The Unpopular Review, Volume II Number 3 by Various


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Page 1

It is virtually never true, however, that the workers are fighting for
their "living." Contrary to Marx's exploded "iron law" they probably had
that and more before the trouble began. But of course we would not wish to
restrict them to a living, if they can produce more, and want all who
can't produce that much to be provided with it--and something more at the
expense of others.

It may be urged that the employer's profits also represent the livings of
a number of human beings; but this passes nowadays for a reactionary view.
"We stand for man as against the dollar." If you say that the "dollar" is
metonymy for "the man possessed of a dollar," with rights to defend, and
reasonable expectations to be realized, you convict yourself of reaction.
"These gentry" (I quote from the May _Atlantic_) "suppose themselves to be
discussing the rights of man, when all they are discussing is the rights
of stockholders." The true view, the progressive view, is obviously that
the possessors of the dollar, the recipients of profits and dividends, are
excluded from the communion of humanity. Labor is mankind.

The present instance is of course not the only instance in human history
of the substitution of class criteria of judgment for social criteria.
Such manifestations of class conscience are doubtless justified in the
large economy of human affairs; an individual must often claim all in
order to gain anything, and the same may be true of a class. Besides, the
ultimate arbitration of the claims of the classes is not a matter for the
rational judgment. What is subject to rational analysis, however, are the
methods of gaining its ends proposed by the new social conscience. Of
these methods one of wide acceptance is that of fixing odium upon certain
property interests, with a view to depriving them immediately of the
respect still granted to property interests in general, and ultimately of
the protection of the laws. It is with the rationality of what may be
called the excommunication and outlawing of special property interests,
that the present paper is concerned.

In passing, it is worth noting that the same ethical spirit that insists
upon fixing the responsibility for social ills upon particular property
interests--or property owners--insists with equal vehemence upon absolving
the propertyless evil-doer from personal responsibility for his acts. The
Los Angeles dynamiters were but victims: the crime in which they were
implicated was institutional, not personal. Their punishment was rank
injustice; inexpedient, moreover, as provocative of further crime, instead
of a means of repression. On the other hand, when it appears that the
congestion of the slum produces vice and disease, we are not urged by the
spokesmen of this ethical creed, to blame the chain of institutional
causes typified by scarcity of land, high prices of building materials,
the incapacity of a raw immigrant population to pay for better
habitations, or to appreciate the need for light and air. Rather, we are
urged to fix responsibility upon the individual owner who receives rent
from slum tenements. Perhaps we can not imprison him for his misdeeds, but
we can make him an object of public reproach; expel him from social
intercourse (if that, so often talked about, is ever done); fasten his
iniquities upon him if ever he seeks a post of trust or honor; and
ultimately we can deprive him of his property. Let him and his anti-social
interests be forever excommunicate, outlawed.


II

In the country at large the property interests involved in the production
and sale of alcoholic beverages are already excommunicated. The unreformed
"best society" may still tolerate the presence of persons whose fortunes
are derived from breweries or distilleries; but the great mass of the
social-minded would deny them fire and water. In how many districts would
a well organized political machine urge persons thus enriched as
candidates for Congress, the bench or even the school board? In the
prohibition territory excommunication of such property interests has been
followed by outlawry. The saloon in Maine and Kansas exists by the same
title as did Robin Hood: the inefficiency of the law. On the road to
excommunication is private property in the wretched shacks that shelter
the city's poor. Outlawry is not far distant. "These tenements must go."
Will they go? Ask of the police, who pick over the wreckage upon the
subsidence of a wave of reform. Many a rookery, officially abolished, will
be found still tenanted, and yielding not one income, but two, one for the
owner and another for the police. The property represented by enterprises
paying low wages, working men for long hours or under unhealthful
conditions, or employing children, is almost ripe for excommunication.
Pillars of society and the church have already been seen tottering on
account of revelations of working conditions in factories from which they
receive dividends. Property "affected by a public use," that is,
investments in the instrumentalities of public service, is becoming a
compromising possession. We are already somewhat suspicious of the
personal integrity and political honor of those who receive their incomes
from railways or electric lighting plants; and the odor of gas stocks is
unmistakable. Even the land, once the retreat of high birth and serene
dignity, is beginning to exhale a miasma of corruption. "Enriched by
unearned increment"--who wishes such an epitaph? A convention is to be
held in a western city in this very year, to announce to the world that
the delegates and their constituencies--all honest lovers of mankind--will
refuse in future to recognize any private title to land or other natural
resources. Holders of such property, by continuing to be such, will place
themselves beyond the pale of human society, and will forfeit all claim to
sympathy when the day dawns for the universal confiscation of land.

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Books | Photos | Paul Mutton | Fri 26th Apr 2019, 10:26