Friday, March 23, 2007

Van Ornum, Why Government at All? - Part I, Chapter 1



What is to be done with Ginx’s baby?* Ginx doesn’t want it; in fact he can’t keep it. He already has all that he can by any possibility take care of. He is going to drown it; not because he is devoid of natural affection, but because there is nothing else he can do. His wages are so small that with the most stringent economy he has only been able to support the others, after a fashion; and now, this one is the last straw to break the camel’s back. He gives up a job which he knows to be hopeless. Yet the police won’t let him drown it, because it is clearly against the law.

But the police don’t want it; in fact they won’t have it. It has already given them an endless amount of annoyance; and their only anxiety is to be well rid of it.

Nobody else wants it. The Church tried to care for it, but had to give it up. The effort produced an endless amount of contention, bickering and litigation, with the net result of getting the priests and the sacred vestments and chasubles shamefully befouled.

Charity took a hand at it, and if anything made a still worse failure. Society, and the politicians too, have each demonstrated their inability to do anything with it. [14]

It is true, the baby is an unpleasant subject. It isn’t nice. It is like all other babies when neglected. It has an enormous faculty for making things unpleasant. Notwithstanding all this, it is clear that something must be done; but what?

What is to be done with the great mass of humanity for which there is no place; whom nobody wants? They jostle each other in their scramble for work, and for trade. They bring down wages and profits, and increase rents, prices and taxes. Of merchants, ninety-seven out of a hundred are not wanted; at least that is the proportion that is said to fail. Some of them find a place for a time in the stores of the three who succeed; but even this refuge has to be abandoned when wages fall so low as no longer to give a support.

The professions are all over-crowded; and yet the scholastic institutions, the training, business, medical, and law schools are turning out young men constantly who are fitted to fill important positions in every possible profession and calling, a large proportion of whom are not wanted.

The farmers are just as badly off. They are being crowded out too. One by one they are being sold out by the sheriff; their mortgages foreclosed; and if they remain at all, it is like the merchant, as a subordinate or a renter.

Among artisans it is the same. There are too many men. There are not places enough to go round. So unions are formed to determine who shall get the places, and to prevent wages from falling below living prices.

The same thing is true of politics. The party is only another kind of union to determine who shall get the places. Everywhere the man who is out confronts the one who is in; the man who is not wanted is the shadow and menace of him who is.
But it is not in the competition for a place, and in the resulting low wages and profits that the worst [15] effects are seen. The instinct of self preservation is strong in men; and when the pressure becomes too great they secretly or openly rebel. Then we call them criminals, and make war upon them, hunt them like wild beasts, imprison them, kill them. The war is one of extermination. But it apparently does no good. It does not lessen their numbers one whit. They are like mosquitoes; the more we kill the more we have to kill. They are now, more than ever, not wanted.

This is Ginx’s baby; these merchants, professional men, farmers, artisans, politicians, criminals, paupers, tramps, prostitutes, people for whom there is no place, or adequate place, people who are crowded out in the struggle for life, those whom nobody wants. Let none of them flatter themselves that they belong to some other or better family; or that the question of their future is different from that of any of the rest. They are all a part of the numerous progeny of Ginx. Ginx, that is nature, brought them here, and apparently has not made or could not make proper provision for them.

What is to be done with Ginx’s baby? No one has yet answered. The State, the Church, Society and Charity have all failed, and given up the job. All that the State makes any decent attempt to do is to beat the baby into submission. The Church sometimes tries to hush it with a few grandmotherly coos, and fairy tales, but does nothing for its physical wants. Society would not if it could. The subject is too unpleasant. It would befoul itself if it tried.

But of all the miserable makeshifts that were ever tried, Charity has been the worst. It has always aggravated the evils it has sought to cure.

Something must be done. But what; and who shall do it? Everybody else has failed. There’s no one left but the baby. It must solve the problem for itself: and, clearly, it must do it in a broad and comprehensive way. A partial solution is no solution at all. It [16] must include both the ins and the outs. The ins can never be safe as long as there are any outs. When the answer to this question is found it will be the answer to the labor question, the money question, the land question, the transportation question, the temperance question, the woman question, the race question, as between the whites and the Indians in the west, and between the blacks and the whites in the south; in fact it is the all absorbing social question, the question of men’s relations one to another in human society.

In subsequent chapters I shall examine the subject as carefully as I can; endeavor to trace effects to causes, in order to find the remedy for the undoubted evils which occur from shutting out a considerable part of mankind from participation in the good things of this world; and, if possible, discover a way whereby men can easily, completely and certainly regain their natural and equal rights. In doing this I shall have the light of a long list of predecessors, men of deep insight and earnest purpose, who have taken up the social problem at different points, and at different times; and, working in different directions, have discovered different facts, which they have generalized according to the best light they had. I do not claim for myself greater wisdom, a keener insight, or a more honest purpose than others who have preceded me in the treatment of social problems. But if I shall be able to add anything to the results of their researches, it will be because I have come after them, and have had the benefit of their labors. Others may again take up the work where I leave it, and carry it as much beyond me as I hope to beyond where they left it. It will not be possible for any of us to claim that we alone have solved the problem. Watch a workman breaking up the bars of pig iron before putting them into the furnace. He will strike them a given number of times with his sledge. The first blow seems to make little or no impression; but it is just as important as the last, and has just as much to do with breaking the [17] bar. My blow is certainly not the first; it may not be the last. I only hope it will be one.

The course of our examination will require a review, somewhat in detail, of the principal schools of reform, which are competing one with another for adherents; and a comparison of their aims and methods with the true issues which we may find as the result of our analysis. The fact that there are so many and such conflicting schools of thought, each offering different remedies for the same evils, remedies which require elaborate explanation to describe, and a subtile mind coupled with extensive knowledge to comprehend, is conclusive evidence that previous analyses have not been carried far enough.

Efforts are being made to harmonize all the various reform elements, for political action, on a compromise platform, which will secure a pooling of issues, in the hope that a large enough combination can be effected to win political victories. Back of all their disagreements there is a feeling that somehow their interests are common, and that they ought to act together. But how? By compromising differences? The thing is impossible. A union based upon a compromise is but a rope of sand. It has no coherence. It must fall to pieces under the first strain to which it is subjected. Men’s allegiance to a third party will be subject to their previous and stronger allegiance to the farmer’s alliance, the labor union, the socialist, single-tax, greenback, or other propaganda to which they may have pinned their faith. They cannot exclude or long repress the natural jealousies which exist between them. And even if they could be held in abeyance during a single successful campaign, they must immediately break out with renewed energy in the distribution of the spoils of victory, and to an extent that must wreck the whole party. A lasting combination is impossible where compromise is necessary. [18]

But it is not necessary. In all the various schools of reform there is something of the truth. And as truth is always harmonious, it follows that, wherever there is a conflict the very fact of the existence of such a conflict is evidence that there is error on one side or both. The conflicts must either be between the truth and error, or between the errors. It can never be between the truths. Truths never need harmonizing. They are harmonious. And it is not only impossible to harmonize truth with error, but foolish to attempt to harmonize errors. Compromises then are always useless or worse. They are never more than temporary expedients, which really delay instead of hastening a solution. The fact of a seeming necessity for a compromise is positive evidence that a more searching analysis is needed, which will eliminate the errors, and make apparent the harmonies between the truths. All human science and philosophy are founded upon the fact that truths are harmonious. In all the universe there are no two facts which conflict with each other. Nor are there any two laws of nature which do not perfectly agree. If circumstances could ever arise when’ two and two did not make four, or when like causes did not produce like effects, there could be no such thing as mathematics—no such thing as science. If we could not count with certainty upon the results of the known laws of nature, science and philosophy would be at an end, reason impossible, and chance would be enthroned in place of order. Every advance in knowledge that has ever been made has been in finding out those laws; and every amelioration in the condition of mankind has been in bringing men more and more into conformity to them. The more ignorant a people, and the less they comprehend of the operations of nature, the greater their superstitious dependence upon something superior to, or outside of nature. But as they learn more of nature’s laws, and discover their universal application to all the affairs of men, the realm of the supernatural is narrowed, and [19] that of knowledge is increased. While knowledge has long been making great progress in the more material things, science has been increased, and invention has extended the powers of man to greeter dominion over nature; yet, in social relations religion and politics have always assumed control. They have disputed the power of science to shed light upon social questions, denying the regularity and order in human affairs which are apparent in other things, and assumed for the politician and the priest the sole right or power to govern in social matters. But science is invading this realm also. The assumptions of the politicians are being called in question, and the fables of the priests are being denied. Men are finding that here too inexorable law governs, and that events take place in orderly succession as the direct result of all that preceded them. The domain of knowledge is extended, while that of authority and superstition is lessened. Chance, the arbitrary will of gods and men, gives place to law. What is gained to science is lost
to religion and politics.

But as yet, the study of social questions has not been pushed far enough to reconcile the apparent contradictions which separate the different schools of thought. There are wide differences between the followers of Karl Marx and those of Proudhon; and between both of them and those of Henry George and others. And if such differences exist between men who lay claim to philosophical systems, what shall be said of those who seek relief through temporary expedients like trades unions, and farmers’ alliances?

The end for which all social philosophers are striving is to bring an era of “peace on earth, good will to men;” to inaugurate the reign of liberty, equality, fraternity. And all who have contemplated the sublime possibilities of such an era have caught glimpses of the most ravishing beauty. Like Joshua, they have beheld the promised land, a land flowing with milk and honey. it is as if they stood in the [20] valley, darkened by mists and fogs, but through a rift in the clouds saw in the distance, outlined against the sky, the gardens, fields and woodlands of a paradise, bathed in the morning sunlight.

What is this vision so many have seen? Is it nothing but the dream of enthusiasts? Or is it a mirage to tempt the weary traveler, and beckon him on with hopes which can never be realized? Is it a myth; or is it reality?

If it is a mirage, however distorted, it can show nothing that does not correspond to a fact. Sailors at sea, who behold strange ships mirrored in the clouds, know that somewhere those ships are real. If it is a dream, it is a very persistent one; it comes to so many men. And even then, it may be a mental mirage that comes to tell us of beauties that lie beyond our grosser sense. But why assume that it is a dream? If I cannot see, does it follow that my brother too is blind? His vision may be clearer and stronger than mine. And then, may be, I have been too stupid, or too preoccupied, to look.

This vision has been seen and described with greater or less distinctness by poets, prophets, and philosophers in almost every age. Henry George makes its condition one in which “youth is no longer stunted and starved; age no longer harried by avarice; the child at play with the tiger; the man with the muck-rake drinking in the glory of the stars. Foul things fled, fierce things tame, discord turned to harmony! For how could there be greed where all have enough? How could the vice, the crime, the ignorance, the brutality, that spring from poverty, and the fear of poverty, exist where poverty had vanished? Who could crouch where all were freemen; who oppress where all were peers? It has been the paradise of dreamers, the utopia of idealists, and the heaven of the Christian. But for the Christian it has been placed by the priests in another life, and another sphere, and offered him as a reward for submission. He has been [21] made to believe that it is unattainable here, and the price of its attainment hereafter is, meekly to bear the oppressions imposed upon him in this life. Thus his brightest and loftiest aspirations have been made the means of his enslavement and destruction.

What a vision! What a hope! However degraded and distorted it may be, it is still, and always has been the inspiration of Christian and pagan, poet and philosopher, anarchist and socialist, single-taxer and Bellamyite, individualist and communist. Some behold it only as a beautiful dream, while others see in it a present living possibility. Some look only to its realization in a supposed life to come, while others furnish charts of the road leading to it.

In the following chapters I shall explore the route, examine and compare the charts, possibly correct them, survey the intervening country, note its characteristics and the difficulties to be overcome, calculate the distance, and, as I hope, blaze the way to this utopia.

But that is not all. I propose to visit this promised land, and see if it is all that fancy has painted it; see if it affords a haven of rest for those who have been buffeted about by the winds and waves of a cruel and merciless fate; see if, in truth, what the poets, seers and philosophers have described is a pre-vision of human destiny.

I shall studiously avoid harrowing descriptions in tended to excite the angry passions of men, or arouse class prejudices. Human institutions are a perfect reflex of human knowledge. They are just as good as men know. When they know better, they will do better. The only way to improve those institutions is to increase the knowledge. If mankind is to solve the problem of its own destiny it must do it by the light of wisdom. So that ignorance is the difficulty we have to overcome. But ignorance is doubly difficult, when attended with hatred, and actuated by revenge.

There are many signs which indicate that some great change in human relations is impending. The [22] spirit of submission to authority is receiving numberless rude shocks. The Church is today facing questions it never faced before; questions which not merely involve the interpretation of portions of scripture, but which demand a reason to be of all religious establishment. Government itself is called upon to answer some very awkward inquiries. True, it hung and imprisoned eight of the audacious inquirers. But it has not stopped the inquiries. It was not so very long between the hanging of John Brown, and the proclamation of emancipation.

It is not an uncommon thing to find men, in no way connected with any of the so-called reform movements, who candidly admit that they expect some great change to take place in the near future, and that it may come at any time. The more observant and thoughtful will seldom venture an opinion as to what that change will be; while the superficial are apt to predict some great cataclysm in which will be swallowed up our civilization itself. In politics, the breaking up of party lines, and in industry, the widening of the gap between the laborers and their bosses, are pointed at as some of the shadows forecasting coming events. This expectation even colors much of the literature of the day, especially that which finds a large sale. Not the least significant is the evident uneasiness of those who have most to lose by such a change. They are clamoring for naval appropriations, armaments, coast defences, military posts, improved weapons, and militia outfits wholly at variance with the spirit of free institutions. On the contrary it is said that great changes are effected slowly, which is true. But who knows that the real change has not already taken place and only needs an outward expression to give it form? When the egg is ready to hatch it takes but little to break the shell. The real change has been going on slowly within it during the whole period of incubation. The breaking of the shell is a perfectly easy and natural process; and [23] is merely an incident in the natural history of the chick. But from that moment the real life of the bird begins. It starts upon a course of development of which its past gave little promise. That we are approaching such a change in human development, I think will be made clear in the course of these chapters; and further, that it is a necessary change, and one that will be effected easily and naturally. In fact, it is impossible that it come in any other way. Our utopia will be found in the subsequent development of the human chick.

*Ginx’s Baby,” by Edward Jenkins, published in Leipzig, in 1872, was a powerful satire upon the treatment accorded by the church, the state and society, of the problems of poverty, crime and misery; and produced a profound impression among thinkers, at the time.

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