WE’D have been a very pleasant, conversable company, but for the presence of one man. There was a lawyer with a hobby for anarchism; a banker who was an enthusiastic Socialist from 3 P.M. to 10 A.M.; a prominent magazine writer, who specialized in women; an archdeacon with a fondness for metaphysics and a doctrine of his own discovery, which he called the Conservation of Sin; one real Socialist and a dramatic critic. You can see in a minute that the possibilities for conversation were simply unlimited, — if it had n’t been for the Obstacle.
He was a returned traveler from the Tropics, and he was an infernal nuisance. Whenever anyone started a new topic of conversation, he appropriated it. If we tried to talk about aviation, he described the superior aëroplaning properties of certain queer tropical birds. We mentioned the Red-Light district and the police and launched him into a discussion of the superior depravities of Singapore. And when the Dramatic Critic tried to talk art, and mentioned Mary Garden, he insisted on telling us about the superior frankness of the costume worn by the ladies of Zamboango, or some such sounding place. We could n’t even speak about the weather, without being told that we had never seen a real rain storm or a real sunset or anything that could properly be called the light of the moon. The man was a perfect pest.
At last, to silence him, we resorted to drastic treatment and began talking Socialism, — a topic which you would think would silence anybody. But the Banker, the Magazine Man, and the Archdeacon had no more than fairly got going on a three-cornered discussion of Thorstein Veblen’s theory that the withdrawal of the interstitial adjustments from the discretion of rival business men will result in an avoidance of that systematic mutual hindrance which characterizes competition, when the Pest took a long preliminary drink and butted in.
‘Speaking of Socialism,’ he said, ‘in the course of my travels through the Tropics, I visited a Socialist state.’
‘Don’t try to spring New Zealand or New South Wales or any of those places on us,’ said the Banker, — carelessly, I’ll admit. ‘They are n’t Socialistic in any true sense.'
‘And they’re not in the Tropics in any sense,’ said the Traveler, blandly. ‘There’s no such thing as a popular knowledge of geography. Here you are, a group of fairly educated men, and I’ll bet every one of you thinks Vladivostock is north of Nice.’
‘Never mind Vladivostock,’ said the Real Socialist. ‘Where is your Socialist state?’
‘Do you mean to say you don’t know?’ inquired the Pest. ‘Here’s a completely organized Socialist state, with thirty thousand inhabitants or so; been running for years; and you sit up here and theorize about what would happen under Socialism, and never even have heard of what is happening right under your nose.’
‘If you can get away with that,’ said the Socialist, ‘I’ll cheerfully pay for all the drinks that are consumed by this company while you’re doing it. If you can’t make good, you’ll have to pay for them yourself. And I warn you that if your remarks are as dry as I have found them since you became a returned traveler, the consumption will be enormous.’
The Pest shook his head sadly.
‘There’s no real drinking outside the Tropics,’ he said.
‘You told us all about that last Friday,’ said the Archdeacon, politely. ‘Revenons à nos moutons.’
‘It’s got to be real Socialism, mind you,’ said the Real Socialist. ‘Municipal ownership and state pawnshops and the rest of those dinky little parlor experiments don’t go.’
‘You yourself shall be the judge,’ the Pest retorted; and to show his confidence in the outcome, he ordered a fresh half-litre.
‘To begin with,’ he said confidently, ‘this state owns all the land. It leases certain portions of it, such as are n’t required directly for the public use, for agricultural purposes. But it purchases the product and reissues it to the citizens in exchange for labor coupons.’
The Socialist looked a little startled, and wanted to know who issued the coupons.
‘The state, of course,’ said the imperturbable Pest, ‘it being the only employer of labor.’
‘Is this an excerpt from the proofsheets of some work of fiction?’ asked the Magazine Man.
‘This is no traveler’s tale,’ the Pest assured us. ‘All of my observations can be verified in the published annual reports of the state I am talking about, and these reports are to be found in any library.’
‘There’s a joker somewhere,’ said the Banker. ‘How about the finances of this state?’
‘Its credit is excellent,’ the Pest assured him. ‘It can borrow all the money it wants at from two to twoand-a-half per cent.
‘The state not only employs its citizens, it houses and feeds them. There are some fifteen types of quarters, a certain type of house going with a certain class of work. The man who does the most difficult, highly skilled, and responsible sort of work, lives, of course, in the best house. Also, there is a distinction, naturally, between the quarters provided for married and single men.’
’Then where does the equality come in?’ demanded the Anarchist.
‘Equality,’ said the Pest, ‘is not one of the cardinal principles of Socialism. I have heard my friend over there proclaim from many a soap-box, that the stimulus to ambition afforded by exceptional rewards would be even greater under the Socialist régime than under what he calls the Capitalistic. I was glad to find his contention so well borne out when I visited this Socialist state.’
‘Come down to brass tacks,’ said the Real Socialist. ‘ Does private property exist, or does it not? That’s the test.’
‘There is no real private property,’ said the Pest, ‘because the state owns all the land and all the buildings. There is no legal prohibition against private personal property. As a matter of fact, the amount of it is negligible within the boundaries of this state, because no one has any particular use for any. Except, of course, his clothes, which, in the nature of things, are bound to be privately and individually possessed anywhere.’
‘How about household furniture and so on?’
‘I include that under housing,’ said the Pest. ‘The state provides everything necessary for domestic purposes, down to knives and forks, pillow-cases and dish-towels; the quantity and quality of these, like the houses themselves, being graded according to the value of the service which the citizen performs. It might be expected that a certain class of persons would wish for personal possessions of a sort superior to those furnished by the state, but there are two causes which render this wish inoperative. The climate is destructive for one thing, but there is a much stronger reason in the fact that such possessions would accomplish nothing in the way of proclaiming social superiority. The classification of citizens is perfectly understood to be upon the basis of serviceableness to the state. It is proclaimed quite finally and irrevocably by the type of house you are assigned to live in, and by the number of table napkins which the government issues to your wife. Private possessions can add nothing to it. In other words, no one has any reason for keeping up a front.’
‘You say the state feeds its citizens as well as houses them,’ observed the Anarchist. ‘Is the same nice classification you have been speaking of carried out in the ration which is issued to citizens? Is the valuable citizen, that is to say, compelled to eat pâté-de-foiegras while the less valuable members of the community are permitted to thrive on mush and milk?’
‘Not at all,’said the Pest. ‘Every one eats exactly what he likes. A certain portion of his remuneration from the state consists of what are known as commissary coupons. The prices in coupons are the same to all. These are published weekly. Up to the limit of his coupons, the least valuable citizen may eat the most valuable food, if he prefers.’
‘Is the issue of these coupons sufficiently liberal,’ inquired the Real Socialist, ‘to provide for the adequate nourishment of these least valuable citizens?’
‘Not only that,’ said the Pest; ‘you remind me that I must make a correction. I said that he purchased what he liked. But the state has found it necessary to establish a minimum per diem of food-consumption among the less enlightened members of the community, in order to maintain their working efficiency. A man who can’t give evidence that he has consumed a sufficient quantity of food to keep his physical status unimpaired, is liable to the rigors of the law.’
‘I thought you were going to stick to facts,’ grumbled the Banker.
‘I am sticking to the facts,’ insisted the Pest. ‘It’s all perfectly true, it’s all happening every day, only you fellows are too busy theorizing about the labels on things to scrutinize their contents. Consequently, your ignorance of this state is wholly natural, because the founders of it are wholly unconscious that it is a Socialistic state, and have never advertised it as such. In fact, if they were ever to learn that their governmental activities were described in such terms, they would be horrified beyond belief.’
‘Do you mean to say,’ demanded the Real Socialist excitedly, ‘that this state has simply made up its own Socialism spontaneously, as it has gone along?’
‘Precisely,’ said the Pest. ‘Paying no royalties whatever to Carl Marx or subsequent patentees.’
Once more he fixed us with his glittering eye and resumed his tale: —
‘The state stands, as the schoolmasters used to say, in loco parentis to its adult, as well as its juvenile population, and as physical well-being is a prime consideration, it goes to almost incredible extremes in its detailed supervision of public health. Sanitary inspectors go everywhere and keep a watch on everything, and the most trivial infraction of the sanitary code is considered too serious a matter to be overlooked.
‘Of course there are no doctors in private practice. Whenever a citizen is ailing, he gets not only medical attendance, but the medicines themselves, free. If his case is serious enough to warrant such a course, he is taken at once and put into a hospital, where also the treatment is gratuitous. When a patient is sufficiently recovered to be discharged from the hospital, but is not yet well enough to resume his duties, he is sent to a convalescent station in an exceedingly beautiful, quiet, isolated spot, where he is cared for until fully restored to health. And I will say for your benefit,’ here the Pest addressed himself particularly to the Anarchist, ‘that there is no distinction in this course of treatment between the more and the less valuable citizen, the health of one being considered as indissolubly related to the health of all.’
‘Are you sure,’ asked the Banker, ‘that the establishment of this system is not a direct result of the teachings of Mr. Bernard Shaw? It is exactly the system for which he pleads so eagerly and eloquently in one of his numerous prefaces.’
‘ I doubt very much,’ said the Pest, ‘whether Mr. Shaw is any better aware of the existence of this state than you yourselves are. Certainly it fails in one important particular to fulfill his prophecies. Mr. Shaw says, very confidently, that if such a system of medical practice ever existed, it would put an end, quite finally, to vaccination and other immunizing devices; to the prescription of expensive drugs as remedies, and to the use of formaldehyde and other germicidal agencies in places where infectious diseases have existed; it being Mr. Shaw’s idea that all these practices are mere superstitions, fostered in order to provide the private doctor with a livelihood. So exactly contrary to the fact is this prophecy, that the number of vaccinations in a year is over forty thousand, even the most transient visitor being required to submit to the operation; that over two hundred pounds avoirdupois of quinine alone are consumed monthly, while the disinfection brigade for such diseases as pneumonia and tuberculosis last year disinfected and fumigated two hundred and thirty houses, and totally demolished thirty-two. It only remains to say that this state, which in the past has had the reputation of being one of the unhealthiest places in the world, is now able to show a death-rate which entitles it to be considered as a health resort.
‘The principal care of the state is for the health of its citizens, but it also makes some attempt to provide for their other wants with churches, schools, libraries, and club-houses of various sorts, where certain social amusements are provided. There is also a public brass band for whose intentions I have nothing but praise.
‘I don’t feel, however, that this state shines particularly in the encouragement it gives to the æsthetic development of its citizens. In the matter of decoration, for example, only one kind of paint is used, and this is applied indiscriminately to everything. The formula, which I took pains to inquire about, was cheerfully furnished me. It consists of coal-tar, kerosene, and Portland cement, in a fixed proportion. It combines the merits of cheapness and permanency in a high degree. That is all, I believe, that any one would say for it.’
‘What do they do,’ inquired the Banker, ‘besides look after their health and hear the band play?’
‘The industrial activities of any country are generally pretty well reflected by its railways. In this case, of course, the railway is a state affair. I am sorry to say I have n’t the figures by me, but I know that it is extremely profitable and I should be greatly surprised to learn that any railroad in the United States hauled a greater annual tonnage per mile. Of course the industrial enterprises of this country are very intimately correlated, all the power being developed at the most naturally advantageous points and conveyed wherever needed, generally in the form of electricity, although there is a ten-inch pipe-line of compressed air running from one end of the country to the other. The government itself, of course, conducts all these enterprises, and, indeed, they are by far its most important function. Providing its citizens with food, houses, laundry facilities, taking care of the public health, and providing such æsthetic pleasures as are afforded by that band, are mere incidentals.’
‘So completely is this state absorbed in its industrial and engineering works, that it denies the exceptional advantages its organization provides, to all but workers. A casual visitor is not permitted to patronize the commissary or the public laundries, nor is he received at the regular state hotels. There is, indeed, one large caravansary built for the accommodation of visitors, but even here the visitors are charged twice as much for accommodation as are the regular working citizens of the state. This is partly, no doubt, to prevent it from getting overcrowded by an idle, pleasure-loving class, whose presence would hinder the furtherance of the great works which the state is prosecuting, but is also a measure of protection to the merchants, innkeepers, and so forth, of the neighboring state, who would infallibly lose all their customers unless such a regulation were adopted.’
‘I am curious,’ said the Real Socialist, ‘to know something more about the organization of the government. Any government that can administer such a multiplicity of activities in a manner at all satisfactory, — and I gather from your remarks that the manner is satisfactory, — must possess a high degree of ability and skill.’
‘Nominally,’ said the Pest, ‘the government is by commission. The public health is in charge of a sanitary commissioner. There is a commissioner in charge of the commissary and of other supplies; another in charge of the civil administration, while the great engineering and industrial enterprises I have spoken of are under the charge of other commissioners.’
‘Why do you say nominally?’ asked the Socialist.
‘Because, as a matter of fact, the chairman of the Commission is a dictator. He can issue administrative orders to suspend the operation of existing orders, without the advice or consent of the other members of the Commission. Indeed, he is under no legal obligation ever to summon a meeting of the Commission.’
‘Is this chairman,’ inquired the Socialist, ‘elected in the first place by the Commission and from their number, or is he elected directly by the vote of the people?’
The Pest smiled, and finished his second half-litre.
‘Neither,’ said he. ‘The chairman is appointed by the President of the United States.
‘Of course,’ he went on, after a rather blank silence, ‘you can have been in no doubt for some time back that the place I have been talking about is the Panama Canal Zone.’
Well, we all began talking then, more or less at once, and the consensus of opinion was that the Pest had n’t played fair. He had no business to speak of the Canal Zone as a state.
Thereupon, the Pest wanted to know why not.
‘Of course it is n’t sovereign,’ he admitted, ‘but there are plenty of states that are n’t, except as a matter of polite fiction. Take the one ruled by the Sultan of Brunei, or by the Gaekwar of Baroda. For working purposes, the Zone is a state. It enforces its own body of laws. It’s got a postal system ’ —
‘It hasn’t any foreign relations,’ interrupted the Magazine Man.
‘Has n’t it, just! ’ said the Pest. He had picked up this Briticism presumably on his travels. ‘Go down and run it for a while and see if you have n’t foreign relations enough with the Republic of Panama to keep the whole State Department busy.’
‘That’s neither here nor there,’ said the Socialist. ‘ It is n’t a state, because its government does n’t spring from its people. In a word, it has no foundation whatever in Democracy.’
‘Precisely,’ said the Pest, with an affable smile. ‘That’s what is so wonderfully fitting about it. Because there’s nothing democratic about Socialism.
‘It has been my fate,’ he went on, ‘to hear all the phases of Socialism discussed on innumerable occasions and by all sorts of Socialists. They disagree almost as enthusiastically as the early Christians, but there is one point on which there is no diversity of opinion. When we have got the Socialist state in full operation, we always find that it is administered by an oligarchy of highly intelligent persons, like the speaker, while the “mere unthinking voter” ramps around and amuses himself with the illusion that it is all his own doing.’
‘You’re a trifler,’ said the Socialist severely, ‘with no social consciousness whatever, and I fear that you are an incorrigible individualist.’
‘ If you want real individualism,’ said the Pest, ‘you’ve got to go to Canton, China. The merchants there’ —
At this point we rose as one man and threw him out. But we made the Socialist pay for the drinks. Well, it’s lucky these Socialists are all so rich.