Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 33.djvu/425

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CORRESPONDENCE.

EDITOR'S TABLE.

THE STATE AND SOCIAL ORGANIZATION.

IT would probably be hard to find an expression around which so many false and confused ideas have gathered as we find clustering around the term "the state." In the course of an otherwise excellent article which we read lately in one of our educational contemporaries, we find "the state" described as being "simply society organized." Now, we can only understand by this that, apart from political government, there is no social organization; yet surely nothing could be wider of the truth. The fact is, that true social organization is seen at its best precisely where the state is not—that is to say, in those regions of social activity with which political government does not interfere. Think of our churches, our charities, our clubs and institutes of one kind and another, our commercial system with its constant tendency to higher and more complete organization, the newspaper press, the railway and telegraph systems, our multitudinous social arrangements, and the thousand and one purely voluntary agencies by which human intercourse is facilitated and improved; and at once it becomes obvious how misleading it is to speak of "the state" as being "society organized." It would be nearer the mark, in our opinion, to say that true social organization begins just where state action ends. The essential function of the central power is to preserve the integrity of the community by shielding it from external attack and internal disruption, and so to provide the conditions for social organization. In other words, the state maintains order as the condition of progress; but progress, if it is to be worth anything, must result from the innate powers and affinities of the units composing the social mass.

It should never be forgotten that the state, as such, proceeds by coercion. It does not ask for taxes; it demands and takes them. It does not use moral suasion on recalcitrants, but applies at once the ultima ratio of baton and handcuffs. If the state, for example, makes itself the champion of temperance reform, its language is: Do this, refrain from that, or—go to jail. But social organization, in the true sense, is not a matter of compulsion, and can not proceed from compulsion; it is a matter of growth; it means the sorting out and aggregation of like social elements, and the weaving by the whole body of society of such forms, usages, customs, principles, and institutions as are most in harmony with its character and conditions. What is effected by legislation simply can be overturned by legislation just as easily; but what is accomplished by a spontaneous growth of sentiment is really wrought into the very structure and fiber of society. There exists the gravest doubt to-day whether the state of Maine has gained anything whatever by its legislative prohibition of the liquor-traffic; many, indeed, hold that the cause of temperance itself has suffered through the measures adopted to promote it, and that the whole moral tone of the community has been lowered by the unceasing spectacle of the conflict between the prescriptions of State authority and the claims of individual liberty. Our form of government tends greatly to disguise the truth that social organization is a product of freedom. If a monarch or other autocrat were to enact certain laws that find favor in different parts of this country, there would be an outcry against his tyranny, and he would certainly be suspected of many a sinister motive. But, because these laws express the will of the majority, they pass