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intervention ; and those who endeavour to ascertain
by carefully conducted studies this limit between
wise and foolish State intervention must be more
likely to discover it than other men.

Fourthly, ivliat the State can and cannot do, may
do ivell or must do ill, is determinable by adequate
reflection, enlightened by history and experience.
The State can only act through an official machinery,
and the working and effects of such machinery can
be approximately calculated. It is only owing to
our own ignorance or insufficient consideration if we
do not perceive that many things which the State


might, perhaps, legithnately do if it could do them
greatly better than private persons and voluntary
associations, ought not to be undertaken by it because
it is sure to do them worse. The Radicals of thirty
years ago were disinclined to allow the State to do
anything which individuals could possibly do, how-
ever well the State, and however badly individuals,
might be able to do it. The Socialists of to-day, on
the other hand, are disposed to entrust to the State
whatever it is capable of, even when individuals,
separately or in combination, are more competent
to do it. The Radical owing to his bias erred, but
not more than the Socialist errs from the contrary

The implied formulae of the Radical and of the
Socialist are equally crude and insufficient, al-
though they originate in contrary motives ; in
exaggerated fear in the one case, and in excessive
faith in the other. We ought obviously to keep
free alike from all unwarranted suspicion of the
State and from all blind idolatry of it. And if we do
so, we shall certainly not judge of the propriety or
impropriety of its intervention in any instance by
either of the formulae mentioned ; or by any doctrin-
arian formula whatever, such as both of them
manifestly are ; but we shall, in each particular
instance where intervention is suggested, carefully
and impartially examine what, with the resources
and appliances at its disposal, and in all the cir-
cumstances of the case, the effects of the interven-
tion will necessarily or naturally be, and decide


Unfortunately at the present time many of our
political advisers are so enamoured of State inter-
vention that what weighs most with them in favour
of any form of its intervention is just what ought
to have no weight in their judgment at all, namely,
the mere fact that it is its intervention. Curiously
enough, by the irony of fate, and perhaps their own
want of humour, a considerable section of these
advisers in this country call themselves "Fabians,"
from, I suppose, the famous old Koman general
whose grand characteristic was prudence, and
whose great merit was the clearness with which
he saw that in the circumstances in which Rome
was placed, safety and victory were only to be
secured to her through a masterly inactivity,
the observance of laisser - faire. Fabius had
" Fabians " of the modern kind in his camp ; they
were those who chafed under his command, and
desired a bolder policy, such as he saw would
lead to disaster.

Fifthly, whenever the intervention of the State
tends to diminish self-help and individual energy, or
to encourage classes or portions of the community to
expect the State to do for them with public money
what they can do for themselves with their own
resources, it is thereby sufficiently indicated to be
excessive and unwise. " If," says Mr. Goschen,
in one of his Edinburgh addresses, " we have
learned anything from history, we are able to
affirm that the confidence of the individual in him-
self and the respect of the State for natural liberty
are the necessary conditions of the power of States,


of the prosperity of societies, and of the greatness of
peoples." "If," says Prof Pulszky, "the State
undertakes a task too arduous, and taxes the
strenofth of its citizens to a e^reater extent than is
necessary for the attainment of its proper aim, that
portion of activity which it superfluously exacts
from its members, yields a much scantier return
than if it had been left to subserve individual
initiative, which can, after all, alone supply the
motive cause of all social progress. It follows,
accordingly, that if the State assumes the manage-
ment of affairs which the citizens would have been
able to carry on without its aid, the effect will be,
that the citizens lose both the disposition and the
readiness for independent initiative, that their indi-
viduality becomes stunted, and that thus, as the
factors of progress dwindle away, the State itself
becomes enfeebled, and decays." *

The demand that the State should refrain from
such intervention as tends to lessen the reliance of
its members on their own powers, and to prevent
the development of these powers by free and
energetic exercise, by no means assumes, as the
Radicals of a former generation were wont to
assume, that there is a necessary and irreconcilable
antaafonism between the State and its members, so
that whatever it gains they lose, and its strength
is their weakness. It may be, and ought to be,
rested on the very diflPerent ground that the State
cannot be truly strong if the individuals and

* " The Theory of Law and Civil Society," p. 307.


societies which compose it are lacking in personal
and moral energy ; cannot, as an organic whole, be
vigorous and healthy if its constituent cells and
component members have their strength absorbed,
and scope for their appropriate activity denied them,
by the foolish and tyrannical meddlesomeness of its
head, its Government.

When we speak of the intervention of the State
what we really and necessarily mean is the inter-
vention of the Government through which alone the
State acts. And every Government is under tempta-
tion to interfere both too little and too much ; both
to neglect its duties and to occupy itself with what
it ought to let alone. There are, indeed, fanatical
admirers of Democracv who seem to believe that in
democratic countries the danger of Governments
interfering too much needs not to be taken into
account ; that when the people at large elect their
governors Governments will cease to be encroaching
and unjust. The optimism of such persons is of the
shallowest conceivable kind. There is nothino-
either in the nature or in the history of Democracy
to warrant it. Democracies are always ruled by
parties ; their governors are always the leaders of
parties ; and parties and their leaders are naturally
ambitious, selfish, and grasping ; or, in other words,
prone to aggrandise themselves at the expense of
their adversaries and of the commonwealth. Demo-
cratic Governments are, consequently, in no wise
exempt from temptations to the intervention which
unduly restricts the liberties, undermines the
independence, and saps the vigour of individuals


and classes, of institutions, associations, and com-

Finally, in judging of proposals for the extension
of governmental action, account must be taken of
the state of public opinion in relation to them.
What a Government may be justified in under-
taking or enacting with the universal approval of
its subjects, it may be very wrong for it to under-
take or enact against the convictions and con-
sciences of even a minority of them. The common
division of the functions of the State into necessary
and facultative is of significance in this connection.
The former are those which all admit rightfully to
belong to the State. That the Government of a
nation should repel invasion, maintain internal order,
prevent injustice, and punish crime, is universally
acknowledged. No man's reason or conscience is
offended by its doing these things. It is recognised
by every one that only by the full discharge of these
duties does it justify its existence, and that, what-
ever else it may undertake, it ought not to under-
take what is incompatible with their efficient per-
formance. As to its facultative functions it is
otherwise. When a Government takes upon itself
obligations which are not naturally imperative but
optional, opinions will differ as to the wisdom and
propriety of its procedure, and the difference may
be such as of itself to suffice to determine whether
the procedure is wise and proper or the reverse. It
is not enough that a Government should be itself
convinced of the justice and expediency of its inter-
vention ; it is also important that the justice and


expediency thereof should be perceived by the
nation at large. Governments must beware of
coming rashly into conflict with the reasons and
consciences of even small minorities of honest men.
Otherwise they will have either to make exceptional
laws for these men or to treat them as criminals ;
and the adoption of either alternative must, it is
obvious, very seriously discredit and weaken their
authority. Socialists demand that the State shall
do many things to the doing of which there is this
insuperable objection : — that, even were these things
right and reasonable in themselves, there are so
many persons who firmly believe them to be unjust
and tyrannical, that they can only be carried into
effect by a vast and incalculable amount of persecu-
tion. But persecution does not lose its wickedness
when it ceases to refer to relioion.

Any very simple or rigid solution of the problem
as to the limits of State intervention must, I believe,
be an erroneous one. The limits in question are
relative and varying. To trace them aright through
the changes and complications of social and civil life
will require all the science and insight of the genuine
statesman. The truth in reo-ard to them cannot be
reached by mere abstraction or speculation, and
cannot be expressed in a general proposition.


I. Communism. — J. W. Noyes, the founder of the Oneida
Community, and author of a " History of American Socialisms,"
considers Communisn to be the practical recognition of unity of
life. " Our view," he says, " is, that unity of life is the basis of



Communism. Property belongs to life, and so far as you and I
have consciously one life, we must hold our goods in common.
If there be no such thing as unity of life between a plurality of
persons, then there is no basis for Communism. The Com-
munism which we find in families is certainly based on the
assumption, right or wrong, that there is actual unity of life
between husband and wife, and between parents and children.
The common law of England, and of most other countries, recog-
nises only a unit in the male and female head of each family.
The Bible declares man and wife to be ' one flesh.' Sexual
intercourse is generally supposed to be a symbol of more com-
plete unity in the interior life ; and children are supposed to be
branches of the one life of their parents. This theory is
evidently the basis of family Communism. So also the basis
of Bible Communism is the theory that in Christ believers become
spiritually one ; and the law ' Thou shalt love thy neighbour as
thyself ' is founded on the assumption that ' thy neighbour ' is,
or should be, a part of ' thyself.' Practically, Communism is a
thing of degrees. With a small amount of vital unity. Com-
munism is possible only in the limited sphere of familism. With
more unity, public institutions of harmony and benevolence make
their appearance. With another degree of unity, Communism of
external property becomes possible, as among the Shakers. With
still higher degrees, Communism may be introduced into the
sexual and propagative relations," *

The view set forth in these words is worthy of being noted,
inasmuch as it is undoubtedly one on which various communistic
societies have been actually based. It explains why such societies
have been characterised by their deplorable combination of spirit-
ualistic folly with carnal immorality.

Noyes is by no means singular in representing the family as a
statue of Communism. In reality, however, the family is an
exemplification of the true social community, which is incom-
patible with Communism ; the best type, in its normal state, of
the organic social unity which Communism would destroy. In
the family individualities are not suppressed, but supplemented ;
personal relations are not confused, but harmonised ; authority

* "History of American Socialisms," pp. 197-8.


and subordination are maintained ; differences of duty are recog-
nised ; and even more rights are acquired than are sacrificed.
Communism has always, and very naturally, shown itself hostile
to the family. In what Noyes represents as the highest degree
of Communism the family is abolished.

Similarly, the thu-d degree of his Communism annuls the
second. The doing away with private property must overthrow
the " public institutions of harmony and benevolence supported
by it." His last two degrees are, in fact, alone properly com-
munistic ; and they are so just because they contradict and
violate the truths in the two first.

In Professor Wagner's opinion, " the only scientific acceptation
of the term Communism is ' Gemeinwirthschaft,' common economy,
or, let us say, quite aware of the looseness of the rendering,
common management. " Every other * sense ' of the word," he
adds, is " nonsense." Then he proceeds to illustrate his definition
by informing us that the State in its administration of the public
finances is an example of Communism ; and that the post office,
telegraphic and railway systems, ifcc, when under State direction,
are equally instances of it.*

Such a view is confused and misleading. Communists have
always meant by Communism, not merely common management
in general, any sort of common management of property with a
view to production and advantage, but definitely the management
of the property of a community by the community itself, and
with all its members on terms of equality. They have never
conceived of it as management by departmental officials under
the control of a king or parliament. They have never imagined
anything so absurd as that they could vindicate their claim to be
called Communists by forming themselves into little States and
handing their property over to be managed by a ruling indi-
vidual or class. Communism, properly so-called — " common
management " in the communistic sense — is almost as incon-
sistent with State management as with private management.

Having fallen into the error indicated, it was natural that
Professor Wagner should regard Communism, in the ordinary
and proper acceptation of the term, as a phenomenon on which

* "Lehrbuch der Politischen Oekonomie," p, 171, cf. 172.


not a word need be spent (" liber dem kein Wort zu verlieren
ist "). But this is a great mistake. The history of Com-
munism is rich in instruction, not only for students of human
nature, but even of economics. It may be doubted if other
Socialists have any economic doctrines which they have not derived
in some measure from the Communists. All truly socialistic
systems logically gravitate towards Commvinism. While com-
munistic experiments have failed to attain their more ambitious
aims, they have been faii-ly fruitful of lessons. They have even
sufficiently shown that, under certain conditions, communistic
societies can acquire a considerable amount of wealth.

The chief conditions are the two already specified (pp. 58-61),
namely, a small membership and a strict discipline. But there
are others — e.g., religion, restriction of population, and capable
leadership. Communistic societies have never long enjoyed much
material success except when animated by some kind of religious
zeal. In America only the religious communities — such as those
of Beizel, Rapp, the Shakers, the Snowbergers, Zoar, Ebenezer,
and Janson — have grown rich. Another feature distinctive of
the communities which have materially prospered is that their
membei-s have been either celibates or "practical Malthusians."
The family as it exists in ordinary Christian society is an effective
barrier to the success of Communism, rendering impossible that
sepai-ation from general society and those sacrifices which it
demands. The influence of leadership on the prosperity of
communistic bodies is easily traceable. The death of their
foundei'S has been in a large proportion of cases followed by the
cessation or decline of their temporary success.

The prosperity of communistic societies has been almost exclu-
sively of a material kind. They have given to the world no
eminent men. They have done nothing for learning, science, or
ait. Their separation of themselves from the society around
them has rendered them incapable of benefiting it. The oppo-
sition between their interests and those of healthy family life is
equivalent to their being essentially anti-social. "The com-
munistic spirit, as distinguished from the socialistic, is indifferent
to the good of the family, or hostile to it, and makes use of the
power of society for its own protection, without doing anything
for society in return. If a whole nation were divided up into


communities, the national strength and the family tie both would
be weakened. A State so constituted would resemble, in im-
portant respects, one consisting of small brotherhoods, or gentes,
or septs, but with much less of the family tie than is found in
the latter when general society is as yet undeveloped." *

Communism is, of course, not to be confounded with schemes
for the equal division of property. It aims at the abolition of
private property, not at the multiplication of private properties.
It can thus repel the objection that it implies the necessity for
a constantly recurring division of properties in order to keep
them equal. It cannot escape, however, the necessity of imply-
ing a continuous division of the common wealth and labour of each
communistic society among its individual members according to
some conception of equality or equity. " Common " can only
mean what is common to individuals, and, therefore, not what
is indivisible among them, but what they are individually entitled
to share. Common property is simply property to which all the
individuals of a community have an equal or proportional right.
It differs from individual property merely in that each individual
interested in it is not free in dealing with it to act according to
his own views of what is for his advantage, but is dependent on
the wishes and conduct of all the other individuals composing the
community. The production of wealth cannot be otherwise
" common " than as the production of a number of combined
and co-operating individuals, each of whom must bear his own
burden of toil. The product of common capital and labour can
only be consumed or enjoyed by individuals. There can be, in
fact, no production, possession, or enjoyment, which is not
ultimately individual, even under the most communistic an-ange-
ments. Hence, as the wealth of a communistic society con-
tinually varies in amount as a whole, it, practically, continually
divides itself among the individual members of the society, and
that in a way which may be as disastrous to them as would a
continuous equalisation of properties to the individual citizens
of a commonwealth.

Communism can only be consistent and complete when it

* President Woolsey in Herzog-Schaff's "Encyclopaedia," vol. iii.
p. 2204.


affirms the equal right of all to the use of the means of pro-
duction, the equal obligation of all to labour in industrial work,
and the equal claim of all to share in every species of social
enjoyment. It does not, of course, contemplate a general
scramble for spades and ploughs, hats and coats, but it legiti-
mates it when the supply of such articles is deficient. Thus
Communism, while the extreme of Socialism, touches on
Anarchism, the extreme of Individualism.

The Fourierist societies should not be described as com-
munistic. Fourierism was a system of complex Associationism
in essential respects antithetic to Communism, although marked
by some of its features.*

Whether the fraternal love of the primitive Church of Jeru-
salem did or did not express itself in the entire renunciation of
private property, a complete community of goods, is a question on
which the most eminent exegetes of the Acts of the Apostles are
far from agreed. A community of goods has seemed to some
Chi'istian teachers, brotherhoods, and sects, the social ideal of
Christianity. The want or weakness of Christian love has seemed
to them the chief or sole obstacle to its realisation. There
ai"e, however, two others, far from inconsiderable : common sense,
discernment of the manifest evils which its general acceptance as
a rule of life would infallibly inflict on society ; and a sense of
justice, a sense of the responsibilities and obligations which the
renunciation of private property would leave men incapable of
meeting. M. Joly, in his " Socialisme Chretien," 1892, has
learnedly and impartially shown how exaggerated is the view
held by many Socialists as to the teaching of the founders, fathers,
and doctors of the Christian Church regarding private property,
wealth and poverty, &c.

II. Collectivism. — It is permissible and convenient to treat of
Collectivism as a kind of Socialism co-ordinate with Communism.
It is not, however, essentially distinct from it. Karl Marx, its
founder, was content to call it Communism. And, in fact, it may

* The most instructive works on modern economic Communism are that
of Noyes', already mentioned, and William Alfred Hind's " American Com-
munities : Brief Sketches of Economy, Zoar, Bethel, Aurora, Amana, Icaria,
Oneida, Wallingford, and the Brotherhood of the New Life." Oneida, 1878.


not unfairly be described as in one aspect a universalised, and in
another aspect a tnitiyated Coinmunism.

Collectivism is Communism pure and simple in so far as it
declares unjust all private property in the means of production,
distribvition, and exchange ; and it is this Communism univer-
salised, inasmuch as it is not content to leave its realisation to the
union in voluntarily constituted groups of those who believe in
its justice and expediency, but seeks to " capture " Governments,
and through them to impose itself legislatively on nations. It
admits that it can only be definitely established in any single
nation concurrently with its evolution in all other advanced
nations. It claims to be the heir of all the ages, and the out-
come of the whole development of civilisation ; the stage into
which capitalism is necessarily everywhere passing, — that in
which, as Engels says, " the exploited and oppressed class will
free itself from the exploiting and oppressing class, and at the
same time free society as a whole from exploitation, oppression,
and class conflicts for ever."

Collectivism is, on the other hand, mitigated Communism,
inasmuch as it promises to allow of private property in objects
destined merely for consumption. Whether it can consistently
make this promise, or is likely to keep it, are questions which we
shall not here discuss. It is sufiicient to note that it makes the
promise, and that it is, in consequence, so far differentiated from
a strict or complete Communism.

The Belgian Socialist, Colins, began to advocate collectivist
principles in a work pviblished in 1835, and the French Socialist,
Pecqueur, in a volume which appeared in 1836. It was not,
however, until between twenty and thirty years later that these
principles were so presented as to master the understandings and
inflame the passions of a multitude of working-men ; and that
Collectivism made itself felt as a mighty and portentous reality-
It appeared in Germany under the name and form of Sozial-
demokratie (Social Democracy) ; and was from the first militant
and threatening. Karl Marx was its theorist and strategist ;
Lassalle was its orator and agitator. Rodbertus had not the
slightest direct influence upon it, — merely an indirect through
Marx and Lassalle. It has now spread over the civilised world,
but the spirit of Marx still inspires it ; his schemes of organisa-


tion and of war are still acted on by it; and his " Das Kapital " is
still its " Bible."

At this point I wish to give all due prominence to the central
and ruling idea of Social Democracy. This can best be done, I
think, by quoting the words in which that idea has found
expression in the most authoritative documents of Social Demo-

Online LibraryRobert FlintSocialism → online text (page 6 of 38)