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and distribution—of factory, market, and shop— has become as though it were a thing good and complete in itself, has become the task of men's lives, decides what relations men and nations are to bear to each other, and has imposed upon the whole of Society its rules and its expediencies, its working and its results, as though these expressed the ends of Society, were paramount to morals, and belonged to the eternal things of nature, and not merely to the temporary interests of classes of men. Essentially, this is of the nature of slavery, a slavery, perhaps, which is felt only when men have reached a fairly high state of intelligence, but a slavery which must cut keenly before men can proceed very far towards freedom, or Society become a rational organization to promote certain human ends.
How men are enslaved to things and the organization of things in Society is plainly seen in the getting and holding of wealth. Wealth should be the reward of service, and its possession should mean enjoyment. To-day, neither of these things can be said of it. Its acquisition and retention have created organizations which act quite apart from social need or well-being as I shall show, and which also set aside all moral considerations. We justify property by the simple fact that it has been acquired; it is further acquired by using a certain mechanism of a purely economic character. In getting wealth, men do not require to be honest or to be useful. The industrial and financial machine is purely economic in its working, and whoever manages it must do so by its own rules. What so many people do not see is that the security for property does not consist in its having been acquired, but in its having been acquired in ways against which our sense of justice can make no charge. Property as such has no sacredness; it gets sacredness only when it represents service. When the defence of property is nothing more than a defence of economic interests, Society as a whole will never join in that defence though classes may. Property derived from the mere working of an economic machine—by stock exchange flutters, by financiers' operations, by the transformation of companies working on a capital into companies working on a + y capital, by amalgamations, by profiteering on markets, by using opportunities to get rich— will never gain that respect which will secure it against attack. The visitor bent upon enquiry into our state would find that the vast bulk of our wealth was acquired without any reference to the moral requirement that service must be the reason why men possess, and production the only title to enjoyment. He would find that acquisition has nothing to do with merit, ownership nothing to do with moral justice. He would find a purely materialist economic organization, manipulated to enable men of certain capacity as economic engineers to acquire certain shares in the national wealth and certain liens on the national income. In certain places of public resort he would come across a little machine into which you put a penny and pull a trigger. If you know how to manipulate it, or if you happen to have luck, you pull in such a way that you get more than the worth of your penny in return. If he were a man of reflective imagination, he would here see a simplified symbol of the great and the complicated economic machine which classes of people work to acquire wealth in Society.
This enquirer would observe, however, that the holders of wealth created conditions which seemed superficially to justify their existence but which certainly would not satisfy his fresh critical mind.
They may be masters of huge industries. For Society, he would see that they are of no more use than one of their under managers or one of their salesmen. They may be large shareholders. For Society, they are doing less than one of their day labourers. They create or maintain a system by which industrial capital is held by individuals, and then imagine that they are essential as one of these individuals. They can imagine no other way; they assume there is no other way; they justify themselves. What would befall Society, they ask, had they not saved, had they not accumulated, had they not provided capital 2 The existence of a system, to them, is its justification. That is partly sound as to what has been, but it is not a justification for its continuance. When the trams of Glasgow were run by a private company, what invaluable service did not the owners of that company do to the people of Glasgow ! In what raptures could we not have appraised that service The trams were municipalized, however, the service was improved, the workers were better treated, the fares reduced. And there were no shareholders, no individuals performing the essential service of giving to the Glasgow people a loan of their money.* There were ratepayers, and managers, and tram conductors, and the second state was better than the first.
Nor is much of the wealth of benefit to the individual. Amongst the most deadly objections that can be taken to the present system is the utter uselessness, even when it is not, as it so often is, the positive harmfulness, of great masses of its wealth in terms of human use and enjoyment. The owner is not enriched; he is often impoverished. He may live in ease, or he may find that his life is spent in looking after his possessions, or his possessions may be so great that he can employ others to do that for him. A poor life at best—a useless life or an ostentatious one, where a man's friends are not those of his personality but of his table, his smoking room or his business influence. He buys pictures and the stranger enjoys them; he rents deer forests and the trespasser sings for joy in them ; he lives in a beautiful house without feeling its beauty. Such a man recently went to a friend of mine, a well-known dealer in second-hand books, told him he had bought a house with about one hundred and twenty feet of bookshelves in a library, and asked my friend to supply that breadth of book backs, “real good expensive stuff.” His property gave delight to one whom he would regard as the embodiment of all earthly evil before it went into the degrading service of veneering his house. This desire to acquire inordinately, so far from being one of the virtues which keeps Society alive, is a curse to those who have it and to the Society in which it operates. Its companion is vulgarity, not cultured leisure, waste, not beneficial use, loafing, not freedom to give the service which one's heart would give. Its triumph in a community is the blaze of the setting sun. Glibly did we say when the war came in 1914 that the community had become over luxurious, that great individual wealth had been bringing forth its natural progeny of sensuousness, and that one of the blessings of the war would be to make us wealthier and cleaner in spirit by subordinating the possession of property to social use and human values. I write at a time when the fields tilled and sown by war are full of mysterious sprouts of uncertain species and promise, but they forbid us to hope. What has grown up into immediate rankness is certainly not the virtue in expectation of which we consoled ourselves in 1914. We admit the evil; with foreboding we watch it. And yet because it springs from habitual conceptions of how wealth is acquired in our Society, because we shrink from applying our moral ideas to the economic machine, we resist all attempts to put our wealth holding on a footing that will at once make it secure and enable it to fructify in moral and spiritual gains both to the individual and Society. Right down at the very source of conduct is this fatal poison. The social virtues which come of the order of civilization and the sense of the higher satisfactions which are embodied in and protected by religion, compel us to believe that mere material gains which are of the nature of accretions upon, when they are not aids to, personality cannot be ends in themselves. But Society to-day is so constituted that the realities of life are hidden up under these material things, and a set of economic and business laws rule instead of spiritual ones. Human relations are not determined by human emotions but by economic results, social structure is not the architecture of men's minds but of economic mechanism. The gospels of Christianity in Society are like a thing of chaste beauty amidst the knick-knacks of our houses—something upon which to rest the weary and unhappy eye, something to upbraid the jaded mind for having somehow or other missed its way and its mark. Or, to put it differently, they are ranged on one side as the guides of the imprac
* For a fuller discussion of this point see pp. 194 et seq.