Sunday, March 25, 2007

Van Ornum, Co-operation, IV

Twentieth Century, June 7, 1894, 7-8.

CO-OPERATION.—ANCIENT.—IV.

BY WM. H. VAN ORNUM.

While the principle of co-operation has found staunch advocates in almost, if not all civilized countries in the world, and in almost every age since there has been a written history, the developments of it have taken widely different forms in different countries. It is as if humanity was trying a great variety of experiments in order to find out which best suited its needs. And just like such experiments in other directions, it is likely that it will be found that none of them thus far have been altogether satisfactory. In nearly, if not all such cases the propaganda for cooperation has been accompanied by attacks upon the institution of private property and efforts to establish some form of communal society. Almost invariably co-operation and Communism have been coupled together in the ideas of the originators of social agitations as being, if not the same, so nearly akin as to be inseparable. It has only been when co-operation, as in England, has been so dwarfed and minimized as to lose the character which distinguishes it from capitalism, that its communal features have been dropped. In the earlier schemes, Communism was the great distinguishing feature; and co-operation has only come to be recognized as a means to that end within comparatively recent times. Another feature which has been depended upon as an element in the regeneration of society has been severe asceticism on the part of the individual members of the society, sometimes in the diet, in dress, in endurance of hardships and pain, or in the practice of celibacy. The school of Pythagoras, when stripped of the legendary and fictional features which have been thrown around it, appears to have been one of those schemes which were intended for the education and purification of society. Asceticism, in abstinence from animal, foods and in celibacy, with community of goods, was taught as a personal discipline. It was intended more as a moral and social reform, than as a scientific and speculative school. When, however, it degenerated into a political league and became entangled in politics its usefulness was ended.

Another society which had its origin about 150 years B. C. was the Jewish sect known as the Essenes. There is scarcely a doubt that Jesus Christ was a member of this sect; and that he was, in his time, the most prominent exponent of it. All the essential teachings of Christ were the doctrines of that sect. It held to a theory of life which was peculiar to itself. It was marked by severe asceticism in the habits of its members; and with rare benevolence to one another and to mankind in general. Marriage, and all intercourse with women, was absolutely renounced. It enforced and practiced the most complete community of goods. In all but two things the members were denied all right of initiative ; that is, in deeds of helpfulness and of mercy. The deserving poor and the destitute were to receive instant relief ; but no member could give anything to his relatives without first consulting the heads of the society. In form, their polity was largely democratic. It was the first society in the world that condemned slavery both in theory and practice. In order to perpetuate its society it adopted children when young and trained them up in the principles of the order. In its oath of initiation, it bound its members to reverence the deity; to do justice to all men; to hurt no man voluntarily, or at the command of another; to hate the unjust; to assist the just, and to render fidelity to all men. The members were noted for their fortitude and temperance. They appeared superior to pain or fear; and lived to a great age owing to their severe asceticism. They frequently underwent the most extreme tortures rather than to violate their principles or faith. It is said of them that they reached the very highest moral elevation ever attained by any sect or people in the ancient world, being just, humane, benevolent and spiritually minded. One of its cardinal principles was the universal brotherhood of man. Those who wish to study the character and teachings of this remarkable people can do so by referring to the “Life of Jesus, of Nazareth,” vol. i ; by Keim.

Among other communal institutions which have flourished and exerted a great influence in their time was that established by Minos, in Crete. It was largely patterned after by Lycurgus in his legislation for the Spartans. No Cretan was allowed to lead an indolent life. All must serve in the army or devote himself to agriculture. The children were all brought up together, and underwent the same teachings and exercises. The whole population was fed at common tables, exactly alike and at the public expense. The land was tilled by mercenaries or slaves. Once a year, at the feast of Mercury, the slaves were waited on by their masters. Notwithstanding the almost complete suppression of originality and individualism this social state lasted for a thousand years. There are also unmistakable evidences of ancient communistic institutions in Ceylon and many other countries; institutions so widely separated both in time and space that we cannot legitimately infer any connection between them as to their origin. Yet, the poverty of history is so great as to ancient social relations and conditions that it is next to impossible to obtain any reliable data. And this observation applies almost equally to all countries and peoples. In the field of fiction the ancients had their seers who beheld in visions of the future their ideal society. Plato had his “Republic,” and Moore his “Utopia.” Later on, Campanella described the “City of the Sun,” and in their order down to more recent times came Harrington with his “Oceana,” Bacon with his “New Atlantis,” Defoe, with his “Essay of Projects,” and Fenalon with his “Voyage dans l’Isle des Plaisers.” Bellamy, with his “Looking Backward,” has been the most conspicuous instance in modern times of a dreamer’s vision, and has produced the most profound impression on his age. In all these cases there were so many points of similarity that any one of them might properly be taken as a type of all the others; not in their respective plots, but in the essential elements which constitute them. Their ideal society is something that has been ordained or instituted by law, instead of being an outgrowth and expression of the needs of the people freely developed without restraint. Being such, th y must needs be maintained by laws enforced against those who violate them. Their equality is an enforced one. They have manufactured their fruit, instead of waiting for it to grow and ripen upon the only tree which bears the fruit of equality, of perfect human brotherhood; that is, the tree of cooperation.
All through the different schemes for communistic societies which have ever been established in ancient or modern times runs the same defect, not in all case to the same extent, but in all cases to some extents And their success or failure as distinct enterprises seem always to bear a close relationship to the extent to which they approximate toward societies unhampered by legal regulations and unenforced by penalties. All of them manifest the same high purpose to correct the injustices and inequalities which exist in human society. All reach out for better social conditions, conditions which would make possible a larger and purer life by every member of society. But something else is needed besides yearnings after the ideal. This world is not a fool’s paradise. Any scheme which contemplates conferring upon the ignorant, the indolent or the careless the rewards of well doing, always has and always must fail, no matter how carefully its details may be guarded by legal enactments or arbitrary institutions. Soft- hearted philanthropy will never build among men the city of God. It requires brave, earnest and resolute men and women ; those who clearly perceive the truth and are willing to follow it under all circumstances, no matter what the discouragements.

What then becomes of our boasted love for humanity—our universal brotherhood? As I have said before, it is the fruit which grows upon the matured tree of co-operation. It is impossible for perfect brotherly relations to exist between the refined and cultured on one side and the ignorant and grovelling on the other. Nor can there ever be any permanent gain in trying to promote relations of association between them. Even admitting that such relations could be maintained, and that the ignorant would feel the refining infitience of those with whom they associated, the debasing influence of ignorance would exactly equal the elevating influence exerted upon the others. There would be no gain. All men are benefitted by association with others of superior attainments ; but those others must never debase themselves to bring about such an association. It is the part of the uncultured to lift themselves by their own exertions to a position where they can win the association of those they desire. In this is the real stimulus to progress. Those of superior attainments have only to see to it that they put no obstacles in the way of their brother’s progress, and always lend such encouragement and kindly help as they may. I firmly believe that the apparent inequalities among men as to their intellectual and moral attainments almost, if not wholly, arise from such obstacles as .have ea placed in their way through the unequal workings of the laws, especially in the laws of property. The probability is that co-operation opens up a way through those obstacles which obstruct human development; which will disintegrate the private fortunes; open avenues for human advancement; and which will finally raise the mass of mankind, now so degraded up to the level of the most exalted.

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