THE BANQUET OF LIFE
In 1886 the American Social Science Association published a set of analytical topics covering the field of social science. The list is in many respects remarkable, and might repay the labor of an examination, taking it as a specimen of analysis applied to social phenomena, and as a revelation of the conception of social science which prevails in some quarters. Among the other topics which the student is invited to discuss is this: "The Banquet of Life, a Collation or an Exclusive Feast." There is here a pardonable attempt at rhetoric. It is to be feared, however, that the student may be misled by the word "collation" into the belief that the antithesis which is suggested is that between something cold and something hot in the way of a meal. The antithesis which is intended, however, is undoubtedly, that between a supply for all and a supply for a limited number. If there is any banquet of life, the question certainly is, whether it is set for an unlimited or for a limited number.
If there is a banquet of life, and if it is set for an unlimited number, there is no social science possible or necessary; there would then be no limiting conditions on life, and consequently no problem of how to conquer the difficulties of living. There would be no competition, no property, no monopoly, no inequality. Fresh air and sunlight are provided gratuitously and super-abundantly, not absolutely, but more nearly than any other material goods, and therefore we see that only in very exceptional circumstances, due to man's action,