on very weak grounds.

One of these o-rounds is that Economics takes a
narrow, unnatural, and unethical view of what ought
to be its own object and scope. It is said that it
confines itself to the study of wealth ; subordinates
man to wealth ; assumes that wealth includes the
satisfaction of all human desires, even while confining
itself to those material things and corporeal services
which minister chiefly to the appetencies and vanities
of the lower nature ; practically raises wealth, so
understood, to the rank of an end in itself; and by
exclusively dwelling on it encourages the delusion
that it is the chief end of life.


The Socialists and semi-Socialists, however, who
have sought by arguing thus to bring home to
Economists the charge of doing injustice to morality
have only made apparent the defectiveness of their

In order to advance the study of any science,
its cultivators must concentrate their attention
on the facts and problems appropriate to it, and
not allow their thoug-hts to roam abroad. The
economist must do so equally with the mathe-
matician or the bioloofist. He must fix his attention
on economic processes just as the mathematician
does on quantitative relations and the biologist on
vital phenomena. But all economic processes are
concerned with wealth, are phases or changes of
wealth, in a sense so definite that it may be called
its economic sense ; and wealth so understood is an
object sufficiently precise and distinct, as well as
sufficiently extensive and interesting, to be the
subject of a science. It has reasonably, therefore,
been assigned to, or appropriated by. Economics as
its subject.

And this being so, it is not only the business,
but the entire and only legitimate business, of the
economist as a pure or strict scientist to investigate
the nature, conditions, laws, and consequences of
the production, distribution, and consumption of
wealth. To condemn him for devoting himself
specially to this task, and leaving it to others to
speculate on the welfare of nations or the prospects
of humanity, is as foolish as it would be to censure
a mathematician for prosecuting his abstract and


exact deductions and calculations to the neglect of
discoursing on the harmonies of the universe.

While, however, as a scientific specialist he not
only may but ought to confine himself within the
limits of his special science, he should also endeavour
to form as philosophical a view as possible, as com-
prehensive, profound, and accurate a view as pos-
sible, of the relations of that science to others,
and especially to contiguous and closely connected
sciences, such as psychology and ethics and their
derivatives. This is the natural and apjDropriate
preventive of the evils incident to exclusive and
excessive specialisation in Economics ; and econo-
mists have been gradually and increasingly realising
its importance. There is no warrant for represent-
ing them as less sensible of the necessity of giving
heed to the relations of political economy with
other sciences than are socialistic theorists. They
do not overlook that Economics has psycho-
loo-ical bases, and is a science of the social
order ; and consequently subordinate man to

To the economist wealth is not a merely material
fact but a human and social fact. It is not with
wealth as a complex of external objects, but as the
subject of human interests and of social processes
that Political Economy is concerned. Man, in the
view of the Economist, is the origin and end, the
ground, medium, and rationale of wealth ; and wealth
can have neither meaning nor even being apart from
man, and from the rationality, the freedom, the re-
sponsibility, the capacities of feeling and of desire.


and the social bonds and affinities which are dis-
tinctive of man.

In hke manner Economics has been neither severed
from, nor opi)osed to, Ethics by any of its intelHgent
cultivators. They have merely refused crudely
and confusedly to mix two distinct disciplines.
Pure Economics, it is true, does not attempt more
than to explain the facts and to exhibit the laws
of wealth ; it does not pronounce on their moral
characters or discuss their moral issues ; yet it deals
with all moral elements or forces which are econo-
mic conditions or factors to the extent that they
are so ; tracing-, for instance, how idleness, drunken-
ness, dishonesty, profligacy, and the qualities
opposed to them, operate in the various spheres of
economic life. It is thus helpful to morality.
" By demonstrating the material advantages gained
through the exercise of such virtues as industry,
providence, and thrift, and by showing the harm
that springs from sloth, improvidence, and unthrift,
political economy supplies very efficacious and
practical motives for virtuous action, motives, too,
which have a hold upon those not moved by the
unaided maxims of ethics pure and simple."*

Further, although the Economist cannot reason-
ably deem it a part of his duty as a scientific specialist
to treat of the right use or abuse of wealth, or of
the duties of men in connection with the acquisition
and employment of wealth, he will be the first to
recognise that the moralist should do so, and may

* L. Cossa, "Introduction to Political Economy," p. 29.


confer great benefit on society by doing so.
Economic Ethics is a very necessary and important
branch of instruction at the present day. Obviously
it is one which can only be projoerly taught by those
who have studied Economics with sufficient care
and without prejudice.

It is not scientific Economists but certain Social-
ists of a sentimental type who have either taught
or implied that wealth is the satisfaction of all
wants, or the chief end of life, or even in any
instance or reference an end in itself. No genuine
Economist has been so foolish as to inculcate or
suggest that what he calls wealth, however abund-
antly produced or wisely distributed it may be, is
necessarily creative either of wealth or of virtue.''^

* The error to which reference is made has not, perhaps, been refuted
better by any subsequent economist than by Pelegrino Rossi in the
second lecture of his "Cours d'Economie Politique " (1840). As the point
is a not unimportant one, either in itself or in the controversy between
economists and Socialists, I shall here summarise his argument : "Wealth,
material prosperity, and moral development, although not unrelated, are
not necessarily conjoined or uniformly connected. The poverty or wealth
of a man is not a criterion of his happiness, and still less of his moral
worth. As it is with individuals so is it with nations. A poor State may
be prosperous and, as Sparta proves, powerful ; and a wealthy State may
abound in wretchedness and be on the eve of ruin. So both the wealth
and general prosperity of a people may be great while its moral develop-
ment is most backward. The working classes of a country may be com-
fortable and contented, their means of living cheap, and of enjoyment
abundant, yet in that country the intellectual and moral faculties of men
may be repressed and deadened, and the higher life of spiritual freedom
almost extinct. Nations, then, like individuals, may be judged of as to
wealth, material well-being, and moral development. To attain each of
these supposes a certain use of human faculties ; demands certain means,
a certain action of man on the external world, and of man on man. To
multiply wealth labour properly so-called is necessary, labour enlightened
by physical, chemical, and mechanical knowledge, and furthered by the
combination of many persons in a common work but with different func-


It Is among Socialists that we find those who fancy
that Economics may be regenerated and ennobled
by identifying — i.e., confounding — wealth with weal
or well-being, and so including in it not only those
things to which Economists restrict the term but the
pleasures of imagination and affection, purity of
heart, peace of conscience, and the satisfactions
which religion confers. Obviously, there can be no
common science of things so different. And as
obviously thus to elevate and extend the meaning
of the term wealth can have no tendency to lead

tions. The wealth so produced will distribute itself among its producers
according to certain laws which are the work of no one but the necessary
consequence of the general facts of production. The material welfare of
a nation requires another and wider application of knowledge and energy.
It requires a wisely contrived social organisation and good laws, and the
use of many arts and sciences for the public benefit. Moral development
calls for the exercise of faculties of still another order. It appeals to our
noblest sentiments, to conscience and to reason, for it consists not in
abundance of wealth and of the enjoyments of the material life, but in the
culture and elevation of the spiritual nature, so as to bring out the full
dignity which belongs to it. These three ends of action thus suppose
the use of different means. He who merely wishes wealth, he who seeks
material happiness, and he who aims at moral development, must act in
different ways. The three ends may not be incompatible ; but be who
not content with the first desires also to secure the second, and from that
to rise to the third, cannot restrain his actions within the same limits as
he who looks exclusively to the first. If, therefore, political economy were
merely an art — if it were a mere means towards an end, and that end were
wealth — it would still have a distinct sphere of its own, and need not be
confounded with politics or ethics or any other science or art. But the
application of human knowledge to a definite end, the employment of indi-
vidual and social forces for a practical result, is not science ; and political
economy may and does claim to be a science. Sciences must be classed
according to their objects and not according to their usee. A science has,
properly speaking, no use, no end. When we consider what use we can
make of it, what end we can gain by it, we have left science and betaken
ourselves to art. Science, whatever be its object, is only the possession of
the truth, is only the knowledge of the relations which flow from the
nature of things."


to the due subordination of what is ordinarily
called wealth to morality.*

It is also specially among Socialists that we find
the delusion prevailing that the kingdom of heaven
may be established on earth by merely reorganising
the means and methods of the production and dis-
tribution of wealth ; that man is the creature of

* The views on Economics propounded by Mr. Euskin in " Unto this
Last " and other writings axe all supposed by him to be dependent on his
definition of wealth as " the possession of the valuable by the valiant," and
on the thesis that "there is no wealth but life, life including all the powers
of love, of joy, and of admiration." Whether they are in reality logically
derivable from them may well be questioned, but they are certainly quite
as vague as if they were. The most definite and distinctive of them is
that all labour ought to be paid by an invariable standard, good and bad
workmen alike, if the latter are employed at all. " The natural and right
system respecting all labour is that it should be paid at a fixed rate, but
the good workman employed, and the bad workman unemployed. The
false, unnatural, and destructive system is, when the bad workman is
allowed to offer his work at half-price, and either take the place of the
good, or force him by his competition to work for an inadequate sum. So
far as you employ it at all, bad work should be paid no less than good work ;
as a bad clergyman takes his tithes, a bad physician his fee, and a bad
lawyer his costs ; this I say partly because the best work never was nor ever
will be done for money at all, but chiefly because the moment the people
know they have to pay the bad and good alike, they will try to discern the
one from the other, and not use the bad. A sagacious writer in The
Scotsman asks me if I should like any common scribbler to be paid by Smith,
Elder & Co. as their good authors are. I should if they employed him ;
but would seriously recommend them, for the scribbler's sake, as well as
their own, not to employ him."

How is it that a man of so much genius as Mr. Ruskin could regard
such a method of recompensing labour as " the natural and right system"
when it is so obviously unnatural and so manifestly unjust ? Plainly
because his standard of judgment is neither the laws of nature nor of
justice but a private " ideal," a personal preconception. To count unequals
as equal is unnatural. To pay for bad work as much as for good is unjust.
To refuse to employ "bad," i.e., inferior workmen, at all is an excessively
aristocratic as well as arbitrary rule ; and would not only bear hard on
the "common scribbler," but reduce to beggary common workmen of all


circumstances, and that the moral and spiritual
development of society is ultimately dependent on
exclusively material conditions. Bax and Bebel,
Gronlund and Stern, and indeed the whole main body
of the Collectivists as well as of the Anarchists of to-
day, are as much under the influence of this shallow
error as was Robert Owen. They exaggerate the
plasticity of human nature and assume the irrespon-
sibility of man. They fail to perceive that the
history of man has been mainly not a product of
matter, but the work of man ; that society has been
far more the creation of individuals than individuals
of society ; that economic development has been at
least as dependent on ethical development as the
latter on it ; that morality is not only so far the
fruit of civilisation but also its root and vital sap ;
and that the great obstacle to social progress and
prosperity is not the defectiveness of social arrange-
ments or of industrial organisation but the persis-
tency of individual human vices.

Economists as a class have not thus erred. They
have seen more clearly the limits both of the power
of material conditions and of the science which
treats of "vs^ealth. They have recognised that there
is a vast deal which wealth, however distributed or
manipulated, cannot accomplish, and that the most
exhaustive knowledge of its nature and laws can
be only a part of the knowledge required for the
solution of such a problem as how to make a nation
happy or how to guide humanity towards self-
perfection. Economics, strictly scientific in its
methods and definitely limited in its sphere, must.


they have admitted, be content merely to yield a
few certain specific conclusions capable, in con-
junction with those drawn from other sciences, of
being applied with good effect to answer great and
complex questions which can never be resolved by
any single science or even perhaps in any purely
scientific manner.

The main argument on which Socialists rely in
support of the allegation that Economics as com-
monly taught is in its general tendency unfavour-
able to morality, is that it assumes human nature to
be essentially selfish, fundamentally egoistic ; and
that it builds itself entirely up on • this assumption.
They say that it lays down as premisses what are
only forms or applications of its primary assumption
of the selfishness of human nature, and that from
these premisses — the principles of least sacrifice, of
unlimited competition, and the like — it deduces its
chief doctrines. Hence they condemn it, and
demand a new Economic based either entirely or
largely on sympathy and benevolence ; on what
they call " altruism,"

In arguing thus thorough-going Socialists, such
as the Social Democrats, have not stood alone, but
have been encouraged and supported by so-called
Academic and Christian Socialists of all shades and
varieties. Mr. Thomas Davidson, favourably known
by his contributions to philosophy and especially to
the knowledge of the philosophy of Kosmini, has
presented the argument as skilfully, perhaps, as
any other writer ; and, therefore, I shall quote his
statement of it, indicating where I have omitted


sentences which I think can be dispensed with
without injustice.

" One of the avowed and cardinal assumptions of the political
economy of selfishness is this, that every man tries to obtain as
much of the means of satisfaction as he can, with the smallest
possible amount of labour. Along with this, it makes the tacit
assumption that means of satisfaction is wealth, and that the
moi-e material wealth a man has, the greater is his power of
satisfying his desires. It makes also the further assumption
that trouble and labour are synonymous terms, and, hence, that
labour is pain, submitted to only for the sake of subsequent

" Now, all these assumptions rest upon a more fundamental
assumption, that man is simply an animal, whose sole desire
is to satisfy his animal appetites. But set out with the contrary
assumption, that man is a rational being, whose true satisfaction
is found in spiritual activity. Spiritual activity, let me now
add, consists of three things, pious intelligence, unselfish love,
practical energy, guided by intelligence and love to universal
ends. Upon my assumption, all the three assumptions of the
economy of selfishness fall to the ground, being entirely incom-
patible with a moral element in man's nature. Let us consider
these assumptions, beginning with the second.

" Is it in any sense true that, to a moral being, the only means
of satisfaction is wealth, and that the more wealth he has, the
more readily he can satisfy his desires ? Is it true that all
satisfactions can be obtained for material wealth ? Is it true
that even any of the highest satisfactions can be bought for it ?
Will wealth buy a pure heart, a clear conscience, a cultivated
intellect, a healthy body, the power to enjoy the sublime and
beautiful in nature and in art, a generous will, an ever-helpful
hand — these deepest, purest satisfactions, of human nature ?
Kay, not one of these things can be bought for all the wealth of
ten thousand worlds : and not only so, but the very possession
of wealth most frequently stands in the way of their attain-
ment What shall it profit a man if he gain the whole

world, and be a mean, contemptible, human pig, finding satis-
faction only in varnished swinishness ? My God ! I had rather


be a free wild boar, basking and fattening in the breezy woods,
without a soul and without a mind, than, having a soul and a
mind, to prostitute them in grovelling for wealth, and craving
the satisfactions which it can give. It is not true, then, that
wealth is the only means of satisfaction, or that true human
satisfaction bears any ratio to wealth.

" Again, is it true that labour is necessarily trouble and pain ?
Let us see. I know of no sadder and more humiliating reflection
upon the position of labour in our time and country, no clearer
proof of the moral degradation entailed by our present economic
system, than the prevalent conviction that labour is pain and
trouble. We hear a great deal declaimed about the honourable-
ness of labour, as if that were a fine, new sentiment, instead of
being something which it is a disgrace ever to have doubted;
but we hear hardly a word about the delights and satisfactions
of labovir. And the reason is, alas ! that there are no delights
or satisfactions in it. But is this state of things a necessity?
Or is it only a temporary result of an evil system ? There is not
a shadow of doubt about the matter. Labour is not in itself
pain and trouble, and it is only a wicked and perverse economy
that now makes it so. Labour, on the contrary, under a wise
economy, is to every rational being a pleasure, not something to
be avoided, but something to be sought. Labour with a view

to good ends is rational men's natural occupation Let

labour be placed in clean, healthy, and attractive surroundings ;
let it never overtask the brain, nerves, or muscles ; let it receive
its just reward ; let it leave a man with time to cultivate his
mind, and to meet with his fellows in friendly ways ; let it be
honoured ; let it be pursued with hope and the sense of progress,
and, so far from being trouble and pain, it will be delight and


" It is the greatest possible mistake to suppose that, under true
human conditions, men try to get as much as they can with
the least possible amount of trouble. This is true only under
animal or inhuman conditions. In all natural labour, men
enjoy the pursuit of the result more than the result itself ; for

it is the pursuit alone that has a moral value Artists

often paint their best pictures for themselves, just for the delight
of practising their art. The sportsman will spend whole days


in hunting game ■which he could buy in the market for a few
cents or dollars. And so it is generally. Man, as soon as he
rises above the animal stage, makes no attempt to avoid labour,
as a trouble and a pain; he rather seeks it as a delightful
exercise of his faculties. There is nothing in the world so
satisfactory as labour for a rational end.

"The baselessness of the two assumptions with regard to
satisfaction and labour having been shown, the third falls to the
ground of itself. Since material wealth is not the means to the
highest satisfaction, and labour is not a synonym for pain and
trouble, it follows at once that it is not at all true that men
seek to obtain the largest amount of satisfaction with the
smallest amount of labour. Thus, one of the most fundamental
assumptions of the current political economy proves utterly
untenable, when applied to rational beings. By attempting so to

Online LibraryRobert FlintSocialism → online text (page 26 of 38)