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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 18.djvu/698

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THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

single remedy for inequality of wealth and its resultant luxury. What is to be done, however, now that political economy has demonstrated, from the evidence of facts, that alms engenders idleness, mendicity, indolence, and debasement of character, and that it is fundamentally wrong, because it levies an impost on those who work for the profit of those who do not work?

The true solution of the question is to be found in encouraging the greatest possible number of citizens to become holders of property. Let it be in the power of each one to secure a parcel of land, a bond, or an industrial obligation, a little capital in some form, so that property may become democratized, and extreme inequality will be caused to disappear; then, if the progress of mechanical arts induces the multiplication and refinement of products, they will be within the reach of all. Such conditions still prevail in countries where the agrarian customs and the proprietary forms of primitive times have not been destroyed by the civil laws and feudal and royal usurpations.

Voltaire says on this subject, in his "Dictionnaire Philosophique": "If we understand by luxury all that is over and above the necessary, it is a natural consequence of the progress of the human species, and by a consequent reasoning every enemy of luxury should believe, with Rousseau, that man's real state of happiness and virtue is not that of the savage, but of the orang-outang. We feel, however, that it would be absurd to regard as evils such conveniences as all men enjoy; so we generally give the name of luxury only to the superfluities which are within the reach of but a small number of persons. In this sense, luxury is a necessary concomitant of property, without which no society can exist, and of a great inequality in fortunes, which is the result, not of the right of property, but of bad laws. It is, therefore, bad laws that generate luxury, and it is good laws that must destroy it. Hence, moralists should address their remonstrances to legislators, not to individuals; for it is in the order of possible events that a virtuous and enlightened man should have the power of making reasonable laws, but it is not in human nature that all the rich men of a country should virtuously give up the enjoyment of buying pleasure and vanity at the price of a small sum of money."

One kind of luxury only, in my opinion, is justifiable: that, namely, which admits the public to its enjoyments; which invites the masses to the pleasures of public gardens and fountains, which places the beautiful within the reach of those who can not own statuary or pictures, by establishing museums of art, and which founds libraries and public expositions. Such collective luxury, if well directed, is profitable to all. It raises the level and fecundates the genius of industry. The duty of the easy classes in every country is to favor those movements which will tend to enable all of the people to become possessors of property, and themselves to set the example of application to labor, rural tastes, simplicity of life, and high moral and intellectual cul-