Ethics of Democracy
Chap. 7, Social Evolution
principle of Economics,
of the art of ordering the social relations of mankind, may then be
summed up in the one word Justice.
- Lewis H. Berens,
in "Toward the Light"
Are there no
slaves to-day? While we sit here at play,
Have we no
brothers in adversity?
None sorry nor
oppressed, who without hope or rest
Must toil and have
no pleasure in their toil?
These are your
slaves and mine. Where is the right divine
Of idlers to
encumber God's good soil?
There is no man
alive, however he may strive,
Allowed to own the
work of his own hands.
water lords at all the roads and fords,
Taking their toll,
imposing their commands.
- Bliss Carman
ermine clad, nor clothed in state,
Their title deeds
not yet made plain;
But waking early,
The heirs of all
the earth remain.
Some day, by laws
as fixed and fair
As guide the
planets in their sweep,
The children of
each outcast heir
The harvest fruits
of time shall reap.
Some day without a
This news shall
o'er the earth be blown:
The heritage comes
back to all;
monarchs take their own.
- Thomas Wentworth
the same spirit looks into the law of Property, and accuses men of
driving a trade in the great boundless Providence which had given the
air, the water, and the land to men to use and not to fence in and
monopolize. ("The Times.") I
cannot occupy the bleakest crag of the White Hills or the Allegheny
Range, but some man or corporation steps up to me to show me that it is
his. ("The Conservative.") Touch
any wood, or field, or house lot on your peril; but you may come and
work in ours for us, and we will give you a piece of bread. ("The
course, whilst another man has no land, my title to mine, your title to
yours, is at once vitiated. ("Man the
- Ralph Waldo Emerson
speaking, the land belongs to these two: To the Almighty God; and to
all his Children of Men that have ever worked well on it, or that shall
ever work well on it. No generation of men can or could, with never
such solemnity and effort, sell Land on any other principle: it is not
the property of any generation.
- Thomas Carlyle, in
"Past and Present,"
Book III, Chapter VIII.
any plain understanding the right of property is very simple. It is the
right of man to possess, enjoy, and transfer, the substance and use of
whatever he has himself created. This title is good against the world;
and it is the sole and only title by which a valid right of absolute
private property can possibly vest. But no man can plead any such title
to a right of property in the substance of the soil.
- James Fintan Lalor, in "The
Irish Felon," July 8, 1848.
It is easy to persuade the masses that the good things of this
world are unjustly divided - especially when it happens to be the
- Froude's "Caesar."
affirm that a man can rightfully claim exclusive ownership in his own
labor when embodied in material things, is to deny that any one can
rightfully claim exclusive ownership in land. -("Progress
and Poverty," Book VII, Ch. I.)
So far from the recognition of private property in land being necessary
to the proper use of land, the contrary is the case. Treating land as
private property stands in the way of its proper use. Were land treated
as public property it would be used and improved as soon as there was
need for its use or improvement, but being treated as private property,
the individual owner is permitted to prevent others from using or
improving what he cannot or will not use or improve himself.
-(Same, Book VIII, Ch. I.) We
should satisfy the law of justice, we should meet all economic
requirements, by at one stroke abolishing all private titles, declaring
all land public property, and letting it out to the highest bidders in
lots to suit, under such conditions as would sacredly guard the private
right to improvements.... But such a plan, though perfectly feasible,
does not seem to me the best. Or rather I propose to accomplish the
same thing in a simpler, easier, and quieter way, than that of formally
confiscating all the land and formally letting it out to the highest
bidders.... We already take some rent in taxation. We have only to make
some changes in our modes of taxation to take it all. What I,
therefore, propose... is - to appropriate rent by taxation.... Now,
inasmuch as the taxation of rent, or land values, must necessarily be
increased just as we abolish other taxes, we may put the proposition
into practical form by proposing - to
abolish all taxation save that upon land values.
(Same, Book VIII, Ch. II.)
- Henry George
ye blind, from your futile banding!
Know the rights
and the rights are won.
Wrong shall die
with the understanding,
One truth clear,
and the work is done.
Nature is higher
than Progress or Knowledge
Whose need is
ninety enslaved for ten.
My word shall
stand against mart and college:
The planet belongs
to its living men!
- "Liberty," by John
prosperity through freedom, equality, local
autonomy and respect for the commons.
The Ethics of Democracy
by Louis F. Post
Chapter 7, Social Evolution
FEW things in human history are more obvious than the
effect upon social institutions in general of changes in economic
conditions. Restricted economic systems have always been prejudicial to
the business, the politics, the art, the morals and even the religions
of the societies that have tolerated them; while advances in economic
freedom have everywhere been followed by improvement in all other
spheres of social aspiration and effort.
This obvious historical truth could hardly be more impressively
portrayed than in these eloquent words:
"Only in broken gleams and partial light has the sun of Liberty yet
beamed among men, but all progress hath she called forth. Liberty came
to a race of slaves crouching under Egyptian whips, and led them forth
from the House of Bondage. She hardened them in the desert and made of
them a race of conquerors. The free spirit of the Mosaic law took their
thinkers up to heights where they beheld the unity of God, and inspired
their poets with strains that yet phrase the highest exaltations of
thought. Liberty dawned on the Phoenician coast, and ships passed the
Pillars of Hercules to plow the unknown sea. She shed a partial light
on Greece, and marble grew to shapes of ideal beauty, words became the
instruments of subtlest thought, and against the scanty militia of free
cities the countless hosts of the Great King broke like surges against
a rock. She cast her beams on the four-acre farms of Italian
husbandmen, and born of her strength a power came forth that conquered
the world. They glinted from shields of German warriors, and Augustus
wept his legions. Out of the night that followed her eclipse, her
slanting rays fell again on free cities, and a lost learning revived,
modern civilization began, a new world was unveiled; and as Liberty
grew, so grew art, wealth, power, knowledge, and refinement. In the
history of every nation we may read the same truth."*
So manifest is this order of social phenomena whereby social
improvement follows advances in economic freedom, and not only with
reference to past times but also in our own day, that social progress
seems to be generated by economic modes; and from that inference materialistic evolutionists
draw far-reaching conclusions. Economics becomes to them a sort of
social protoplasm, out of which the higher institutions and even the
ideals of society are progressively evolved.
The plausibility of this theory is greatly enhanced by the undeniable
fact that institutions of higher degree are affected in character and
direction by existing economic conditions. The economic struggle taints
our politics with corruption, rests our morals on the shifting sands of
utilitarianism, degrades our art to the commonplace or the sensational,
and turns the high ideals of our religion into empty metaphors behind
which lurks a loathsome dollar worship.
All this is because existing economic conditions force everybody into
an all-absorbing devotion to the problem of securing a living. The
higher qualities of human nature have consequently but little
opportunity to develop freely. It by no means follows, however, that
economic systems naturally determine the character and direction of
those qualities. Nothing more is proved than that economic systems
which force men to become absorbed in the problem of securing a living,
hold the higher qualities of human nature down to their own low levels.
We may still infer, then, when changes in economic systems are followed
by improvement on the higher planes of social life, that this result is
due to another cause than materialistic evolution. So far from being
limited to the theory that improved conditions on the higher planes are
generated by economic change, we may fairly conclude that those
conditions are attributable to the fact that the economic change has
freed the higher qualities of men from the thraldom of bread winning.
Instead of affording proof of materialistic evolution, such changes are
instances of spiritual emancipation.
It is true, of course, that men must eat and drink and be clad before
they can think effectively about art or morals, politics or religion,
or in any other manner give free play to their higher faculties. They
must, moreover, not only have all the bodily comforts that food and
drink and clothing symbolize, but must also be reasonably assured of
always having them, before their thoughts can soar very far above
So long as economic necessities are forced into the foreground, higher
impulses will be driven into the background. While the mind is worried
with economic thoughts, moral and spiritual thoughts will be clouded.
Any economic system, therefore, which perpetually stimulates a
universal and obtrusive fear of want, must give direction and character
to every other social institution. It does this, however, not by
processes of generation or materialistic evolution, but by holding the
higher functions of the mind in check.
Emancipate the higher human qualities by banishing want and fear of
want, and social development will no longer be determined by economic
adjustments. The higher human faculties, freed from the enthrallment of
bodily needs, will rise toward their source - which is not material,
The theory that all social movement is generated and determined by
economic adjustments, assumes that an effect can be greater than its
original cause. It attributes the origin of the higher characteristics
and possibilities of social life to the lower. And this extraordinary
method of accounting for moral and spiritual qualities in man, is,
heaven save the mark, sometimes called "scientific." It would be as
scientific to assume that water naturally rises above its source, or
that machinery naturally gives out more power than has been put into it.
Economic systems cannot be the original cause of institutions that rise
above the economic. If morality, for instance, is evolved from
economic conditions, an equal moral force must have been first involved into
economic conditions. So, also, with art, politics, religion and all the
rest. Nothing superior to economics can be got out of economics without
having first been injected into economics. But that implies what
materialistic evolutionists deny - a first cause or force, a force
which descends from highest spirituality to lowest materiality and then
returns. It is a force that in this respect may be likened to rays of
sunlight which upon striking the face of a mirror are reflected back.
The mirror does not generate the light it projects. Neither does the
material generate the spiritual.
The manifestations of this force through the higher faculties of the
human mind and heart may, indeed, be checked by obstructions along the
lower levels through which it rises. But in no other sense can it be
truly said to be directed or determined by those levels. They support
and may be made to check it; but they have no vitality of their own to
give. Remove the obstructions, and the higher faculties are no more
determined by the lower functions than the volume of water in a
reservoir is determined by the shape of the pipe through which it is
received from its source in the mountain lake.
Given an economic condition from which the fear of want had been
banished, and the higher functions of society would be determined, not
by economic modes, but by moral ideals unobstructed and unpolluted by
sordid anxieties and hopes and fears.
Nor need we think of such an economic condition as fanciful. On the
contrary, it is entirely natural in the social state. It would be a
reality to-day, under the existing economic system, but for immoral
political interferences with the natural distribution of wealth. The
possibilities of satisfying the material wants of mankind are
practically unlimited. If all men who are willing to work for their
living were allowed to work, and each who works were free to demand
effectively the share which his work adds to current production, there
would be neither want nor fear of want, but more than enough for all.
But by setting up and perpetuating the institution of private ownership
of the habitable globe, we have empowered a comparatively few to
regulate by their own all-powerful interests the amount and character
of work to be done and the shares into which the result shall be
distributed. We have thereby perpetuated the problem of want and the
fear of want.
What keeps this problem alive is not our economic system in itself, but
one of our political institutions reacting upon our economic system,
and an immoral institution at that. To be more specific, it is not
competition, the essence of our economic system, that keeps the problem
alive; it is land monopoly, which obstructs competition and makes it
lop-sided. Abolish land monopoly, and the want problem would banish
itself. Abolish land monopoly, and our economic system, freed from
obstruction, would emancipate the higher human faculties.
So long as these are held in subjection to economic systems, whether
the systems be selfishly plutocratic or fraternally socialistic, just
so long will their activities be directed and determined by the
debasing spirit of utilitarianism. But immediately upon their release
their activities would come under the influence of moral ideals,
derived, without sordid pollution or distortion, from the original
moral force of the universe. This is the only social evolution which,
being sound in natural principle, is wholesome in all its processes.
* "Progress and Poverty,"
Book X, Ch. V.
evolutionism is a component in the of the Marxist school. Its central
thesis in the Marxist case for communism is that private
property has caused people put self-advancement ahead of the advancement of the species. [- online editor]
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