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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 24.djvu/179

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SUGGESTIONS ON SOCIAL SUBJECTS.

cially something after which the reformer's finger always itches. Sometimes there is an element of self-interest in the proposed reformation as when a publisher wanted a duty imposed on books, to keep Americans from reading books which would unsettle their Americanism; and when artists wanted a tax laid on pictures, to save Americans from buying bad paintings. . . . Amateur social doctors are like the amateur physicians—they always begin with the question of remedies, and they go at this without any diagnosis, or any knowledge of the anatomy or physiology of society. They never have any doubt of the efficacy of their remedies. They never take account of any ulterior effects which may be apprehended from the remedy itself. It generally troubles them not a whit that their remedy implies a complete reconstruction of society, or even a reconstruction of human nature. Against all such social quackery the obvious injunction to the quacks is, to mind their own business. . . . We have inherited a vast number of social ills which never came from nature. They are the complicated products of all the tinkering, meddling, and blundering of social doctors in the past. These products of social quackery are now buttressed by habit, fashion, prejudice, platitudinarian thinking, and new quackery in political economy and social science. . . . Society, therefore, does not need any care or supervision. If we can acquire a science of society based on observation of phenomena and study of forces, we may hope to gain some ground slowly toward the elimination of old errors and the re-establishment of a sound and natural social order. What we gain that way will be by growth, never in the world by any reconstruction of society on the plan of some enthusiastic social architect. The latter is only repeating the old error over again, and postponing all our chances of real improvement. Society needs, first of all, to be freed from these meddlers; that is, to be let alone. Here we are, then, once more back at the old doctrine—laissez faire. Let us translate it into blunt English, and it will read, 'Mind your own business.' It is nothing but the doctrine of liberty. Let every man be happy in his own way. If his sphere of action and interest impinges on that of any other man, there will have to be compromise and adjustment. Wait for the occasion. Do not attempt to generalize those interferences, or to plan for them a priori. We have a body of laws and institutions which have grown up as occasion has occurred for adjusting rights. Let the same process go on. Practice the utmost reserve possible in your interferences, even of this kind, and by no means seize occasion for interfering with the natural adjustments. . . . To mind one's own business is a purely negative and unproductive injunction; but, taking social matters as they are just now, it is a sociological principle of the first importance. There might be developed a grand philosophy on the basis of minding one's own business."

Chapter IX considers "the Case of a Certain Man who is