FOR thirty years the philanthropists of America have indulged in a perfect orgy of charitable activity. They have developed and expanded every form of humanitarian service common to the civilized nations, and have searched the world and their own imaginations for types of moral and physical ailment to which the philanthropies of old were oblivious, in order that they might still further improve society, and have even wider openings for the spread of their social enthusiasms. They have organized to deal with every form of human need, and have established institutions to rectify every variety of human defect. They have had oversight, from the cradle to the grave, of those unfortunates who anywhere along the way have fallen out of balanced adjustment to their environment. Pre-natal clinics, baby-welfare stations, orphan asylums, charity hospitals, penny-saving societies, child-hygiene associations, home-economics organizations, social-hygiene boards, dental clinics, and settlement houses have dotted the land. The socially minded have concerned themselves with the unmarried mother, the crippled, the blind, the insane, the deaf, the traveler, the tubercular; they have agitated for better housing, for home nursing, for backyard playgrounds; they have enunciated a philosophy of the family, developed a technique of case-work, and formulated methods for conducting the philanthropic enterprises which have been generally accepted as an essential part of our organization of society. It has been social heresy to inveigh against or even question the fundamental importance of these charities. Indifferent to a protest so feeble as to be practically unheard, institutions for social uplift have followed our spread across the continent like prairie tumble-weed blown by an autumn gale. But something has happened in the last year or so. The apparently solid support of these societies has shown signs of giving way. The expensive philanthropies, manned by professionally trained arid highly paid experts doing careful individual work with the maladjusted, have been supported by a lavish public. The gifts came from the possessors of old wealth, who had been trained to accept philanthropic obligations as paramount, a sort of first lien on property, and from the possessors of new wealth, seeking outlets for their surplus. The money came comparatively easily. A mushroom tradition of the ethical beauty of dying poor gave impetus to the generous impulses of the donors. Rich Americans have 'gone in' for philanthropy as the English gentleman goes in for sport. Each man has adopted his pet charity, has preyed upon his friends for help, and been preyed upon in turn.
This impulse of giving did not always imply personal sacrifice. 'Give till it hurts' was a slogan developed by the war emergency. In the piping days of peace such drastic advice would have defeated its own ends. 'Give as much as you comfortably can' is about as strong a stimulus as we can stand today. Of late the charitable institutions, perhaps in desperation, have assumed a truculent tone, an air of authoritative activity, of an implied right to our donations, that has robbed its of the grace of generosity. We confess to a harried feeling in the presence of the grim alternatives daily offered to us, of either surrendering our money or accepting a major responsibility for the downfall of philanthropic institutions.
Must we bear the burden of moral obloquy imposed upon us by the anxious philanthropists, or is there some justifiable limit to our charitable efforts to help our less fortunate brethren? May it not be just possible that this revolt of the giving public is not altogether selfish, but is the harbinger of a moral revolution?
A survey of the philanthropic quandary discloses some new elements in the complex. Thousands of families in the past had incomes with a comfortable surplus, which was available for the support of an elaborate system of philanthropies. These surpluses have fallen into the remorseless grasp of the collector of surtaxes. Our national, and only legitimate, community-chest now offers sanctuary to the moneys that used to be lavished on the widow and orphan. This is a consideration that might be easily overlooked, and yet is a factor of significance as a sign of the times. We have seen fit, for the common good, to appropriate from the pockets of our citizens sums so gigantic that they make the large donations of recent years to the cause of philanthropy seem like a tiny star in a giant galaxy.
If we can tax so heavily for purposes of war without raising a word of protest, would it not be possible to do something commensurate for purposes of peace without reaping the whirlwind? The money has passed beyond the reach of the philanthropists. Has the responsibility associated with its former use passed with it? After all, whose duty is it to see that this is a better world? Is it not the natural burden of the people who inhabit the earth not of a selected few, but of all the people? Can we not look forward to a day when our philanthropic obligations will be brought to our attention, not by an appeal from boards of directors, but by a tax-bill from the properly constituted authorities?
Whatever the future may hold for us, the community of the present will no longer support private charities on the scale and in the manner it has clone in the past. We are forced to ask ourselves whether the basis of the philanthropic movement is sound; whether it is doing an essential work; and whether that work can be carried on in the face of a general refusal on the part of the public to back the philanthropists.
What lies at the root of the philanthropic impulse? The moralist would say brotherly love. But it is a love that takes a very different attitude from that we show toward our blood brothers. It could hardly be called friendship, for it assumes no equal give and take. Might it be a subconscious response to the doctrine drilled into a Christian nation, 'Thou art thy brother's keeper'? Or is it an obscure expression of some primitive herd-instinct, coming up with us from the palaeozoic ooze, determining alike the conduct of the Neanderthal Man and of Edith Cavell? The impulse is not only not simple, but is probably extremely complex. There are in it elements of kindly condescension, of a sympathetic fellow feeling, and of ardent generosity.
We can imagine the philanthropist saying to himself, 'Here is a world admittedly imperfect, and here are we humanitarians eager to set it right. What exception can be taken to our urge toward betterment? What if it does perpetuate in our minds and in the community's the differences of man from man? The differences are there, and closing our eyes to them does not eliminate them. We are willing to give our time, our money, and our enthusiasm to bring health and happiness to our brothers who are poor and suffering. It is impossible that the community wishes to repudiate us. We are the exemplars, however imperfect, of the Christian ideal which is the basis of our civilization.'
We have many things to say in reply to him. An enthusiastic friend of a blind man offered to bring another blind man to see him, thinking thereby to give pleasure to both. 'No,' said the blind man, 'I do not wish to meet people on the ground of my infirmities.' Our philanthropist's first handicap lies here. His human contacts are on the basis of infirmities, poverty, ignorance, sin, never on the basis of any mutual interest or responsibility. It is not 'our baby-welfare clinic,' to which we all bring our babies, but 'your baby-welfare clinic,' to which I bring my baby to be told how I should take care of it. It is not 'our home-economics association,' but your home economics club,' to which I am invited to come and learn the wider use of corn-meal.
Environment has perhaps favored you more than it has me; but I also have a contribution to make to our mutual betterment, if you can only bring yourself to count me in. It is not enough for you to love humanity. You must have a delicate respect for the soul of humanity, that sensitive instrument which registers progress in terms of the individual's victory over himself. I do not wish to be lifted up by you or anyone else; I wish to lift myself. Even though the height I attain by my own efforts be not so lofty, the foundations of my character are firmer and are better able to resist the assaults of temptation.
A fastidious respect for our brother's personality makes heavy drafts on our tolerance — too heavy at tithes to be honored. So we fail in our efforts to help, and ascribe our failure to the obduracy of the beneficiary, or to inferior traditions inherited from alien races. We are willing to admit that our municipal government is very bad, but we aver that it is better for us to manage it inefficiently for ourselves than to allow anyone else to manage it for us, however admirable the immediate results might be. When, however, it comes to the decisions of a man's life by which his character is to be built up, if he happens to be poor, we may remove from him the opportunity for choice by a pressure he is unable to withstand. We show a Gargantuan daring in assuming responsibility for lives alien to our own. How much good are we justified in hoping or expecting will come of it? Of course, each reader will instantly think of cases he or she has known in which lives have been markedly altered for the better by contacts formed in philanthropic association. There are perhaps many, but how large do these cases bulk in the total number of individuals dealt with? How do such successes balance the effort, money, enthusiasm, and vital energy that have gone into these attempts at human reconstruction? In our own personal lives, who has influenced us save those whose family relations, social status, and range of interests most closely approximate our own? We should regard as an impertinence, if done to us, the invasion of spiritual privacy that the more tolerant victims of misfortune accept as part of their disability. They act upon our advice if they must, they disregard it if they can, but they preserve untouched the inner citadel of their personality, whence their fighting forces may sally forth once the siege is raised. Could we accomplish as much with as well-bred dignity?
A serious defect, seemingly inherent in the organization of philanthropic effort, is the intense individualism of each unit and the frequent jealousy or disregard of one another. It may be the fault of their virtues, each organization having an almost fanatical sense that it holds the key to human regeneration. To the outsider it looks like a lot of ants tugging from all sides at a dead beetle. The beetle does not move, and the ants use a prodigious amount of energy, to no avail. Cooperation is a word often on the lips of the social worker, but not always understood. Indeed, such fundamental cooperation as has been achieved has usually been accomplished by forming an additional cooperating agency to accomplish it. And yet, duplication of effort or failure to recognize reasonable limits to the number of philanthropic establishments is a spoliation of the whole community.
A more fundamental danger, and one to which the best are prone, is reluctance to let go and cease functioning when the need is past. Vested funds, rooted traditions, personal zeal, often conspire to keep alive institutions which have served their day and whose continued existence is only an incubus on the community. It is a rare board of directors that will admit the failure of its experiment or recognize that changing conditions demand an entirely new alignment if an institution is to fulfill its purpose. Occasionally a day nursery does close its doors and fight for mothers' pensions, or an orphan asylum lets its plant lie idle while it places out its charges in homes; but do not the chimneys of many a mistaken charity pour out the smoke of a high-priced coal on a world that has long ceased to have any need for such an organization? No intrenched idea seems more difficult to dislodge than this passion for a philanthropy for its own sake. Endowments perpetuate what should be only temporary; they give immortality to the normally transitory; until our land is weighted down with foundations and institutions which fetter the free spirit of a changing world.
Are the philanthropic societies doing an essential work? In every community there are the discerning who have eyes to see an evil and imaginations to vision a good that can be brought out of it. They gather round them the few whom they can inspire with their enthusiasm, and try out the new idea. These are the social pioneers, the leaders to whom we all look for guidance. In so far as charitable societies catch the spirit of these adventurers and hold the ideal of their own labor as pioneering, they do a vital work, and in the future, as in the past, will be essential to social progress. But the assumption of many philanthropic associations, that they are to go on forever, that they are as permanent a part of the running of a democracy as the ballot-box itself, robs their effort of much of its significance.
'Yes,' the philanthropist may say, 'that is all very well; but if we do not care for the orphans, who will? If we do not stand by the unmarried mothers, who will befriend them? If we do not maintain day nurseries, how can needy widows go out to work?'
In a civilization so complex as ours it is not feasible that we should depend on these small philanthropic groups to keep the great machine going and the grosser injustices from being done, and it is impossible that we should continue to be mendicants for their bounty. It is not self-respecting for any community to let the few shoulder the responsibilities of the many. What are we going to do about it? The public is bringing the whole matter to an issue by refusing any longer to support private charities on the present scale, whether that scale is regarded as extravagant or not. On the other hand, there remains a mass of good-will, energy, and devotion to the bettering of the world, available for the common service. How can such money as there is, and such energy, be employed to the best advantage? How can what is prescient in the philanthropic movement be preserved, and what is unsocial be eliminated?
If you compare a city which has a full quota of philanthropic societies to care for every type of human sin and weakness with one which has practically nothing, you will not necessarily find any superiority in the more richly equipped. Of course, you may say, 'What would the first city be without the institutions? Its problems are graver than those of the second city, and its evil is held in check only by the activities of the generously inclined.' But are not a community's standard and quality primarily due to its educational opportunities, its living conditions, its civic enthusiasm, its moral standards, its homogeneity of feeling, and not to the efforts that any one group may make to improve any other group?
The status of the philanthropies during the war was a revelation like that made by a dazzling streak of lightning. During those momentous years there were high wages, prohibition, and plenty of work for everyone. The demands on the charitable societies dropped fifty per cent and more. The poor and the sick seemed to be no more with us. The question forced itself upon us, 'Is it possible that the philanthropies have been on the wrong tack, that fair wages and decent living conditions are the basis of a sound civilization, and that the philanthropists are but poulticing a surface sore?' There were some few associations which saw in the light of this great experiment the portent of their own ultimate dissolution. Though of making philanthropies there seems no end, of ending them there seems to be no beginning, so that the total number in existence has not been appreciably reduced by the world-shaking convulsions of the war.
A new orientation has, however, taken place in the public mind toward the philanthropist as the sensitive register of human suffering, and the chief guide to the alleviation of human misery. We are beginning to recognize that the same passion for humanity that inspires one man to lavish money on baby welfare, rescue homes for girls, and Christmas dinners for, the poor makes another man a radical. The impulses in both cases are the same, but the second man is trying to think more fundamentally than the first. His methods may be clumsy and his suggested solution crude, but his aim is to remove the causes of human despair, not to risk the loss of precious time by attempting to modify their tragic consequences.
The philanthropists belong to a class on which the injustices of our present basis of society have not borne heavily. They serve unconsciously as a bulwark of the status quo, for whose defects they are ready and eager to apply palliatives. They are the great menders and patchers-up of society, not the surgeons who cut deep into the festering sore and scrape the bone. They express the tenderness and pity of man, not his reasoning intelligence. Their technique is developed to a high degree of perfection, but their philosophy lags far behind. They know better how to do a thing than why. We must turn to them for methods, the fruit of long and careful experiment; but as yet they have offered us no fundamental basis for the work of human improvement. It is not through their eyes that we shall see life steadily and see it whole.
The interlocutor queries, 'What are we here for?' and instead of being satisfied with the exemplary reply, 'To help others,' invites disaster by persisting, 'But what are the others here for?' Here is the Achilles heel of the philanthropic movement. In the soul of the philanthropist stirs a passion for betterment, a real desire that life shall be more endurable for us all. But in the method he employs he ignores participation by the 'others.' He uses the ways of an aristocracy instead of those native to a democracy.
The major indictment against philanthropy is that it has ignored the opportunities democracy offers for reforms from within. It has distracted our minds and attention from community responsibility for the removal of social defects. It has encouraged us to leave reforms to the activity of self- appointed groups. Its reforms have tended to be superficial, because it has everywhere selected for its leaders those interested in philanthropy, but not in democracy. The typical lover of his kind will pour out money for the starving Chinese though he may hesitate to contribute to campaign expenses for public-school associations. The novice can catch the thrill of teaching folk-dancing to the tenement-house child or distributing bread tickets to the poor; but an offer to pay the expenses of a board of health 'clean-up campaign' requires imagination of a different order.
Yet a great people committed to the experiment of organizing a democratic society fails in so far as it refuses to use the forms appropriate to democracy. Here about us are all the types of community effort that we have so far evolved: boards of health, school committees, overseers of the poor, courts, probation systems, boards of parole, poorhouses, commissioners for the blind, public libraries, departments for the care of defectives, for the care of children, for giving mothers' pensions, for the supervision of public safety, for the treatment of the tubercular, hospitals, dispensaries, parks and playgrounds — and yet how few philanthropists try loyally to work out their problems through this wealth of agencies before organizing associations of their own.
And where is the reformer who ever feels that, once a law is passed and a department created, there is any further responsibility on his shoulders? Yet, if we had the wit to see it, our responsibility is then but just beginning. City and county and state officials are only our leaders; we are the rank and file, who must stand back of them if they are to be truly effective. An autocracy does not need the cooperation of its citizens; it is not organized to depend on that; but the failures of democracy are the failures of citizens to play their part. The governing departments belong to us. Their successes are ours; their mistakes disgrace us. Think what a board of health might accomplish if the citizens made an effort to work wholeheartedly with it! Think what a street-cleaning department might be in a city where every inhabitant felt as responsible for the sidewalk and street in front of his property as for his parlor floor! Think of the quality a community might acquire with a school system which was the pride and anxious concern of every parent in the city!
Where are the members of the community who might have leisure and money to band their fellows together and work unrestingly with the public officials to build the City Beautiful? They are supporting attractive homes for the aged poor, while wages are too low to allow a worker to save for the future; they are establishing asylums for illegitimate children, while public dance-halls are not safeguarded; they are forming classes to teach English to foreigners to whom the evening schools are open; they are spending large sums to teach music to children, while the school department is too impoverished to give a class more than two hours' instruction a day.
These efforts may be good in themselves, but a community must make its investments with some sense of proportion. Enthusiasm for the individual may be a blunder. Suppose that through our failure to carry on home charity individuals do suffer here and there. There are bound to be sufferers at best; but one is blind indeed who does not see that more misery may be saved in the end by the more broadly conceived plan. Even a very slight enlargement of the department for child-care in a board of health would accomplish more for the welfare of our youthful citizens than the work any private society for the care of babies could do in twenty years.
Has philanthropy any place, then, in a modern community? The concern of the philanthropist is legitimately with those social responsibilities not yet assumed by all. A group of persons dedicating themselves to the study of existing evils, to the practice of admittedly temporary demonstrations of improved methods for combatting these evils, and to a determination never to shoulder any permanent responsibility for the carrying-out of reforms, has a very important place in society to-day. If such a group of social experimenters has, after a suitable interval of time, failed to per the community of the value of the suggested reforms so that the authorities are ready to adopt them, it should feel no false pride in abandoning the venture. The experiment may have been impracticable; other forces in the community may have been attacking the problem from a more advantageous position; or public sympathy, without which no reform is possible, may have been lacking. In any case the paddle-wheels are beating empty air, and it behooves the reformers to conserve their fuel till the tide comes in. Such an attitude requires a very high order of self-effacement, though one surely not beyond the capacities of true lovers of their kind.
The reluctance of organized societies to surrender their work to the community itself is not always due to an exaggerated sense of the importance of their own contribution, but may be inspired by a very real fear of a consequent lowering of standards. The apprehension is understandable, but it is shortsighted. How many persons who have seriously tried to cooperate with public servants have found them impossible to work with? In some communities there is political corruption of a serious nature. This does not, however, justify turning to private charity as a way out. It might serve the poor and suffering of such a city much better if all the charitable institutions closed their doors and used their time and money to establish and back a good government. In most of our cities the government, though often inefficient and unenlightened, is not corrupt, or beyond the influence of the citizens who have no private axe to grind. The worst failures are due to the fact that, as soon as the officials are elected, the public forgets all about them and leaves them to the companionship of the few who come to abuse and the many who come to get some favor for themselves or their friends. Public servants can hardly credit their senses when citizens come with a desire to back them in doing a difficult task, or to help them in their efforts to carry on their work efficiently. Citizens have no one except themselves to thank if an official, left to the mercies of the self-seeking, becomes careless in self-defense or corrupt through evil associations.
Think of the daily battle the officers of a board of health have to fight! They are the bane of every vicious element in a city, the enemy of every man who wishes to break the sanitary laws. Every dishonest landlord, every filthy tenant hates them. They are hounded by peddlers who wish to be exceptions to the law; by the dealers who prefer to leave their trash on the sidewalk; by butchers who are unwilling to screen their premises; by stable-keepers who refuse to remove manure; by irate parents who see no sense in quarantine; by the gentry who spit on the sidewalk; and by lodging-house keepers who do not think eight sleeping in a hall bedroom excessive. The law-abiding citizens leave the board of health alone.
Is it any wonder that the officials feel that the hand of man is against them, and sometimes weaken in playing such a losing game? If only the people could realize that the board of health is their creation, trying in the face of mountainous difficulties to carry out their orders and make the community a place of safety for them and their children, they might feel a share in the responsibilities, a pride in the achievements, and a sense of personal failure in the mistakes. Real contact on the part of citizens with governmental problems often brings home the fact that the defects which loom large are due to a lack of money, of public backing, and of legal authority — circumstances beyond the control of the official, but within the power of his employer, the public.
The high standards of our heavily endowed and well-managed philanthropies may be beyond our station in life. A democracy has to surrender a certain perfection of efficiency. We deplore it, though we know the compensations are great. We make our mistakes, but we learn from our failures and develop a power that would be withheld from us if we were perpetually guarded from error by superior intelligences.
The taking over by towns and states of the responsibility for the care and prevention of tuberculosis, a work ably initiated all over the country by the anti-tuberculosis associations, undoubtedly meant in some places an inferior quality in the treatment given; but the comprehensiveness of the work that is being done and the promise that the activity throughout the country makes for an eventual control of the dread disease, is something no private organization, however efficient and ably run, could have hoped to attain. Yet anti-tuberculosis associations continue to exist, refusing to recognize that their pioneer work is done and that their outposts should be moved further on.
Legal aid societies have figured as charities since their inception. Only recently a profoundly significant change of attitude has begun to show itself in the minds of those cognizant of the flaws in the relation between justice and the poor. Legal advice for those with small means is being accepted as a part of the public administration of justice, a responsibility of the people as a whole, not a benefit conferred by the rich on their less fortunate fellows. The very fact that the impecunious client becomes a part of the system itself brings him the assistance of the public agencies of our juridical machinery, which are not so readily available to the private organization. The needs of the litigant become of primary concern to those responsible both for protecting his rights and for enforcing the decrees of the law-makers.
In the educational world the kindergartens have passed through somewhat the same cycle. They were begun as an experiment, by private enthusiasts, then given a grudging hospitality by our public-school system, and finally accepted in their entirety as an essential part of the educational course in all progressive communities. And yet occasional settlement houses have maintained kindergartens close to those of adjacent schools, on the ground that the school was crowded or the teachers not so skilled as their own. Did the idea of lending an extra room for the use of the public school, or bringing community pressure to bear to increase school equipment and to improve the quality of the teachers, lie beyond the range of possibilities in the minds of these settlement directors? Such institutions have kept up their old routine, instead of using their freedom to try new ways of bringing light into dark places. The amount of public money available for experiments is always small. The taxpayer is perhaps justifiably reluctant to have his money used for purposes which may prove to be utopian; so that many promising but untried methods must wait on the generosity and initiative of private enthusiasts for their testing out. This makes the plodding work of an institution which accepts itself as a fixed part of the social universe so deeply disappointing.
The Workmen's Compensation acts can hardly be said to be the result of an enlightened refusal on the part of the private charities to bear the burden of the tragedies of industry, but they lifted from the philanthropic agencies burdens which the industry should itself bear. The acts suddenly made the problem distinct. They drew the attention of the industries to the cost of accidents, which had been previously borne by the families of the victims and the philanthropies of the community, and had now become a heavy drag on the profits of production. The expense was quickly recognized as excessive, and intelligent efforts were made to reduce it. The most spectacular effect has been the greatly increased demand. for safety appliances, medical and nursing care in factories, and a final and perhaps determining pressure for the prohibition amendment. The philanthropist might have gone on indefinitely carrying the load; but when the responsibility for faulty industrial conditions was thrown on the community, at large, through additional cost of the products of industry, something fundamental took place.
The Mothers' Pension acts have had a similar history. They have removed a crushing weight from the shoulders of women with young children, and placed it on the shoulders of the tax-payers. The tax-payers, however, perform a double function. They not only provide money for the pensions, but make and enforce the laws as well. They have not been content with doling out groceries and paying rent, but have made new laws about deserting husbands, and have stimulated the activity of the courts and the extraditing agents to return these evaders to the bearing of their responsibilities. In our capacity as the governing body in a democracy, we go far beyond any individual's ability to achieve. We become supermen, and can accomplish the seemingly impossible.
Education used to be regarded as a philanthropy. Charitable schools cast their turbid shadow on mid-Victorian literature. It was a form of charity which was withheld as far as possible from the working classes, lest it make them restless and dissatisfied, and was given out only in quantities which were expected to add to the usefulness but not to the ambition of the lower ranks of society. Democracy has discredited education as a philanthropy, and recognized it as the right of every potential citizen, the only insurance against the anarchy of ignorance, and the sole safeguard of the institutions of a free people.
The public schools offer to all the children of the Republic the opportunity to prepare for citizenship together — the rich and the poor, those with long traditions of culture and those with long traditions of toil — in the atmosphere and under the inspiration of the community institution. If the schools as they exist to-day are not good enough for one man's children, they are not good enough for any man's children, and the enlightened lover of his kind must throw the money, interest, and enthusiasm he may be putting into the private schools into the public. Whatever improvement he can there achieve will better the education of hundreds of children instead of tens, and will not lapse with the passing of his interest. Citizens interested in education, who devote themselves to the building up of private and parochial schools, have not been touched by the Americanization movement and have never fundamentally grasped the American idea. The place for them to help is in the school-system itself, where the problem is acute, the laboratory prepared, and where an outside intelligent interest is of value in keeping alive the professional enthusiasm which may be repressed by the insistent demands of the daily duty. No money can return larger dividends in real accomplishment than that added to the budget of our public schools; nor can any community interest more certainly strengthen the best elements in our civilization than that devoted to the improvement of the public education.
What is our moral responsibility to our brothers, fortunate and unfortunate alike? If we give the best education we can to every citizen, if we keep the community health at the highest possible level, and provide ample opportunities for innocent pleasure; if we strengthen the churches and safeguard working conditions in our industries; if we provide the most favorable environment that lies within our powers cannot we trust the individual to work out his own destiny? Even those social workers who devote most time and attention to work with the individual find that the problem of human difficulty is largely one of faulty character. Is not the remedying of that defect beyond the power as well as the province of any self-constituted group in the community? Must we not leave those changes to the interplay of the influences of a man's family, church, friends teachers, and fellow workmen, in an environment as wholesome for all of us as our united efforts can make it? The new keeper of his brother is the man who looks to bettering his home town, not to giving his old coat to the beggar. At the Judgment Seat we may be asked, 'What did you do to improve your city government?' and not be allowed to introduce evidence as to our distribution of the scraps from our table. Our task is, not buttressing the weaknesses of our fellows with our strength, but organizing the energies of man to reconstruct his world.
The dream of our people is the coming in of true democracy. Dreaming does not bring the realization nearer. In the organization of human society the pronouncement, 'Let there be peace,' is of no value unless it is accompanied by some concrete suggestion as to how this desirable end may be attained. The philanthropist's contribution must be experimental work on happier methods of living together. There is no particular dignity or virtue in giving money to a soup-kitchen or in giving clothes to the children of the unemployed. But there is a tonic in working in one's home, one's business, and one's community to prevent unemployment.
The genius of the American people is never going to allow itself to be daunted by such a problem. A nation that could devise the traction plough, tame the wilderness, and build the Panama Canal has inventive ability enough to make continuous mutual service a possibility. Each man's work means every other man's additional comfort and leisure. The problem of uninterrupted employment is surely no more occult than the problems of organization and distribution that our great corporations have successfully wrestled with. But so long as we placate our intelligence and pacify our consciences by our philanthropies, we put off the day of attack on the sources of poverty and distress.
The game of democracy cannot be played from the grand stand. The humanitarian finds it fatally easy to sit on the side-lines and criticize. He may be willing to sponge the combatants' faces and run no risk of getting dirt on his clothes, but to play the people's game, he must get into the ring and be willing to take knockout blows and still come back. The only place where the game can be played is within the organizations of our towns, our counties, our states, and our nation. And the only way it can be played is by citizens' fighting together as fellow sufferers against the forces of corruption and destruction that lie in wait for us.
The social workers, the professionals of the philanthropic movement, are themselves becoming weary of their dependence on the uncertain generosity of the patrons of the poor. Many of them, especially the more thoughtful, have felt an inner skepticism as to the fundamental character of their work, even while they have developed a technique which they feel is their real contribution to the solution of the social riddle. The primary interest of the best of them is not so much that of keeping their own particular institutions alive, as of animating the community as a whole with the spirit they have developed, and transferring to the public agencies the methods worked out by years of experiment in private enterprises.
The community organizations deal with masses; and, as masses are simply the sum-total of individuals, the perfection of the result depends on the intelligence with which each dependent's difficulty is treated. To carry over into public work the professional ability, the intellectual enthusiasm, and the discriminating judgment that have characterized the activities of the best social workers, is a responsibility of the philanthropists who pay their taxes but who have ceased giving to private charities. The passing of laws alone will never bring in the millennium; the establishment of public commissions to do the work the private groups are now doing is not enough. We must feel a responsibility, as individuals and as a nation, for the organizations we share in common. We can afford to give over into public control our private institutions for the service of our fellow men, if we continue to exercise the same energy that we have devoted to them in cultivating the social outlook of our public officers and in increasing the scientific and humanitarian character of our community institutions.
This article available online at: