The Difficulties of Socialism

The Difficulties of Socialism  (1891) 
by Leonard Courtney


We hear much nowadays of Socialism, and one prominent personage has declared that we are all Socialists. Perhaps we are. Perhaps we have always been so. But, before accepting Sir William Harcourt's assertion, we must have some more definite knowledge of its meaning. An interest in the condition of our fellow-creatures, a dissatisfaction with the lot of the multitude, a desire for its improvement—these feelings have coursed through many generations of men, nor have they stopped short with mere aspirations after a better state. They have again and again impelled chosen lovers of their kind to strong and sustained efforts to lift the poor out of the mire, to establish a higher standard of life below which none should be degraded. These are no new sentiments, nor are they now for the first time bearing fruitage in work. It is a common temptation to think that we are among the first to realize the misery of the common life of man; and along with that thought often comes the persuasion that this misery was never so great as it is now. A trusty measure of the well-being of successive swarms of men is not easily discoverable, but very little reflection is necessary to convince us that neither is this generation the most pitiable of all, nor are we among the forerunners of philanthropy. Although we have not, and cannot have, an exact scale of comparison with the past, literature and history alike prove that the average condition of the mass of men has slowly risen; and the upward movement has been largely due to the zeal of many who have been eminent in successive generations in labouring to raise the race. The pessimist opinion to the contrary is an error, but, it must be added, that the error is not born out of mere vanity. A young man whose earlier years have been spent among happy conditions awakens in the fulness of time to a new revelation, and the vividness of the present knows no past. He is consumed, and rightly consumed, by the passion of indignation he feels at the spectacle of degradation he sees for the first time. The complacency of his seniors irritates him. He is impatient of their ignoble content. The pity is that as he grows wiser in his estimates of past and present, his zeal to better the present may too probably abate. Yet it is true that—

'Not only we the latest seed of Time,
New men, that in the flying of a wheel
Cry down the past, not only we, that prate
Of rights and wrongs, have loved the people well,
And loathed to see them overtaxed; but she
Did more, and underwent and overcame
The woman of a thousand summers past.'

A recognition of this truth ought not, however, to dull our own energies. A juster appreciation of what was done by those who have gone before as ought to strengthen our resolution to maintain and complete their great enterprise.

Socialism is, however, something more than benevolence. It goes beyond mitigation of the suffering of individuals, and even beyond mere alleviation of the common lot of the crowd. It is not enough to be pitiful. The Socialist aims at something wider and deeper. Pity and good works, laudable as they may be, he must brand as a deceit if they are addressed simply to the temporary relief of a passing generation, and are not designed to effect some abiding renovation of the whole order of society. The fine phrase of Mme. Louise Michel expresses a great conviction—La philanthropie, c'est une mensonge. The Socialist passion thus severely condemning palliatives is a craving for new life, manifested in many forms. The ideas and plans of Socialists are numerous, varied, and changeable; but every Socialist is in some fashion or other struggling after a new society, organized in a different manner from that to which we are accustomed—not a modification of it, resting on the same principles as before, but a re-formation out of which may commence a new career and a new fulfilment of humanity. And of these Socialist visions, as of philanthropic endeavour, the succession has been endless. Promises to make all things new, and a certain assurance of the preparation of peace, have again and again been forthcoming. The promises have not been realized; peace and brotherhood have not been set up; but with another generation faith revives. The mistakes which caused the failures of the past will this time be avoided; there is no longer a loophole of error in the scheme of social regeneration. All this affords room for satire, but also for sympathy. It may suggest to some a fatal line of defect running through all the plans that have followed one another. To others it will be a proof of a true substance underlying such recurrent and undying faith—an idea that must be real, or it could not be so persistently conceived. For through all the changing presentments of successive theorists, one vision abides. It is of a perfect order, where there is no wasted labour nor clashing toil; a harmony where no man struggles for another man's part, but each fulfils his allotted work; and the outcome of the whole is redistributed again, with an utter absence of jealous greed, to the satisfaction of every member of the redeemed universal family. What wonder is it that the fascination of such a dream can never pall, or that mankind should refuse to believe it cannot be realized? In the face of the savage realities of Ages of Stone, of Brass, and of Iron, we may be forced to surrender the fabled Age of Gold; but the future is still ours, and faith, falsified by experience, lives once more to believe that a more searching and successful analysis of the defects of to-day is itself evidence of the possibility of the new order of to-morrow.

There is nothing new in the underlying hopes of Socialist propagandists. All who share in the inheritance of Christendom trace their history back to a Socialist community, and there never have been wanting attempts to maintain the tradition. And outside the Christian-folds there have been many, possibly borrowing some of their faith from the teaching they renounce, who have developed plans for the reconstruction of society. Some periods have been more prolific of such schemes than others, but the present century has had its full share of them. England, France, Germany, the United States, Russia have had their innovators and their schemes. When I was a boy I heard at times obscurely mentioned Robert Owen and his enterprises, and I was led to believe that a Socialist was a person who held that we were none of us good or bad, as we were all creatures of the circumstances besetting us, and that an equal division of all things was a proper recognition of equal indiierence of moral nature. This seems to have been a parody of Robert Owen's real opinions, which need not now be accurately examined. The Christian Socialists belonged to a later time. Their sphere of influence will not appear to us very considerable from the point of view of to-day, and the most recent critics will perhaps deny that they were Socialists at all, in which case the courage they undoubtedly did show in choosing a name that exposed them to much odium was entirely misplaced. What they did was in effect to establish, with the assistance of capital subscribed by richer friends, co-operative workshops of tailors, bootmakers, and a few other trades, where the physical conditions of labour were wholesome, and the profits were to be divided among the workmen after a moderate reservation of interest on capital. The whole movement was a reaction against revelations of sweating, which excited at least as much attention forty years ago as similar revelations to-day. I may perhaps mention that I had my clothes made at one of their shops, but boots and shoes are a more serious affair. There is no great hardship in being ill-dressed; but no one would rashly run the risk of being crippled in walking power. The shops, however, languished. Perhaps custom was not sustained. Then came stories of had management and of worse; and after a time the shops disappeared. The several schools of Socialists of to-day, who are sometimes said to be at enmity with one another, will perhaps agree in flouting the attempts of their immediate predecessors. I do not intend to dwell upon the peculiarities of the different social experiments that have been tried in our times, or are being tried in France and the United States. The volumes of M. Louis Reybaud are accessible and very pleasant reading as regards French reformers, and Mr. Nordhoff's studies of American communities are equally interesting. The late Mr. Sargant, of Birmingham, produced a book, Social Innovators and their Schemes, at once sympathetic and intelligent. Among Chambers' Papers for the People is one, Social Utopias, excellently written, both as regards form and substance, though now a little out of date. It is not necessary to go further, though the list might easily be extended. But, while not entering upon an examination of the several experiments that have been started in many countries, one characteristic must be noted separating them wholly from more recent proposals. They are all examples of small families separated from the world. Their founders may have hoped for, may even have looked forward to, a time when the authority of their ideas would have spread among the nations; but I do not know that they have often, if ever, formulated the working plans of the universe so reduced to their sway. This is, in my view, a serious criticism. To protest against the world by secession from it is one thing, to reconstruct it is another. It is easy to organize on the basis of a community of goods a household, a family, a village, but the process lends no help to the organization of a county or a nation, and if it cannot be extended to these larger limits it stands condemned. A monastery, a nunnery, a Shakers' settlement may be all Socialist societies, but their existence taken alone would furnish arguments against rather than in favour of the possibility of a Socialist resettlement of mankind. I propound, indeed, this thesis—that any scheme of social order which is not wide enough to absorb and renovate society as a whole must be put aside as incurably faulty. I need not dwell on this any longer now, as it will be necessary presently to consider plans which are put forward as nation-wide, and indeed as world—wide. It must be said of the isolated communities of which I have been speaking that they present little or no dilliculty in organization or maintenance. They are cities of refuge, where a strong moral impulse leads a chosen few to renounce individual possessions, and, generally, to submit their self-will to the authority of the leader who has stirred the impulse; and the industrial energies of the inmates are directed in a very simple manner to the immediate supply of some primary wants, and to the production of some one commodity, or class of commodities, e.g. farm produce—which is bartered for what is required of outer barbarians. The difficulty in establishing and upholding such households lies in the discovery and maintenance of the motive force to which they owe their existence. No serious economic complications fetter their common life, when once adopted.

If attention is turned to wider schemes, it will be felt that the moral difficulty is immensely increased. To lead a whole nation by the method of persuasion to renounce individual possessions, and to accept instead a distributed quota—be it an equal or a graduated share—in the annual product, is a project so unpromising that it has been rarely contemplated as practical. The plan actually regarded as feasible is that of converting a preponderant mass of the possessors of political power to the principle of a community of goods, so that the desired result may be brought about by confiscation and not by renunciation. I should not, however, take my stand on the impossibility of achieving success in communistic proselytism. We are dealing with long periods of time, and I would rather not set a limit to the extent to which the doctrine of renunciation may be carried. Free surrender to the common good may spread, and there is nothing to be said against it, except in respect of its wisdom or unwisdom, regard being had to the effect of such surrender on the character of those intended to be benefited. But the moral difficulties of the principle of confiscation deserve more careful attention. It is generally proposed to be first applied to property in land, and to this extent it has secured many adherents. Yet the most ardent believer in the morality of such a step will confess the enormous difficulty in obtaining a national sanction even for it. It may he conceded that a country could be settled upon the principle of reserving to the community the beneficial ownership in all its lands, subject only to such privileges of occupancy as may be necessary to secure an adequate cultivation of them; or on the principle of unlimited absolute ownership in individual settlers; but when a country has been settled on the latter principle, when generations and centuries have passed, and society has become more and more closely compacted on such abasis, when ownership, however unwisely conceded, has passed through many hands, and the consideration of the transfer has in each case been the delivery of commodities fairly won by the labour and accumulated by the prudence of the transferee, or of persons from whom he has innocently derived them, it will be very difficult indeed to affirm the right of the community to resume without full recompense such ownership, except upon principles which would justify the confiscation by the community of all possessions. The only possible reply is that persons who have bought rights of absolute dominion in land have bought something which they ought to have known should never have been owned; but this retort will scarcely diminish the difficulty Socialism has to overcome in proposing the confiscation of land ownerships. The difficulty is confessedly greater of obtaining a popular approval of the morality of coufiscsting all ownerships, for to this it would seem thereare as yet but few converts. Yet this acquisition by the community must somehow be made, at least as far as regards what I may call vitalized capital—that is, capital which is employed in the prosecution of industry, if a régime of Socialism is to be established. Here we are not dealing with property in land, which might have been disallowed from the beginning without otherwise deranging the economic social organism, but with property in things the disallowance of which is the destruction of self-ownerships and the establishment of communism ab initio. The rudest device of the rudest savage must he treated as something contrived not for himself but for his kind. A man picks out and improves a stone or a stick to kill game, he weaves a coarse net of fibre to catch fish, he tames a beast to yield its labour to his command: his craft, his strength, his patience have secured them all; but, though the strength, craft, and patience are inseparable from himself, and it was for him to use them or leave them unused, yet the results are not to be his, they are to be treated as part of the common stock of all his fellows. I am not dealing here with the difficulty of organizing society which would be consequent upon the adoption of the doctrine laid down. I am simply stating the moral difficulty lying in the way of Socialism in getting popular sanction for the doctrine—a doctrine, be it observed, involving, and confessedly involving, the confiscation of all the superior results arising from the differentiated superiorities of different men; or, to use the technical phrase, the rent of ability. Once more, however, let me say that, so far as men can be persuaded to adopt the principle of renunciation, this objection vanishes; though it may he urged that, where renunciation becomes the cardinal principle of life, the appetite for confiscation dies away. For renunciation is the death of self and kills the very spirit of appropriation which is the strength of confiscation. It may be said that no one dreams of putting such a strain as has been suggested upon the moral judgment of the world, and that these difficulties in the way of Socialism are imaginary giants which are not even metamorphosed windmills. I do not think this will be said by sincerer and franker Socialists. No doubt it may be contemplated that just as the members of a family may possess trinkets and paraphernalia which are treated as their own, so the members of the human family of the future may have the separate control of some things, the fewer the better, attached to themselves;[2] which they might possibly accumulate or hoard if so morbidly inclined. But it is essential that these things should not be appropriated to industrial employment, for that would at once disarrange the new economy; aud in view of this danger private thrift may be treated as a vice—only not classed as a crime because the things saved may not be intended for profitable use.

Let us, however, look at the milder form that maybe presented of installing Socialism. What may be done—so it is persuasively put—is nothing but the development of what has been done. As municipalities have taken our gas and water undertakings, as the nation has assumed the telegraphic service, so municipalities may take our bakeries and breweries (if the latter be not reformed out of existence), and the nation may add railways, mines, and banks to the services it discharges. The agglomeration of widely diffused trades under one management, as the establishment of a salt union and an alkali trust, tends naturally to facilitate, almost to invite, their assumption by the State. There will be a consideration paid for each transfer—a consideration possibly declining in amount as the process of absorption continues, for with avenues of investment closing one by one, capital will he worth less and less; and then, by-and-by, readjusted schemes of taxation will quietly, but effectually, by sure if tender instalments, withdraw to the national use the interest on all investments supported by and (to use the appropriate language) oppressing the industries of the people. This may seem clear, but it is really cloudy, and if its analysis is pursued to the end it will be found that the old obstacles lurk in it scarcely disguised. Let it be noted that whether a town council has taken over gasworks or the nation a telegraphic system, the full, and perhaps more than the full, price has hitherto been paid. The error of excess, if it has happened, should not be repeated, but that is past history. I have said a full price has been paid, but this is scarcely accurate, and requires explanation. Neither town nor nation has ever raised the price direct from its ratepayers or taxpayers. The capital value has in all cases been borrowed so far as it has not remained a debt to the sellers, and the actual repayment has been made out of surplus profits or added rates or taxes in subsequent years. For the rest there has been no check whatever on the opportunities of investment. If by the methods I have indicated the debts on the transferred undertakings have been cleared off, the capital so repaid has found other invitations open to industrial employment at home and abroad, and as one door shuts another opens. Municipal indebtedness has in fact increased in spite of sinking funds and other processes of reducing debt. The purchase of a gas undertaking or of a telegraphic system may be wise or unwise, and it may be expedient or not to engage in similar transactions, but these precedents do not in any degree lead up to that organization of Socialism in which private enterprise and private property disappear. What they amount to at the most is this, that taxpayers and ratepayers by processes of unconscious and involuntary saving have acquired a little common capital, whereat we may all rejoice; while side by side with their savings have been accumulated the much vaster savings of scattered units among the same taxpayers and ratepayers, whereat also we may all rejoice. In the suggested addition of deft taxation which by larger and larger slices shall take away all the income derived from the use of industrial capital there does reappear a suggested means of realizing Socialism emancipated from capitalism, but it involves the old obstacle of which I have spoken; for it need not be pointed out that the morality or immorality of such an appropriation cannot depend upon whether it is done in half-a-dozen instalments instead of one cut. If the acquisition on behalf of the public of certain properties hitherto held by private undertakers constituted such a strong illustration of the coming substitution of Socialism for Individualism, it would be strange that almost, if not quite, the last act of one who has just left us—a most stubborn adherent of Individualism—should have been the achievement of a triumph in the first stage, and a certain prelude to triumphs all along the line, in the municipalization of local markets. If the taking over of markets by local authorities be Socialism, Mr. Bradlaugh was a Socialist, but those who are most jealous of his memory need not be much affected by the imputation.

I proceed to another and wide-reaching branch of the inquiry—the difficulties of Socialism as a working solution of the problem of human life. The simplest way of approaching this task appears to me to be that of supposing Socialism installed and society renovated upon its principles. Industries are organized either directly by the nation, or indirectly through subordinate and affiliated municipalities providing a complete hierarchy of labour. A willing and eager people have adopted the new life. The moral difficulty has been completely overcome. Every one who is of the working years of life is at work in his appointed place; and the increased produce of their diminished toil is distributed with the least possible machinery, and the least possible waste. The quantity of commodities apportioned to each is enough, and so is the lodgment. More than enough would not be desired, and indeed ought not to be allowed, though this is a point upon which the most thoroughgoing reformers appear a little undecided. I gather, however, that enough would imply a full rather than a hare subsistence, so that each recipient might have a margin upon the disposition of which he could exercise a choice, and ome of which he might within defined limits of time and quantity be permitted to accumulate. Yet in this lurks the germ of individualism which a more rigorous organization would stamp out. To carry on our conception we must contemplate our new society as a 'going concern,' taken over in full swing with strictly regilated interchanges and distribution of products. It must at the same time be capable of improvement as an industrial machine. No one will think we have come to an end of invention or of the development of economy and efficiency in the processes of production. What has been done in the last 100 years we know; we cannot say that more may not be accomplished in the century to come. In the past the inventor has worked on upon his own resources or with the help of friends or speculators having some confidence in him, and if he has succeeded he has benefited himself and them, and the world at large using his invention, except those fellow-workers whose old processes have been placed at a disadvantage by his discovery. The net gain to the human family has been enormous, and this net gain must somehow or other be preserved. Let us admit, as I would most freely, that the zeal of the inventor would be as strong as ever. How is he to begin with his invention, to practise at it, to perfect it? He will not have resources of his own, nor can he go to friends or speculators to help his fortunes. A bureau of inventions will be necessary, or perhaps a series of them for different branches of industry. Here we get a glimpse of the greatest difficulty of organized Socialism. The moral obstacles are overcome; the common good is the paramount aim of all; but where is the brain to order, direct, modify, control the working of the great machine? It is just possible to believe, looking back on the past, that some of the greatest discoveries would, with more or less hindrance, obtain acceptance—the application of steam power, the economic use of electricity, the introduction of running lines of iron or steel; though it must be remembered that each of these would have had to overcome the lethargy of a national board, instead of first obtaining the support of a few and then, through the force of demonstrated fact, the acceptance of the many; but it must be remembered also that the progress of industrial improvement has depended, and must depend, upon the continuous unceasing introduction of alterations, many of them apparently minute, which have cumulatively abridged the labour and economized the time of industrial processes. We could not hope to see maintained in full vigour this free experimental adoption of small improvements making up together a great gain. The socialized community would be a slowly moving, if not stagnant, organism. Another consideration may be thrown out following the same line of thought. We have not only experienced improvements in processes of production; the products themselves have been presented to us in endless variety. Differences of colour, differences of shape, differences of material, have abounded in our dress. Even in so simple a matter as the making of bread we have a large range offered to our choice. Variety has degenerated into the monstrosities of fashion; and the play of fancy has passed into the wilfulness of caprice; but the gaiety of life has depended much on the freshness and vivacity of its movement and its quests. Is this freedom of selection to be foregone in the future, or will the permissible changes be prescribed by authority, or will some triumphant brain undertake to discover the law of fashion and provide, at the exact time and in the exact quantity required, the novelty necessary for the perfect equilibrium of desire and satisfaction. The difficulty has been felt by historic founders of communistic societies, who have carefully provided a uniformity of garb and of food for their refugees. Take, again, the fact of experience that industries shift their habitats within the area of the same political society; the work done in pursuit of a particular result waxes in one spot and wanes in another as local circumstances are favourable or unfavourable, and tends at any time to settle where the desired result can be accomplished with least labour. In a Socialist state the central brain must discover the proper situation of each industry and direct it to be planted there at the peril of losing the advantage of the change. But all these alterations would bring about different relations of the quantity of labour involved in the production of different results, and some corresponding changes in the relation of distribution might be expected. This repartition would be one of the greatest puzzles of the social brain. Mr. Bellamy in Looking Backward has manfully tried to grapple with this and other difficulties. He does not allot to each worker a definite quantity of commodities from central stores; he recognizes the fact that different men want diiferent things, and he provides for a survival of this taint of individualism in his regenerated society. Accordingly, each worker receives a definite credit at the central stores, which he can exhaust according to his own sweet will. Money has, indeed, ceased to exist, and the labour spent in searching for it is saved; but reckonings are still to be kept of nominal prices of things and the workman's credit is limited by a nominal total. This might prove workable, if all things always remained in the same relation to one another, but as the conditions of their production are, and must be—whatever the organization of society—continually changing, the brain, which we have already, perhaps, over-weighted, must be continually rearranging the relation of things to one another without the assistance of commerce in guiding its determinations. And when we turn from domestic to international exchanges, and remember how large a part of our ordinary life depends upon supplies arriving in ever-varying kinds and quantities from thousands of ports which the pioneers of commerce are perpetually seeking to multiply; and how these imports are met by exports dispersed in criss-cross fashion about the globe, so that what we get from the United States may be really paid for by what we send to China and Japan, the mind grows dizzy at the contemplation of the innumerable shifting threads which, shot to and fro over the world, are the warp and woof of our interwoven lives. Consider, for example, sugar, which must ever remain an important article of consumption among us, while not an ounce of raw sugar is produced in our island. A bureau of foreign commerce might frame an estimate of the quantity that might be consumed in a year, but how could it determine the quantities to be requisitioned from Europe, from the several states of Europe, from the islands of the West Indies, from the rest of America, North and South, from Natal, from Queensland, from Mauritius, the East Indies, Dutch and English? How could it always be on the alert to detect new possibilities of supply? How could it organize the mass and the distribution of the exports that would, according to some law, we know not what, be a proper set-off against what we received? And this is only an exhibition under a magnifying-glass of the not less delicate and intricate movement of the vital functions of our economic life at home. All may, in truth, be summed up in the declaration that an industrial community is a palpitating, living organism, the corpuscles of which are in perpetual movement with reciprocal action and reaction among themselves, shifting their relations from causes so manifold and so obscure that the wit of man is not competent to forecast, to train, and to direct its growth and its life. Newton,

'Voyaging through strange seas of thought alone,'

might master and foretell the movements of the spheres, but not even his intellect would be able to track the movement of industry, detecting and weighing the thousands upon thousands of minute causes existing in the material conditions of place and circumstance, and in the variable wills and minds of mortal men, which conspire to send the current of labour here and there over the face of the earth, to make the centres of energy shift from continent to continent and from hemisphere to hemisphere, to people and unpeople states, and to crown a nation to-day master of the world, only to yield the palm of supremacy to another to-morrow.

I have dwelt upon the intellectual rather than upon the moral difficulties confronting Socialism; yet there is a line of reflection that cannot be passed without notice dealing with the bearing of Socialism on art, on literature, and on the nature of man. It has been said of art that it would be freer and nobler in s Socialist community, for the workman would again become joyous. It is said, with truth, of literature that much that is now classed as such is unworthy of the name; and somehow, but how or why we can scarcely discern, it would be purified and renovated in a reconstructed society. And the nature of man, of which these are but expressions, would be regenerated in a like manner under the new conditions of social life. It is upon the conclusion we should arrive at with respect to this last statement that our judgment upon the others must depend. If we know what man will be we may have some confidence as to the character of his activity in art and literature. Yet it may be pointed out that the recognition of the highest work in these spheres, if not its inspiration, has depended upon the freedom of the individual, and upon the infinite variety that has been developed under this freedom. The great artist or singer dwells apart, and few are those found fit to appreciate his gifts when first made known to the world. Gradually the multitude is helped to understand what at first touched scattered units. It would seem as if the judgment of an organized community must necessarily be commonplace; there would be repression of originality, instead of that encouragement it now receives from single voices; and neglect, if not extinction, will await the makers of the future. Yes, it will be retorted, but you forget how the whole character of society will be changed. A real academy of the elect will be one of the institutions of the new world, ever ready with open eyes and open hearts to welcome the epiphany of genius. Can we soberly accept this assurance? Purify as we may the vision of the commonalty it must still be common; and by no process of free evolution can an academy be established whose acting judgment shall he far removed from that of the mass out of which it has sprung. Elevation and distinction are by the very necessity of things, the characteristics of a few. The words themselves imply a contrast between individuals and the majority, and a strict Socialist might detect in them the obnoxious principle of separation. Not that it is so, in truth. Art and literature are essentially communicative. If any order of Socialism could be established, they would probably uproot it because they would show by their activity and productiveness that the new order was insufficient for the satisfaction and fulfilment of the highest nature of man; and we know by experience, however unfriendly the phases of society in the past, art and literature have always prevailed through individual effort and individual voices to give new life and new gladness to the world.

This leads me to my last word. If we are to judge aright the programme of Socialist promise we must compare it not merely with the society that exists, but with society as it too might become, though remaining based on the principles that now underlie it, as its units grew in morality and wisdom. I have tried to show the difficulties that beset the theory of Socialism. In my judgment they are insuperable. The organization suggested by it of a national, still more of an international, economy is impossible. This, if true, is final as far as its pretensions are concerned; but it does not throw us back hopelessly on an unimprovable anarchy. No economist known to me, however strong an upholder of the freedom of individual action and of individual development, has ever forgotten that man is a social animal. Adam Smith wrote The Wealth of Nations, but he also wrote The Moral Sentiments. Bastiat, the most absolute believer in laissez faire, conceived of the social harmony as the resultant of many free forces, just as in the celestial harmony the planets and suns are kept in their courses. The analogy is not fanciful. Each man's life is, indeed, a thing apart. From his birth onward he carries his powers and his responsibilities at his own peril till the time comes when, in Pascal's phrase, he must die alone; yet his career is only possible through a participation in labour, an interchange in services, a co-operation in toil with his fellow men. What might not the race become through the education of the individual man thus endowed with complete personal freedom, and using that freedom as his reason directs, now to work apart and then in union with his fellow or his fellows? I have not dwelt upon the moral difficulties that would impede the acceptance of Socialism, but it must be plain that the moral difficulties in the education of the individual must be less than those of the education of a community; it is easier to raise up units than to raise up masses of men; and whilst the final organization of society remains conceivable concurrently with the freedom of the individual, and has not, on the other hypothesis of Socialist domination, been presented in a conceivable shape, the ways and means towards the improvement of a free society are relatively easy and promising. We are dealing in these speculations, as I have already said, with long intervals of time, and the progress that has been made through slow ages bids us to be at once patient and hopeful. Consider what might be accomplished through a growth in temperance, prudence, and the gift of sympathy. The world would be transformed without any invasion of personal liberty. Poverty, as we understand it, would disappear. Strong men and free men, with personal independence unabated, yet imbued with mutual respect, would associate and dissociate and re-associate themselves as occasion offered and reason suggested, working out an elevation of the common life through individual advancement. The individualist has his ideal, and there is an inheritance of thcefuture which he, too, can regard with hope. Life remains rich, nay, is richer than ever, in variety and beauty; for while the toil which is necessary to support existence is abated, and the condition of all has been raised, character and independence, vivacity, self-reliance and courage—all the elements that constitute the personal genius of each citizen have been strengthened to the ever-increasing enhancement of the charm and grace and wellbeing of humanity.

Leonard Courtney


  1. An evening lecture delivered at University College, London, the 11th February, 1891.
  2. When this lecture was delivered, even this suggestion was greeted by a voice or voices with 'No, no.'