Wednesday, 7 May 2014

THE ESSAYIST.

SOCIALISM

We do not fully estimate our obligation to the philosophical grammarian or lexicographer who answers to our call for a definition, which is sometimes a desideratum not readily supplied. During the Chartist trials in 1848, when Ernest Jones Cuffey and others were transported for promoting that of which very much is now known and settled law, Sir John Jarvis, then Attorney-General, confronted and withstood the several onslaughts of Wilkins, Parry, Huddlestone, Kenealey, and others, not one of whom succeeded in getting an acquittal. Capital was made of the blackening of a Government spy named Powell, who (to cite Kenealey) had proved himself a genuine disciple of Satan, having first seduced into sin and then, betrayed to punishment. A grandiose tailor appeared as a witness for the defence. He swore that during 40 years he had been, and was still, a Moral force Chartist that the prisoners were all meek, mild, loyal innocents till seduced and corrupted by " the miscreant Powell." He was succeeded by a dry, hard Scotchman, whose strong lineaments seemed to have been hewn out of a flinty rock, and whose sharp grey eye seemed able to look into your waistcoat pocket. Jarvis rose to cross examine him—rose knitting his inexorable black brows, that seemed to knell to every hapless victim "lascia ogni speranza"—" So, Mr. MacBoozie, pray are you a Chartist?''
Witness (drily).—"I dinna ken what it is. If ye wull tell me what the thing is, then I'll no say but I'll just tell ye whether I'm ane or no. But ye maun tell me. And I ken naebody wha can tell me better than yoursel'." Amid the rippling mirth of the bar this modest request was bluffly refused, and the question, Have you, too, had religious talk with Mr. Powell ?" met with a scornful negative. " Never would I profane religion by listening to the talk of an atheist, a blasphemer, and a leear."
"Well, sir," said the A. G., "you may go down."
.... " An' yell no be tellin' me, Sir John, what's yer deffineeshun o' Chairtism?"

The grammar and the lexicon are the pioneers of oratory, and the ball-governors of enthusiasm. What is socialism ? A benevolent American professor informs us, " It is the search for justice in the distribution of material goods." Communism maintains that the needs of all are to be regarded as of equal weight, and, in the words of Louis Blanc, "from each according to his capacity, to each according to his needs." But who can gauge another man's needs ? A cholera patient, according to Dr. Beaney, " needs" an unlimited supply of brandy and champagne. And who can gauge another man's " capacity " it the public have denied him success, if he have piped and they have not danced. Scott tells us of an old Scottish proverb—"haill o' my ain ; half o' nae man's." The finder of the casket, by whom this is pleaded, is told that its contents is (to him) worthless, being merely the dried heart of a good man, whereupon he surrenders it for a trifling consideration. God never meant us to lead a self-centred life, and the seminal idea of socialism is that it is the opposite of individualism or selfism. Thus understood, as a voluntary and subjective moral principle, cultivated alike as duty and as true self love, socialism must win the respect of all, and the desire to seize every exceptional opportunity of its practice and promotion. We are bidden to " do justice, but to love mercy." Love seizes on every stray occasion. Here we may anticipate unanimity.
But the transfer to Government of the production and distribution of goods implying state ownership of means of production, and state direction of the processes, can hardly be expected to receive an unanimous assent from thinkers, from producers, or from artisans.
Anarchism our professor pronounces to be anti-socialistic ; it is the extreme outcome of individualism.
" For why ? Because the good old rule
Sufficeth him; a simple plan
That they should take who have the power
And they should keep who can."

While this last is apt to degenerate into practical atheism and denial of brotherhood, the two first seem to have an affinity with Christianity, and, according to the professor, are growing where there is most freedom.
How seemeth this question when viewed from the standpoint of the Church? A wise philosopher will reject no inlet of thought that bears the sanction of meditation and experience. Antiquity may claim this advantage that what has been for centuries before the eyes of reflecting men must have been often weighed and tested. A house-holder went forth in the early morning to hire labourers unto his vineyard. Agreed with some for a penny a day; sent them in. Found others. "Why stand ye here idle? Go ye in." All received a penny. But those who had borne the burden and heat of the day thought themselves wronged because they who had begun to work only at the eleventh hour were paid as much as they. Not that they had too little, but these later ones had (relatively) too much. But, they are told, " Take that thine is. I do thee no wrong. Art thou envious because I am just?"
Our merits and claims will not bear a minute inspection. It is no slight gain that we have been hired at the eleventh hour. I am grateful for my good fortune in having been born so late. Our treasures rather than our privations are the subject of my wonder. The burden and heat has been borne for me by the mighty uncomplaining spirits who have gone before. What owe we not to Caxton, to Cellini, to Luther, to Aquinas, to Milton, Locke, and Newton, to Bunyan (the self taught conqueror even of the haughtiest bigotry), to Wesley, Whitefield, Zinzender, Toplady, and the kind, the gentle, the suffering Cowper? The many physical comforts of life and alleviations of pain have been dearly purchased by the labourers in life's vineyard, often but scantily requited. The workingman of Victoria, can, by the exercise of less than average temperance, thrift, and forethought command more solid comfort and pleasing luxury alike in mental solace and healthful recreation, to say nothing of the consciousness of security to life and property; than the mailed warrior or obsequious retainer in the days of the Plantagenets
If then a spirit of socialism present itself as a necessary and beneficent reaction against selfism let us welcome whatever is good in it and all that makes for regenerating the heart.
The parable above cited fully recognises the property of the householder, together with his absolute right to make his own bargains. Property is the seal of civilisation. No obligation on the part of the capitalist to bend to the wishes, the feelings, or even to the wounded self-love of the labourers is, for a moment, recognised. " I do thee no wrong. Wherefore murmurest thou?" No sanction to the dictum of Louis Blanc can be tortured from the parable. No competent authority exists to dictate aught to the capitalist. Natural as might be the discontent, it was not just, for it arose from envy and selfism.
Socialism may prove good as a voluntary sentiment, but it can never be embedded in the machinery of legislation.
" The truly generous is the truly wise :
The man who loves not others lives unblest
."

In one or Sir J. Herschel's charming dialogues I read some years ago a conversation sketch of the atomic theory—how the atoms meet by mutual attraction in every congeries of material substances. "How interesting" exclaims Herschel's lady listener. " The dear little atoms: What presence of mind must be there, to enable them thus to meet and to combine so harmoniously."  "Thou hast said it," replies Herschel "Presence of MIND, in truth there is. Without it, nought but anarchy." " The cosmos is governed by mind." says Hume, in one of his later dialogues, which, in my opinion, merit more perusals than they receive, "A mind like the human?" asks Hume's young friend. "I know no other." is the reply. I would fain add a mind certainly far greater in degree, and probably far superior in kind. It appears that another modern philosopher has advanced a step in atomic synthesis. The atoms, though seemingly in cohesion, remain separate and disject, retaining their minimum bulk. Their only link of connexion is the space between them, which the ingenious theorist conceives to be occupied by mind . . . the governing mind of the universe, that "works in the secret deep."
I am not so presumptuous as to offer or even so confident as to form, any opinion of the above, which I am not sure I understand, but I bow with a respectful welcome to any theory that makes for strengthening the doctrine of the reign of law in nature and in man. And perhaps mind and thought are no less than matter under the sway of law. The steps of a geometrical or of a metaphysical or other proposition may be regarded for the sake of illustration as the analogues of these disject atoms, and the space between them as the seat of me conceptive power of the mind. Attention must be concentrated on each succeeding step as though the whole question hung upon it alone " Keep, that (or the two) separate, was the oft-repeated precept of one of the best of instructors. A student may have mastered more than the half of a demonstration, yet may pause at one link of which he fails to apprehend the sequential proof. The elemental step is there ; the conceptive power fails. At length the tutor comes to his aid. Thus we see an illustration of the old saw—" the strength of a chain is that of its weakest link."
This analogy, fanciful as it may appear to some readers, may perhaps, aid us in our " keeping separate" the perfect and imperfect obligations, which, as most reflective, observers must have often discerned, are very frequently confounded Close as they may seem, they are useful only when kept apart. Socialism can never be perverted or forced into a perfect obligation. State ownership, and state distribution would render life intolerable, even though established to moderate the greed of selfism, the apathy of individualism, or the unscrupulous riot of anarchism.
Turn we then to the imperfect obligation, the charities of life, guided by judgment and foresight, the interblending of social with true self-love extended in general sympathy. He who meanly shirks the performance of such of life's charities as lie conveniently within his means, and which, while daring his judgment, appeal to his sympathies, is scarcely worthy of the blessings he enjoys, and as he lives ignobly, must die unmourned. Let us support, unsolicited, the Working Man's College, and seek, by every honourable means, to raise him, without wounding his self-respect, or unnerving his self-reliance. In the words of John Wesley, let us " give all we can" and increase that " all" by making judgment the wise almoner of bounty. Give to the working man his Sunday. It is dreary to think what a Bastille of gloom and horror is to all save the rich, who have their billiard-tables, lawn-tennis, pictures, and appliances of social intercourse unrestrained, is the present Melbourne Sunday. Agitate for the opening of the Public Library, Museum, and the Gallery. Of the public-houses I say at present nothing; let the goodies be placated, and sly-drinking shanties indirectly fostered by all means. But modify the severity of prohibited Sunday trading by allowing coffee-shops to be open where the working classes can enjoy a meal, a pipe, and the weekly papers, &c. Give up the vain hope of ever dragooning them to church by the pressure of sheer vacuity of mind. A meal, hot coffee, cheerful fire, and social pipe, but no intoxicants whatever, would prove a boon at once recreative and humanising.
But meddle not with capital, which is simply labour hived by frugality, thrift, and self-restraint. Avoid over-legislation and interferences not sanctioned by justice, or even by expediency.
I once heard an Italian Propagandist of great eloquence say, in the course of his fluent oration, in most felicitous English, that in no European country known to him, do the rich do, spontaneously, so much for the poor as in England. Invert the words of Shylock, and say, " The bounty you impute to us we Australians will practise" and it shall go hard, but we will transcend the generous eulogy of our mother country bestowed by the accomplished panegyrist.
It seems unlikely that socialism, or that perversion of the idea of which we read in England, will ever strike deep root in Australia, any more than secularism, with which such exemplary pains have been taken to disgust us. Still it is wise to pre-occupy the ground, and easy as wise. Let Sunday be rendered attractive by free lay-lectures on practical science and modern history delivered in the Public Library. And let the skilled work man be respected and encouraged to rise, even to aspire, by self-improvement, to official or even to legislative dignities. It will be a happy day for Australia when parents shall see in its true light the contemptible flunkeyism of making a lad a "gentleman," and, with that view, placing him on a stool behind a desk in a bank at £75 a year, while the skilled young carpenter, about the same age is commanding £3 12s. per week, . . . a stipend not always awaiting every lawyer, scripture-reader, or even press-writer! Down with the idiotic prejudice. . . . Encourage the working artisan, and deem the increase of his numbers the true wealth of the community. Let every scholar regard the skilled workman as an equal, and every son of opulence seek to raise and benefit the order. What sight more painful than that of a decayed gentleman, still cursed with aspiring thoughts and elegant desires, tantalised with artificial wants that can neither be subdued nor gratified, and by the memory of pleasures that can return no more.
A sorrow's crown of sorrow is remembering happier days.
No. Bring up boys to look forward to an honourable, perhaps an early independence, by the thorough  mastery of a trade, a mastery skilled and thoughtful. Let the Australian lad learn to read the life of Peter the Great of Russia, who made himself an adroit ship's carpenter, a first-rate pilot, and an engineer, and could build a ship with his own hands.
Let the skilled mechanic be regarded as honourable everywhere and by everyone, and be all hollow, old-world flunkeyisms for ever trampled out.
But a socialism that would invade and destroy that which represents the accumulations of skilled labour, aided by the virtues of self-denial, frugality, content, and good citizenship . . . (without which capital could never be created). . . what is it but to incur the incisive bitter censure of our national poet—
"When valour preys on reason
It eats the sword it fights with.
"—
                                 “Ant. and Cleopatra"


The Australasian 19 June 1886,

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