Copyright
Robert Flint.

Socialism online

. (page 27 of 38)
Online LibraryRobert FlintSocialism → online text (page 27 of 38)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


apply it, economists have been forced to bring men down to the
level of the brutes. Many of them, consequently, have gone to
work to prove that man, in his economic relations at least, is
governed by brute laws, over which he has no control; for
example, the law that every man must buy in the cheapest
market and sell in the dearest. Assuming selfishness to be the
only motive power in political economy, they have been forced
to the conclusion that man is governed entu^ely by animal laws,
and they have accepted the conclusion. A puerile enough pro-
cedure, surely !

"In a true political economy, suited to human beings, the
whole of human natvire, and not merely its lower, animal part,
must be taken into account, and wealth must be looked upon,
not as at an end, but as a means to the building up and per-
fecting of that nature. We must no longer ask how, given
human nature as purely selfish and certain other conditions,
wealth will be produced and distributed ; but how wealth must
be produced and distributed in order to pave the way for the
perfecting of human nature in the whole hierarchy of functions,
headed by the moral ones."*



* "The Moral Aspects of the Economic Question," pp. 6-11. Index
Association : Boston, 18S6.



SOCIALISM AND MORALITY 357

A few remarks should suffice to dispose of the
argument thus urged.

In the first place, then, it rests entirely on a
single assumption — the assumption that Political
Economy assumes human nature to be essentially
selfish, fundamentally egoistic. Is there any warrant
for the assumption ? Has any evidence been pro-
duced in proof of the charge which it implies?
None. And it is even certain that none can be
produced.

Not one economist of repute has been shown to
have taught the doctrine in question. The charge
of having- done so has been insinuated ao^ainst
Say, Ricardo, Malthus, Gamier, Bastiat, and
even Adam Smith ; but recklessly and falsely.
All these authors have given distinct expression
to their belief that man is distinctively and
pre-eminently a rational and moral being ; and
that the sympathetic affections or fellow-feelings
are as essential to human nature as the private
appetencies or self- feelings. None of them re-
garded selfishness or egoism, in the popular and
correct acceptation of these terms, as a normal
or legitimate constituent of human nature at all.
They deemed it, and very properly, an excessive
and perverted development of self-feeling, a dis-
creditable passion, a vice.

Let our Scottish economists be cited in proof
The ethical views of Francis Hutcheson, Adam
Smith, Adam Ferguson, David Hume, Dugald
Stewart, and Thomas Chalmers, are as well
known as those which they held on economic



358 SOCIALISM

subjects. Did they, then, represent human
nature as fundamentally selfish, or even assign
a small place or low rank to altruistic prin-
ciples ? No one who knows anything about them
will answer in the affirmative. When they erred
as moral philosophers it was chiefly in the contrary
direction of resolving virtue into benevolence, sym-
pathy, or the like. In a word, the argument under
consideration has for its corner stone not a certified
truth but an inexcusable misrepresentation.

It is a natural consequence of this initial error
that the argument should proceed to affirm that
Political Economy assumes that " man is simply an
animal, whose sole desire is to satisfy his animal
appetites." Thus to reason, however, is merely to
support one calumny by another. Political Economy
assumes nothing^ of the kind attributed to it.
Political Economists have taught nothing of the
kind. Political Economy has owed almost nothing-
to materialists, or to those who resolved all the
affections and faculties of human nature into im-
pressions of sense. It is not scientific Economics
but Utopian and revolutionary Socialism which has
sprung from the crude materialistic sensism of the
eighteenth century. And such Socialism, it must
be added, has never purged itself from the evil
qualities derived from its origin. They have never
been more manifest in it than they are at pre-
sent. If we wish to trace back the succession of
the theorists of modern Collectivism to the man
with the strongest claim to be regarded as its
founder, we shall have to pass fi'om one materialist



SOCIALISM AND MORALITY 359

to another until we come to the author of the
"Code de la Nature" (1756), the Abbe Morelly.
It was on the hypothesis of materialistic egoism ;
the hypothesis that man is simply a physical and
sentient organism, whose sole end or summum
bonum is pleasure ; that he rested his proposals for
the suppression of private property, the collectivisa-
tion of wealth, and the common enjoyment of the
products of labour ; and it is on the same hypo-
thesis that the same proposals have been generally
rested ever since.

The eloquent protest of Mr. Davidson against
the notion that wealth can satisfy all man's wants,
or even purchase any of the highest human satisfac-
tions, must commend itself to every mind not sordid
and ignoble. But its relevancy as against Econo-
mists is more than doubtful. For Economists are
just the persons who take pains so to define wealth
as to make it plain that it is what satisfies only some
wants, and these wants which, although universally
important, are not among the highest. It is no
principle or doctrine of Economics that wealth is an
end or good in itself, or even a necessary means
to such end or good. The selfishness, the avarice,
which so regards it, is a passion which will find no
justification in Economics, and which must have its
sources elsewhere.

When a writer defines wealth as co-extensive
with human weal, as Mr. Ruskin does, or declares
that it can only be properly defined " in terms
of man's moral nature," as Mr. Davidson does,
he, in my opinion, justly lays himself open to



36o SOCIALISM

the charge of using language calculated to favour
the notion that wealth can satisfy all wants, and
that material wealth shall have ascribed to it
a place and dignity to which it is not entitled.
Contrary to his intention he falls into the very
fault of which he accuses economists notwithstand-
ing that they had carefully avoided it.

Social Democrats and other advocates of Col-
lectivism have, of course, not erred in the same way
as those who like Mr. Ruskin and Mr. Davidson
have approached Socialism from the side of idealism ;
but it is they, and not economists, who specially
deserve censure for ascribing an excessive impor-
tance to wealth. It is Collectivism which proposes
to convert entire society into a vast association for
the production of wealth, and to exempt no class of
persons, male or female, from the compulsion of
giving several hours daily to industrial labour.
There is, in fact, no characteristic of Collectivism
more conspicuous than the predominance which it
assigns to the economic interests of society over all
others ; than what Cathrein calls its " einseitige
Betonunof des wlrthschaftlichen Lebens." It
assumes that If a satisfactory economic organisa-
tion be attained all other needed organisation will
follow and perfect itself as a matter of course.
" Seek first equality of wealth and the happiness
which that can give you," and all other blessings
will be added to you, is its first and great com-
mandment as well as its chief and special promise.

Economists will admit as readily as other peoj^le
that labour is very often a great deal more dis-



SOCIALISM AND INIORALITY 361

agreeable and painful than it need be or ought to
be. But, certainly, they will also demand more
proof than any man's mere word for regarding
labour as in no degree pain and trouble, but delight
and joy. Labour is not play. Not only a wicked
and perverse economy but also the nature of things
and the nature of man render necessary hard, pro-
longed, wearisome labour. If labour involved no
pain or trouble, no self-denial or self sacrifice, it
would be no moral discipline and would deserve
neither honour nor reward.

That " men seek to obtain the largest amount of
satisfaction with the smallest amount of labour" is
a principle which Economists will not refuse to
accept the responsibility of maintaining. But, says
Mr. Davidson, " it proves utterly untenable when
applied to rational beings." Indeed ! Has he ever
met with a single rational being to whose conduct
it would not apply in strictly economic relation-
ships ? What rational being will not prefer, other
things being equal, little labour to much, large
wages to small? If, indeed, so far from other
things being equal, the little labour and the large
wages require the violation of the moral laws of
purity, of justice, or of charity, then every good
man will prefer to them much labour and small
pay ; but then, also, by doing so he will not in the
least violate the principle laid down by Economists.
The economic principle is no longer alone, and con-
sequently is no longer to be alone considered.
Besides, the largest possible amount of pay for the
least possible amount of labour will in such circum-



362 SOCIALISM

stances bring with it no "satisfaction" to any
properly '"'rational being." What will it profit a
man although he gain the whole world and lose his
own soul ?

The allegation that economists by accepting the
principle in question " have been forced to bring
men down to the level of the brutes " has only this
modicum of truth in it, that brutes would all perish
if they were such incarnate absurdities as to prefer
wasting their energies and advantages to profiting
by them. It might, however, be as relevantly said
that acceptance of the principle brings men down
even to the level of inanimate agents, inasmuch as
winds and waters and other elements and powers of
nature always follow the path of least resistance.
It is surely no degradation to reason to accept and
apply of its own free choice a principle which is
both rational and natural.

Economists do not say that "every man must
buy in the cheapest market and sell in the
dearest ; " or that any man must. They never say
"Thou must, or Thou shalt." They lay down no
precepts. They are content to indicate what eco-
nomic results will, under given conditions, follow from
any given course of economic action. Any man can
buy and sell at an economic disadvantage if he
pleases. Most men occasionally do so, and from
a variety of motives. And why should they
not ? There are occasions when no one is under
obligation to act on economic principle, or from an
economic motive. All that Economists maintain as
to the principle which so offends Mr. Davidson, and.



SOCIALISM AND MORALITY 363

it may be added, Mr. Kuskin, is that it is true in
the sphere of Economics : that if a man does not buy
in the cheapest market and sell in the dearest he
will not buy and sell to full economic advantage ;
and will not grow rich, or at least as rich as he
otherwise would. Its truth has been denied only
by those who have failed to understand its meaning.

Economics, then, does not assume the essential
or exclusive selfishness of human nature. It
assumes merely that when any man buys or sells
labour or commodities his actions have a motive
satisfactory to himself; have in view some good or
advantaofe which he deems will be a sufficient
recompense for his toil and trouble. It assumes
self-interesfc in this sense and to this extent.

But self-interest thus understood is not selfishness
any more than it is benevolence. It does not even
necessarily imply self-love any more than benevo-
lence. The (self) interest in labour or trade may
spring, indeed, exclusively from a desire to gratify
my own appetites, but it may also spring from a
desire to promote the welfare of my relatives, my
fellow-citizens, my fellow-men. My interest in
carrying on business may arise mainly or even
wholly from my desire to make wealth in order to
give it away for beneficent and noble ends. Econo-
mics does not take account of the characters and
varieties of the motives which underlie the self-
interest which it assumes ; but neither does it pro-
nounce these motives to be of one kind or character.
It stops short at the self-interest, and leaves to
psychology and ethics the consideration of the



364 SOCIALISM

ulterior motives, the mental and moral states, in
which the self-interest originates.

That most of the actions which are concerned
in the production and distribution of wealth have
their ultimate source in self-love, and very many of
them in selfishness, is not, indeed, to be denied.
It is a fact, althoutr'h one for which neither Econo-
mics nor Economists are responsible. Men do not
directly produce wealth for others, but for them-
selves, even Avhen they forthwith transfer it to
others. They must in the first place get it to them-
selves. It is only when they have got it that they
can give it away. Traders who profess to sell their
goods at tremendous sacrifices are necessarily
humbugs. Theorists who profess to found Econo-
mics on altruism unconsciously occupy in science a
corresponding place to that which such traders occupy
in practice.

Strictly speaking, Economics does not assume
either egoism or altruism, but only self-interest in
a sense in which it may be either egoistic or altru-
istic. Even, however, if it did distinctly assume
self-love to be the motive force of economic life
it could not in fairness simply on that ground be
condemned as immoral or debasing in its teaching.
Self-love is not selfishness ; not egoism understood,
as it generally is understood, as equivalent to
selfishness. It is a rational regard to one's own
c»-ood on the whole. It involves a ereneral notion of
happiness or well being, and not mere love of
pleasure or aversion to pain. It presupposes experi-
ence of the satisfactions obtained through our



SOCIALISM AND MORALITY 365

particular affections ; groups and co-ordinates, as it
were, these satisfactions; and seeks to obtain them
in such a regulated way as to secure true and
permanent happiness. It is essentially based on
reflection, necessarily calm and deliberative ; and is
rather a habit of the whole mind or cast of character
than a single principle, however composite.

Such being the nature of self-love, we may easily
see what acting from it is not, which is what here
specially concerns us.

For example, the man who acts from self-love
thus understood must be one who does not seek too
keenly, or estimate too highly, the pleasures yielded
by any particular appetite or passion. To yield in
excess to the cravings or affections of nature, to
yield at all to feelings which are in themselves
unnatural or excessive, is to act not from but
aofainst self-love. It is to sacrifice the whole to the
part, permanent and rational hajDpiness to temporary
and unworthy gratification.

Again, self-love is not selfishness, and acting from
the one principle is quite different in character from
acting from the other. Self-love aims at the com-
pletest and highest good of self Selfishness aims at
seizing and keeping for oneself, at alone possessing
and enjoying, what it considers good ; and being
thus excessive desire of exclusive possession, it dis-
regards the highest and most satisfying goods, those
which cannot be exclusively attained or possessed —
truth and beauty, moral and spiritual goodness. It
concentrates itself on material advantages; clings
exclusively to wealth ; and finds its fullest ex-



366 SOCIALISM

emplification in the miser, whom it engrosses and
degrades until he becomes ahnost as insensible to
self-respect, to the voice of conscience, to generous
feelinofs, or reliofious influences, as, in the words
of Salvian, " is the gold which he worships."

Further, self-love is not opposed, as selfishness is,
to benevolence. There may be an occasional
contrariety, to use Butler's phrase, between self-love
and benevolence as there may be between self-love and
other aftections ; but both in themselves and in the
courses of conduct to which they lead self-love
and benevolence are in essential harmony. Love
wholly engrossed with self is not rational self-love.
It is irrational not only in its exclusiveness and
injustice even, but also in its futility and self-
contradictoriness, for it necessarily defeats its own
end, the happiness of self. The benevolent affec-
tions are among the richest sources of personal
happiness. The man who loves himself only
loves himself very unwisely, for he so loves himself
that he can never be happy. On the other hand, no
man who does not care for his own true good will
care for the true good of others. Ruining one's self
is not the way to be most helpful to others.*

Self-love, it must be added, is desire not of
illusory and fleeting advantage to self, but of the
real and lasting good of self. " Thou shall love thy
neighbour as thyself." The love of thyself is as

* "Self-love but serves the virtuous mind to wake,
As the small pebble stirs the peaceful lake ;
The centre moved, a circle straight succeeds ;
Another still, and still another spreads.



SOCIALISM AND MORALITY 367

legitimate as the love of thy neighbour. Only,
however, when it is of the same kind. The second
commandment is " like unto " the first and great
commandment in that it enjoins only pure, true love.
" Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy
heart, and with all thy mind." To Him who is
Absolute Truth, Perfect Goodness, Infinite Holy
Love, thou shalt give an unrestrained, unlimited,
unswerving, true, pure, and holy love. And thou
shalt love thy neighbour as thyself But how, then,
mayest thou love either thy neighbour or thyself?
Only with a love which is true love ; which seeks
thy own true good and his ; which aims always at
what will ennoble, never at what will debase thee
or him ; which prefers both for thyself and for
thy neighbour the pain and the poverty which
discipline and purify the spirit to the pleasure and
prosperity that seduce and corrupt it ; which does
not forget at any time to ask both as regards
thyself and thy neighbour. What is a man profited,
if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own
soul ? or what shall a man give in exchange for
his soul ? and which, in a word, in no way with-
draws thee from, or diminishes in thee, the love
thou owest to God, but is itself a form and mani-



Friend, parent, neighbour, first it will embrace,
His country next, and next all human race.
Wide and more wide the o'erfiowings of the mind
Talie every creature in of every kind."

These well-known lines of Pope are only true of true self-love — i.e., the
self-love which, like the various forms of benevolence itself, implies and is
akin to " the virtuous mind."



368 SOCIALISM

festatlon of that love. From God all true love
comes, and in Him all true love lives. True love
of self is as essentially in harmony with love to
God as with love to man.*

Socialists, we have now seen, have failed to prove
that Economics is antagonistic to morality. How,
we proceed to inquire, is their own doctrine related
to morality ?

Morality is essentially one, inasmuch as it
springs from an internal principle of reverence for
rectitude, of love of ethical excellence, which should
pervade all the activities and manifestations of the
moral life. Where any branch of duty or virtue
is habitually disregarded, there the root of morality
must be essentially unsound. No moral excellence
can be complete where the entire moral character
is not simultaneously and harmoniously cultivated.
Yet there are many virtues and many duties ; and
these may be arranged and classified in various
ways, of which the simplest certainly, and the best
not improbably, is into Personal, Social, and
Ileligious.t

Man occujjies in the world three distinct yet con-
nected moral positions. Hence arise three distinct

* For confirmation of the positions laid down in the preceding three
pages the reader is referred to Bishop Butler's two sermons " Upon the
Love of our Neighbour " (xi.-xii.). A vast amount of worthless writing on
egoism and altruism has appeared in recent years implying on the part of
its authors lamentable ignorance of the teachings of these invaluable
discourses,

t No opinion is here expressed as to how either the ethical or the science
•which treats of it may be most appropriately distributed.



SOCIALISM AND MORALITY 369

yet connected species of moral relationship. Man
is a rational and responsible agent, cognisant of
duty towards himself, of obligations to restrain
and control, improve and cultivate, realise and
perfect himself. As such the moral law has a wide
sphere for authority in his conduct as an individual ;
as such he is the subject of personal virtues and
vices. He is also a social being, bound to his
fellow creatures by many ties, and capable of
influencing them for good or ill in many ways. As
such he has social duties, and can display social
virtues. He is, further, a creature of God, mani-
foldly related to the Author of Life, the Father
of Spirits, the Supreme Lawgiver. And as such
he has relimous duties and oug-ht to cultivate the
graces of a pious and devout mind.

But already at this point true ethics and the
ordinary ethics of Socialism come into direct and
most serious conflict. The vast majority of con-
temporary Socialists recognise only the obliga-
toriness of social morality. They refuse to acknow-
ledge the ethical claims of either the personal or
religious virtues. The former, in so far as they take
notice of them at all, they judge of only from the
point of view of social convenience ; the latter they
treat as phases of either superstition or hypocrisy.
They thus set themselves in opposition to two- thirds
of the moral law. The triumph of their doctrine
would thus involve a tremendous moral as well as
social revolution.

It would be most unfair to charge all Socialists
with discarding religious morality. There are



2 A



370 SOCIALISM

Socialists, real Socialists, men prepared to accept
the whole economic and social programme of Social
Democracy, who retain their belief in God and
acknowledge the obligations of religion. There are
among thorough-going Socialists some Anglican
High-Churchmen, and a still greater numljer of
zealous members of the Roman Catholic Church.
Of course, all these have a religious morality —
theistic. Christian, or churchly and confessional, as
the case may be. But such Socialists are com-
paratively few, compose no homogeneous body, and
possess little influence. It is enough to note that
they exist.

Contemporary Socialism viewed as a whole un-
questionably rests on a non-religious conception of
the universe, and is plainly inconsistent with any
recognition of religious duty in the ordinary accepta-
tion of the term. As a rule, when the Socialist
speaks of his religion, he means exactly the same
thing as his polity ; and should he by chance talk
of religious duty, he understands thereby simply
social duty.

The truth on this point is thus expressed by
a good socialistic authority: "The modern social-
istic theory of morality is based upon the agnostic
treatment of the supersensuous. Man, in judging
of conduct, is concerned only with the 23resent
life ; he has to make it as full and as joyous as
he is able, and to do this consciously and scienti-
fically with all the knowledge of the present, and all
the experience of the past, pressed into his service.
Not from I'ear of hell, not from hope of heaven, from



SOCIALISM AND MORALITY 371

no love of a tortured man-god, but solely for the
sake of the society of which lam a member and the
welfare of which is my welfare — for the sake of my

fellow-men — I act morall}-, that is, socially

Socialism arises from the recognition (i) that the
sole aim of mankind is happiness in this life, and
(2) that the course of evolution, and the struggle of
group against group, has produced a strong social
instinct in mankind, so that, directly and indirectly,
the pleasure of the individual lies in forwarding the
prosperity of the society of which he is a member.
Corporate Society — the State, not the personified
Humanity of Positivism — becomes the centre of the
Socialist's faith. The polity of the Socialist is thus
his morality, and his reasoned morality may, in the
old sense of the word, be termed his reliofion. It is
this identity which places Socialism on a different
footing to the other political and social movements
of to-day."*

This elimination of religious duty from the ethical
world seems to me a fatal defect in the socialistic



Online LibraryRobert FlintSocialism → online text (page 27 of 38)