Address to the Sixth Annual Session of the Baptist Congress

Address to the Sixth Annual Session of the Baptist Congress  (1887) 
by Walter Rauschenbusch

I must crave the indulgence of this audience in undertaking to occupy the time which ought to have been taken up by a master in the subject of which we are speaking this evening. It is not a subject about which I have had as many years of thought as the gentleman who has preceded me. For the last three years I have been working in New York City, and by reason of the pity and sympathy which the Lord Jesus Christ has implanted in my heart, I have not been able to look on the things I see about me there unmoved, or without thinking on the causes of those sad appearances. I have done some reading and some thinking upon the matter, but very little speaking. I am glad to say, for the information of the gentlemen who questioned the accuracy of the preceding speaker's statement of the principles laid down by Henry George, that I have read Mr. George's book, that I revere and honor him as my teacher to some extent in these things.

I would like to take issue, from the very beginning, with some of the preliminary statements of the last speaker, who claimed that it is the purpose of christianity to change the individual character of man, and then to leave it to that individual character to work out gradually the transformation of society. It is certainly true that it is one of the main objects of christianity to change the individual life, and to implant in the heart of man the truth and love of the Lord Jesus Christ. But I claim that that is only one-half of the object of christianity, that the other half is to bring in the Kingdom of God, and that the efforts of the Christian Church ought to be directed in a like measure to the accomplishment of that last object, and that not only indirectly, by changing the individual and gradually having the influence emanate from him, but directly, and then having the influence of society re-act upon the individual. I will use a few illustrations to make clear my meaning. There was a time when slavery was established in this country. There were at that time many christian men living in the South whose hearts beat warm for Jesus Christ; yet very few found it in their hearts, or thought they saw the way clear, to free their slaves, to take upon themselves the immense loss which that entailed. But when society stepped in and emancipated the slave, public opinion immediately began to veer around, and there are now a very few men in the South who desire to bring about the old condition of things. There, you see that not only did individual character work upon society, but society worked upon the individual character. Not only does individual opinion, in regard to anything, gradually bring about a transformation of society, but when society is transformed, individual opinion is very rapidly transformed also. To take another example. We know what a long and costly struggle it has been to achieve the independence of the people in the history of mankind; how every step has been wrestled for and wrung out of the hands of royalty and aristocracy. It has been so in our own country and Great Britian.and all over Europe. But since the great doctrine of personal liberty has once been affirmed in the French Revolution, there is no longer any question in regard to it among civilized men. Even the Czar of Russia in making his proclamations puts himself, ostensibly at least, on the ground that he is acting for the welfare of his people, that he is the chief servant of the State, not that the people exist for him, but that he exists for the people. That great theorem is now an axiom; it has been granted; it can no longer be denied; and that which was formerly the doctrine of the few only, is now fast becoming the doctrine of all. (Applause.) Therefore, I hold that it is the duty of all christian men, and of the Christian Church also, to work in the first place towards the amelioration of personal character, and to have the influence from that emanate into society. Certainly, that is true.

But we must not be blind to the other half of the truth. We must also attack the wrongs of human society and the unjust laws of the community, to bring about righteousness through the Kingdom of God in the world, and then we shall also have an influence radiating from society and centering upon the individual. Starting with these assertions I now turn to the subject we have in hand.

The chief school of political economy is the school of freedom, holding the doctrine of Laissez faire, in the higher sense of that word. It holds that if natural forces are allowed their free play, the individual will be able to develop his full individuality, aud society will be made comparatively happy—as happy as it is possible to be here below. That is an old assumption—a most noble idea—and it has worked out many beneficent changes. But I assert that Laissez faire, this complete freedom of the natural and social forces, does not exist in society as it is at present constituted. Men are not free to-day to do that which they would do. They are compelled and hindered on all sides. We cannot buy our goods from wherever we want to. If I send for books I should like to read from Germany, I have to pay a fine for doing so. I am not free to get my information where I please. I am not free to buy clothes in Toronto and take tHem back to New York. I should be punished by a custom-house officer on the way back. Nor are we free to utilize the natural forces about us freely and fully. In New York City the thing which is, perhaps; the most valuable and the most desired of all things, is land, the place to stand on, to breathe on, the place to be happy in. But the natural forces which would reduce or raise the price of land, the price which I would have to pay for standing on any piece of ground, is not left free to the natural forces to determine. In the upper part of New York City, as all those who are conversant with the condition of the city know, there are vast tracts of land which would give beautiful houses to many of those who are crowded into the lower part of the city, which are absolutely held and cannot be got at at any price, because those who hold them are able to hold them, and intend to hold them until they are still more valuable than they are to-day. That monopoly, that keeping out of play the natural forces, influences the price of land, and thereby influences the health and happiness and right to live, of human society. I use this simply as an example, to point out to you that in our present condition of society we have not the full, fair, free play of the natural forces of economic or social life. They are being interfered with on all hands. We are speaking of monopolies this evening. A complete monopoly is only the highest development of something which exists from the very basis of society up. It is the capstone of the pyramid that lies below. That same tendency exists everywhere. For instance, even in England there is not a complete monopoly of land; that would mean that all the land would be in a single hand. It has not come to that yet. Still, the land is to a very large extent monopolized, because it is in the hands of a comparatively few people, and that influences the price of the land. I say, when we are speaking of monopolies, we are speaking really of a wider social and economic phenomonon, of every interference with freedom—with the freedom of natural forces. These interferences are of two kinds; the first is the artificial, which is created by law. For instance, take one subject which is very fresh in all your minds, as I can tell from your reception of some of my remarks—the tariff creates an artificial monopoly. Suppose, for instance, there was only a single saltpetre mine in this Dominion of Canada. Suppose there were others in the United States, but that a tariff would be constructed to keep the saltpetre of the United States over there. That would really create a monopoly for the man who owned the saltpetre mine in Canada; and that monopoly would be an artificial monopoly, for, if that law had not been passed, the saltpetre from the United States could be brought over here, and that man could not raise the price of his saltpetre as high as he pleased ; he would have to come down to that price of the people in the States, for which they would be willing to bring it over here. Now, such an artificial monopoly can be repealed or done away with by repealing the law which created it, and I think I shall appeal to the sense of justice in all your hearts when I say that any monopolies which are artificial are not right. (Applause.) Any person who is in the enjoyment of benefits which inure to him alone, and which are given to him by the sufferings of others, has rights which he ought not to have. Therefore, I say it seems to me to be a very fundamental and simple proposition of equity that artificial monopolies ought not to exist, and any law that has created them ought to be abrogated and repealed.

Now, in regard to natural monopolies, so called. There are some things, as explained to you by the previous speaker, which can be done only by one party. Suppose, for instance, that a street car track were to be run through Jarvis street here. It would be impossible for two companies to compete in that, because there is only so much width of street, and if a double street car track is laid along there, that is all you want on that street. Therefore, if the public grants the right of laying tracks on that street to any one party that party has a complete monopoly of the privilege of running street cars on it, has it not? Therefore that is a monopoly, and it is a natural monopoly, because it is in the nature of it a monopoly. Such monopolies have been granted very extensively. The city grants the right to lay street car tracks, and thereby creates a monopoly. The city grants to private companies the right to lay water and gas mains. That, too, is a monopoly, because, naturally, the city will object to having its streets torn up by a number of rival companies, having a large number of mains laid parallel to each other. The country grants a monopoly to almost any railway, because when there is a railway, the New York Central, for instance, running along a certain line of territory, it almost excludes any other line from competing with it by the great cost of entering into an enterprise of that kind. You remember the West Shore Road was built almost parallel to that road a few years ago, but is it now in the hands of the same Company which owns the New York Central, which proves that the latter had a natural monopoly. Now, it is the State that grants that right to the railway company, because, unless the State grants the right to buy the land continuously,to condemn the property and buy it at a certain valuation, the Company could never build that road. It has to be granted by the power of the whole community, and therefore that privilege really belongs to the community which grants it. It is granted by the community to the Company in return for certain undertakings on the part of the Company. Now, I question whether it is wise on the part of the community any longer to give away its natural monopolies. I question whether it is right any longer for the City of Toronto to give away its rights of way through its public streets, or for the State to give away its right of way for railways, because in some cases these monopolies break down, and in others they get very rich, either of which is undesirable for the community. If the State itself should undertake the construction of these things it would alike bear the loss and the profit, and the whole thing would tend in a wonderful way to the development of the whole country. I have no time now to enter into this idea, but I would lay it down as my personal position that not only should artificial monopolies be abrogated by the repeal of the law which created them, but also that natural monopolies ought to be held and managed by that power to which they really belong, namely, the community. Mr. George has taught this proposition in his book. He is often called a 'socialist, but it is very incorrect to call him so; he is not a socialist, but the strongest opponent of socialism in the United States. He is a strong advocate of Laissez faire in the highest sense of that term.. Therefore he insists that artificial monopolies, such as the tariff, should be swept away, and that freedom should be given to the natural forces of society, and that natural monopolies should be owned and managed by the community to which they naturally belong. These are his propositions in regard to monopoly. Am I right? (Applause.)

Now, granting that that would be a good thing—that artificial monopoly should be done away with and natural monopolies held by the State—the question still remains whether there are not other lines of business which would still be monopolized, for instance, the manufacture of starch, the catching of fish, the curing of salt, or anything at all. Is there not a natural tendency in human society towards the aggregation of forces, toward grasping natural forces, and uniting to crush out opposition? This afternoon, in a way very interesting to me, the point was made that there is a universal tendency to co-operation, to the uniting of forces, and that is the case because united forces are immensely stronger than scattered forces. I have noticed sometimes the working of a pile-driver. A great block of iron is hoisted up, bit by bit, to the top of a great beam, and then finally it is let loose and slides down with a tremendous impetus on the pile below and drives it into the earth. Now, imagine that great mass of iron broken up into small hammers, each weighing half a pound ; imagine that these were placed in the hands of a great number of men, each one wanting to get the first chance to pound on the pile and drive it in. Do you think they would get it in as fast as by having the force repose in that great pile-driver, which comes down with one great blow at once? It is the same with all things and all' affairs; there is so much more strength in co-operation than in individual work. Therefore it seems to me very likely that even after free play has been secured for natural forces those who have already a large amount of force, or those who, by moral excellence or intellectual keenness, see the advantages of combination, will get together, and after all have a monopoly. There is where the socialists and Mr. George disagree. He says that after Laissez faire has been secured, social ills would stop and go no further. The socialists say that even after that, we should still have many of the phenomena of social life that at present distress us, and I, for my part, cannot but think that they are right. Even after that, there would still be a power of the stronger over the weaker. Therefore I would put to you the question whether, besides natural and artificial monopolies, there is not also a necessary monopoly. Is it not, with the tendencies of our age, in the nature of the thing, inevitable that forces will finally be monopolized? If so, who has the right to hold that monopoly? Has any individual the right to hold it to the detriment of all? Has any combination of individuals the right to hold it to the detriment of all others? Or is that a privilege which belongs to all to hold? If a monopoly draws from all should not its benefits go to all? There is the whole thing in a nut-shell. Mazzini, the great Italian martyr and liberator, points out that the French Revolution was not, as many have supposed, the beginning of a new era. He says it was merely the closing of the old era, and an affirmation on the civil and political side of life of what the Protestant Reformation affirmed on the religious side of life,viz., personal liberty. That has now been accepted; there is no doubt about that any more; it is only working its way slowly into human institutions, but it is there now in human thought; you can never take it away again. Now, he says, the new era is beginning. We have come now to the era of co-operation and association, and all these attempts at combining and associating which we see about us in every sphere of life are only humanity's blind gropings and its feeling through the dark towards the goal which Christ Himself has pointed out to us.

This work is in the public domain in the United States because it was published before January 1, 1928.

This work may be in the public domain in countries and areas with longer native copyright terms that apply the rule of the shorter term to foreign works.