Saturday, March 24, 2007

Van Ornum, Why Government at All? - Part I, Chapter 4



While socialism, in its broadest signification, may be said to apply to all the theories, which may be advanced, which relate to the intercourse of men in society; yet it is seldom used in this sense.

Most writers give it a narrower, and more restricted meaning, which may properly be described as “state socialism:” or the bringing about by state regulation of a more precise, orderly, and harmonious arrangement of the social relations of mankind, than that which has before prevailed. This very nearly corresponds with Webster’s definition of “socialism;” and is a fair statement of that form of socialism which enjoys a monopoly of the professed socialistic activity of the day.

“We call socialism every doctrine that teaches that the state has a right to correct the inequality of wealth which exists among men, and to legally establish the balance by taking from those who have too much in order to give to those who have not enough, and that in a permanent manner, and not in such and such a particular case,—a famine, for instance, a public calamity,” etc.—Janet.

“In the first place every socialistic doctrine aims at introducing greater equality in social conditions, and in the second place, at realizing those reforms by law.”—Laveleye.

Karl Marx, however, although regarded as more of an authority on socialism, makes no distinct definition of the term. His efforts are mainly directed to showing the inequality of the present system, its economic mistakes, and pointing out what he regards the true economic conditions. But by implication he does leave the inference that the remedy must be [45] sought through the application of legal restraints and regulations. That this is the correct inference is shown by the fact that all the efforts of his professed followers are directed to the extension of the powers and functions of the state, for the avowed purpose of bringing about through the state an enforced equality in what they call “the distribution of wealth.” Observing the power which wealth confers upon its possessor, and the intense competition engendered in the scramble to obtain it, they seek through state regulation to destroy that competition, not perceiving that the competition itself is the result of the laws of property, to maintain which the whole power of the state is bent.

Edward Bellamy, too, representing a modified form of state socialism, is in many respects a more popular writer, while at the same time a far more superficial one. He gives the state the all but absolute control of not only the production and distribution of wealth, but of education, public amusements, and social intercourse.

When stripped of its dreams, its visions and its mysticism, socialism resolves itself into two propositions, which are summed up by Victor Hugo, thus:

“The first problem: to produce wealth.

“The second problem: to distribute it.

“The first problem contains the question of labor; the second contains the question of wages. In the first problem is the employment of force; in the second, of the distribution of enjoyment. From the good employment of force results public power; from the good distribution of enjoyment results individual happiness. By good distribution we must understand not equal distribution, but equitable distribution. The highest equality is equity.

“From these two things combined, public power without, individual happiness within, results social prosperity. Social prosperity means, man happy, the citizen free, the nation great.

England solves the first of these two problems. She creates wealth wonderfully; she distributes it badly. This solution, which is complete only on one side, leads her inevitably to these two extremes: monstrous opulence, monstrous [46] misery. All the enjoyment to the few; all the privation to the rest, that is to say, to the people; privilege, exception, monopoly, feudality, springing from labor itself; a false and dangerous situation which founds public power upon private misery: which plants the grandeur of the state in the suffering of the individual. A grandeur ill constituted, in which all the material elements are combined, and into which no moral element enters.

“Communism and agrarian law think they have solved the second problem. They are mistaken. Their distribution kills production. Equal partition abolishes emulation, and consequently labor. It is the distribution made by the butcher, who kills what he divides. It is therefore impossible to stop at these professed solutions. To kill wealth is not to distribute it. The two problems must be solved together. Solve the first only of the two problems, you will be Venice, you will be England. You will have like Venice an artificial power, or like England a material power; you will be the evil rich man, you will perish by violence, as Venice died, or by bankruptcy, as England will fail, and the world will let you die and fall, because the world lets everything fall and die which is nothing but selfishness, everything which does not represent a virtue, or an idea for the human race.”

But socialism has a more direct and specific purpose. Realizing in a general way that the differences between men in point of capacity arise more from differences in condition and circumstances, than from anything inherent in themselves; and also realizing that the scramble for wealth carries with it untold evils: wage slavery, dependence, pauperism, and brutality, socialists seek to abolish that competition by changes in the law. It will, however, be seen, when we come to analyze property, in Part II, that this competition comes purely as a result of the laws of property, that those laws are the central point around which all other laws cluster; and that it is in order to enforce those laws that all other laws are made necessary. Then again, by referring to the proposed remedy, in Part IV, it will be seen that it is easier to destroy the whole volume of the law, and so, utterly to destroy competition, and finally bring about a condition of common property, than to change the law in any essential particular. [47]

From the foregoing it is plain that that form of socialism which is described as state socialism, is the proposition to correct the observed inequalities of social conditions by the application of force exerted through the law, or the state. This understanding of the subject at once gives a clue to the origin of this variety of socialism; for what could be more natural to the superficial than that when they see an evil, they try to put a stop to it by force, if they have at their disposal a force which they regard as adequate?

In a rude and barbarous age, when kings ruled by divine right, and the fiction prevailed that “the king could do no wrong,” his acts were supposed to embody all wisdom, because he was the instrument of Divine Justice, and therefore inspired by Divine Wisdom. The king being the state, and being hedged about by a peculiar divinity, or sanctity, what was more natural than that men looked to him for direction and guidance? And when the popular will, as in a republic, was substituted for the will of the king: the king’s authority ridiculed, set at naught, and brought down, while the authority of the people was exalted, what more natural again than that the same veneration should be transferred to the republican state, as had been given to the king; and that men should continue to look to the state as the source of wisdom and authority?

Pleased with this fiction of self-government, men have been blinded to the fact that they have only sub set of politicians for another; that they have set up the political boss, surrounded by his dependents, upon the throne formerly occupied by the king, and his courtiers. This tendency which we find in men to appeal to the state to right every wrong, aid correct every abuse, is only a continuation of the same veneration that was formerly accorded to the king, and has precisely the same reason in it, and no more, than in the claim that the king governed by Divine right, and therefore, that h could do no wrong. [48]

There is still another reason why men try to correct abuses by law, but which is no more creditable to their intelligence than their acceptance of this modem form of the doctrine of the Divine right of the king, or the state. The unthinking man will always accept the theory or suggestion which seems most obvious, without stopping to find out whether or not it is the truth. If he is hurt, he is likely to expend his resentment against the instrument, instead of looking beyond to find out who wields it. If he is jammed in a crowd he curses the one next to him without waiting to see if he is the source of the pressure. In medicine, the doctor plasters the sore without looking for the cause of the disturbance. In politics men try to correct abuses by law, while leaving the real obstruction untouched. Their efforts are aimed at the effect, and not the cause. Thus the prohibitionist would cure the evils of intemperance by preventing people from drinking; the moralist would cure crime by punishing the criminal; and the socialist would correct human inequalities by an enforced equality.

This is, and always has been the method of legislators. It is the method which requires no thought. And I suppose this fact—that it does require no thought, is one reason why we elect unthinking men to govern us, and make laws for us. The ward boss, the blatant demagogue, the political heeler makes an ideal legislator. It does not at all shake men’s confidence in their immaculate legislators, as a class, or in political methods, to find that their laws always have a contrary effect from what was intended, or expected.

State socialism then, originates in the manifest tendency of men to try to correct errors by striking at the effect of those errors. Its object (a pure and noble one) seeks to establish justice: that is, equality, and promote fraternity. Its methods are those of the politician, and must continue to be subject to political conditions. [49]

To entrust one man with power over another: to enable him to decide what that other may, or may not do, is to magnify the one and belittle the other. It is to confer on one what is taken from the other. It is, at its very starting point, a violation of equality, and consequently a violation of justice; because justice means equity. The equal balance is a perfect symbol of justice. A thing is just between two individuals if, in its action, it affects them equally. But when officers are chosen who are given power over others through the making or execution of law, it becomes itself an injustice because it is an inequality. Man being selfish, and possessing the love of distinction, he must necessarily use the power placed in his hand, for the gratification of that passion for distinction. The artificial superiority conferred on him he soon comes to regard as a natural one; and he demands as a right what was at first intended merely as a social convenience. He then not only takes all that is given him, but tries to get more. To this end he finds that he can work more effectually by combining with others situated like him. So parties are formed, whose sole purpose is to get and keep wealth, power, distinction, for the members of the party, or at least, its leaders; and by any method which may be found effectual.

This is, and always must remain, the essential character of politics, as well as the method of politicians. Where power, distinction, and through them the possibility of wealth are offered as prizes, politicians will scramble for them. Nor will they be particular how they scramble. The course of human development has been toward greater equality: that is, toward justice, by increasing instead of decreasing liberty: by restricting instead of enlarging the functions of government. Every social evil will be found, on last analysis, to arise solely from the control which some men exercise over other men. Reform has always been in the lessening of that control: in approaching [50] more nearly to equality, or, justice, by the repeal of laws, and by promoting a larger liberty.

State socialism then, by seeking to extend the power of the state, would turn back the current of human progress, and re-enact the despotisms of the past. All this it would do in a mistaken pursuit of a reign of universal justice. [51]

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