THERE are some advocates of socialism who sum up their arguments against the existing social régime by affirming that competition is the direct negation of that rule of conduct which enjoins upon us to do unto others as we would that they should do unto us. The issue is a simple one and deserves a brief discussion.
Let us first consider the meaning and scope of the principle of action to which appeal is made. It is apparent, at the first glance, that it is meant to prohibit and exclude acts of wrongdoing and aggression which, if applied to ourselves, we should feel disposed to resent and if possible to resist. Of a large class of such acts the law takes cognizance, making itself the protector and avenger of those who have suffered injury. But if we take a number of typical cases of competition we shall see that they involve no aggression whatever and justify no resentment. Nearly all sports, to begin with, are competitive; but the winning of a game, provided it is done by fair means, is no violation of the golden rule. True, the loser wanted to win, but he did not want his opponent to let him win. All that can be demanded or desired of opponents in such a case is that they shall play honorably and according to the rules of the game. If the conquered party cherishes any rancorous feelings against the conqueror for having beaten him in fair play, that simply puts him wrong with the golden rule, because he would not have wished such feelings to be cherished against him had he been successful.
From play we pass to the business of life. Two firms tender for a contract; two architects submit plans for a building; two teachers apply for a situation; two politicians contest the same constituency; two dealers carry on business in the same neighborhood. The successful firm, the successful architect, the successful applicant, the successful candidate, the more successful of the two dealers—none of these have done any wrong by the mere fact of his success, nor can he be said to have gone counter to any demand made upon him openly or tacitly by his competitors, unless he has gained his point by underhand or otherwise unfair means. Explore the breast of each competitor and what wish do you find formulated there? A wish to succeed. That of course, but what wish as regards the action of other men? Is it a wish that the contract, situation, etc., should be given to him on his own terms, without competition or without consideration of the wishes or interests of others? Such a wish would itself be too obvious a violation of the golden rule to call for discussion; so we are still compelled to ask. What is that wish in the mind of a given individual which could impose itself as a rule of action on others? The more we think of it the more clearly and irresistibly it appears that the only demand any one can make possessing the least character of moral authority is a demand for justice, for fair dealing. In the cases above supposed every demand which an individual could avow would be met by fair dealing on the part of his competitors and of those upon whom the award depended.