III. THE WANE OF LIBERALISM
As industrialism comes to dominate capitalist society, by the middle of the nineteenth century Liberalism is driven forward along two lines. First, Liberalism must depart from laissez faire individualism to adopt an increasing respect for social obligations. More important than individual rights becomes the general social well-being. Second, Liberalism is forced to acknowledge that the world does progress, and that evolution precludes the possibility of maintaining eternally any given system of society. Social systems are seen to have beginnings and ends. For the first time Liberalism becomes conscious of its historical limitations. and feels the shadow of death upon it as the specter of Communism appears.
As they struggled to obtain political leadership, the English industrialists did not hesitate to take advantage of the restiveness of the masses and to proclaim a program of extreme democratic individualism in which each person was to count for one, no one for more than one, with each equal before the law. The end of social legislation was to be the greatest good to the greatest number. Thus, speaking in the name of all humanity, the industrialists hoped to win the lower middle classes to their side.
This was a period when bourgeois ideologists concocted fantastic humanitarianisms of all sorts. Robert Owen and Saint-Simon spun out socialistic schemes in which the industrialist at the head dictated to all for the benefit of humanity. Others took the lead from Ricardo to develop variegated plans of plenty for all. So long as they were kept out of power, the industrial capitalists were model humanitarians.
The situation rapidly changed once power was theirs. Victory was not achieved simultaneously in England, France, and the United States; but in each of these countries, from about the middle of the century onward, the industrial bourgeoisie began to repudiate its Radical attitude and to rest content to limit its political struggle against the older ruling groups within the confines of Parliament. By the end of the second third of the nineteenth century, everywhere industrial capitalists were succeeding in assuming leadership within the Liberal Parties.
As big industry abandoned small property, the petty bourgeoisie was compelled to form its own parties and to take the lead in protest movements. By now, large sections of the lower middle classes had become completely upset. Periodic crisis, 1825, 1837, 1847, etc., weighed upon them heavily. Coincidentally, nevertheless, they had been the beneficiaries of a spread of education and a far easier communication of ideas. A considerable number had improved their material lot also, these improvements even filtering down into the ranks of the artisans and skilled workers in the factories. In other words, in spite of all its contradictions and antagonisms, capitalism had yet been progressive, raising social norms generally.
During this period the petty proprietor was very close to the laboring classes. Many of his group had raised themselves but recently from the ranks of the workers, while at the same time others of his type had been falling into the working class. On the side of the proletarians, capitalism had bred the hope that they too might be able to improve their standards and perhaps even to rise into the ranks of the middle bodies.
Thus it was now the turn of the petty-bourgeoisie to gain the confidence of the workers and to speak in the name of all humanity. It seized hold of the dictum that happiness to the greatest number is the aim of social legislation and ardently maintained that, since it comprised the people and therefore the greatest number, legislation must be for it and by it.
Standing by himself, the British petty bourgeois could not go beyond the concept of democracy. On the whole, English life was still tolerable to him. True democracy would give him a chance to express himself within the framework of the capitalist State and even to dominate it. That was sufficient; he wanted neither revolution nor violence, and he made this very plain to his working class allies. Indeed, parliamentary democracy to him was the exact antidote to the surging poison of proletarian revolution. However, as the “little man” needed the proletariat to fight his battles for him, he was willing to go beyond mere democratic demands and tolerate some claims for social reform.
This situation was illustrated very clearly in the Chartist movement. Chartism took form as a result of the bad times of 1837 and of the general miserable conditions extant in both city and country. The people were angry, too, over the restrictions in the Reform Bill of 1832, (*1) and with the Poor Law Amendment Act of 1834.
Petty bourgeois domination made sure that the principal Chartist demands were purely parliamentary, namely:
1. Equal representation in Parliament.
2. Universal suffrage.
3. Annual Parliaments.
4. No property classifications for voting or office-holding.
5. Vote by ballot.
6. Parliamentary sittings regulated with payments to members. Nevertheless, Parliamentary activity was not conceived as an end in itself. The various elements in the Chartist movement emphasized it simply as the sole method of effecting some lightening of their burdens.
The prominent position which these Parliamentary demands had among the workers can be explained by the fact that “the adherents of Chartism belonged, as a rule, to the better paid and mentally active sections of the working class. This was primarily the case in the years from 1836 to 1842. Contemporary evidence leaves no doubt that it was not a movement of the lowest strata of society… .” (*2) These higher paid laboring elements could not divorce themselves completely from the petty proprietor, and it was through such that the latter dominated the scene. The workers’ section of Chartism allowed itself to be headed by petty bourgeois reformers like William Lovett, or Irish peasant representatives like Feargus O’Connor and J. Bronterre O’Brien. The time was not yet ripe for a strong revolutionary movement of labor in England.
It was not only Chartism that gave evidence to the awakening of the lower middle classes. All political parties of the time were being penetrated by their economic programs which stressed humanitarianism and the welfare of the people and tried to combine individualism and collectivism through the establishment of voluntary co-operatives. Voluntary co-operation became the great nostrum for all social ills. It was the panacea by which society would be peacefully transformed into the paradise of the petty proprietor, who would thus be able to keep both historic initiative and property and stave off both the trusts and nationalization. Co-operative obsessions dominated everything the petty bourgeoisie controlled, whether Liberalism or Anarchism, Socialism or Communism. Such ideas formed a leit motif, for William Lovett, for Louis Blanc, for Proudhon, as they did for the Rochdale experimenters. The Trades-Union Chartists made this their key principle. Even the Left Winger, O’Connor, wrecked himself in a disastrous co-operative venture.
To the petty bourgeoisie, co-operation was not only individualism “mutualized,” it was also the antithesis to overbearing proletarian Communism. O’Connor, for example, declares, “I have been, and I think I ever shall be, opposed to the principle of Communism…. I am, nevertheless, a strong advocate of co-operation, …(*3)
Bourgeois utilitarianism had laid down the principles that liberty was the means that would bring about the end, happiness, and that the resultant happiness would be not a mere individual affair but necessarily a social affair. Democratic Liberal-Radicalism now pointed out that liberty under the Liberal Whigs was not bringing happiness to the greatest number. Furthermore, they asked, what sort of liberty was there for the disfranchised and the proletarian anyway—the liberty to be unemployed, to starve, to be dispossessed, to pay taxes for capitalist wars? (*4)
Moreover, on the extreme Left there was being heard the argument, since liberty was but a means and not an end in itself, would it not be just to control and regulate this bourgeois liberty in the name of the happiness of the greatest number? Means were to be changed whenever the realization of the end should demand it. Involved here was the further question, suppose capitalism would not recognize its social obligations, what then? The proletarian section answered by advocating force to obtain the Charter if peaceful persuasion did not succeed.
On this question of the use of force, the Chartist movement split wide open. The Right Wing, led by William Lovett, who moreover managed to control the weak trade union movement, insisted on the use only of moral force, education, and legal agitation. The extreme Left Wing, under Harvey and Jones and, to some extent, O’Connor, prepared for violence. At first, the Right Wing prevailed and huge petitions were sent to Parliament, only to be rejected. The labor Chartists then tried the effect of a wide strike movement and as this method, too, failed, and as conditions grew immeasurably worse with the famine and depression of 1847, plans were laid for insurrection. England moved toward civil war.
In the end the Chartist movement collapsed. Labor was entirely too weak to overthrow capitalism. Chartists were united against the heavy taxation of the poor and against the pressure of the national debt, and they were opposed to land monopoly and primogeniture, yet the two different groups of labor and small business could not agree on a positive economic program. They were caught in the quarrel over free trade or protection. They were stirred up over the land question, whether the solution was to be peasant proprietorship or nationalization of land, although many on both sides favored a back-to-the land movement with small farms as the basis. They fought over whether they should adopt a program of voluntary co-operatives or State ownership of industry. Questions of labor unions, co-operative stores, temperance, and Owenism also divided them.
“To William Lovett the Charter was but one element in a general program of social amelioration by voluntary effort and popular education. To Feargus O’Connor it was the political counterpart of a new peasantry re-established on the land stolen from their forefathers and removed forever from the factory towns. To the Reverend Joseph Stephens and to John Frost and many of the other early leaders Chartism meant the repeal of the Poor Law. To J. Bronterre O’Brien it meant currency reform and the nationalization of land rents. To Ernest Jones, Chartism was proletarian Socialism."(*5)
What was decisive for the collapse of the revolutionary Chartist opposition was the speedy termination of the depression of 1847. From then on, general conditions for the laboring classes improved steadily. Further, the ruling groups were ready, in the light of the general properity, to make a number of concessions to the masses.
The first task of the Liberal State was to separate the violent proletarian elements from the petty bourgeoisie. To appease the workers, bills were passed limiting hours of certain factory labor to ten, reducing the price of bread by repealing the Corn Laws, and beginning a series of factory laws regulating conditions of labor. Poor Law regulations also were made to operate less stringently.
In adopting such a program, all capitalists were obliged to admit that laissez faire individualism was gone forever. The violent measures of the revolutions of 1848 in Europe and the extent to which the Chartists had threatened authority helped mightily to make all wealthy groups understand the value of the State apparatus. To stop the Chartist demonstration in London in 1848, 170,000 special constables had been enrolled (including William Gladstone and Louis Napoleon), besides the mobilization of the regular police and the standing army under the Duke of Wellington. Big Business now appreciated the stringent necessity to cease agitating the masses. The Philosophical Radicals and the elder Whig groups turned to each other for mutual support and closed their ranks. Under the leadership of Gladstone and Bright, the old Whig Party dissolved to give rise to a new Liberal Party, embracing the principles of franchise extension and some of the parliamentary planks of the Chartistís. To political shifts were thereby accomplished. The industrialists became the leading group among the Liberals in fact and the petty entrepreneur was retained within the Liberal camp.
The danger of allowing the lower middle classes to separate themselves from wealthy property had become quite apparent. It was imperative to bring them into the Liberal Party and to control them. This could be done only by openly recognizing the principles of democracy, of social welfare.
Under the pressure of these new developments, a second Reform Bill was passed in 1867 which granted the franchise to practically all elements of the petty bourgeoisie and the upper strata of workers. This was a final step in the strategy of dividing workers from small property owners.
Politics must belong to property, not to labor. As big and little capital united in Liberalism, the workers were induced to turn away from politics to the trade union field. Trade unions were now allowed and to some extent even encouraged.
At this point it cannot be said that English Liberalism had changed from a theory of individual rights to one of social duties. Rather was it a question of better recognition of the rights of the poor. The individual liberty of the lower orders was better appreciated. Gladstone and Bright arrested their development here.
It was the older ruling groups, particularly the landed aristocratic elements, who preached the need of disciplining the industrialists to make them recognize their sociality. In a desperate effort to retaliate upon the industrialists and to win the lower orders to their side, the Tory Party later changed into the Conservative, initiated a good part of the factory legislation. “If the Liberals carried free trade, the Tories gave the trade unions their charter of emancipation. If the Liberals were responsible for the Reform Act of 1832, the Tories carried that of 1867; and 1884 was a compromise between them.” (*6)
It was not only in England that rulers were absorbing the idea of welfare. In France, Napoleon III was calling himself the “Social Emperor.” In Germany, while the National Liberals were bitterly fighting all labor legislation, Bismarck and the Conservatives were prompted by the threat of Socialism to enter into an elaborate scheme of social insurance. In all these countries, writers were denouncing the reckless criminality of the industrialists. (For example, in England, Southey, Coleridge, Carlyle, Kingsley, and others.) These intellectuals developed a sort of reactionary Socialism in which the order of the Middle Ages contrasted favorably to modern industrial anarchy. Some of their theories became embedded in programs of Guild Socialism, Christian Socialism, State Socialism, and similar movements which can be designated as legitimate precursors of the Fascism of today.
The Philosophic Radicals had moved away from the position of Adam Smith (*7) to admit that the uncontrolled operation of economic laws could not bring justice and happiness into the world, but that the State had to be called in to modify or supplement economic laws. Thus legislation became the source of justice, and good morality was made identical with "scientific” principles of legislation. The people must not appeal against the State, but rather must work through and under it. Far better was moderate change from above than compulsory radical change due to pressure from below.
This renovated program permitted the industrialists to ally themselves with the country gentlemen group and together to form the new Liberal Party represented by Gladstone. “The rise of this middle-class is the key-note of Victorian England, and incidentally that of the political career of Gladstone. But it would be a mistake to regard him as the peculiar representative of that class…. The secret of Gladstone’s power lies in the fact that the middle-class never gained complete control. What really happened was that a section of the country gentry shared political power with the middle-class. (*8)
At first Gladstone had been a mild Tory; he later became a mild Liberal, and even then his desire was to be on the Liberal side of the Conservative Party rather than on the Conservative side of the Liberal Party. His early record had not been a very happy one to win the confidence of the masses. He had advocated the worst clauses in the Irish Coercion Bill; he had opposed the admission of Jews to Parliament and the abolition of tests to Dissenters; he had voted for the Corn Laws, had taken a stand against the abolition of State sinecures, had resisted the abolition of flogging in the army, etc.
The new Party, on the initiative of Bright, pressed for an extension of the franchise to take in the skilled workers of the city who would undoubtedly support the industrialists. The democratic movement in Europe and the United States, in 1860-1870, emphasized the timeliness of this program. At the same time Gladstone tried to succor the small landowner. Just as the Conservative element did its best to win the urban poor, so did the new Liberals strive to win a base in the countryside. They defended the Catholic agrarians, had the Bill disestablishing the Irish Church passed, and helped to do away with the parliamentary disabilities of Catholics. Liberalism then proposed a whole series of acts to aid the tenant on the land, especially in Ireland, and culminated its program in 1886 with Gladstone’s proposal for Home Rule for Ireland.
This solicitous care for Ireland was a profound recognition of the fact that the matter of Empire had already become the chief and all-engrossing question of the day. The tremendous industrial advance of Germany after the Franco-Prussian War made English Big Business completely change its laissez faire policy. An Empire had to be created and held together, an Empire that would keep German goods out and maintain British supremacy over the seas. The Liberals, with their Home Rule Bill, with their not too aggressive foreign policy and “Little England” traditions, were becoming passe. New conditions demanded that the large-scale metal industrialists of the Birmingham School quit the Liberals and join forces with the Conservatives to maintain the compulsory union of England and Ireland and to advocate for the first time a protective tariff policy. Later, under the leadership of Bonar Law, these industrialists were to capture the Conservative Party from the older aristocratic elements of Balfour. A full fledged modern Imperialist policy now became born.
Thus, the limited program of Bright and Gladstone, embracing principally a tenant land policy and extension of the franchise, soon became inadequate. Further, a vigorous labor movement was springing up. For a time the Liberals had been successful in winning workers to their side and preventing separate labor representation, but the Paris Commune and the growth of the Socialist parties of Europe had shown clearly that labor was bound to have its own organizations and banners. Once classes became conscious of their separate existence and interests, they were certain to express themselves in independent forms.
The drastic changes transforming the character of Liberalism may be summed up by comparing the Liberal platform of the early nineteenth century with that of the late. The former had been anti-democratic; the latter made many democratic concessions. The first was individualistic, believed in the minimum State, and recognized no classes. The second proceeded through the medium of individualism and announced that the masses also had individualist rights, which could be protected, however, only through the development of the State power. Still later, Liberal theory was forced to recognize the existence of classes, but denied the class struggle and asserted a theory of class harmony and collaboration. The State was to be the mechanism to effect this harmony of diverse interests. Early nineteenth-century Liberalism stressed individual liberty as the sole means. Middle nineteenth-century Liberalism emphasized the need of State intervention to insure liberty to the lower orders and talked of protecting the labor contracts of women and children, etc. Late nineteenth- century Liberalism began to recognize that liberty after all was merely a means to an end and as such could be restricted to obtain social happiness and harmony for all. Thus Liberalism advanced to ideas of social insurance and social responsibility.
By the time of the twentieth century, it was manifest that the sole way to win over labor was through a thorough-going system of social reforms. This change in front necessitated a new internal struggle within the party of Liberalism, but in the end the elder faction, under Asquith, was defeated by Lloyd George. The change was exemplified in the stand of the Party on taxation. Whereas in 1874 Gladstonian Liberalism had put forth a program of abolition of the income tax, by the twentieth century Liberalism was advocating a progressive tax, etc.
In the end, Liberalism came to harness a program of Socialism to its cart and to promise labor the possibility of eventual Socialism through social reform and social reform through Liberal activity. Capitalism had now entered into its period of imperialism with super-profits wrung from the hides of the colonial masses large enough to enable the capitalists to separate the skilled workers from the unskilled, to bribe off the upper layers of the laborers, and to interest these privileged workers in the advances of Capitalism.
The tendency of Liberalism towards Socialism is witnessed in the writings of John Stuart Mill. Mill’s attempts, however, were exceedingly timid. In reality he feared the masses and at heart was for a government by experts and not by popular assemblies. To him majorities could also be tyrannies. Yet he came out for complete civil liberties, for women’s suffrage, for restriction on inheritance, taxation of rent, etc., and supported collective action in voluntary co-operatives or trade unions. With all his leanings towards Socialism, Mill, like Gladstone, (*9) belonged fundamentally to the individualist school. He admired the French frugal peasantry and ardently supported the Small Holdings Act in England. At the same time, Mill could actually write, “If the choice were to be made between Communism with all its chances, and the present (1852) state of society with all its sufferings and injustices, … if this, or Communism, were the alternative, all the difficulties great or small of Communism would be as dust in the balance.” (*10)
Mill was not unaffected by the appeal to the past. An eclectic thinker, he borrowed ideas both from the Saint-Simonians and Auguste Comte in France, and from Carlyle. For that matter, Carlyle, Comte, and Saint-Simon had much in common and each was planting seeds of what would later be Fascism. Thus the collectivist tendencies of Mill’s Liberalism were not wholly socialistic. Mill, for example, was prepared to disfranchise those who failed of a certain intellectual capacity. He defended the right of the State to forbid marriage unless the parties could show that they had the means of supporting a family. In these ideas Mill was a part of the stream of welfare workers and slum-going philanthropists of all parties and shades who were espousing welfare schemes for the poor.
The rise of the middle and proletarian classes in the middle of the nineteenth century and the struggles of 1848 and 1860-1871 had called the attention of all groups, ruling and ruled, to the need for studying social phenomena. First to perceive this were the French, who led the way through the works of Auguste Comte. A product of the revolutions of 1830 and 1848, Comte’s system rationalized as ideal the conditions he found under the “Social Empire.” He declared the value of the French Revolution and of the eighteenth century producing it had been only negative and critical. Like Saint-Simon, Comte believed the nineteenth century was to synthesize the achievements of both the Middle Ages and the French Revolution. To do this, social study must free itself from both feudal theology and eighteenth-century metaphysics and become a positive science.
Enough of eternal, religious, and metaphysical truths! All truths were relative. The Middle Ages, for example, were to be neither so mercilessly condemned as by the Jacobins, nor so unstintingly praised as by the Bourbons. The middle ground evidently was the Bonapartist one. Comte conceived his job as carrying forward the old into the new, thus turning away from non-social absolutisms into the relativism of social science.
To Comte, the French Revolution had spelled a revolt of the head against the heart. It was time to end this revolt. Mind was but an epiphenomenon. Affection came before reason; feelings were superior to the cognitive process. Practical activity came last. Comte denounced the eighteenth-century schools of rationalism as failures, not only because they did not deal with life, but because they were held responsible for the Revolution. In the course of the Revolution, the masses had brutally destroyed all idyllic sentimentality for the past. The people must be brought back to their senses, that is, they had to be made to understand they must have a heart. Chivalry had been the cardinal principal of the Middle Ages; society must return to it. And, incidentally, had not Napoleon, The Little, appealed to the traditions and sentiments concerning Napoleon, The Great? In his whole rationale, therefore, Comte broke from the democratic tendency in France and expressed that resultant of social forces which had create the Bonapartism of Napoleon III. The school of which Comte led the way was a typical offspring of French social paternalism.
Positivism became an expression of the smug governmental urban "salariat” and intellectual functionaries of France. They liked his theory that the people, as representing practical activity, were not fit to govern but had to be subordinated to philosophers (themselves) who in turn yielded to the charms of women. They heartily agreed that “The right view is well expressed in the motto, ‘Liberty and Public Order,’ which was adopted spontaneously by the middle class at the commencement of the neutral period in 1830.” (*11)
Philosophically, Comte’s positivism asserted that man must be content to gain such a limited knowledge of the world and of human life as will enable him to make use of nature for the perfecting of society. To the absolute truths of pure idealism or materialism, positivism counterposed a relativism that combined both elements in a theory of anthropocentrism. Since man was the center of science, the criterion of truth ought to be experience. This experience, however, was not merely individual, but social. Moreover, it assumed the existence of both mind and matter since it is precisely this combination that makes up the essence of experience. At the same time, it was not necessary to yield to either of these two elements as absolute. (*12) In his emphasis on the positive nature of experience, Comte was led to accord the largest influence to environment in biology, and in his sociology made the individual the resultant of his social conditions.
Although both Comte and Mill had been closely connected with the Saint-Simonians, they developed entirely distinct systems. Saint-Simon had broken from Comte because the latter had refused to give over the leadership of, the new social system to the industrialists, but rather had insisted on the superiority of scientific functionaries. Also, Comte had refused to develop a new Christianity. These defects were soon remedied. Comte deliberately constructed a new positivist religion, a religion of humanity, of which he was to be the Head Priest. The basis of his synthetically constructed religion was to consist of three points:
1. Reverence, to those above.
2. Love, to those who help.
3. Benevolence, to those below.
Just as, in his appeal to the heart, Comte had expressed that passionate emotionalism that makes the French such supreme lovers of love, so, naturally, in his religion of love, women were to be deified, although not for a moment were women to be considered intellectually equal to men. Their place was in the home at the head of the family, which was the primary social unit. (*13)
The Catholics had made the system of theology the chief element of their religion. The Protestants had turned to the Holy Bible as their foundation. Liberalism had gone to a metaphysical agnosticism or Deism which took them far away from mankind. To turn all such thinkers back to their social connections, Comte felt it necessary to create a new humanitarian theocracy without a theology. Unfortunately, he did not realize that an artificial religion is no substitute for the real thing, and that “Relative religion is no religion.” (*14)
Comte’s philosophy, like Mill’s, was experiential. But experience had taught him that the best arguments of intellectuals could not stop the moving of masses. Life came above mind. When we turned to social groups and away from the individual, we turned away from psychology to social physics. Strictly speaking, there was no social mind; there were only independent social laws to which the individual is entirely subordinate. Comte went further and declared that individual man was an abstraction; man could not be considered as even human except in relation to society. As can be seen, in many respects Comte was very close to Rousseau; nothing was real but humanity. Man was posterior, not prior to society. To Comte, principles of morality flowed from sociology, and thus morality was the latest and highest fruit of civilization. The supreme ethical principle was love, or altruism; the supreme precept was “live for others.”
Comte’s ideas led to the idealization of “blind” feelings, or feelings for their own sake, an approach which later guided Bergson in his theory of “Creative Evolution” where life flows on regardless of brain and one reaches freedom only in this blind lifestream. Faced with the insurrections of Communism, French Voluntarists evidently feared to think any longer. Comte, for example, counterposed his positivism to Communism and called for moral rather than State control over capital. Thus French philosophy turned violently anti-intellectualist. So generally did this anti-intellectualist orientation pervade French philosophy that even supposedly subversive philosophers like Sorel could praise syndicalism as a movement essentially of “action for its own sake” and, as such, deadly opposed to intellectualist parliamentary socialism. (*15)
Mill was just as English as Comte was French. To Mill, as to all such Englishmen, the individual human being had existed and had grown to full stature as homo sapiens before he combined with others to form a society. While Mill also stressed altruism and the need for living for others, he reached these conclusions, not through any warm-hearted religion, but through the cold calculations of utilitarianism. Altruism was to be adopted as a good paying policy of egotism and put on a practical cash basis, subject to reason and debate. Actions must be tested empirically, and feelings must be controlled by the head. The English had never experienced a revolution such as had the French.
In politics, “For Comte, the way to the ideal order is henceforth through a series of dictatorships. Democracy as a permanent system is anarchical.” (*16) It is true that he believed that dictatorial powers at first should be held by the workers, since they composed the most peaceful and internationalist elements, but this workers rule was to be temporary only and held in trust for the wealthy classes, who were morally not yet ready for power. Ultimately, however, “political power will fall into the hands of the great leaders of industry.” (*17)
Mill, on the other hand, stood firmly for parliamentary representation. His difference from Comte illustrated the difference in national conditions that faced similar classes in the two countries. From the earliest days of the theory of social contract, English Liberalism had made both State and society the product of individual action. With the French, on the contrary, as exemplified in Rousseau’s theory of general will, the Nation had always been superior to both State and the individual. To the German theoreticians, only the State existed; neither the individual nor social group counted. Finally, to the American, the individual was as supreme as the State was to the German. It was the different class relations, developed nationally, that accounted for these divergent views. In Germany it was the princely aristocrats, not the middle class, who bore political initiative; in England and France, the bourgeoisie; in America there were no conscious classes at all. To the middle class Frenchmen of the day, the national security that was paramount in his eyes had been established only under dictatorships. These dictatorships had carried out the general will of the French peasant and storekeeper. For Mill, however, not living under Napoleon, parliamentary rule and democracy were the only way to express the harmonious relationship of individualism and social welfare.
Hitherto, in his laissez faire argument, the English Liberal had stressed the point that the State was but an impartial policeman recognizing no classes. Now, with the rise of class struggles, Liberalism could afford to change its theory and to foster in the masses the illusion that the capitalist State could legislate happiness to the majority, that it could really satisfy the interest of the toilers who could capture the State for their interests. For the first time in history, declared Liberalism, force was no longer necessary to win the State, because, under Liberalism, the State itself had opened the way for the masses to take it over.
Similar theories developed in America at the end of the nineteenth century, although the government was urged to assume a different role. In the conflicts that broke out in the United States, industrial Liberalism vigorously protected the individual rights of the poor, especially the scab and the strike-breaker. In the name of Liberalism, the courts could issue injunctions against strikes, or prevent systematic boycotts. (*18) Later, the State assumed the role of arbitrator in the disputes, and the United States Labor Department hired a whole staff of labor conciliators. There was even talk of compulsory arbitration. But in all of these actions, nowhere did American Liberalism prominently put forth the theory that labor could “capture the State.”
Theories of classlessness in America had taken two forms. At first, every capitalist was or had been a worker. Later, the theory was changed to the effect that every worker was actually or potentially a capitalist. In either case there were no classes. Then, when classes had to be recognized, capital and labor were theoretically to be allowed to fight out their differences outside Congressional walls, with the State as impartial arbitrator. The State was still considered an insignificant social factor as compared to the prime moving forces, supposedly individual aggregates in unions and corporations. True action was economic and not political. Finally, as the State constantly increased its power of intervention, Liberal theory declared the State was neutral and above class interests. Thoroughly under the control of Big Business, American Liberalism could well afford to tell the workers in all cases to leave the State alone.
In England, on the other hand, the theories of Mill and Welfare Liberalism could only reflect the fact that the labor movement was definitely on the road to politics. With such welfare programs, labor could be diverted from taking power for the moment.
As Comte had turned to religion, so Mill had turned to economics where he had become profoundly impressed by the two fundamental principles enunciated by the Classical School. The first was the proposition of Malthus that population presses upon food, thus leading to the corollary that the poor, starvation and misery must always be with us. Mill accepted Malthus’ basic proposition, but argued that, although the laws of production were fixed by nature and could not be changed, yet the laws of distribution were subject to social control. By a better wealth distributive system, by raising the standards of living gradually, and by birth control, the evils analyzed by Malthus could be avoided. Mill, therefore, joined the ranks of the Meliorists who were affirming that society could evolve into better and better standards day by day. This philosophy of Meliorism is to color the entire attitude of Welfare-Liberalism to the very end. In pursuit of his Meliorism, Mill himself timidly came out for State action on public works, colonization, charity, laws of labor, endowment of research, etc.
The second economic principle to influence Mill was the supposed law of diminishing returns which was held to apply both to land and to industry. Mill accepted this law as fundamental, and thus was led to believe that at the end of the road lay a stationary social State. (*19) Like Comte and the other thinkers of the time, Mill adhered to the theory of change, but while with Comte it took the form of ecstatic relativism, with the English it took the form of a gloomy theory of evolution. Whereas Comte ended up with a complete unified orderly system of positive religion with everything in its place, on the style of the French frugal peasant or boutiquier, Mill’s evolution terminated in a swamp of stagnancy, and Spencerian sociology ended with a new slavery.
Theories of evolution and of change were an inevitable product of nineteenth-century industrial life where free competitive capitalism was amply proving that change was the only thing changeless. Everything was a flux. Fortunes came and went; crises alternated with booms. Industrial technique, technology, and science were taking enormous strides forward. In Germany, this process had been obtusely reflected in metaphysical philosophy through Hegel’s idealistic dialectic. In France, with Bergson, matter would be reduced to motion, and space to time. In England the result was rather a scientific philosophy of evolution. In all these countries, such systems invariably ended up in closed circles. Only the revolutionary Marxist, representing a class yet to come to power, could work out a materialist philosophy of evolution that was not a closed system, but an open spiral.
The opening up of backward portions of the world in the nineteenth century had occasioned the rise of a whole set of social sciences. Anthropology, ethnology, comparative philosophy, all were giving students a better perspective as to the eternity of capitalism. The researches of Morgan and of the Historical School added their bit to the conclusion that there had been a steady evolution in social life. That society was evolving was brought home vividly, too, by the tremendous rise of the proletarian movement and its acceptance of the revolutionary implications involved in the materialistic dialectics of Marx and Engels and others.
It was at this moment that the discoveries of Darwin were published, and his theories of biological evolution, the descent of man, and the survival of the fittest, were enunciated. At first these theories were seized upon by the English Liberals to prove that free competition with its irresponsible characteristic, “the devil take the hindmost,” was but part of the natural law of the survival of the fittest. Darwinism was to justify the transformation of society into a jungle. The war of the jungle, the law of tooth and fang, were to be applicable to social as well as to animal life.
However, such theories could prove dangerous. Could they not be used by the criminal to justify his actions? In America, classic land of crime as of Liberalism, such ideas formed the open philosophy of the criminal’s life. The howling wilderness of America from the start had been the dumping ground for European criminals to practice the law of tooth and fang without hurting the old social order. How many Americans could trace their ancestry to the jails of England and of the Old World! (*20) Indeed, the law of the jungle had been the true law of nature for all those Americans who amassed wealth and power. Jungle rule had dominated the rich as well as the criminal. (*21)
How thin is the line between industrialist and politician on the one hand and gangster and racketeer on the other is seen by the voluminous official reports connecting them intimately together. (*22) And is it not touchingly significant that Al Capone, Chicago’s notorious racketeer and gangster, should be arrested, not for his murders, but for failing to pay an income tax on his loot, as every big business man should?
Darwinism could be used as a double-edged sword also by the proletariat. Darwinism did not preclude fighting in packs and masses as well as individually. The law of the survival of the fittest could also justify the use of force and violence. Finally, Darwinism assumed that the only test of who was fittest was based on survival and conquest. Communists could abide by such a test. Thus, such theories played directly into the hands of revolutionists as well as capitalistic industrialists.
In England the laws of evolution were seen to be working against the capitalists. On the international front, both Germany and the United States were taking away British markets. Within the country the working class and socialism were appearing constantly stronger. Liberalism was, therefore, soon forced to change its tack. Evolution no longer meant fight, violence, and extermination of the unfit; it now came to be the antithesis of revolution. Evolution was to signify only gradualness and peacefulness. Sudden violent changes were out of the question. Only step by step would the toilers be allowed to improve their lot.
This modification of Darwinism by sociology was the task of Herbert Spencer, who, borrowing the idea from Comte, undertook with great pains to demonstrate that society had moved from military violence to industrial peacefulness and that nobody must ever disturb this eternal law of social evolution. The Liberals thus became the champions of evolution, provided that it was sufficiently slow and gradual. Freedom of speech, of press, of personal liberty, or assemblage and organization, in short, peaceful means, were the sole methods by which growth and development could take place in society. “Survival of the fittest” gave way to “mutual aid.”
Toward the end of the nineteenth century, English Liberalism could terminate its studies of evolution only with deep foreboding. Pessimism penetrated its whole outlook. A sort of cosmic “after me the deluge” attitude became scientifically fashionable. In his cosmology Spencer found it necessary to come to the conclusion that after every evolution there must be a devolution, a smash-up that proved there was no purpose in the universe but only blind law, and that the ultimate end was to start all over again from the beginning: endlessly moving around from star-dust to star-dust. In his sociology, Spencer tried as hard as he could to defend capitalist individualism as the summum bonum, castigating the new system arising as one of a coming slavery, a new Toryism, a new feudalism, etc. None the less, he was compelled to state the law that society was moving from agriculture to industry, from being dominated by nature to control over nature, from ignorance to science, from the simple to the complex, from discrete amorphousness to integration, from homogeneity to heterogeneity. Such theories of evolution unmistakably pointed towards social control and internationalism. Proletarian thinkers insisted that they also pointed toward world socialism, and that the discovery of the laws of evolution dove-tailed with the claims of labor that society must evolve from capitalism to something higher.
Thus the theories of evolution and of the greatest good for the greatest number definitely let down the barriers of Liberalism in a socialist direction. Socialists could welcome all theories urging the freedom of speech and press, since with this freedom they could broadcast their views on the superficiality of capitalist liberty and the necessity for a complete social change. While sections of Liberals were expressing their sympathy for the poor and downtrodden, labor was using this sympathy to wrest from the State measures of social reform.
By the third quarter of the nineteenth century, the skilled worker was coming into his own and taking leadership upon himself, not only of the rest of the workers, but of certain elements of the petty bourgeoisie. Such skilled workers could accept theories of evolution and gradual change all the more readily as they had a stake in society and wished, not revolution but favorable social reform. Whatever socialist ideas such workers could attain had to be heavily diluted with doses of Liberalism. Here, then, was a basis for the alliance of labor with Welfare-Liberalism. The joint program was not one hailing social democracy, but rather one advocating the present democracy fringed with social reforms. From the point of view of the skilled workers, this represented a reformed capitalism which could easily be moved onto the tracks of social democracy later if need be.
In England, this Liberal labor alliance was given the very name Lib- Lab. In France, the Radical Socialists were able to get the support of some skilled workers by developing a “solidarist” program which was to procure the solidarity of the whole nation and consisted in:
1. The free education of all.
2. A minimum of the means of existence for everybody.
3. Insurance against the risks of life. (*23)
In America, the alliance of labor and the middle class created a number of Farmer-Labor groupings, exemplified in the support which the Knights of Labor gave to the People’s Party in the nineteenth century and in the LaFollette and other movements in the twentieth century.
Far more than in other countries, in the United States it was the farmer and middle class that led the way and not the worker, for the workers had never formed their own strong independent political parties. Traditionally the initiative in political action had always been taken by the middle classes, labor always following in their wake. While the “little fellow” was squealing that Big Business was squeezing him out and bent his efforts to realize all sorts of political nostrums, labor as a distinct class was not only new, but had not much faith in politics.
As the chief beneficiary of the Civil War, modern Big Business had grasped the principal profits for itself and had rudely shoved aside the middle man and farmer, not only in the East, but in the West, where the main wealth gatherers were the railroads, mortgage sharks, and their satellites. Outrageous freight-rate discrimination and ruthless operation of the slogan, “charge all that the traffic can bear,” marked railroad activities, while wholesale cheating by grain elevator men, unconscionable speculation in mortgages, and complete anarchy and chaos in the land settlements, completed the picture.
With the first economic crisis following post-war adjustments, the farmer who had gone West to the “free” homestead soon found that under no circumstances could he maintain himself. “Fully half of the people of Western Kansas left the country between 1888 and 1892…. In the single year of 1891 no less than eighteen thousand prairie schooners crossed from the Nebraska side to the Iowa side of the Missouri in full retreat from the hopeless hard times…. Disappointed pioneers handed over their farms to the loan companies by which they had been mortgaged or abandoned them outright.” (*24) This was but one example out of many. In Kansas alone twenty entire towns, new and well built, were left without a single inhabitant; some of the places abandoned included an opera house that had just been constructed at the cost of $30,000, a school costing $20,000, and similar properties.
It is almost impossible to conceive of the tremendous wastefulness in the rampant individualism of American life. Hardly was the farmer given the land and allowed to settle down than he was driven off the farm and into the cities and forced to abandon his property. Criminal wastefulness marked the handling of all natural resources whether minerals or metals, forests, animal life, etc. Peacetime waste was as large to America as the cost of war was to other countries. Yet, paradoxically enough, like the wars of the nineteenth century generally, so with the tremendous waste in American economy, even these items had their progressive aspects. Had it not been for the waste of the soil by Southern planters, it is a question whether there would have taken place such a terrific expansion to the West, impelling a country with such a small population to drive with such frenzy from the Atlantic to the Pacific and from the Great Lakes to the Caribbean.
The waste in American life was only the counterpart to the feverish production and inventiveness of the Americans. After all, consumption is but the final act of production. Only unprecedented productivity could have tolerated such waste, indeed, have caused it. On the other hand, without American style consumption there could not have been American style ,production. The tearing down of the forests, for example, helped to speed on the steel industry and rapidly develop it, changing the entire framework of our architecture, terminating the era of the wooden house and inaugurating one epitomized in the great skyscrapers of New York City.
The great wear and tear of all products and the constant need for renovation imposed a greater aptitude for the introduction of the new and induced a periodic change of American customs. Such a mode of life on the one side facilitated inventions and better methods of production; on the other side, it led to a derogation of quality of goods and a wholesale adulteration of products. Since methods and products changed so rapidly it did not pay to invest in too durable goods.
Serious social maladjustments were bound to flow from this turmoil. Men cannot be thrown around and away so dizzily, without a protest arising from the victims. In the late nineteenth century, among the farmers of the middle west a Populist movement began to cry out for a greater recognition of the rights of the common people. These middle class Radicals, it is true, restricted their demands to such items as the Australian ballot, direct election of senators, direct primary elections, women’s suffrage, and direct legislation by initiative and referendum. “The connecting link between the older liberty and the new is found in William Jennings Bryan, who throughout his political career struggled for democratic ideals.” (*25) Populism was a transition belt in many communities to break up the hold of the rampant individualism of the Republican Party.
And later other Radicals appeared to demand curbs upon big business and some degree of national control. Conservation of resources, nationalization of railroads and telegraphs, “busting” of trusts, money schemes to favor the “little man,” better government supervision—these were items that took up the attention of the Radicals and found some belated expression also among the Liberal elements within the camps of Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson.
In America, where the proletariat was not yet a political force in its own right, the chief burden of social Liberalism was the welfare of the individual entrepreneur in the middle class. Welfare-Liberalism declared its intention to enact laws to preserve the middle class individualism which was being pushed out by the individualism of the big industrialists. The Liberal Woodrow Wilson put the matter succinctly in his New Freedom: “… the middle class is being more and more squeezed out by the processes which we have been taught to call processes of prosperity. Its members are sharing prosperity, no doubt; but what alarms me is that they are not originating prosperity. No country can afford to have its prosperity originated by a small Controlling Class.” (*26) And again, “The government, which was designed for the people, has got into the hands of bosses and their employers, the special interests. An invisible empire has been set up above the forms of democracy.” (*27) Still further: “A trust is an arrangement to get rid of competition, and a big business is a business that has survived competition by conquering in the field of intelligence and economy. A trust does not bring efficiency to the aid of business; it buys efficiency out of business. I am for big business, and I am against the trusts. (*28)
One might say the theory of Wilsonian Liberalism was the theory of perpetuum mobile, perpetual motion. He gloried in the singular fact that nothing in this country is done in the present as it was done twenty years ago. In America the present was always breaking with the past, always "smashing records” and making new ones. This was the only way to keep up with the present. “In America there is no ‘good old time’ in the European sense of the word.” (*29) To the Frenchman, America knows no such thing as true contentment. (*30)
Wilson, like Spencer, was frightened at the tendency of the trusts to cause economic stagnation and social classes. He stated, for example, “If you want to know how brains count, originate some invention which will improve the kind of machinery they are using, and then see if you can borrow enough money to manufacture it. You may be offered something for your patent by the corporation, which will perhaps lock it up in a safe and go on using the old machinery; but you will not be allowed to manufacture. I know men who have tried it… .” (*31)
Wilson wanted the law to take care of men “on the make” and not those already “made.” He advised the young gentlemen of the rising generation to be as unlike their fathers as possible. Thus, emphasis on the present meant emphasis on youth. The present was the realm for perpetual youth. Not only was he youthful who lived always in the present, but only the youth could master the present. Hence, youth was wiser than age and better fitted for life. Appropriately enough, if the parents must cling to the methods of the child, the child must disrespect those of the parents. Is there any capitalist country save America that could elaborate such a philosophy?
If stagnation came from trusts, then progress came from “the people.” Thus, Wilsonian Liberalism took great care to praise the common man and to point out that a nation is as great and only as great as her rank and file. And in arguing against the permanent rule of any race or group of men, he found it fitting to exclaim, “It is one of the glories of our land that nobody is able to predict from what family, from what region, from what race, even, the leaders of the country are going to come.” (*32)
And to maintain this constant melange with its tradition of “from shirtsleeves to shirtsleeves in three generations,” Wilson would use all the power of the government. He complained, “Centralized business has built up vast structures of organization and equipment which overtop all states and seem to have no match or competitor except the federal government itself." (*33) Thus the government, freed from trust control, was to be enhanced as the bulwark to maintain the individualism of those “on the make.” “Build the government to save individualism” was no worse than Wilson’s later slogan of “Make war to end war.” In many of his phrasings. Wilson, like Theodore Roosevelt before him, borrowed wholesale from the Socialists.
Welfare-Liberalism in the United States found in the sociological writings of Lester F. Ward, an American variation of Comte, a mass of arguments to further its case of national control and social meliorism. Ward’s opinions, it is true, have much that would heartily commend them to Fascists today. But it is not with those possible interpretations that we shall deal now. There were at the time no elements in the United States that could reach these Fascist conclusions, and it was not the conservative but the ordinary Liberal city petty bourgeoisie that drew comfort from his writings. Against the slogan Laissez faire Ward proposed that of Faire marcher. (*34)
Lester Ward made a systematic attack against the dominant reckless utilitarian individualism, itself an expression of the gigantic private trusts in charge of American economic life. In his Psychic Factors of Civilization, for example, Ward gives the following economic paradoxes among others:
1. The poor do not always have to be with us. Malthus was wrong, and subsistence increases instead of diminishes with the population.
2. There is no such thing as a constitutional “wage-fund” and an increase of wages can be attained with an increase in profits.
3. Prices may fall as wages rise, and diminished hours of labor bring increased production.
4. Free trade and individual competition is not always for the best. Competition raises prices and rates, while combination often lowers them. Production may reduce the price of the commodity protected not only in the protecting country but even in the importing country. (*35)
5. Free competition is possible only under social regulation and private monopoly can be prevented only by public monopoly.
6. The hope of gain is not always the best motive to industry, and public service will secure better talent than private enterprise for the same outlay, while private enterprise taxes the people more heavily than does the government.
With Ward and Wilson and Roosevelt, we are aware of the fact that Liberalism has entered the twentieth century in the United States.
1. The Reform Bill actually restricted suffrage in some boroughs. Gilbert Slater is even of the opinion that, as a result of this disfranchisement, the proportion of British working men eligible to vote after 1832 was smaller than it had been before. (See G. Slater: The Making of Modern England, p. 97.)
2. M. Beer: History of British Socialism, II, 4.
3. Cited in R. W. Postgate: Revolution from 1789 to -1906, Document 64, p. 133. And again, O’Connor: “I am even opposed to public kitchens, public baking-houses, and public wash-houses. In fact, I am for the principle of MEUM and TUUM, MINE and THINE.” (The same, p. 134.)
4. "Even as late as 1834-this is an estimate of Arnold Toynbec-half the laborers wages went in taxes.” (F. W. Hirst: Political Economy of War, p. 69.)
5. P. W. Slosson: Decline of the Chartist Movement, p. 146.
6. H. J. Laski: Democracy in Crisis, p. 33-34
7. Views like Adam Smith’s were also shared by the historian Buckle, who states, “Seeing, therefore, that the efforts of government in favor of civilization are, when most successful, altogether negative, and seeing, too, that when those efforts are more than negative they become injurious-it clearly follows that all speculations must be erroneous which ascribe the progress of Europe to the wisdom of its rulers.” (Cited in W. R. Browne: Man or the State? p. 51.)
8. W. P. Hall: Mr. Gladstone, p. 17.
9. Mill disagreed with Gladstone on the question of Home Rule for Ireland. (See J. S. Mill: Autobiography, p. 294, 1874 edition.) Mill also favored the cause of the North against the South, despite the fact that “nearly the whole upper and middle classes of my own country, even those who passed for Liberals, [went] into furious pro-Southern partisanship.” (The same, p. 268.)
10. J. S. Mill; Principles Of Political Economy, I, 253-259 (Third edition).
11. A. Comte: A General View of Positivism (Summary Exposition), p. 88.
12. “Positive philosophy demands nothing absolute. Determinism, like free-will, is a metaphysical thesis, Comte is not compelled to take sides either with one or the other; he leaves them to mutually refute each other.” (L. Levy-Bruhl, The Philosophy of Auguste Comte, p. 268.)
13. Comte attempts to prove women’s inferiority on biological grounds. The English Liberals, like Mill, treated women as intellectually equal, although Mill’s book, Subjugation of Women, evades the problems of biology.
14. This phrase comes from J. Watsonís Comte, Mill and Spencer, I believe.
15. See G. Sorel: Reflections on Violence.
16. T. Whittaker: Comte and Mill, pp. 67-68.
17. A Comte: A General View of Positivism, p. 147, Summary Exposition, 1848.
18. Compare the advice of the American Liberal that labor should go into court for injunctions against violations of civil liberty. (See Wood, Coleman and Hays: Don’t Tread On Me.)
19. See J. MacCunn: Six Radical Thinkers, pp 39-87
20. “We may all remember the Time when our Mother Country, as a Mark of her parental Tenderness emptied her jails, into our Habitations, ‘for the BETTER Peopling,í as she express’d it,’of the Colonies… . The Felons she planted among us have produc’d such an amazing Increase, that we are now enabled to make ample Remittance in the same Commodity.” (B.Franklin: Works, IX, 628 (Smythe edition].)
21. See, for example, Upton Sinclair’s novel, The jungle.
22. See, for example, the Illinois Crime Survey, published by the Illinois Association for Criminal justice in Cooperation with the Chicago Crime Commission, 1929, ed. John H. Wigmore.
23. See Gide and Rist, History of Economic Doctrines, pp. 596-597.
24. J. D. Hicks: The Populist Revolt, p. 32.
25. C. E. Merriam: American Political Ideas, p. 60.
26. W. Wilson: The New Freedom, p. 17.
27. The same, p. 35.
28. The same, p. 180.
29. M. J. Bonn: The American Experiment, p. 85.
30. See P. Collier: America and the Americans, p. 79.
31. W. Wilson: The New Freedom, pp. 173-174.
32. The same, pp. 83-84.
33. The same, pp. 187-188.
34. See L. F. Ward: Applied Sociology, p. 17.
35. Republican Party individualism would agree with the necessity for protection, but would certainly differ with the social motive Ward would put behind high tariff.