Ethics of Democracy

Part 3, Business Life
Chap. 2, Justice or Sacrifice

Strange is the game the world doth play -
Rouge et Noir, with the counters gold!
Red with blood and black with sin;
Few and fewer are they that win
As the ages pass untold.

- Charlotte Perkins Stetson

When John on Patmos looked into the New
Jerusalem, he saw a wondrous thing;
The streets of that fair city were all paved
With that which earth most dear and precious holds -
With purest gold, o'er which the happy feet
Of all the habiters of Heaven went up
And down. So might not this declare for us
The proper place of gold in that Society
Whose frame to-day we strive with so much toil
To shape according to our Vision's plan?
A place of use, in truth, on which to build
And act; only for use, to walk upon,
To smooth the way to worship and to work?

But we, in earth's old manner, straight
Reverse this use and fight God's good intent.
Instead of making pavements of our gold,
We beat it out and hammer it into
A dome, and raise it up into a sky
Above our heads. And then, because we can
No more behold the stars, nor can the sun
Shine through; because earth's furious furnace-heat,
Reflected, burns to dust our heart's sweet flowers;
Because our lives begin to pale and faint
Within the twilight we ourselves have made,
We bitterly complain to heaven, and cry
That no kind Providence has planned the world.

- Orville E. Watson

Peace between Capital and Labor, is that all that you ask?
Is peace, then, the only thing needful?
There was peace enough in Southern slavery.
There is a peace of life and another peace of death.
It is well to rise above violence.
It is well to rise superior to anger.

But if peace means final acquiescence in wrong - if your aim is less than justice and peace, forever one - then your peace is a crime.

- Ernest Crosby, in The Whim

What shall I do to be just?
What shall I do for the gain
Of the world for its sadness?
Teach me, O Seers that I trust!
Chart me the difficult main
Leading out of my sorrow and madness;
Preach me the purging of pain.
Shall I wrench from my finger the ring
To cast to the tramp at my door?

Shall I tear off each luminous thing
To drop in the palm of the poor?
What shall I do to be just?
Teach me, O Ye in the light,
Whom the poor and the rich alike trust;
My heart is aflame to be right.

- Hamlin Garland

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The Ethics of Democracy

by Louis F. Post

Part 3, Business Life
Chapter 2, Justice or Sacrifice

EVERY moral relationship is subject to one or the other of two great elementary principles - justice and sacrifice. There is no exception. In so far, then, as business is not unethical, it must conform either to the natural law of justice, or to what is called the spiritual law of sacrifice. To the extent that it is conducted in disregard or defiance of both, it is without ethical basis.

Sacrifice consists in giving without reference to getting. That it has a legitimate place in human affairs is not to be questioned. It certainly has a legitimate place when social conditions are disordered. Some must then sacrifice, that order may be restored. History is full of noble instances. Nor can it be said that sacrifice is without its place in orderly conditions, for giving without reference to getting is one of the characteristics of family life. But the question often recurs whether it ought not also to be characteristic of business life.

There is cause for that question. Though wealth is abundant, and wealth-producing power emulates Omnipotence, degrading poverty and the more degrading fear of poverty are distinguishing characteristics of civilized life. Instead of lifting all to better conditions of opportunity, man's triumphs over the forces of nature enormously enrich a few at the expense of the rest. They have done little to increase the comforts of the toiling masses even absolutely, but much to diminish their comforts relatively; and industrial liberty they have almost destroyed. The gulf between riches and poverty has not been filled in; it has been widened and deepened and made more a hell than ever. So dreadful is the poverty of our time felt to be, that it has inspired all of us with fear of it, - with a fear so terrifying that many more good people than would like to acknowledge their weakness look upon the exchange of one's immortal soul for a fortune as very like a bargain. Such unwholesome circumstances make men ask of one another with growing eagerness: "Am I not my brother's keeper?"

Three answers to the question may be heard.

There is the answer of Cain as the slayer of his brother. It comes from those strenuous mortals who, denying that their brother has rights, acknowledge no duties toward him. They answer promptly and sharply: "No! I am not my brother's keeper. Let him prove his right to survive by surviving. The law of the universe is neither sacrifice nor justice; it is power."

Another answer is in spirit like the first; but instead of being strenuous it is hypocritical. It comes from professional philanthropists and their parasites, and from statesmen who seek conquest in the name of humanity; men who, while denying that their brother has rights which they are morally bound to respect, profess an obligation of charitable duty toward him. In oily phrase they answer: "Yes; I am my brother's keeper. It is my pious duty, a burden from which I must not shrink, to do him good and regulate his life."

The third answer, like the second, is affirmative. But it is not hypocritical, nor is it inspired by sentiments of conventional philanthropy. It comes from devoted men and women. Seeing and often sharing the impoverished condition of multitudes of willing workers in a society where wealth abounds and may be multiplied indefinitely, and attributing this impoverishment to industrial competition, they conceive of sacrifice for the brother as an ever present and normal duty, and forecast an industrial regime from which "unbrotherly competition" shall have been excluded.

The social ideal of this class may be expressed in the familiar though much abused formula: "From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs." But this familiar formula is not to be interpreted in the familiar woodeny way. To each according to his needs does not necessarily mean to each according to his selfish desires. It may just as well mean, to each according to what is necessary for his greatest usefulness. And in some form of phrase or other, such is the interpretation which most if not all believers in the formula give to it. The essential idea is not selfish getting but unselfish giving, not greed but sacrifice.

But that ideal does not bear examination any better than its opposite. Sacrifice is as far out of equilibrium in one direction as greed is in the other. Not sacrifice, but justice, is the law. This is a natural law - a law of human nature. It is one phase of the general law which governs all human activity, namely, the law that men seek to satisfy their desires, be they good or bad, in the easiest known way. That general law is the only rule whereby industrial equilibrium can be produced and maintained, so long as the element of self-interest in measurable degree persists in the world; and competition, if left naturally free, and not made jug-handled by legislative schemes for resisting it, would maintain this equilibrium. Competition is truly, as some one has expressed it, "God's law of cooperation in a selfish world."

With competition free, everyone in normal mental and physical health who produced in proportion to his ability would share in proportion to his needs. For when we consider the principle of the inter-changeability of labor, no healthy man's necessities can exceed his ability to produce. His desires may, but not his needs.

Useless and luxurious people often say they were born to be served, and under a self-sacrificing regime there would be no way of telling whether they might not be right. The queen bee is useful in the hive; why not they possibly in society? But free competition would furnish an infallible test. If that prevailed, they would be served in the degree that they rendered acceptable service, neither more nor less.

To reflect at all upon the principle of the inter-changeability of labor is to see that the relationship of abilities to needs is held in equilibrium by free competition. While, for illustration, a hatmaker might not be able to satisfy his legitimate needs as to shoes with his skill in shoemaking, he would be able to do so with his skill as a hatmaker, provided exchange were unrestricted. So a philosopher, a preacher, an actor or a teacher might fall very far short of satisfying his common needs, if he had to make the needed things themselves; but if he were really useful to his brethren in his own vocation, he would have no difficulty in satisfying those needs by exchanging his labor for theirs. His income of service would be in proportion to his expenditure of ability, and that is the industrial equilibrium. It is interference with competition, not competition itself, that unbalances industry and thereby brings about social conditions which give plausibility to the theory that we ought to work for one another regardless of a return of work.

That theory is fundamentally unsound. "He who will not work neither shall he eat." This correlative of the golden rule, which commands not sacrifice but reciprocality, is good gospel. And whether we become our brother's keeper upon the philosophical principle of giving without getting, or become so in the patronizing spirit of conventional philanthropy, we lead on to the same goal. By making ourselves our brother's keeper in the sense of relieving him of his individual responsibilities, we pursue a course that must inevitably eventuate in our invading his individual liberties. He who adopts a policy of perennial sacrifice for his brother man, of sacrifice as a normal social principle in contradistinction to sacrifice in emergencies, has but taken the first step in that policy of repugnant philanthropy which begins with doing our brethren good and culminates in tyrannically regulating their lives.

Sacrifice is not brotherhood. There are circumstances in which it is neighborly. There are emergencies when it is noble. Even conventional philanthropy has noble aspects. Not so, however, with sacrifice as a universal rule. At its best it implies a benevolently inverted conception of the laws of social life; at its worst it is a form of unmixed selfishness. The principle of sacrifice is not a principle of brotherhood. Self-love sacrifices; brotherhood is just.

The story of Cain, to which advocates of sacrifice recur, proclaiming as its moral that we are our brother's keeper - even that old story, coming down to us from the childhood of the race, coincides with the golden rule of the Nazarene in identifying brotherhood with reciprocality, with justice, with correlated rights and duties, and not with officious or sacrificial care-taking.

We need not approach the story of Cain in superstitious or pious mood. Wholly apart from the reverence that imputes a sacred character to everything between the lids of the Bible, this story is worthy of serious thought. As with so many of the old stories and so few of the new, it contains a share of elementary truth. This is the truth to which we have alluded as of especial value in this era of agitation against social maladjustments. The truth it embodies is the very reverse of that which it is often lightly supposed to teach. The truth it does teach is that man is not his brother's keeper.

Disappointed at the cold reception of his offering to the Lord, and envious to the point of deadly hatred of the affectionate reception of his brother Abel's, Cain murdered his brother. The Lord knew he had done this murder. Cain knew that the Lord knew it, and knew, too, that there was no defense. By murdering Abel he had invaded one of Abel's natural rights - his right to live. It was no question of neglected charity, which his brother could not righteously demand; it was no question of withheld philanthropy, to which his brother had no moral claim; it was no question of refusing to sacrifice himself or part of himself for another to whom the sacrifice would have been a gift. It was a plain case of wronging his brother in respect of a right which his brother could morally assert. His delinquency had reference to no fanciful conception of duties divorced from rights. He had violated his duty- because and only because he had assailed another's right.

Conscious of the wickedness of his crime, Cain resorted to tactics which have ever since been common with his kind. He made a false appeal to a true principle.

'Am I my brother's keeper?" he asked triumphantly, when interrogated with the question which implied and which he knew to imply the Lord's knowledge of his crime. "Am I my brother's keeper?" The question called for a negative. None other could have been given by a God of justice, who is no respecter of persons. Cain was not his brother's keeper. Had he been his brother's keeper he must have been his brother's master. The terms are interchangeable. So at bottom are the ideas for which they stand. God makes no man the keeper of other men. Individual freedom is as plainly a divine command as is walking with the feet or eating with the mouth.

The law to which Cain appealed would have been his perfect defense to any accusation but injustice. But to that accusation it was not a defense. Though charged with no duties as the keeper of his brother, he was charged, as are all men, with the duty of respecting his brother's rights. It was because he had disregarded that duty that Cain was driven forth with the mark upon his brow.

Such is the lesson which the Cain and Abel story has for the lords and masters and philanthropists and reformers of all lands. "Am I my brother's keeper?" No! With emphasis, No! Not more than Cain was of Abel is any man his brother's keeper. But as upon Cain respecting Abel, so upon every man respecting every other, is laid the duty of conserving his brother's rights. There is no normal duty of charity, no normal duty of sacrifice, no normal duty of regulating a brother's life, no normal duty of serving him without expectation of fair service in return, no normal duty of any kind toward any man except as a correlative of some absolute right of his. Our brother has a right to live; therefore it is our duty not to kill him. He has a right to labor and accumulate the products of his labor as private property; therefore, it is our duty to let him labor and not to steal from him. And when these and kindred rights are subject to the power of organized society, as they are now, it is our duty as best we can so to use our influence as to prevent any injustice through the operation of social institutions and laws, which it would be our duty to avoid as individuals.

The true gospel of social regeneration is this: "I am not my brother's keeper; but I am bound to respect and conserve my brother's rights." That is the gospel that will regenerate. No other will. It is the gospel of justice, and justice is the predominant law of brotherhood, the core of every sound system of business life.

By justice is meant the adjustment that morally balances. Applied to business affairs, it means giving and taking upon equal terms - taking as well as giving. It is "quid pro quo"; and for every "quid" there must be a quo," or justice fails - the moral balance is disturbed. Reduced to its final terms, justice in business means service in exchange for equal service. The business man must render full service for the service he receives, and he must demand full service for the service he renders. He would be obviously unjust, were he to get without giving; he would also be unjust, were he to give without getting. Justice in business is the exchange of equivalents. It is economic equilibrium.

Though it were conceded that sacrifice is more exalted than justice, nevertheless justice comes first in the natural order. Before any one can give he must own what he gives. It must be his as against all the rest of the world. No one can give what is not his own. He cannot sacrifice food or raiment or shelter unless he first earns it and owns it. He must be able justly to say of it, "This is mine." If sacrifice be, then, the fruitage and foliage of spiritual growth, yet justice is its root its necessary beginning. Social ethics can no more rest upon sacrifice than upon beggary. Social ethics must rest upon justice.

For that reason justice and not sacrifice must govern in business. For business is at the root of social affairs. Man lives not for business but by business. Business furnishes him the material things he requires to use, to keep, or to give away. Having earned these things in business, he is free to grow in spiritual grace by sacrificing them. But unless he first earns in business what he sacrifices for the good of his soul or the benefit of his brother, the sacrifice may prove to be a curse to both rather than a blessing to either.

Justice, then, is the particular moral principle in which business ethics are founded. Every ethical business rule which is not rooted in justice is false. And by justice, let it be remembered, is meant moral equilibrium moral harmony. It implies both giving and getting. The business that does not give an equivalent in service for the service it gets, is a plundering business; the business that does not get an equivalent in service for the service it gives, is a plundered business. One is unjust as well as the other, and in the natural course of things either will produce disaster. The law of justice is as immutable as the law of gravitation. Even men who seem for a time to flourish upon injustice in business, sooner or later fall victims, in some way, to the very industrial disorder it creates.

This is clearly enough seen in connection with the cruder forms of injustice. Few grocers would expect in these days to prosper by "sanding" their sugar. Shrewd commercial travelers hesitate now to overstock their confiding customers with goods. The more primitive methods of injustice in business, have become well nigh obsolete. It is in subtle ways that injustice now dominates business affairs.

Though business men do not "sand their sugar," they do seek and secure privileges under the law which enable them to exact in trade more service than they give. This is the same as "sanding sugar" both morally and in its inevitably destructive effect upon business. The one, like the other, involves getting without giving on one side, and giving without getting on the other.

It would appear, then, that business ethics have a wider range than the counting room. So they have. Duties of citizenship are involved. Since legal privileges are derived from legislatures, every business man is under an ethical obligation to throw his influence into politics for the protection of business from the blighting effects of legislative favors. It is as much an affair of business to prevent legalizing privilege as to prevent "sanding sugar," and far more important.

Business ethics, whatever form the specific rules may assume, demand of business men - whether manufacturers, storekeepers, farmers, workingmen, or what not among the men who help make the world's living - that they exert all their power and influence to secure a reign of justice in the whole wide realm of business. Upon that rock business can be firmly established. Everywhere else is quicksand. There are no disorders in business, no mysterious disturbances in business, no booms with their succeeding depressions, no strikes and lockouts, no undeserved failures - there is nothing of which business men complain, that is not traceable to business methods at variance with elementary justice. The only remedy is conformity to justice. When business men shall fully and practically recognize the principle that business cannot be honest, and therefore cannot as a whole continue to prosper, so long as legalized privileges enable some men to get out of business more service than they put in, thereby forcing others to put in more than they get out, then and not before will business methods be correct and business life be wholesome.

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