How The Other Half Lives Essays

Now let us put these curious abstractions into more concrete form. My baker and I everyday exchange services. He leaves me so many loaves, and I put into his hand so many bits of money. We are both of us quite content with this arrangement; but because I depend (in part) upon his bread, and he depends (in part) upon my shillings, given in payment, therefore for the sake of this common dependence we are both to be bound up together, whether we wish it or not, in Mr. Hobson's universal compulsory organization. How little, during our simple and innocent transactions, did either of us realize the yoke, which we were silently and unconsciously forging for our own necks and for the necks of the rest of the world. Because quite voluntarily and for our mutual convenience one of us bought, and the other sold, therefore henceforward all our relations are to be regulated by an all-embracing compulsion. That may be literature, but it is not logic, and it is not reason. The syllogism, I presume, would run: We all depend upon the exchange of voluntary and mutually convenient services, arranged according to our own individual likings and requirements; we are to be placed, as regards our material wants, under the system of universal compulsion, which has been amiably devised for us by Mr. Hobson's friends in their spare moments of abstract contemplation, and which may not in any way correspond to our own individual likings and requirements. Take, now, the case of the intellectual services which men perform for each other. I read the writings of certain authors and am influenced by them; and perhaps in my own turn try to influence others; therefore, as a penal consequence of this intellectual influence I am to be placed under a universal compulsory system which is to undertake the regulation of my mind, and of all other minds. This syllogism again, I presume, would run: We all influence each other by our words and our writings; we are all to be yoked together under a system of intellectual compulsion, chosen for us by others. Literature apart, I think Mr. Hobson will admit that it is a bold transmutation of unlike things unto each other—voluntary service and the free exchange of influence, passing into the universal compulsion of each other, worked by the votes of a majority. If he has not as yet hit upon the alchemist's stone, he has at all events discovered the secret, that lies at the opposite pole, of degrading gold into lead.

How the Other Half Lives essays

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There is another striking example of this tendency to put phrases in the place of realities in Mr. Hobson's paper. We all of us depend, says Mr. Hobson, upon services rendered by and to each other; we are all of us influenced by the thoughts and actions of each other; therefore—so the argument seems to run—we can have no individuality of our own, we can have no private possession of our own faculties (still less, of course, of the property won by faculties); no rights over ourselves; being parts of the social whole, and not in reality separate individuals, we cannot own ourselves, we can only be possessed in common; we can only share in owning all our fellow-men, while at the same time we ourselves are owned by our fellow-men. Humanity, in the socialist view, cannot be divided up into such valueless and insignificant fractions, as individuals; it must be treated in a more dignified manner—wholesale, in the lump.

This article appeared in the Fortnightly Review for July 1850.

In all the annals of reasoning—and they are many and strange—was there ever such a perverse method followed of reaching a conclusion? And to what is it due? It is all due to the fact that the socialist is under the unhappy destiny of having to plead for an impossible creed—a creed founded on Old World reactionary and superstitious ideas, that are only waiting half-alive to be decently buried forever by the race that has suffered so much and so long for them. The socialist, as an individual, is often infinitely better than his creed of power worship. You can't read the papers of Mr. Hobson or of some other socialistic writers without feeling that generous impulses and desires, and in a certain sense large ideas, run through them; but unfortunately all these generous impulses and large ideas turn, like fairy gold, to dust and ashes, because they are wedded to compulsion, which degrades all that it touches. What can be pettier, narrower, more reactionary, more superstitious and irrational, than the worship by the socialist of majority rule—the crowning of every three men, because they are three, and the moral and material effacement of every two men, because they are two; or the building up of a gigantic fabric of unlimited power, with the arbitrary suspension and limitation of the faculties of the individual in every direction? What moral or intellectual redemption can possibly be found for such a system? It would be as narrow and stifling as a prison cell; as full of trick and intrigue as the inner council chamber of the College of the Jesuits; as timorous and despairing as the creed of the ascetics, who pronounced the world to be evil and the cloister to be the only safe place in it; as brutal as the politics of a Napoleon or a Bismarck. Is there any reason, then, to wonder that men, with the literary tact and ability of Mr. Hobson, seek, almost unconsciously to themselves, to cover up the dead bones of their system with metaphor and abstract conception, and to ask us to admire the something of their literary manufacture, which has as little to do with the real thing, as hothouse flowers have to do with the poor decomposing remains that lie inside the coffin on which the flowers are flung. The highest art in the world cannot gild socialism. It is impossible to make beautiful the denial of liberty. To slightly alter a famous saying—socialism is the negation of all personal rights, erected into a system; and literature, even in the hands of a master, is powerless to make us look with anything but scorn on that negation. The bones and the bare skull grin through all the false decorations that you hang about them, making them only more the ghastly, the more skill you expend in trying to adorn them. I would suggest to Mr. Hobson whether it would not have been truer art to have left on one side the plaster and stucco work of literature, and to have simply said: “Our creed is a brutal and stupid one—all compulsion is brutal and stupid—but the world is an evil one, and its evils must be pounded with cudgel and club, just in such fashion as we can most easily get at them.”

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“All taxes must be voluntary,” said Markham.

5. Without abandoning in panic any duty toward those connected with us or depending upon us in other countries, to press forward the peaceful and friendly settlement of all unsettled external questions; to narrow responsibilities; to resolutely give up an aggressive and grasping policy; and to seek to establish international friendly agreements as regards all questions in dispute.

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“And what about the debt itself?” asked Angus.

“Exactly; there must be a fixed system, and that system must spring from rights. Without rights, no system; without system, no guidance. If you wish to realize the moral confusion that results where rights are neglected, glance at the world of today, and observe the good qualities which impede rather than assist the general cause of good. Do we not see nihilists and invincibles devoting themselves in the spirit of self-sacrifice in order to obey an order of assassination; slave owners showing kindness to their slaves; politicians carrying out what they believe to be useful measures for the people by appealing to selfish passions and infringing upon the rights of others; socialists hoping to regenerate the world by deciding in what way and to what extent men shall exercise their faculties. These and a thousand other examples show us that actions swinging from good qualities, but done in disregard of primary moral commands, may increase the sum total of unhappiness instead of happiness.”

“And suppose the party were divided by two rival schemes for endowing the people?”

“And could you ask the workmen to accept such a tax?” said Angus.

Last, while we hold that government, the delegated body, the machine created by the individuals for their own convenience, and clothed with such moral authority as the individuals are competent to confer upon it, cannot possibly be anything more than this delegated body, this machine, this creature of our own making, this servant of our daily wants, while we utterly repudiate the pagan doctrine of those power worshipers, who see in the state a sort of god, a something bigger and holier than the individuals who nevertheless create and carve and change this god of their own handiwork according to their own changing ideas, a something possessed of unbounded authority, derived nobody knows whence, and holding a roving and limitless commission to subject and crush any one set of men, if less in number, at the dictation of another set of men, if more in number—at the same time we hold that there are real duties and functions for government to perform. We hold that it is a social duty for all of us, acting freely and without compulsion, to join in organizing, and, as far as possible, perfecting government for several purposes. First of all, the common force machine, for protecting self-ownership, for resisting and restraining all acts of force directed against the life, person, and property of any citizen. We hold that for many grave reasons the individual should not attempt to exercise his own inherent rights of restraining force by force—since to do so would be to make him act as his own judge and executioner; and we hold that he chooses wisely and well in delegating these rights to a body constituted, as a government should be, in the most public, formal, careful, and deliberate manner. We believe the anarchist ideal of no fixed and regularly organized machinery for repression of crime to be founded on a mistake; and we are governmentalists, in the sense that we believe that the common instrument for the repression of ordinary aggressive crime should be formally constituted by the nation, employing in this matter of force the majority method.