IN the year 1871, an interesting discussion, recorded in the pages of a quaint old pamphlet, was carried on between Giuseppe Mazzini and Michael Bakunin. Mazzini — noble old champion, arch-conspirator in Europe for the past quarter-century, identified with all political audacities and radical ideals — had protested in bewilderment and anger against the new radicalism gathering under the leadership of Marx. The time had not come for that definite break between Marx and Bakunin which was to dissolve the Iinternational; and the future leader of the anarchist party in the socialist camp was, at this point, the chosen defender of Marxian doctrines.
The scoffer might watch for a certain unconscious jealousy to color the pained feeling with which Mazzini saw a new school of independent origin superseding his influence with the European youth. He might expect the impatient hunger for novelty of a rising generation to creep into the utterances of Bakunin. But the records on either side are free from any lower strain. In the brilliant Russian, reverence and tenderness are evidently unfeigned; and no one can fail to feel in all the words of Mazzini that unfaltering devotion to the pure Idea which, whatever lapses his great character may have known, is the essential trait that gives him place in the noble army of Truth’s martyrs.
The idea which he is defending is assuredly important; it is no less than the sanctity and the operative power in social advance of moral passion. The socialists were crying in full pack their new-found slogan, — the materialistic interpretation of history. ‘Class-conscious, revolutionary socialism’ was in its vigorous youth, expressing itself more crudely and uncompromisingly than to-day. The religious conceptions of the past were bitterly repudiated, and with them all belief in disinterested motives as a factor in the actual life of the world. Marx’s Capital had been out less than a decade, but it had already rallied an army of followers, in whose minds the conviction was crystallizing that the class-interest of the rising proletariat was the only driving force with sufficient impetus to count in improving social conditions, since all seemingly moral impulses were the product of an inevitable, economic order.
‘ Mazzini reproaches us with not believing in God!’ cries Bakunin. ‘ We in our turn reproach him with believing. Who is found under the banner of God nowadays? Napoleon III to Bismarck; the Empress Eugénie to Queen Isabella, with the Pope between them gallantly presenting the mystic rose to each in turn. All the emperors, all the kings, all the official and noble world of Europe, all the great teachers of industry, commerce, banking; all patented professors and state functionaries; all the police force, including the priests, — those black policemen of souls who guard the profits of the state; all the generals, pure defenders of public order, and all editors of the venal press, pure representatives of official virtue. There is the army of God.
‘ And in the opposite camp? Revolution! The audacious men who deny God, a divine order, and the principle of authority, but who on that very account are believers in humanity, affirmers of a human order and of human liberty.’
Discussing the accusation brought against his school, of materialism, he heartily accepts it, but explains matter as including the whole range of known phenomena. A luminous definition follows : —
‘ As in the world rightly called material, inorganic matter is the determining base of organic, so in the social sphere, which can only be considered the last phase of the material, the advance of economic forces has always been, and is still, the determining base of all advance, religious, philosophic, political, and social.
‘ Mazzini since he began his propaganda has kept on saying to the proletariat: Moralize yourselves, accept the moral law I teach, and you will have glory and power, prosperity, liberty, and equality.
‘Socialismsays on the contrary: that the economic slavery of the worker is the source of all his servitude, and of all social misery: and that therefore economic emancipation of the working classes is the primary end of all social agitation.’
And so, with hard clang of word on word, with infinite relish and the ardor of a great consecration, Bakunin puts the central thought which he and his comrades were presenting to the working classes of Europe.
With certain points in this thought Mazzini must have sympathized. His had been the chief voice to appeal to the workingmen as the leaders of the future. He had deplored and denounced ‘ that deep social inequality that insults the Cross of Christ.’ ‘It. is clear that you ought to labor less and to gain more than you do now,’hesaid to workingmen. ‘ The remedy for your suffering is to be found in the union of labor and capital in the same hands. You were once slaves, then serfs, then hirelings. You need but to will it, in order shortly to become free producers and brothers through association.’
If the writer of words like these viewed the rising movement to rouse the proletariat as an early Christian might have viewed Antichrist, the reason must be sought in the materialistic trend of the words of Bakunin,
Neither opponent converted the other, for they represented contrary assumptions: on the one hand, the deliberate theory, shocking then, familiar to-day, that the economic system is the ‘ base ' of all moral and spiritual passion; on the other, the diametrically opposed assertion that — in Wordsworth’s phrase — ‘ by the sold only the nations shall be great and free’; that ‘all material progress,’ to use Mazzini’s own words, ‘ is the infallible result of moral progress.’
Were the controversy finished, our interest in it would be purely academic. But it is not. During the forty years since its occurrence the two attitudes, here crisply presented by picturesque opponents, have been struggling to win control. Year by year the struggle intensifies; under our eyes the adversaries are closing for what may well be the final grapple. To refuse to face the issue is to lose our chance to play a part in the most far-reaching and practical controversy which the twentieth century is called upon to settle.
As we look back, one fact must strike us. Mazzini lived and died alone; gathering around him, indeed, during his lifetime many a disciple, by virtue of his exalted ideas and magnetic personality; but founding no fruitful tradition. His reader to-day is baffled and saddened by the mingling of philosophic breadth with much that is arrogant and fantastic, — the product of an arbitrary mind that imposes its own inventions on the universe. In Mazzini’s eloquent, broken, tingling prose, intuitions startlingly creative and justified by time, concerning the necessity of supplanting a political by a social and industrial conception of democracy, jostle wild notions concerning the mystic destiny of Rome, and false classifications of historical ages after the style of Saint-Simon or Comte. We are dealing with a glorious nature in unstable equilibrium: treading too often, not the terra firma of the actual, but a tight-rope gossamer spun spider-like from within. Here is a great man; here is no founder of a great or living school.
And Mazzini’s opponents have succeeded where he failed. Over-great, reliance on his own mind led this noble genius, consecrated to the service of the People, astray into a vaporous region where he too often mistook the mirage of glories long left behind for a smiling land of promise. Marx, on the other hand, a nature far less sympathetic, deduced from his keen scrutiny of the actual sweep of economic history a synthetic conception of the laws governing social advance, which, whether or no it end by commending itself, colors to-day every contribution to social thought. He and his followers have fait école. We may not say that this is due to superior method in organization: Mazzini too organized inveterately from youth to age. In the avowedly scientific analysis of Marx and his successors there has proved to be something more vitally competent to hold men together than in the pure moral ideals of Mazzini. The appeal to classinterests, the fresh analysis of economic history, the resultant hope of a new social order, — no mere expression of a lofty idealism floating in cloudland, but a city of industrial peace related in comprehensible ways to actual society, — these ideas, reinforced by the absence of sentimentality or didacticism in their exponents, have been inwardly operative among the working classes during the last fifty years, creating a movement which, whatever be our judgment on it, we must recognize as everywhere a rising power.
But if in one sense Bakunin and his colleagues had the future on their side, we may not say that the exponents of idealism are routed. The accents of Carlyle, of Victor Hugo, of Ruskin, of Tolstoi, still echo down the decades, Matthew Arnold utters a sharp, concise warning: Moral causes govern the standing and the falling of men and nations. They save or destroy them by a silent, inexorable fatality.’ The Church reiterates a similar conviction as a platitude which she docs not even stop to prove. Still, passing from the fertile literature of the theologian, philosopher, poet, to the arid books of the socialists, one is shocked by a change of atmosphere as sudden as that encountered by the traveler from the plains of Lombardy to the Alpine heights. It is noteworthy that the latter school, whether it speak through popular organs like The Clarion, or The New York Call, through the moderate voice of Mr. Hillquit or the powerful intellects of Europeans like Kautsky or Jaurès, makes its appeal to the workers, expressing not indeed a majority, but an intensely convinced minority, of that vast proletariat. One fears, on the other hand, that Matthew Arnold and the theologians are perused by the privileged alone; and the conviction is forced upon one that in the midst of a remarkable and growing uniformity as to the need of deep social change, we are confronted by a radical cleavage as to fundamental diagnosis and practical method of attack, which tends roughly to correspond to the cleavage between classes.
Will the idealists, with their balance of fine feeling and cultured instinct, and the age-long tradition behind them, win the day and rout the economic determinist? Or will the latter gain his somewhat tragic triumph, and manifest in the highest psychical activity of the world only a blossoming lovely to see, but worthless for practical purposes?
Many a man will simply adhere to one or the other school, dub the opposite folly or knavery, and rest content. But there are others who feel that no doctrine was ever intensely believed by a number of men without having some value: to whom the effort to find the abiding truth in opposed attitudes seems, not only an entertaining, but a fruitful pursuit. The moments when two ideas, thought to be irreconcilable, are perceived to be supplementary, are the most radiant in history. Let the hope of gaining even a glimpse of such a reconciling light incite us to our quest.
The questions involved cut deep. If the Marxian be right, the call to sacrifice and service which rings so clearly in rising volume through the modern world is delusion. The change involved in the necessary progress of economic evolution is destined by itself to destroy classes and to insure a general welfare based on the elimination of wealth-producing property from the range of private ownership. The only effective aid we can render is to stimulate the passions of the working class, through whom alone the great result can be achieved, and thus to hasten the process.
But in the eyes of the older idealist the Paradise which these thinkers hold out is a fools’ Paradise indeed. The root of the antagonism and distrust felt by large sections of the religious world for socialism is not, consciously at least, the dread of upheaval, or the dislike for losing the perquisites secured to individual or corporation under the present system. It is the honest belief that socialism is identified with a materialistic conception of life; that it proposes a mechanical solution for spiritual ills; and that the only passions which it thinks worth while to utilize are those springing from the lower ranges of selfassertion and greed, rather than from the higher ranges of self-sacrifice and magnanimity. At bottom, the religious revolt from socialist views is an assertion of the supremacy of spiritual forces. And let us confess at the outset that it would be an evil day when the cruder socialist view should triumph: a day when the deepest intuitions won by the travail of the past must be lightly tossed on the waste-heap, and the feet of humanity set in a grim new path looking toward an unillumined future.
‘Scientific’ socialism is of course not. the only enemy of a spiritual interpretation of the universe. It is but one phase of the more general movement that crystallized in modern form during the last century. Certainly no bogey of materialism ever terrified the thinking public more effectively than that evoked by the earlier phases of evolutionary thought. Long before Darwin, as early as 1830, Carlyle was quoting with scorn, not untouched by fear, the pregnant old phrase: ‘The brain secretes thought as the liver secretes bile.’ It needed only the transference of such ideas from the fields of natural science and of psychology, to the field of sociology, for the alarmist circle to be complete. All through the century, the relentless onward march of democratic industrialism had been routing the older semi-religious ideals of social order. Marx, the Darwin of economics, simply interpreted sociological history in terms of natural law as strict as those in which the life of nature and of the individual had been already presented; and thought in every department. was confronted by an evolving universe, governed by inexorable law rather than by special sporadic activity on the part either of God or man.
Now, the sociological application of these theories, though neither the widest nor the most intimate, has an importance all its own. For our human policy in its broadest aspect depends upon it. And from the determinist attitude in economics most of us shrink with repulsion. We arc conscious that the comfort of the whole race could not repay the loss of that light of spiritual purpose which, however flickering and unstable, would, if extinguished, leave a universe in gloom. Yet if we face facts as the ' scientific ’ school bids us face them, if we enter their camp and bravely see with their eyes, it is hard to avoid partial assent to their theses. For instantly we see perforce the failure, feebleness, and folly, of much that is most appealing in the usual run of idealist talk and action. The older history, that assumed the important moving forces in social progress to consist in the passions of princes, is hardly more outlawed than the school of transition which sought, with Carlyle, to find such forces exclusively in the personality of the hero, or those later writers who look chiefly to collective passions and desires unrelated to the ‘ determining economic base.’
As we scan the great crises of historic change, the part of the free individual dwindles, and a Necessity, usually economic in origin, stands forth as the protagonist to whose secret will all must conform. At the time of the centenary of Lincoln and Darwin, a New York paper had some true and pertinent comments. After a warm tribute, it continued: ‘Nothing can be more certain to the thoughtful student of history than that even if these two individuals had died in their infancy the course of events would have been essentially the same. Had Seward or Chase been elected to the presidency, the South would have seceded just the same; the national government would have been forced to use its power; it would have triumphed just the same because it had a more efficient economic system as well as a stronger moral incentive on its side; and it would have been compelled, whether it liked or not, to use its powers to do away with chattel slavery. — Had Darwin not lived to maturity, or had he turned his powers in other directions, the illuminating and revolutionizing idea of the origin of species and the survival of the fittest would have been developed and accepted almost if not quite as soon, and in much the same form.’
Things are done through individuals, not by them. Look at history with open eyes: do we not look in vain for men who have achieved anything, unless they were in harmony with a larger movement of which they have been but half aware? The effort to impose a personal view on the world fails as completely as that, to revive a dying tradition. How melancholy, how disconcerting, if we are to speak with candor, is the perception of the great mass of social idealism which through the long human story has simply gone to waste from the days of that master of all dreamers, Plato! During the last hundred years ideals of social regeneration have steadily multiplied: they have expressed themselves with exquisite power in literature, with sacrificial passion in life. They have inspired the dreams and dominated the actions of those whom we most delight to honor, and whom alone the modern world can claim as spiritual leaders. And what have they achieved, from the days of those earlier socialist schools which are such excellent instances in point, even to our own time? Listen to the pleadings of Hugo, Carlyle, Tolstoi, Ruskin, — tragic voices uttering a summons that few indeed follow and that when obeyed leads too often to no country of social salvation, but to solitary and erratic paths, where personal satisfaction may perhaps be won, but where social utility, in the broader sense, is wholly dubious.
It must be with a deep disappointment that any thoughtful man to-day seeks to appraise the real value of the social teachings of the last hundred years. What is the trouble? Why have these guides of ours so failed to lead us aright? The reason is not far to seek, — our idealists are too often ideologists. Heirs of preëvolutionary sociology, they endeavored, as Carlyle would have said, to view the universe as it is not. One and all, they have started out with theories derived from the heaven of moral abstractions, not from the actual facts of progress on this life-giving, even if unsatisfactory, earth.
Take, for instance, the work of Ruskin. Full appreciation has never yet been given to this greatest of the Victorian idealists; yet his wisdom mingles repeatedly with obstinate theories which the advance of the race must quietly lay aside. Fors Clavigera and Unto this Last are weak in the underpinning. Ruskin’s sensitive intelligence wavers, to be sure, between fact and dream. At times he discerns reality with singular clearness; at others he is capable of seriously picturing a class of benevolent landowners, living in poverty and devoting themselves to the interests of a docile peasantry occupied with handicraft. Even the best in him, his stirring appeal to the conscience of the privileged, takes scant account of actual class-psychology, — and ‘the most analytical mind in Europe,’ as Mazzini not untruly called it, gets persistently off the track because it never gives itself to the study of what, in the social organism, happens really to occur. His followers are left in a perpetual impasse, wistfully admiring, seeking blindly to follow. Is it not the same with the whole appeal to social chivalry in which was focused the imaginative and ethical passion of the noblest nineteenth-century writers, — whether in France, Italy, Germany, Russia, England, or the United States? If weconsider the matter bravely, apart from all delight in eloquent phrasing or fine feeling, if we abandon the love of good literature for that practical point of view which these men all sweat blood to press upon us, are we not obliged to recognize that between their ideal teaching and the main lines of social and economic progress the connection is cut, the wires are down?
Turn from literature to life: is the case much better? Do we not here also find heroic effort, pathetically vitiated by hidden failure? What has it all come to, — the application of disinterested moral force to social reform? So far as social salvation on a large scale is concerned, mighty little! True, the words of the great teachers have not been unheeded. Social compunction is becoming more and more poignant, driving increasing numbers from mere discomfort to active service. True, even that much-scouted agency, the Church, plays a modest but growing part in quickening such compunction and diverting some human energy into selfless channels. So here are organized charities, standing for intelligent care of our social victims; and attempts at fellowship, ending in that most significant expression of social chivalry, the settlement movement; and slowly other more constructive activities, initiated and administered by those children of privilege who respond to moral stimuli, begin to crystallize. New every morning, fresh every evening, leagues are formed, committees appointed, for fighting salient evils; for protecting childhood, cleansing politics, eliminating disease, for regulating in myriad ways the unbridled passions of self-interest and greed that have created our unlovely civilization. A new crusade gathers to fight the serried forces of industrial and social wrong; a fellowship gaining in numbers and vigor with every passing day, of militant spirits, bright and valiant, happiest of modern men and women, on pilgrimage to the Holy City of social freedom.
It is splendid, it is inspiring; it is by all odds the best thing that the modern world has to show. But what is it achieving? What have they DONE — all the laborious committees? Their appeals load our breakfast-tables, seeking in the name of most essential causes to squeeze a liltle more reluctant money from those comfortable classes who groan and give and, meantime, change not one iota, whether nominal Christians or no, the source of their incomes or their standard in life. Do the reforms get accomplished? Improvement can be found here and there in detail: many individuals among the poor live happier and better lives, thanks to the friendship that has reached them. Yet the hard laws of industry go on unchecked, or checked, when check occurs, less by the efforts of enlightened philanthropy than by the outraged selfinterest of the general public. Placed in the balance against the ugly facts of modem civilization, the total results of our philanthropy and our social compunction make a pretty pitiful show.
It. is easy to say, the work of faith is secret, sacrifice must not count results. But we live in a world where labor should not spend itself in the void. Efficiency is the distinctive modern contribution to the ideal of sanctity. We are Working, not for our own salvation or satisfaction, but for the effective help of those who suffer. We labor for a cleaner and more decent world, a world where industrial slavery shall press less heavily, where childhood shall have chance and manhood scope; and if, in the long run, we achieve little toward this end visible to the naked eye, it is plain duty to pause and inquire whether possibly we are on the wrong tack. In a less rapid sketch discrimination would be more in order. Disinterested activity docs have certain detailed results—usually more or less unstable — to present; but stand off, scrutinize the landscape of modern life in its great masses of light and shade, and say honestly whether the scene has been brightened perceptibly by the efforts of all our social artists.
The answer is plain. The great mass of misery, corruption, and injustice remains practically unaffected by our efforts. The appeal to purely moral incentives, while it brings blessing to many individuals, is helpless to attain, unaided, the decent society which, to our shame, two thousand years of Christianity have failed to reach.
If we are quieted, we are not cheered by extending our horizon toward the past. Where, in historic progress, can we point to social sacrifice on a scale sufficiently large radically to affect the sweep of events? Rather, we see principles of individual interest or classexpediency, — deep, basal, creative; advance achieved through the struggle and the press alone, through the indomitable demand for life, and we are forced, with Bakunin, reluctantly to face the truth that economic necessity is the determining base of change. Not the idealist who seeks to impose his gracious theories on a stubborn world, but the scientist who can reveal and expedite a natural process, is the person we need. Tolstoi, Ruskin, and the others are on the wrong tack, except in so far as, being men of their own times, they have half unconsciously been forced to think in terms of reality. Close these gentlemen! Open your Engels, your Jaurès, your Bebel; and realize with refreshment and repose that here at last we are in the presence of minds free from sentimentality, and at grip with the actual facts of social progress.
That they succeed, would be an unwarrantable assumption. The point is that they try. It is not necessary to agree with the doctrines these thinkers expound to experience the relief afforded by their method and attitude. Who can deny that the great socialist and labor parties of the twentieth century are achieving results beside which all the fastidiously chosen social service rendered by the privileged classes dwindles into insignificance? A large number of those multitudinous works of reform and relief born of social compunction have the feebleness of reflex action. They spring, not from life itself, but from the pitying contemplation of life, which is a very different thing. They are noble, they are essential, to a limited degree they are operative; yet we can never look to them adequately to regenerate society. Economic determinism, and the materialistic interpretation of history, are unpleasant phrases; taken, however, not metaphysically but practically, they imply an illuminating fact. For they teach us that those moral forces which, from sweep and mass, count the most in progress, are not generated apart from life, in the heart or conscience of the exceptional individual, but out of the very conditions of life itself. The determinist has perceived, what the idealist has too often ignored, that the most effective type of spiritual power always arises as the natural product of a concrete situation.
All history shows us the truth of this principle. Moral forces, if fruitful, are not static; they are related to the economic necessities of their respective periods. Obedience, for instance, so inoperative to-day, was rightly the chief virtue of mediæval society. Reactionary virtues existed; they always exist. Men died unseasonably, and all but uselessly, for freedom; but the men who were on the right side were those who accepted the necessity of authority and found in obedience the path of life. There are always inconvenient persons who wish to stress a virtue at the wrong time, but their efforts, though picturesque, are barren. The valuable people are those docile in the school of life, yet sufficiently sensitive to ideals to discern and aid the trend of their own times in its noblest aspects. Let Dante rightly bear high though late witness to the need of centralized authority; while Thomas Jefferson, also rightly, stands for the widest decentralization of power. Let Mohammed stress the glory of military force as a religious discipline, to the immense gain of the Orient of his time; while the Pilgrim Fathers make their stern way across the sea, pioneers, however inconsistent, of a civilization founded on religious liberty.
The most stirring times are of course those of transition, when it is hardest to distinguish the trend of living forces from the notes of the passing age. Mistaken loyalties to causes of extinguished glory trail their mournful light across the pages of history, as the rays of dead stars wander forever through space. Who would dare so to pry into the secret of law as to say that they are wasted utterly?—who refuse to their adherents a place among those remembered and beloved? But he is the strong man, the wise man, the leader of power, whose humility in the presence of facts has bestowed on him the gift to read the mind of his age aright and to cooperate with its true purpose.
What will this strong and wise man discern to be the notes of social evolution to-day? One need be no specialist to answer. The chief economic phenomenon of the nineteenth cenlury was the rise of the great working class, joint product of the political and of the industrial revolution. The chief fact of the twentieth century is bound to be the advance of this class into conscious power. As democracy extends from the political sphere in which it made its first tentative way, and reaches out for an industrial and ultimately for a social application, this vast class must in the nature of things develop a psychology distinctive as that of the priest or of the feudal baron. From its rising protest against its conditions must spring the great driving force in social change. We may like the fact or dislike it: our liking or disliking matters not one whit. In vain we stand apart, arrogating to ourselves a judicial attitude. Class-consciousness is growing with fierce rapidity from the soil of our economic order; one of those living forces, necessary products, which have a majesty allied to the movement of tides or planets. If the only sound basis for social action be the study of the forces naturally engendered by economic progress, the great blunder of modern philanthropy, and too often of modern reform, is the frequent failure to enter the psychical life of the people whose conditions we seek to improve. The new class is evoked; the rôle it has to play is not yet fully accepted, but that rôle will be a determining one. This is a stern saying, but ‘God wills it,’ as the old cry ran.
Yet there is truth in the ancient riddle, that out of the strong comes forth sweetness. In this advance of the workers, moral forces are sure to play a part. The discomfiture of the idealist, at least on the practical levels of life, is only apparent ; and responsibility is no illusion. Moral forces, like natural, are out of our power to create; but within our power to control. Man’s function on this planet is not to make, but to reshape. The strictest Marxian is no fatalist in practice; every word of his propaganda is a tribute to the free power of moral passion. He differs from the ideologist simply in perceiving that the forces to which he can make most effective appeal are those confusedly presented to him by the Great Master, Life. In his turn, he too often ignores the important fact that it is within our province not only to accelerate, but to modify a process. Wise men do not destroy their natural impulses; they moralize them. The advance of the People is as truly a natural product as the passion for reproducing the species. That too may be left a natural rage; or it may be transfigured till it shines with a light from Heaven in the eyes of consecrated motherhood. The Magdalen became the woman who still loved much, but purely. So the awakening demand of the working people for power, freedom, and well-being can be translated into life in terms either of crude self-assertion or of the achievement of a common good; the proletarian experience of depletion and denial can be turned into a force either for barren revolt or for healthful growth. What must not be done is to seek to suppress these rising passions; for the sacred hunger for life speaks in them. Passively to ignore them and to allow the race to drift on an unregulated current of impulse, is folly; actively to repudiate them, is worse than folly: it is the unpardonable sin, — blasphemy against life itself.
Why hesitate, why shrink, before this rising power? Why resent the summons to the cultured, the easeful, to follow the lead of the poor? This was what democracy planned in the beginning, from the time when it set forth on its great unfinished adventure. May it not also be exactly what Christianity means, when translated into plain terms and given a modern application? This is hard to deny if we agree that Jesus meant what He said. He did not bid his followers to patronize the poor, nor to minister to the poor; but to identify themselves with the poor. Poverty of spirit was the rich term that he used. Whether this identification was to be literal has always been subject of debate; that it was not to be purely sentimental is less rarely asserted than it might be. No one who thinks can question that it was to be in a searching and revolutionary sense, spiritual and intellectual. Yet many are ready to rhapsodize over St. Francis embracing Holy Poverty in the outward life, who would shrink from following the leaders of the working classes in the holy task of social regeneration. We have not yet begun to fathom the full meaning of the Carpenter of Nazareth. Democracy, imperfect though it be, has taught us a little. Possibly there is even now in the world a power, natural heir of democracy, that can teach us still more.
We shall then be more Christian as well as more scientific if, instead of forming our social programme out of our own heads, or from superficial observation, we study how to direct aright the great forces arising from life. Identification of ourselves with the People must be the key-note of sound social advance; it affords the only hope of checking the habitual waste of social effort. Let us hasten to say how often the principle is accepted and practiced, with fine and fruitful results. But let us also not. shrink from confessing how large a proportion of philanthropic, and social work, occasionally at least, violates it. Here is the settlement movement, — at its best the highest expression of social compunction. How often it draws naïvely on that very classpsychology it seeks to transcend! What is the usual procedure in establishing a settlement? An up-town committee; funds raised, a plant prepared, by uptown money; a salaried staff, drawn certainly not from the neighborhood itself, which proceeds with devotion and energy to ‘uplift’ that neighborhood by a cheerful application of uptown art, music, hygiene, morals, and manners. Often the workers act as if they were dealing with an inert mass; nor indeed is it easy to learn to work ‘with’ instead of ‘for.’ Yet every district pulsates with a life of its own. What failure to profit by forces for good stronger than we can furnish, when festivities are put on the date of a Mission at the Roman Catholic Church round the corner! What folly to seek to please a mass of homesick Italians fresh from the land of Garibaldi, with an illustrated lecture on Bunker Hill! The wisest leaders well know that, the first aim should be, less the initiation of accredited lines of social service than the close study of forces already at work. The apathetic boy who responds so dully to the Club may be a political leader out on the street. Too often the real life of a neighborhood is sealed from the contact of even the social expert, who may live there for years, administering pure milk to the babies, and enticing people to save their pennies in the stamp-bank, ignorant, of the somewhat significant fact that the same region is a hot-bed of anarchism from which are directed transactions that stir Europe to horror.
If social workers need to identify themselves more deeply with forces of popular birth, working people should have a share, through their representatives, in all movements of reform and relief. The movements of real value will usually be found to be those most readily indorsed or initiated by the workers. Trades-unions have done more to remove the shame of childlabor than all other agitation to that end has yet to show. If the privileged classes have their consumers’ league, the unions have their labor leagues; a little deeper democracy, and the two could be fused. Not till working men serve on our organized charities and our diverse reform associations more freely than now, will these agencies take their due and right place in social advance.
To speak plainly, is it not over-true that the first instinct among the philanthropically-disposed is distrust of any movement, of truly popular origin? Three great forces—not imposed from without, but born from within — are to-day affecting the intellectual and emotional life of the working people: trades-unions, socialism, and the Roman Catholic Church. These forces do not agree among themselves any more than the forces which affect the upper classes agree; but they all operate with power, they seek in one sense no support from without or from above. In all, there is the note of genuine democracy. And to all three alike the attitude of the world of privilege — academic, commercial, religious — is one of distaste and suspicion. It is no wonder that the socialists claim that classpsychology dominates the sit uation, for all the stirring of our social compunction and our administration of Morrison’s Pills. Our salvation, as we have contended, is to accept and utilize all movements of truly popular origin; instead of this we habitually distrust and oppose. We repudiate these living powers, and our futility is our punishment.
A salient instance is the reluctant acceptance of trades-unions. No one can claim that the unions, to use their own pet phrase, do their work in kid gloves; but they have the immense advantage of being, not an invention, but a natural growth, born of sheer necessity from the exigencies of economic pressure. Twenty-five years ago they were fighting for recognition; the run of literature, and preaching, showed clearly the general animus against them. To-day, they are accepted by the public, though still fought, as is natural, by the interests to which they are opposed. One strong trade-union is worth more as a force in moral education in a given city than all the settlements and people’s institutes combined. Tardily, and surprised at their own temerity, the churches arc recognizing the fact and appointing ‘fraternal delegates.’ Had they acted more promptly they, and possibly organized labor also, would have been saved from some mistakes.
The Roman Church presents problems of its own, apart from the line of our discussion. But what shall we say of this third force, socialism, — young still, — making its way with difficulty in our country, owing to special conditions, but offering a wider solution of our social ills than can anywhere else be found? We can of course repudiate it if we like. Or we can patronize it in an expurgated edition. Or, identifying ourselves with the passion and the purpose whence it emerges, we may divest our minds of prejudice and give it in its entirety a fair, full hearing.
An increasing number of thinkers — including men like G. Lowes Dickinson and H. G. Wells — become warm advocates of socialism, yet eliminate the theory of class-consciousness and the class-struggle. And in so doing they are well within their rights. In a partially democratic society, socialism is not, and cannot be, the movement of one class alone. It must make its appeal broad enough to reach all classes. Yet if the trend of our thought be right, the theory of the function of the class-struggle is one which the central socialist army can never abandon. Dangerous and misleading in its cruder forms, gravely disturbing at best, it nevertheless expresses a truth that our reluctance cannot ignore, if the forces of emancipation must be the natural correlative of the economic phenomena of the day. Socialism is in essence a working-class movement, and those who adhere to it should recognize that in the designs of Providence the time has come for the class that, though disinherited, yet serves human need in most essential ways, to be the leaders of the whole race toward substantial freedom.
Do we then witness the rout of idealism? If we are forced, with Bakunin, to recognize that ‘in the social sphere, . . . the advance of economic forces . . . is the determining base of all advance, religious, philosophic, political, and social,’ shall we on that account repudiate ‘the army of God’?
Let us rather blend a little mysticism with our economic determinism; the mixture is very satisfactory. Why be daunted by the fact that the forces with which we deal are presented to us instead of initiated by us? Life would suddenly become very dull if the ancient quarrel between materialism and idealism were settled; nor can we imagine that event, unless as a result of some general vision such as greeted Saul on the road to Damascus, or else of an astronomical cataclysm that should throw our little star quite out of the cosmic running. Meantime, schools draw together. The evolutionist can at his will see in the law that governs the unfolding of the natural order, blind force, or the speaking mind of God. The psychologist can either reduce thought to nervous reaction, or see in the very physical basis of life an elusive spiritual phenomenon. Is not the same alternative open in that economic sphere, last to be studied by exact science? The economic conditions that seemingly create our strongest loves and aims are imperious and impassive as were those Assyrian tyrants whose insolent images confront us from the past. But what if these great lords of life are themselves living? These ‘determined,’ these automatic forces, which mechanically generate our passions and powers, — may they not themselves be messengers, fulfilling a central Will? It were impertinent to assert the contrary. The angels of the Apocalypse proclaimed woes as well as blessings. The class-struggle from which arises at last the insistent demand for such general well-being as shall give the soul its room, may be the trumpet-blast of an angel of God.
The priest who condemns, the revolutionist who exalts, socialism because it is materialistic, are equally wrong; Bakunin and Mazzini needed each the other. For the great economic order, with its steady trend toward a goal that we perhaps begin to discern, is no dead thing because its movements are not in our keeping. The material universe, forever evolving into new likeness through forces in which our conscious efforts have so limited a share, is neither an evil to fight or ignore, nor an ultimate end to rest in. It is a sacrament ordained to convey spiritual life to us. This is what neither mystic nor revolutionary has learned.
But we must learn it; the reformers, the idealists, who often, at the cost of needless waste, dedicate themselves in ever-increasing numbers to the healing of social disorders, must learn it. We would-be re-creators of the earth must follow, for we cannot lead. This earth is indeed ours to shape; but only when we have understood that meekness alone inherits it. So long as we seek to force on it separatist and fantastic ideas of our own invention, however lofty and plausible, we shall stumble and fail.
We must gain our clue from close study of the unfolding purpose in the economic order. To dream of altering or interrupting this order is the folly in which anarchist and philanthropist unite. In natural science and in psychology, men are now wisely evading inquiry into the cver-vicious circle of precedence and origin, and turning to the more fruitful study of relations. Only in sociology, the new quest is hardly begun. Economic determinism and social idealism continue to give each other the lie over contemptuous shoulders. The need of the hour is to make them turn around, join hands, and together face the future.
Economic determinism clarifies our thought, and presents us with a principle of selection which should enable us to avoid depressing waste of effort. Does it at the same time undermine our ultimate faith in the efficacy of the higher and more disinterested reaches of moral passion? Rightly applied, not one whit. Were the world governed wholly by unconscious forces, it might still be a spiritual and holy thing. But it is not so governed. Consciousness, expressing itself so far as our experience goes in free activity, is the final blossoming of material and economic life. Cut the flowers of purpose and will, — whether to put them in glass with the older idealists, or to throw them scornfully away with the extreme Marxian, — and growth shall perish from the earth. But let the Mazzinis, theRuskinsof the future, look to it that their blossoming be rooted in the soil of economic reality, and the day of rich harvestings shall be sped.
He would indeed be rash who claimed that the purest forces of sacrifice and chivalry were in the long run impotent. The roll of the martyrs of religion and science rings a clarion call of refutation through the mind. These impulses, these devotions, are themselves within the evolutionary process: products, more subtly, not more really, than the harsh and insistent cry for expansion and for life. Our democratic civilization, imperfect though it be, generates them increasingly. Who are the ‘we’ who long for social righteousness? Far be it from us to mean ‘we the privileged ’! A limitation of ordinary socialist analysis is its tendency to simplify too much by construing all life in terms of class-psychology. True, this psychology has been foolishly neglected. But man is too complex to be controlled by class-feeling alone. Class takes a place, hitherto too little recognized, beside the other two great powers of religion and of race; there is no warrant for thinking that it supplants them. And around religion, race, and class, is something larger, to which, in last analysis, we must appeal, — that general life in which we are all sharers. This, in the long run, is the constraining reality; this — as civilization becomes slowly, painfully, inevitably democratic — grows to be more and more the source of impulses that create the future. ‘We’ were never drawn from one class only; but the time was perhaps when we were but Matthew Arnold’s ‘remnant,’ — few and all but helpless. As the days pass on, we may well find ourselves victorious heirs of the kingdom-to-be.
In two ways the forces of progress win their slow, sure victory. First, and more obviously, through the common, primal pressure of life, moving in all simplicity toward self-realization; then, and more profoundly it may be, through the undying passion for sacrifice, born of the craving for a wider good. It is when the two forces harmoniously interact that progress is sound. But the powers of sacrifice must learn the enduring lesson: if they are to be saved, and saviours, their life must be lost that it may be found. Their ardor, their purity, are what lifts us from the brute to angelhood. But let their too frequent helplessness in the past to affect the trend of progress, teach them a lesson. If they would be deeply and widely operative in the social field, they must ally themselves with the more massive, though not more normal, powers to which the age gives birth. So may they have their share in translating what life presents into a higher likeness. So may we attain a courage that is never fatuous, a wisdom that is never academic. For we shall read an Intention greater than our own, expressed, not in the abstruse language of theological mystery, but in the warm if terrible terms of this ever-changing universe, our home. ‘A Body hast Thou prepared for me,’wrote the psalmist, exalted by the hope of sacrifice. In the rise of the proletariat, in the elements of the class-struggle, in the trend toward socialism, is the body prepared for us of the twentieth century. Into this body we are to infuse what soul we will. ‘Lo! I come,’let us then say, ‘to do thy will, O Lord!’