Mr. Bellamy and the New Nationalist Party
EVERY great increase of human power, every marked advance in the material conditions of society, is followed by an access of optimism, in which men, for the time, lose the capacity nicely to measure difficulties, if, indeed, they do not altogether fail to distinguish between what is possible and what is impossible. Most men can keep their heads only when the rate of the social movement is moderate. Let that rate be greatly transcended, there is certain to be generated in the public mind a hopefulness of feeling which takes small account of obstacles to further progress. Let the improvement of social conditions continue at a rapid rate through a considerable period of time, and we shall see society visited by a series of quickly succeeding flushes, under the influence of which almost any illusion can be produced.
Some seven or eight years ago, great popular excitement was caused by Mr. George’s crusade against private property in land. Large numbers of intelligent persons were found who were ready to accept Mr. George’s promise that in this way he would abolish poverty, and bring back a golden age. Three years ago, the rapid growth of the order of the Knights of Labor stirred up all the manufacturing regions of the United States. A universal Federation of Labor was to be formed, with a parliament and executive officers. The initiative in production, the control over production, were to be finally transferred from the employing and capitalist classes to the manual labor class. The new league grew, for a while a hundred thousand a month. Consternation was aroused on the part of those who supported the existing order in industry and society. If the Knights of Labor did not form a party by themselves, it was because existing parties vied with each other in groveling before the new power that had arisen in the land. To-day, for the third time in this decade, we find the community — shall I say agitated by a great excitement, or fluttered by a little breeze? created by the appearance of a new book, dealing with the industrial organization of society, but also a novel and a love - story. A party has been formed on the basis of that book : as yet, small and select. That party has not presented candidates for public office, but no one can say how soon it may do so. It is of that book and that party I am to speak.
And, since I shall not have much sympathy to express with the propositions of the party platform, and may have to speak somewhat less than tenderly of the representations contained in the book, let me say that I have, in truth, no spirit of hostility toward those who are undertaking this propaganda. The more attention is turned upon questions of economic and social organization, the better I like it. So far from thinking that the world is coming to an end because projects which would destroy alike industry and society are, for the moment, a popular craze, I regard the phenomenon with satisfaction. It is the rapid movement of humanity along the lines of social and industrial improvement which makes men, now and then, lose all measure of difficulty and all sense of proportion, in contemplating bright and alluring pictures of approaching social and industrial regeneration. These pictures are all the more bright and alluring because they are invariably painted upon a background of gloom and terror, supposed to represent the actual condition of humanity. Mr. Henry George’s rhetoric is employed to the point of strain in depicting industrial society as in the last stages of misery and discontent, while “ in the shadow of college and library and museum are gathering the more hideous Huns and fiercer Vandals of whom Macaulay prophesied.” The fact is, had the English or the American laborer been a quarter part as miserable as Mr. George described him, he would not have cared the snap of his finger for Mr. George or his rhetoric. Books are not bought, to the tune of hundreds of thousands of copies, by starving Huns ; while Vandals are notoriously more given to destroying libraries than to collecting them. What secured for Progress and Poverty its unexampled circulation was the general well-being, inducing a hopefulness which could scarcely bear to take account of difficulties.
The Knights of Labor, again, of course announced that the sufferings of the down-trodden masses had compelled a revolt against the oppressor. That which gave their ambitious scheme a chance for a very partial and a very temporary success was the fact that the masses were not down-trodden; that the movement originated among the most fortunate part of a laboring population, which, as a whole, was more fortunate than any other the history of mankind had known ; and that the initial enterprises of the adventurous Knights were undertaken for raising the wages of the best paid laborers in the country, not for the relief of overworked shop-girls or underpaid sewing-women.
The latest access of optimism among us has been due to the publication of a book, in which the author sets forth his views of the next, now swiftly approaching, “ stage in the industrial and social development of humanity.” In order to give his sketch verisimilitude, and to present his matter in a manner every way appropriate to it, Mr. Bellamy causes his hero to go to sleep at the hands of a mesmerist, in an underground vault, and to wake, undecayed and in the perfect vigor of youth, after the lapse of more than a century, to find a new heavens and a new earth, and, greatest miracle of all, a new and better Boston. In this regenerated world, pauperism is unknown ; crime has almost entirely disappeared, the rare remaining manifestations of evil purpose being treated as instances of atavism, fast vanishing under more wholesome external conditions combined with scientific treatment : wars have gone, and with them fleets and armies; politics have altogether ceased to be, and demagoguery and corruption have become “words having only an historical significance.” Not only is squalid poverty unknown, but instead of the res angusta domi, which, in our present civilization, presses all the time upon all but the few most favored, even among the so-called wealthy classes, there is, in the case of every citizen of Mr. Bellamy’s world, a greater likelihood1 that he will not be able to avail himself of all the purchasing power placed in his hands than that he will ever feel the need of anything which he cannot secure. General satiety is, indeed, quite the order of the day, in the new society. Not only has crime substantially disappeared, but with it have gone meanness, arrogance, and unkindness. All men feel themselves truly brothers, and delight in each other’s prosperity as in their own.
The first impulse of the reader of this description of the society of 2000 A. D. is to cry out: “ How can any man, the most optimistic, assume that such a change in the forces and relations of human life could possibly take place in so brief a term of years! Conceding all that may be claimed as to the possibilities of a distant future, how can any one be so wild, so insane, as to believe that three generations would suffice to transform the world we now see, with its armies, its forts, its jails, its warring nations, its competing classes, its vast inherited load of pauperism, crime, and vicious appetite, into the world which is depicted in Looking Backward ! What folly to suppose that human nature could so greatly change in so short a time ! ” But the reader would be in error. Mr. Bellamy would instruct him that human nature has not changed; that there was at no time any reason why human nature should change. Human nature was well enough all the while. This marvelous transformation has been brought about wholly by the introduction of a piece of social machinery so simple that the only wonder is it did not come into use in the time of the Aryan migrations. All that humanity has gone through, of misery and of suffering, has been absolutely useless. Mankind have not been undergoing a course of education and training, through hardship inciting to invention, arousing courage, building up nerve and brain. They have simply been waiting for Mr. Bellamy; and very miserable indeed have they been because he kept them waiting so long.
When one thinks of the wretchedness, the shame, and the anguish of the human condition through these uncounted centuries, it is impossible not to feel a little impatience at this gentleman for not turning up earlier. Those who believe that the experiences of mankind, bitter and thrice bitter as they have been, were ordered in mercy by an allwise Being ; those, on the other hand, who look upon the human lot, hard as it was, as affording the essential conditions under which, through the struggle for existence and the survival of the fittest, the evolution of man from low to high degrees of power, intelligence, and virtue was to be effected, — both these classes may view, without repining, the pain, the weariness, the ignominy, of thousands of millions of human lives. But the Nationalist who appreciates the astonishing, the prodigious change in the fortunes of mankind to be wrought at once2 by a mere piece of political machinery, transforming the earth into a paradise, cannot suppress a little impatience at this unnecessary prolonging of the term of human misery. Confound that Bellamy!—he must say, at least to himself, — why could n’t he have attended to this thing earlier ? Why didn’t he get himself born under the Pharaohs ? Then all this pain would have been saved ; those partings need not have taken place; Christ need not have died.
What is the political mechanism which is to change the face of the earth from universal gloom and terror, as Mr. Bellamy is pleased to describe it, to universal joy and gladness ? I answer, All this is to be effected by the organization of the entire body of citizens into an industrial army. All persons between the ages of twenty-one and forty-five are to be mustered in by force of law, women as well as men. This vast body is to be formed into companies, regiments, brigades, divisions, and corps, constituting in its aggregate the grand army of industry. Officers of appropriate rank are to be assigned to the command of the several subdivisions. Every member is required to serve in whatever place and at whatever work may be prescribed,3 his own peculiar qualifications and the needs of society being taken into account. In order, however, to reduce the element of compulsion to a minimum, that is, to substitute volunteering for conscription, as far as possible, “ the administration ” will seek to equalize the advantages of the different kinds of service. Thus, if one sort of work is disagreeable or arduous, the hours of labor therein will be diminished to the point where as many persons shall apply for service in that capacity as are required to meet the demand, the number of hours at lighter and pleasanter tasks being increased to whatever point shall be necessary to keep the number of applicants down to the demand. In the same way, the advantages of residence in different regions will be equalized by the administration, through the fixing of longer or shorter hours, or through the appointment of harder or of easier tasks, according as any given region possesses more or less of original attractiveness.
One would be disposed to think that a work like this, in which a mere man should take the place at once of Nature and of Providence, would call for abilities of the highest order, an almost inconceivable energy, an almost inconceivable prudence. But, again, Mr. Bellamy corrects the first mistaken impression of the uninitiated reader, and assures him that the business is so easy that it could not fail to be successfully administered, and that it is not at all essential that the ablest men should be chosen for the highest positions in the new state. Indeed, he declares the system to be so simple that “ nobody but a fool could derange it.”
The greatest difficulty which occurs to me in the practical application of this principle would be in equalizing the advantages of country and of city life. Under our present competitive system, the great majority of country people do not go down to the city, simply because they know that if they did they would starve. Even so, the fascinations of congregate life are so great that millions submit to the most squalid and foul conditions, in order that they may live in the glare and noise of great cities. If this attraction of urban life is found so powerful under present conditions, how strong will it be when cities become as beautiful, agreeable, and wholesome as Mr. Bellamy is going to make them, and when every member of the industrial army is entitled to draw his full rations wherever he may live ! It seems to me clear that it would be necessary to reduce the hours of labor in agriculture to not exceeding one and a half a day, in order to retain a proper proportion of the population upon the soil. But, since the produce of the soil at present, with its cultivators working an average of twelve hours, only suffices to feed and clothe the inhabitants of the world very poorly and scantily, what would happen if the hours of labor in agriculture were reduced to one and a half?
I confess that at this point I have been obliged to give up the quest, finding the difficulties of the subject too great for my unenlightened intellect.
In one respect, Mr. Bellamy, who keenly enjoys military terms and images, makes a wide departure from the usage in ordinary armies. In Mr. Bellamy’s army, all are to be paid alike and are to enjoy equivalent physical conditions. Officers and privates are to fare in all respects the same, the highest having no preference whatever over the meanest, absolutely immaterial consideration being awarded to the greatest powers in production or in administration. Now, the rule is very different from this in the real armies of the civilized world, and Mr. Bellamy would do well to be careful lest, in leaving out the principle of graded rewards corresponding to gradations of rank, he should omit a feature which is essential, the lack of which may cause his industrial army to go to pieces.
Such is the mechanism which Mr. Bellamy proposes for carrying on the industry of the nation and providing for its material wants. What are the advantages which, in his view, would result from thus organizing the productive forces of the country? These may be grouped, in a general way, as follows :
(1.) Since no man is to be allowed to enjoy more of good things than others, those who stand at the lower end of the scale of industrial efficiency, moral energy, physical force, and technical skill would obtain a dividend from a body of comforts, luxuries, and necessaries of life to the production of which their own force or industry would not be competent. Here, of course, is clearly seen an opportunity to improve the condition of the less fortunate members of the community, as at present constituted, provided only and provided always that this ravishing away of the fruits of exceptional intelligence, industry, and skill should not diminish the zeal with which those qualities will be applied in future production. Should the latter prove to be the case, the less fortunate members of the community would not be better off, but worse off, — indeed, indefinitely worse off, by reason of such a confiscation.
But while Mr. Bellamy’s scheme thus offers an opportunity (subject to the important proviso just now indicated) to divide up the superfluity of the rich, the author has to admit that, with so large a divisor as the total number of the people, the addition made thereby to the income of each man, woman, and child would, at the most, be but a few cents a day. Whence, then, is to come that abundance of good things which is depicted in this romance?—an abundance so great of all the comforts, decencies, and wholesome luxuries of life, including the best of wines and cigars and opera twenty-four hours a day, that it is stated to be not unlikely that any man would care to use less than the amount of purchasing power placed at his disposal. In order to provide this abundance, Mr. Bellamy is obliged to leave the distribution of what we now call wealth, and undertake to show that production would be enormously increased under his proposed scheme.
(2.) In meeting this exigency of his argument, the author indulges in an extravagance of exaggeration which is hardly to be equaled in the myths of any people, from Scandinavia to the Indian peninsula. According to his exhibit, only an insignificant portion of the labor and capital power of a thousand million of toilers, the world over, is now really applied to the satisfaction of human wants. His statement of the evil effects of excessive competition and illdirected enterprise rises into the realm of the marvelous. All this is to be saved and turned to the most beneficent use in his industrial state. There is to be no waste of substance and no duplication of effort. No man or woman is to be obliged to labor after the age of forty-five, with exceptions too inconsiderable to be noticed, and no child before twenty-one; yet all are to have enough and to spare.
(3.) Having thus shown that much can be added to the good things to be enjoyed by the community, through what he regards as an improved system of production, Mr. Bellamy proceeds to show that, in the consumption of what we now call wealth, a vast saving is to be effected. Property having been virtually abolished, all crimes against property disappear, by the necessity of the case. As no man has anything of which he could be robbed, and as no man has any wants unsatisfied which could lead him to robbery, a very beautiful order of things is immediately instituted. Moreover, in such a happy state, all vicious and malignant instincts and impulses will be so acted upon by general forces, making for intelligence and morality, that crimes against the person and against the community will practically disappear ; and society will thus be relieved from the expense of providing policemen, judges, and jails.
Such are the three modes in which Mr. Bellamy proposes to afford the world that abundance of good things which is depicted so appetizingly in his now famous novel, Looking Backward.
I do not know that I could give, in a brief space, a better idea of the degree of discretion and moderation with which Mr. Bellamy deals with obstacles to his scheme than by saying that he settles in a single line the greatest of human problems. “ We have,” says this light and airy human providence, “ no wars, and our governments have no war powers.” Is it wonderful that a novelist who in one line can dispose of a question which has baffled the power of statesmen, diplomats, and philanthropists through the course of centuries, should in a few chapters put you together a social order from which vice, crime, pauperism, and every form of human selfishness altogether disappear ?
Yet, even after such a masterly disposition of the problems which have taxed the powers of the greatest minds of the race, even after the tremendous assumptions which he permits himself on his mere fancy to make, Mr. Bellamy is well aware that he has still to deal with a difficulty of colossal magnitude. Conceding all he would be disposed to claim for his system, if erected and put into operation, it still remains to be shown how this industrial army shall be officered; how “ the administration ” which is to set and keep millions of persons at work, each in the place and in the way best suiting his capacity, to order and control this gigantic industrial machine, without friction, without waste, and without loss, shall be chosen, or elected, or otherwise constituted. If the choice of rulers and administrators for governments which exercise but a tenth or a hundredth part of the power and authority that is to be placed in the hands of the officers of the industrial army gives rise to parties and factions which are ready to tear each other asunder, generates intrigues and cabals which threaten the existence of government itself, and creates a large class of professional politicians, what may we expect when “ the administration ” controls all the activities of life, sets every man of the community at work and in place according to its pleasure, and undertakes to redress the balance of advantages and disadvantages among hundreds of occupations and thousands of considerable communities ?
I have said that Mr. Bellamy is aware of this difficulty. He proposes a scheme for the choice of those who are to exercise these tremendous powers, which may safely be claimed by his admirers to be without a parallel in political speculation. This is, in truth, the great original feature of Mr. Bellamy’s plan. The analogy of an industrial to a military army has been suggested by other writers ; many philosophers have risen to the conception of a comprehensive socialism, in which the state should be all and in all; but Mr. Bellamy alone has undertaken to show how seeking and striving for office can be entirely eliminated, and how an “administration,” exercising a hundred times the power of an ordinary government, can be secured so purely and so peacefully that demagoguery and corruption shall become words of an historical significance only. Such a discovery constitutes his chief claim to distinction as a social and political philosopher.
Mr. Bellamy’s project is unique and grand in its simplicity. It consists solely in bestowing the choice of the officers of the industrial army upon those who have already been discharged from service, at forty-five. The constituency thus composed, being themselves exempted from further service in the industrial army, can have no possible interest other than the selection of the altogether best man for each place of command ; and they will proceed to exercise their function of choice, in this momentous matter, disinterestedly, dispassionately, and with the highest intelligence. Among a body thus constituted intrigues and cabals can, of course, not originate ; the tremendous powers of patronage they are to wield cannot possibly give rise to favoritism or partisanship.
Mr. Bellamy’s notion of the composition of an electoral constituency has an interest and a value for us, as citizens deeply concerned in public affairs, even under the present benighted organization of society. We need not wait for the complete realization of the scheme to put this feature of it into operation for the improvement of current politics. The choice of legislators and governors now causes a great deal of trouble : gives rise to office-seeking and offensive partisanship ; provokes intrigues and cabals ; generates demagoguery and corruption. Is it not clear that we need to seek some constituency within the commonwealth whose members are free from interest in the government and can derive no personal benefit from the choice of officials ? It is in this view that I venture to supplement Mr. Bellamy’s suggestions. Is there anywhere in Massachusetts such a constituency, to which might be entrusted the selection of our governors and legislators ? Clearly, there is. We have certain highly populous institutions in which are to be found no inconsiderable number of persons who are definitively relieved from further participation in public affairs. Sequestered for the remainder of their existence, by act of law, from activity and agency within the commonwealth, why should not these persons, familiarly known as Convicts for Life, be entrusted with the choice of magistrates and rulers ? They can have no selfish interest in the matter ; and since Mr. Bellamy assures us that it is not necessary that human nature should be changed, but only a right organization of existing forces secured, why might not such a confidence properly be proposed in the discretion of these gentlemen — and ladies ?
Such is Mr. Bellamy’s scheme, as completed by the mechanism he proposes for the choice of officers for his new nation. I am sanguine enough to believe that the simplest statement will answer most of the purposes of a laborious refutation. I will only touch upon a few points.
In the first place, the constituency which Mr. Bellamy would create for the choice of “ the administration,” under his system, is about the worst which could possibly be devised. A more meddlesome, mischief-making, and altogether pestilent body of electors was never called into being. It is a mistake to suppose that a man’s selfish interest in a service ceases because he has himself retired from it. There was a time, after the war, when it was almost impossible for the Secretary of the Navy to administer his department, on account of the intermeddling of twenty or thirty retired admirals living in Washington. Men may still have friends and relatives and dependents to promote, leaders and champions to push, not to speak of enemies to punish, long after they have themselves gone upon the retired list.
Equally unreasonable is it to assume that the great mass of ordinary people would be free from selfish, sectional, and partisan impulses in such a system as Mr. Bellamy proposes. Instead of politics being abolished, it would be found that, with five millions of men over forty-five years in the United States, having nothing else to attend to, politics would become the great business of the nation. Parties and factions would be formed under sectional, moral,4or personal impulses, and would carry their contests to a pitch of fury impossible to constituencies, most of whose members have a great deal else to do, and that of a very engrossing nature. “ Magnetic ” leaders would come to the front; “ issues ” would arise ; and all the combativeness and creature-pugnacity of fallen humanity, refused longer occupation in war or in industry, would find full scope in the contests of politics. Doubtless the whole five millions of veteran male electors, being perfectly free to live where they pleased and to draw their rations where they lived, would at once move to Washington, to be as near the source of power as possible. Doubtless, also, the five million female electors would follow them, to take a hand, to the best possible effect, in the choice of the “ woman general-in-chief.” Under such attractions, and with no practical business remaining in life, the whole voting population would speedily join the throng at the capital, where power and place were to be fought for. With ten millions of discharged industrial soldiers, having no other business but politics, Washington would become a city in comparison with which, in the fury of its partisanship and factional strife, Rome, under the later Empire, would not deserve to be mentioned.
Secondly, Mr. Bellamy’s assumption that, were selfish pecuniary interests to be altogether removed as a motive to action, the sense of duty and the desire of applause would enter fully to take their place, and would inspire all the members of the community to the due exertion of all their powers and faculties for the general good, is utterly gratuitous. Nothing that we read in human history, nothing that we see among existing societies, justifies such a supposition. From the origin of mankind to the present time, the main spur to exertion has been want; and while, with the growth of small-brained into large-brained races, the desire of applause and consideration for the public weal have steadily grown in force as motives to human action, and while, among the higher individuals of the higher races, a delight in labor has even, in a certain degree, come to replace the barbarous indisposition to all kinds of work, it is still, in this age of the world, little short of downright madness to assume that disinterested motives can be altogether trusted to take the place of selfish motives, in human society.
Thirdly, like Mr. George’s great work, Booking Backward shows, through its whole structure, the perverting effect of a single false notion, having the power to twist out of shape and out of due relation every fact which comes, in any way, at any point, within the field of its influence. It is the notion that military discipline applied to production would work miracles, both in gain and in saving, which has led Mr. Bellamy astray. In sooth, Mr. Bellamy did not turn to the military system of organization because he was a socialist. He became a socialist because he had been moon-struck with a fancy for the military organization and discipline itself. So that, in a sense, militarism is, with him, an end rather than a means. A very funny end, one must admit.
It would be difficult to prove what has been thus asserted, were one left to his book alone, though the domination exerted over the author’s mind by this “fixed idea" would suggest that it was the passion for militarism which had made the author a socialist. But we are not left to that source of information. In the May (1889) number of The Nationalist, Mr. Bellamy has told us “ how he [I] came to write Looking Backward.” He there says that he had, at the outset, “ no idea of attempting a serious contribution to the movement of social reform.” Indeed, he had never had any affiliations with any class or sect of industrial or social reformers, “ nor any particular sympathy with undertakings of the sort.” To make the picture he proposed to draw as unreal as possible, “ to secure plenty of elbow room for the fancy and prevent awkward collisions between the ideal structure and the hard facts of the real world,” he fixed the date of his story in the year A. D. 3000. Starting thus, without any distinct social intention; with “ no thought of constructing a house in which practical men might live, but merely of hanging in mid-air, far out of the reach of the sordid and material world of the present, a cloud-palace for an ideal humanity, ” Mr. Bellamy began Looking Backward.
The opening scene, he tells us, was a grand parade of a departmental division of the industrial army, on the occasion of the annual muster - day, when the young men coming of age that year were mustered into the national service, and those who that year had reached the age of exemption were mustered out. “ The solemn pageantry of the great festival of the year; the impressive ceremonial of the oath of duty, taken by the new recruits in the presence of the world-standard ; the formal return of the thanks of humanity to the veterans who received their honorable dismissal from service; the review and the march-past of the entire body of the local industrial forces, each battalion with its appropriate insignia; the triumphal arches, the garlanded streets, the banquets, the music, the open theatres and pleasure-gardens, with all the features of a gala-day sacred to the civic virtues and the enthusiasm of humanity, furnished materials for a picture exhilarating at least to the painter.” No wonder he was fired with martial ardor at his own conception, and felt at once like running away to enlist.
Observe: this is the real germ of Mr. Bellamy’s social scheme. He goes on to tell us that, enraptured by the contemplation of the grand review, he began to dwell more and more on the feasibility of applying the modern military system of Europe to the industrial life of every country, by turns, and finally of the world. More and more, as he dwelt on this theme, the possibilities of the subject expanded before him ; the difficulties vanished ; the time for such a consummation drew near.5Whereas he had at first only thought of utilizing the military system as furnishing “ an analogy to lend an effect of feasibility to the fancy sketch he [I] had in hand.” he at last, after much working over details. “ perceived the full potency of the instrument he [I] was using, and recognized in the modern military system, not merely a rhetorical analogy for a national industrial service, but its prototype, furnishing at once a complete working model for its organization, an arsenal of patriotic and national motives and arguments for its animation, and the unanswerable demonstration of its feasibility drawn from the actual experience of whole nations organized and manœuvred as armies.”
Fired, as well he might be, by a discovery so momentous, Mr. Bellamy, like Archimedes, rushed from his bath into the streets, shouting Eureka. The date 3000 was incontinently dropped, and that of 2000 substituted ; the details of the new scheme were wrought out, even at the sacrifice, as Mr. Bellamy confesses, with a tinge of regret not unbecoming a professional novelist, of some of the doubts and hopes and fears of the predestinated lovers ; and Looking Backward was put to press as the koran of a new faith.
I have dwelt thus at length on the genesis of this book, because it is by this path we shall best approach the finished work, for the purposes of examination and criticism. Mr. Bellamy, who is a modest gentleman, does not claim any supernatural powers in thus banishing, at a stroke, poverty and crime, base appetites,. sordid ambitions, and mean motives from human society. He does not pose as a wonder-worker; he does not even put on the airs of " a mastermind,” as if he had the capability of discovering what was beyond the range of ordinary intellects.6 On the contrary, he would say that the analogy between a fighting and an industrial army is so manifest that it has often been dwelt upon and used for rhetorical, and even to a certain extent for more serious purposes. What he himself did was simply to press the resemblance further, through almost accidental suggestions of his own mind, until he discovered what any one else might have seen, that there is a strict parallelism between the two, reaching to the fullest extent of both.
But while Mr. Bellamy is thus modest as to his own deserts as a social philosopher, he is sure that there can be no doubt of the virtue of his scheme. He will admit no question that his political and industrial mechanism (for, be it remembered, he distinctly disavows the introduction of any new forces into human life or any change in human nature) will work indefinitely larger effects for good than all the efforts of men and nations, all the planning and thinking of philosophers and statesmen, through all the centuries of human history. His book finds the world a scene of social confusion, industrial conflict, and moral disorder ; the year 2000 is to find the world a paradise, in which men can hardly use the good things provided for them, in which armies and jails are unknown, from which vice and crime have practically disappeared. This system is to do, offhand, what Christ’s gospel, with its devoted preachers, exemplars, and ministers, its missionaries and its noble army of martyrs, has only made a beginning of in nineteen centuries. Since all these consequences are assumed to follow the application of the national military system to industry, and this alone, it behooves us to scrutinize somewhat closely the analogy which Mr. Bellamy has drawn between industry and war.
What is the purpose of war ? It is to overwhelm and destroy. Such being the purpose of war, what is the problem in war ? It is to concentrate, for a time, perhaps a very short time, superior force, at a critical point, for a supreme effort. This is the single object of all strategy, the end of all tactics. For the purpose of securing such concentration of forces, and the capability of supreme efforts in decisive moments, military organization and discipline are introduced. That armies may be promptly marched and may desperately fight, to the last drop of their blood, through the few fearful hours which are to decide the fate of nations, the soldier must give up his will, his power of choice, his freedom of movement, almost his individuality. Is there anything corresponding to this in industry ? I answer, No. The purpose of industry is, not to destroy, but to create. Even in exchange, where competition is accentuated and intensified to the highest point, destructive antagonism is developed in but a slight degree, and then only as the result of ignorance and greed.
And if the purpose of industry differs thus widely from the purpose of war, how does the problem of industry differ from that of war ? The problem of war is, as we saw, to secure a momentary concentration of superior force, at a critical point, for a supreme effort. The problem of industry is to occupy a vast number of widely separated points, where labor and capital can be employed, not for a single supreme effort, not for a series of spasmodic efforts, but for quiet, orderly, continuous, progressive work. Such a problem presents conditions very different from those presented to an army, crouched for its deadly spring upon an antagonist. Doubtless industrial forces require to be organized and administered, both firmly and judiciously ; but it is not necessary that discipline should be carried so far as to deprive the individual of his initiative, to take from him all freedom of choice, and to subject him to an authority which shall have over him the power of life and death, of honor and disgrace.
We see, then, how utterly fallacious is the analogy which Mr. Bellamy has set up. For the sake of success in war, when war, with all its tremendous consequences, has become inevitable, the men of our race will cheerfully submit to the sternest discipline; but for the conduct of their daily lives, in profound peace, no, thank you! Liberty is too much the law of our life ; the traditions of personal freedom, the aspirations for a still larger freedom, are too dear to be surrendered, even for the acute delights of an annual review, with triumphal arches, garlanded streets, banquets, and music.
Nor, while dismissing thus Mr. Bellamy’s scheme, can the social philosopher even admit that the object which that scheme proposes is itself desirable. Were the fantasy of a state in which every one should have enough and to spare, in which the conditions of life should cease to be arduous and stern, from which care and solicitude for the future should be banished, and the necessaries, comforts, and wholesome luxuries of life should come easily to all, — were this wild, weak dream shown to be capable of realization, well might the philanthropist exclaim, Alas for mankind ! There have been races that have lived without care, without struggle, without pains ; but these have never become noble races. Except for care and struggle and pains, men would never have risen above the intellectual and physical stature of Polynesian savages. There are cares that cark and cares that kill; there are struggles that are unavailing; there are pains that depress, and blight, and dwarf. Well may we look forward to a better state, in which much of the harshness of the human condition shall, by man’s own efforts, have been removed. But it was no Bellamy who said that in the sweat of their brows should men eat bread ; that with agony should they be born into the world ; and that in labor always, in disappointment and defeat often, with anxious thought, and with foreboding that ceases only at the grave, should they live their lives through, dying weary of the struggle, yet rejoicing in the hope of a better fortune and more generous terms for those who are to come after.
Quite as little can we approve of the fundamental law of Mr. Bellamy’s military republic, that there should be no distinction of material condition among its members. Mr. Bellamy tries to place this prescription on high ethical grounds ; but all his fine phrases 7do not disguise the fact that the proposed distribution involves the grossest violation of common honesty, as every plain man understands it. To say that one who produces twice as much as another shall yet have no more is palpable robbery. It is to make that man for half his time a slave, working for others without reward. It is one of the dangers of transcendental reasoning about rights and morals that the finest of sentiments are often found in close proximity to the baldest of rascality.
But the flagrant dishonesty of the proposition to destroy all distinction in the material condition of members of the community is, I make bold to say, the least objection to it. Such a leveling downwards would bring a speedy end of all intellectual and social progress, to be followed, at no late day, by retrogression and relapse. It is only by the distinction of some that the general character of the mass is to be raised. There are plenty of tribes and races among which Mr, Bellamy’s great creative principle of absolute equality of conditions is and has immomorially been in full operation. Unfortunately for his case, they are all miserable embruted savages. Even the fact that among some of them the additional principle of the selection of chiefs by the elders of the tribe is of unknown antiquity has not served to lift them in the scale of humanity, They are still poor, squalid wretches, in spite of the adoption of both these prescriptions for turning the earth into a paradise without any intervening change of human nature.
So much for the book. I should have spoken in a very different tone had the author carried out his original purpose, and presented his industrial army avowedly as an ideal. To offer ideals to the contemplation of mankind is well. Even although recognized as utterly impracticable under present conditions, or conditions likely soon to arise, they may have the effect to make men nobler, braver, sweeter, purer. They often serve to exalt the aims of the loftiest minds, and to inspire the humblest and the poorest with renewed courage for their struggle with the actual and the present. But Mr. Bellamy has not chosen to offer his sketch as an ideal. He insists that it is practicable, and immediately practicable ; and that nothing but incomprehensible folly and stupidity stands in the way of its realization. Not only so, but he has chosen to stigmatize the existing order in the most violent terms. No epithet short of “ wolfish ” will fully satisfy him in application to that state of society in which all of us live, and which most of us cordially support, though always in the hope of steady improvement and progressive amelioration.
It remains to speak, very briefly, of the party to which the book has given rise, calling itself the Nationalist party. The size of this party is altogether unknown. We read one day of a hundred and fifty, and another day of a hundred and eighty Nationalist clubs; but the word club has a highly elastic meaning, A flub may consist, we know, of only president, secretary, and treasurer ; and indeed the Nationalist party, thus far, seems to run mainly to officers. While no one objects to women taking their proportional part in this movement for the regeneration of society, there is yet a suspicion that the Nationalist party of the present time comprises an excess of non-combatants. It is also suspected that, while a large amount of intellect has gone into the movement, comparatively little muscle has been enlisted in the service. The number of actual day laborers belonging to the party is believed to be small.
At first, as I understand the matter, the platform of the new party was Mr. Bellamy’s book, pure and simple; but, more recently, the organ of the party has set forth certain propositions under the title of a Declaration of Principles, as follows : —
“ The principle of the Brotherhood of Humanity is one of the eternal truths that govern the world’s progress on lines which distinguish human nature from brute nature.
“ The principle of competition is simply the application of the brutal law of the survival of the strongest and the most cunning.
“ Therefore, so long as competition continues to be the ruling factor in our industrial system, the highest development of the individual cannot be reached, the loftiest aims of humanity cannot be realized.
“ No truth can avail unless practically applied. Therefore, those who seek the welfare of man must endeavor to suppress the system founded on the brute principle of competition, and put in its place another founded on the nobler principle of association.
“ But in striving to apply this nobler and wiser principle to the complex conditions of modern life, we advocate no sudden or ill-considered changes ; we make no war upon individuals; we do not censure those who have accumulated immense fortunes simply by carrying to a logical end the false principle upon which business is now based.
“ The combinations, trusts, and syndicates of which the people at present complain demonstrate the practicability of our basic principle of association. We merely seek to push this principle a little further, and have all industries operated in the interest of all by the nation, the people organized, the organic unity of the whole people.
“ The present industrial system proves itself wrong by the immense wrongs it produces ; it proves itself absurd by the immense waste of energy and material which is admitted to be its concomitant. Against this system we raise our protest ; for the abolition of the slavery it has wrought and would perpetuate we pledge our best efforts.”
Of the seven paragraphs of which this declaration consists, the larger number are devoted to denunciations of the principle of competition, which it is declared to be the purpose of the party to suppress. The small remainder of the “ platform ” is occupied by declarations in favor of the “ nobler principle of association.” Even of the space devoted to this part of the declaration, a half is taken up by a disclaimer of any purpose to effect sudden or violent changes, or to attack individuals who have prospered under the existing system. So that all which remains devoted to the constructive purposes of the party is to be found in these lines : “ The combinations, trusts, and syndicates of which the people at present complain demonstrate the practicability of our basic principle of association. We merely seek to push this principle a little further, and have all industries operated in the interest of all by the nation, the people organized, the organic unity of the whole people.”
Brief as this is, it will be observed that one half, again, is taken up by an argument, or what was intended for such. The positive part of this declaration of principles is therefore confined within the lines last quoted. Leaving out a considerable part of this as surplusage, we have the purpose of the party expressed in these words : “ We seek to have all industries operated in the interest of all by the nation.”
It will be observed that there is here no statement of the means by which this is to be accomplished ; no details whatever of the system which it is proposed to set up. We must suppose, therefore, either that the party has not reached a consent regarding the details of the scheme and the means through which it is to be brought into operation, or else that Mr. Bellamy’s book is regarded as furnishing all that is needed under these two heads. What I have already said regarding Looking Backward may perhaps be accepted as the answer of those who uphold the existing order. But, in any event, I should not feel bound to discuss this new socialist programme, even were details enough given to afford a fair opportunity for criticism. I make the choice, which every combatant has the right to make, between offensive and defensive warfare, and elect to defend the principle of competition.
But I cannot proceed to the defense of competition against the attacks of the Nationalists without pausing a moment to call attention to the very absurd character of the sole proof they offer as to the practicability of their scheme. The lamb-like innocence shown in the declaration that “ the combinations, trusts, and syndicates of which the people at present complain demonstrate the practicability of our basic principle of association is, I venture to say, not surpassed in the literature of economics, or even of the comic stage. The essential conditions of a Trust, it ought hardly to be necessary to state, are, first, a small inside ring, to profit by the restriction of production and the raising of price ; and secondly, a large outside public, to be plundered. A half dozen men gather in a New York hotel, and, over their champagne and cigars, agree to raise the price of their product two cents a pound, which sixty millions of people will be obliged to pay, to the full extent of their consumption. For the sake of dividing such a prize, which may amount to millions of dollars, perhaps to millions a year, these men are able to forego their rivalries and jealousies, forget their piques and wrongs, give up their efforts to get ahead of each other, and, for a time, act in concert. To the astute gentlemen who drew the programme I have quoted, the formation of such a trust “ demonstrates the practicability of their basic principle of association,” upon which industry is to be carried on by all, in the interest of all, without any inside ring to make a selfish profit, and without any outside public to be plundered. In respect to such a proposition, comment must needs be weaker than statement.
I have said that by far the greater part of the declaration of principles set forth by the Nationalist party consists in the denunciation of competition. “ The principle of competition,” says the Nationalist platform, “ is simply the application of the brutal law of the survival of the strongest and the most cunning.” In propositions of such weighty import, it is impossible to use words too carefully ; and I trust, therefore, I shall not be deemed hypercritical in asking, What is the significance of the word brutal as thus used ? Inasmuch as it is the law of the survival of the fittest which has developed men from purely animal conditions into the capacity for civilization, it would seem that that principle might more properly be called the human, or anti-brutal, principle. There is an old proverb that says, Speak well of the bridge that has carried you safely over. Mr. Bellamy and his friends should be slow to revile the force which has brought it about that their skulls contain more than thirty ounces of brain-matter, and their foreheads slope backward at an angle of more than forty-five degrees.
It is too often the method of the critics of industrial competition to charge upon that principle all the evils that men suffer under that principle. They neglect to inquire whether these evils are due to the proper force of competition itself, or result from the general hardness of the human lot, the terrible severity with which physical nature presses everywhere upon man; from accidents and disease ; from vice and crime ; from reckless improvidence in marriage, or wanton waste of opportunities and resources. Do the people of India, where custom and public opinion are almost the sole law, and where competition is scarcely so much as known by name, suffer no hardships ? Are they not devoured by crocodiles ; drowned in rivers ; swept away, in millions, by periodical pestilences; decimated by famine and famine fevers ? The fact is, many soft-hearted persons are careless, to the point of absolute dishonesty, in charging upon the existing social organization things which are the proper effects of the constitution of nature on the one hand, or of human will-fulness on the other. I should be the last person to deny or seek to disparage the evils which result from the abuse of competition, since the greater part of my economic work has been devoted to the exposition of those evils and to the consideration of means for their cure. But I must deem any man very shallow in his observation of the facts of life, and utterly lacking in the biological sense, who fails to discern in competition the force to which it is mainly due that mankind have risen from stage to stage, in intellectual, moral, and physical power. Where individual and even, sometimes, wholesale wrong has been done, this has been either as an unavoidable incident of great, perhaps prodigious gains to humanity as a whole (for example, the applications of steam and the invention of machinery), or else it has been because competition was unequal upon the two sides. Generally speaking, where injury is wrought by competition, it is because there has been not too much, but too little of it; because, owing to inherited disease and vice, or to the effects of bad political systems, or to wrongs done by power in the past, or to their own recklessness, improvidence, or viciousness in the present, the working-classes fail, on their part, to respond adequately to the pressure which the employing class, competing actively among themselves, have brought to bear.
The true remedy is to be found, not in having less of competition, but in having more of it. Perfect competition, equally exerted on both sides, like the pressure of the atmosphere, would result in absolute justice. That would be the ideal economic state in which no man should ever fail to sell his goods or his service in the highest market, or to buy the goods and the services he requires in the cheapest market. Mr. Bellamy declares that competition is but the expression of the “ devil’s maxim, ‘ Your necessity is my opportunity.’ ” It may be so, for his Satanic Majesty is reputed a very sensible and sagacious gentleman; but it is God’s maxim as well. When I sell my service or my product at the highest attainable price, what does this mean but that I have found the very person, of all the world, who has the greatest need of it, who can make the most out of it, to whom it will bring the largest satisfaction of wants and desires ?
Francis A. Walker.
- Looking Backward, page 89.↩
- It is to be said that, while the hero of the book goes to sleep in 1887 and wakes in 2000, the new state has at the latter date been in perfect operation for a long time. The great change is spoken of as having taken place instantaneously, through the simple formation of the industrial army.↩
- “ When the nation becomes the sole employer, all the citizens, by virtue of their citizenship, become employees, to be distributed according to the needs of society.”↩
- For example, Mr. Bellamy represents his favorite characters as using wine freely. Can any one doubt that within the first few years the industrial army would be convulsed by contests between a prohibition and a license party; and that when this question was settled, if it ever should be, tea, coffee, and tobacco would come in for the passionate attentions of the Miners and Faxons of that day ? Mr. Bellamy’s “ open theatres ” contain all the possibilities of a whole century of active politics.↩
- “ Instead of a mere fairy tale of social perfection, it [Looking Backward] became the vehicle of a definite scheme of industrial reorganization.”↩
- “ Something in this way it was that, no thanks to myself, I stumbled over the destined corner-stone of the new social order.”↩
- “ His title [to credit on the national shopkeepers] is his humanity. The basis of his claim is the fact that he is a man.” That claim is recognized by most Christian nations as valid to the extent of necessary subsistence. To carry that claim further is not only to violate equity, but to set in motion the gravest social and economic evils: witness the history of the English Poor Laws.↩
- Again, Mr. Bellamy says, “ The amount of the resulting product has nothing to do with the question [how much a man shall receive], which is one of desert. Desert is a moral question, the amount of product is a material quantity.” It would be better to say that a man’s effort constitutes his moral desert, which should have a moral reward, — that is, the approval of his conscience, his fellow-men, and his God ; while his achievement constitutes his economic desert, which should have an economic reward, — that is, wages or profits.↩