Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 22.djvu/546

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the child abandoned by its parents finds itself in one of those situations of major force and fatal servitude in which a member of society is incapable, unless he is assisted, of participating in the social life. In lifting up the orphan, society does not perform a work of mere charity, as those believe who speak of children brought up by charity; it simply performs a work of justice, not reparative only, but contractual justice. Shall we maintain that society has a right to let the foundling die, under the pretext that the support of children is the duty of the parents, and the parents are unknown? The most that can be said of such a conception is that it would be worthy of China and Japan. A society in the midst of which abandoned children may still be found is engaged toward such children by what the legists call a "quasi-contract"; it owes them food, with general and professional instruction, and in giving these to them it does nothing more than pay a general debt of reparative justice.[1] The same observation is applicable to the case of infirm old men, and, in general, of all persons who, being reduced to an absolute incapacity to work, have no parents who can support them; they also find themselves in a condition of minority and servitude which renders them incapable of taking care of themselves. A real moral right to assistance exists in these cases; in default of relatives, the duty of assistance falls upon the city; in default of the city, it falls upon the state; here is a point which legists, economists, and naturalists misconceive who see in public measures of relief an attempt on the liberty of individuals committed under the pretext of a charity that should be left free. Absolute liberty of charity is a religious and moral prejudice born of a defective analysis of rights.

Does society owe assistance only to those who are incapable of working, or does it owe it also to those who are capable but are exceptionally out of work, and thereby reduced to a condition of extreme misery—to a kind of temporary servitude and minority? The question is big with difficulties; it is one which has engendered too strong prepossessions to receive a scientific solution at the first view; and, between the contradictory exaggerations of the socialists and economists and the Darwinians, it still remains theoretically pending. We remark, in the beginning, that all countries, England, Germany, Sweden, etc., have recognized, whether right or wrong, a public duty to assist working-men. But they have not always taken the pains to limit the duty and give it a rational interpretation. The existence of the public duty of assistance can not confer upon the individual the right to demand work, either by force or by legal process. The state can not

  1. As much may be said of children "morally abandoned" and reduced to vagabondage. The public relief of the Seine, instead of shutting them up in a house of correction, from which they will come out corrupted, has, since 1881, placed them as apprentices in the departments. This measure needs to be completed by the passage of the bill for the protection of infancy, which was presented to the Senate on December 8, 1881.