A PREFACE TO POLITICS
"A God wilt thou create for thyself out of thy seven devils."
Mitchell Kennerley New York and London 1914 Copyright, 1913, by Mitchell Kennerley
I. Routineer and Inventor 1
II. The Taboo 34
III. The Changing Focus 53
IV. The Golden Rule and After 86
V. Well Meaning but Unmeaning: the Chicago Vice Report 122
VI. Some Necessary Iconoclasm 159
VII. The Making of Creeds 204
VIII. The Red Herring 247
IX. Revolution and Culture 273
The most incisive comment on politics to-day is indifference. When men and women begin to feel that elections and legislatures do not matter very much, that politics is a rather distant and unimportant exercise, the reformer might as well put to himself a few searching doubts. Indifference is a criticism that cuts beneath oppositions and wranglings by calling the political method itself into question. Leaders in public affairs recognize this. They know that no attack is so disastrous as silence, that no invective is so blasting as the wise and indulgent smile of the people who do not care. Eager to believe that all the world is as interested as they are, there comes a time when even the reformer is compelled to face the fairly widespread suspicion of the average man that politics is an exhibition in which there is much ado about nothing. But such moments of illumination are rare. They appear in writers who realize how large is the public that doesn't read their books, in reformers who venture to compare the membership list of their league with the census of the United States. Whoever has been granted such a moment of insight knows how exquisitely painful it is. To conquer it men turn generally to their ancient comforter, self-deception: they complain about the stolid, inert masses and the apathy of the people. In a more confidential tone they will tell you that the ordinary citizen is a "hopelessly private person."
The reformer is himself not lacking in stolidity if he can believe such a fiction of a people that crowds about tickers and demands the news of the day before it happens, that trembles on the verge of a panic over the unguarded utterance of a financier, and founds a new religion every month or so. But after a while self-deception ceases to be a comfort. This is when the reformer notices how indifference to politics is settling upon some of the most alert minds of our generation, entering into the attitude of men as capable as any reformer of large and imaginative interests. For among the keenest minds, among artists, scientists and philosophers, there is a remarkable inclination to make a virtue of political indifference. Too passionate an absorption in public affairs is felt to be a somewhat shallow performance, and the reformer is patronized as a well-meaning but rather dull fellow. This is the criticism of men engaged in some genuinely creative labor. Often it is unexpressed, often as not the artist or scientist will join in a political movement. But in the depths of his soul there is, I suspect, some feeling which says to the politician, "Why so hot, my little sir?"
Nothing, too, is more illuminating than the painful way in which many people cultivate a knowledge of public affairs because they have a conscience and wish to do a citizen's duty. Having read a number of articles on the tariff and ploughed through the metaphysics of the currency question, what do they do? They turn with all the more zest to some spontaneous human interest. Perhaps they follow, follow, follow Roosevelt everywhere, and live with him through the emotions of a great battle. But for the affairs of statecraft, for the very policies that a Roosevelt advocates, the interest is largely perfunctory, maintained out of a sense of duty and dropped with a sigh of relief.
That reaction may not be as deplorable as it seems. Pick up your newspaper, read the Congressional Record, run over in your mind the "issues" of a campaign, and then ask yourself whether the average man is entirely to blame because he smiles a bit at Armageddon and refuses to take the politician at his own rhetorical valuation. If men find statecraft uninteresting, may it not be that statecraft is uninteresting? I have a more or less professional interest in public affairs; that is to say, I have had opportunity to look at politics from the point of view of the man who is trying to get the attention of people in order to carry through some reform. At first it was a hard confession to make, but the more I saw of politics at first-hand, the more I respected the indifference of the public. There was something monotonously trivial and irrelevant about our reformist enthusiasm, and an appalling justice in that half-conscious criticism which refuses to place politics among the genuine, creative activities of men. Science was valid, art was valid, the poorest grubber in a laboratory was engaged in a real labor, anyone who had found expression in some beautiful object was truly centered. But politics was a personal drama without meaning or a vague abstraction without substance.
Yet there was the fact, just as indisputable as ever, that public affairs do have an enormous and intimate effect upon our lives. They make or unmake us. They are the foundation of that national vigor through which civilizations mature. City and countryside, factories and play, schools and the family are powerful influences in every life, and politics is directly concerned with them. If politics is irrelevant, it is certainly not because its subject matter is unimportant. Public affairs govern our thinking and doing with subtlety and persistence.
The trouble, I figured, must be in the way politics is concerned with the nation's interests. If public business seems to drift aimlessly, its results are, nevertheless, of the highest consequence. In statecraft the penalties and rewards are tremendous. Perhaps the approach is distorted. Perhaps uncriticised assumptions have obscured the real uses of politics. Perhaps an attitude can be worked out which will engage a fresher attention. For there are, I believe, blunders in our political thinking which confuse fictitious activity with genuine achievement, and make it difficult for men to know where they should enlist. Perhaps if we can see politics in a different light, it will rivet our creative interests.
These essays, then, are an attempt to sketch an attitude towards statecraft. I have tried to suggest an approach, to illustrate it concretely, to prepare a point of view. In selecting for the title "A Preface to Politics," I have wished to stamp upon the whole book my own sense that it is a beginning and not a conclusion. I have wished to emphasize that there is nothing in this book which can be drafted into a legislative proposal and presented to the legislature the day after to-morrow. It was not written with the notion that these pages would contain an adequate exposition of modern political method. Much less was it written to further a concrete program. There are, I hope, no assumptions put forward as dogmas.
It is a preliminary sketch for a theory of politics, a preface to thinking. Like all speculation about human affairs, it is the result of a grapple with problems as they appear in the experience of one man. For though a personal vision may at times assume an eloquent and universal language, it is well never to forget that all philosophies are the language of particular men.
46 East 80th Street, NEW YORK CITY, January 1913.
A PREFACE TO POLITICS
ROUTINEER AND INVENTOR
Politics does not exist for the sake of demonstrating the superior righteousness of anybody. It is not a competition in deportment. In fact, before you can begin to think about politics at all you have to abandon the notion that there is a war between good men and bad men. That is one of the great American superstitions. More than any other fetish it has ruined our sense of political values by glorifying the pharisee with his vain cruelty to individuals and his unfounded approval of himself. You have only to look at the Senate of the United States, to see how that body is capable of turning itself into a court of preliminary hearings for the Last Judgment, wasting its time and our time and absorbing public enthusiasm and newspaper scareheads. For a hundred needs of the nation it has no thought, but about the precise morality of an historical transaction eight years old there is a meticulous interest. Whether in the Presidential Campaign of 1904 Roosevelt was aware that the ancient tradition of corporate subscriptions had or had not been followed, and the exact and ultimate measure of the guilt that knowledge would have implied—this in the year 1912 is enough to start the Senate on a protracted man-hunt.
Now if one half of the people is bent upon proving how wicked a man is and the other half is determined to show how good he is, neither half will think very much about the nation. An innocent paragraph in the New York Evening Post for August 27, 1912, gives the whole performance away. It shows as clearly as words could how disastrous the good-and-bad-man theory is to political thinking:
"Provided the first hearing takes place on September 30, it is expected that the developments will be made with a view to keeping the Colonel on the defensive. After the beginning of October, it is pointed out, the evidence before the Committee should keep him so busy explaining and denying that the country will not hear much Bull Moose doctrine."
Whether you like the Roosevelt doctrines or not, there can be no two opinions about such an abuse of morality. It is a flat public loss, another attempt to befuddle our thinking. For if politics is merely a guerilla war between the bribed and the unbribed, then statecraft is not a human service but a moral testing ground. It is a public amusement, a melodrama of real life, in which a few conspicuous characters are tried, and it resembles nothing so much as schoolboy hazing which we are told exists for the high purpose of detecting a "yellow streak." But even though we desired it there would be no way of establishing any clear-cut difference in politics between the angels and the imps. The angels are largely self-appointed, being somewhat more sensitive to other people's tar than their own.
But if the issue is not between honesty and dishonesty, where is it?
If you stare at a checkerboard you can see it as black on red, or red on black, as series of horizontal, vertical or diagonal steps which recede or protrude. The longer you look the more patterns you can trace, and the more certain it becomes that there is no single way of looking at the board. So with political issues. There is no obvious cleavage which everyone recognizes. Many patterns appear in the national life. The "progressives" say the issue is between "Privilege" and the "People"; the Socialists, that it is between the "working class" and the "master class." An apologist for dynamite told me once that society was divided into the weak and the strong, and there are people who draw a line between Philistia and Bohemia.
When you rise up and announce that the conflict is between this and that, you mean that this particular conflict interests you. The issue of good-and-bad-men interests this nation to the exclusion of almost all others. But experience shows, I believe, that it is a fruitless conflict and a wasting enthusiasm. Yet some distinction must be drawn if we are to act at all in politics. With nothing we are for and nothing to oppose, we are merely neutral. This cleavage in public affairs is the most important choice we are called upon to make. In large measure it determines the rest of our thinking. Now some issues are fertile; some are not. Some lead to spacious results; others are blind alleys. With this in mind I wish to suggest that the distinction most worth emphasizing to-day is between those who regard government as a routine to be administered and those who regard it as a problem to be solved.
The class of routineers is larger than the conservatives. The man who will follow precedent, but never create one, is merely an obvious example of the routineer. You find him desperately numerous in the civil service, in the official bureaus. To him government is something given as unconditionally, as absolutely as ocean or hill. He goes on winding the tape that he finds. His imagination has rarely extricated itself from under the administrative machine to gain any sense of what a human, temporary contraption the whole affair is. What he thinks is the heavens above him is nothing but the roof.
He is the slave of routine. He can boast of somewhat more spiritual cousins in the men who reverence their ancestors' independence, who feel, as it were, that a disreputable great-grandfather is necessary to a family's respectability. These are the routineers gifted with historical sense. They take their forefathers with enormous solemnity. But one mistake is rarely avoided: they imitate the old-fashioned thing their grandfather did, and ignore the originality which enabled him to do it.
If tradition were a reverent record of those crucial moments when men burst through their habits, a love of the past would not be the butt on which every sophomoric radical can practice his wit. But almost always tradition is nothing but a record and a machine-made imitation of the habits that our ancestors created. The average conservative is a slave to the most incidental and trivial part of his forefathers' glory—to the archaic formula which happened to express their genius or the eighteenth century contrivance by which for a time it was served. To reverence Washington they wear a powdered wig; they do honor to Lincoln by cultivating awkward hands and ungainly feet.
It is fascinating to watch this kind of conservative in action. From Senator Lodge, for example, we do not expect any new perception of popular need. We know that probably his deepest sincerity is an attempt to reproduce the atmosphere of the Senate a hundred years ago. The manners of Mr. Lodge have that immobility which comes from too much gazing at bad statues of dead statesmen.
Yet just because a man is in opposition to Senator Lodge there is no guarantee that he has freed himself from the routineer's habit of mind. A prejudice against some mannerism or a dislike of pretensions may merely cloak some other kind of routine. Take the "good government" attitude. No fresh insight is behind that. It does not promise anything; it does not offer to contribute new values to human life. The machine which exists is accepted in all its essentials: the "goo-goo" yearns for a somewhat smoother rotation.
Often as not the very effort to make the existing machine run more perfectly merely makes matters worse. For the tinkering reformer is frequently one of the worst of the routineers. Even machines are not altogether inflexible, and sometimes what the reformer regards as a sad deviation from the original plans is a poor rickety attempt to adapt the machine to changing conditions. Think what would have happened had we actually remained stolidly faithful to every intention of the Fathers. Think what would happen if every statute were enforced. By the sheer force of circumstances we have twisted constitutions and laws to some approximation of our needs. A changing country has managed to live in spite of a static government machine. Perhaps Bernard Shaw was right when he said that "the famous Constitution survives only because whenever any corner of it gets into the way of the accumulating dollar it is pettishly knocked off and thrown away. Every social development, however beneficial and inevitable from the public point of view, is met, not by an intelligent adaptation of the social structure to its novelties but by a panic and a cry of Go Back."
I am tempted to go further and put into the same class all those radicals who wish simply to substitute some other kind of machine for the one we have. Though not all of them would accept the name, these reformers are simply utopia-makers in action. Their perceptions are more critical than the ordinary conservatives'. They do see that humanity is badly squeezed in the existing mould. They have enough imagination to conceive a different one. But they have an infinite faith in moulds. This routine they don't believe in, but they believe in their own: if you could put the country under a new "system," then human affairs would run automatically for the welfare of all. Some improvement there might be, but as almost all men are held in an iron devotion to their own creations, the routine reformers are simply working for another conservatism, and not for any continuing liberation.
The type of statesman we must oppose to the routineer is one who regards all social organization as an instrument. Systems, institutions and mechanical contrivances have for him no virtue of their own: they are valuable only when they serve the purposes of men. He uses them, of course, but with a constant sense that men have made them, that new ones can be devised, that only an effort of the will can keep machinery in its place. He has no faith whatever in automatic governments. While the routineers see machinery and precedents revolving with mankind as puppets, he puts the deliberate, conscious, willing individual at the center of his philosophy. This reversal is pregnant with a new outlook for statecraft. I hope to show that it alone can keep step with life; it alone is humanly relevant; and it alone achieves valuable results.
Call this man a political creator or a political inventor. The essential quality of him is that he makes that part of existence which has experience the master of it. He serves the ideals of human feelings, not the tendencies of mechanical things.
The difference between a phonograph and the human voice is that the phonograph must sing the song which is stamped upon it. Now there are days—I suspect the vast majority of them in most of our lives—when we grind out the thing that is stamped upon us. It may be the governing of a city, or teaching school, or running a business. We do not get out of bed in the morning because we are eager for the day; something external—we often call it our duty—throws off the bed-clothes, complains that the shaving water isn't hot, puts us into the subway and lands us at our office in season for punching the time-check. We revolve with the business for three or four hours, signing letters, answering telephones, checking up lists, and perhaps towards twelve o'clock the prospect of lunch puts a touch of romance upon life. Then because our days are so unutterably the same, we turn to the newspapers, we go to the magazines and read only the "stuff with punch," we seek out a "show" and drive serious playwrights into the poorhouse. "You can go through contemporary life," writes Wells, "fudging and evading, indulging and slacking, never really hungry nor frightened nor passionately stirred, your highest moment a mere sentimental orgasm, and your first real contact with primary and elementary necessities the sweat of your death-bed."
The world grinds on: we are a fly on the wheel. That sense of an impersonal machine going on with endless reiteration is an experience that imaginative politicians face. Often as not they disguise it under heroic phrases and still louder affirmation, just as most of us hide our cowardly submission to monotony under some word like duty, loyalty, conscience. If you have ever been an office-holder or been close to officials, you must surely have been appalled by the grim way in which committee-meetings, verbose reports, flamboyant speeches, requests, and delegations hold the statesman in a mind-destroying grasp. Perhaps this is the reason why it has been necessary to retire Theodore Roosevelt from public life every now and then in order to give him a chance to learn something new. Every statesman like every professor should have his sabbatical year.
The revolt against the service of our own mechanical habits is well known to anyone who has followed modern thought. As a sharp example one might point to Thomas Davidson, whom William James called "individualist a outrance".... "Reprehending (mildly) a certain chapter of my own on 'Habit,' he said that it was a fixed rule with him to form no regular habits. When he found himself in danger of settling into even a good one, he made a point of interrupting it."
Such men are the sparkling streams that flow through the dusty stretches of a nation. They invigorate and emphasize those times in your own life when each day is new. Then you are alive, then you drive the world before you. The business, however difficult, shapes itself to your effort; you seem to manage detail with an inferior part of yourself, while the real soul of you is active, planning, light. "I wanted thought like an edge of steel and desire like a flame." Eager with sympathy, you and your work are reflected from many angles. You have become luminous.
Some people are predominantly eager and wilful. The world does not huddle and bend them to a task. They are not, as we say, creatures of environment, but creators of it. Of other people's environment they become the most active part—the part which sets the fashion. What they initiate, others imitate. Theirs is a kind of intrinsic prestige. These are the natural leaders of men, whether it be as head of the gang or as founder of a religion.
It is, I believe, this power of being aggressively active towards the world which gives man a miraculous assurance that the world is something he can make. In creative moments men always draw upon "some secret spring of certainty, some fundamental well into which no disturbing glimmers penetrate." But this is no slack philosophy, for the chance is denied by which we can lie back upon the perfection of some mechanical contrivance. Yet in the light of it government becomes alert to a process of continual creation, an unceasing invention of forms to meet constantly changing needs.
This philosophy is not only difficult to practice: it is elusive when you come to state it. For our political language was made to express a routine conception of government. It comes to us from the Eighteenth Century. And no matter how much we talk about the infusion of the "evolutionary" point of view into all of modern thought, when the test is made political practice shows itself almost virgin to the idea. Our theories assume, and our language is fitted to thinking of government as a frame—Massachusetts, I believe, actually calls her fundamental law the Frame of Government. We picture political institutions as mechanically constructed contrivances within which the nation's life is contained and compelled to approximate some abstract idea of justice or liberty. These frames have very little elasticity, and we take it as an historical commonplace that sooner or later a revolution must come to burst the frame apart. Then a new one is constructed.
Our own Federal Constitution is a striking example of this machine conception of government. It is probably the most important instance we have of the deliberate application of a mechanical philosophy to human affairs. Leaving out all question of the Fathers' ideals, looking simply at the bias which directed their thinking, is there in all the world a more plain-spoken attempt to contrive an automatic governor—a machine which would preserve its balance without the need of taking human nature into account? What other explanation is there for the naive faith of the Fathers in the "symmetry" of executive, legislature, and judiciary; in the fantastic attempts to circumvent human folly by balancing it with vetoes and checks? No insight into the evident fact that power upsets all mechanical foresight and gravitates toward the natural leaders seems to have illuminated those historic deliberations. The Fathers had a rather pale god, they had only a speaking acquaintance with humanity, so they put their faith in a scaffold, and it has been part of our national piety to pretend that they succeeded.
They worked with the philosophy of their age. Living in the Eighteenth Century, they thought in the images of Newton and Montesquieu. "The Government of the United States," writes Woodrow Wilson, "was constructed upon the Whig theory of political dynamics, which was a sort of unconscious copy of the Newtonian theory of the universe.... As Montesquieu pointed out to them (the English Whigs) in his lucid way, they had sought to balance executive, legislative and judiciary off against one another by a series of checks and counterpoises, which Newton might readily have recognized as suggestive of the mechanism of the heavens." No doubt this automatic and balanced theory of government suited admirably that distrust of the people which seems to have been a dominant feeling among the Fathers. For they were the conservatives of their day: between '76 and '89 they had gone the usual way of opportunist radicals. But had they written the Constitution in the fire of their youth, they might have made it more democratic,—I doubt whether they would have made it less mechanical. The rebellious spirit of Tom Paine expressed itself in logical formulae as inflexible to the pace of life as did the more contented Hamilton's. This is a determinant which burrows beneath our ordinary classification of progressive and reactionary to the spiritual habits of a period.
If you look into the early utopias of Fourier and Saint-Simon, or better still into the early trade unions, this same faith that a government can be made to work mechanically is predominant everywhere. All the devices of rotation in office, short terms, undelegated authority are simply attempts to defeat the half-perceived fact that power will not long stay diffused. It is characteristic of these primitive democracies that they worship Man and distrust men. They cling to some arrangement, hoping against experience that a government freed from human nature will automatically produce human benefits. To-day within the Socialist Party there is perhaps the greatest surviving example of the desire to offset natural leadership by artificial contrivance. It is an article of faith among orthodox socialists that personalities do not count, and I sincerely believe I am not exaggerating the case when I say that their ideal of government is like Gordon Craig's ideal of the theater—the acting is to be done by a row of supermarionettes. There is a myth among socialists to which all are expected to subscribe, that initiative springs anonymously out of the mass of the people,—that there are no "leaders," that the conspicuous figures are no more influential than the figurehead on the prow of a ship.
This is one of the paradoxes of the democratic movement—that it loves a crowd and fears the individuals who compose it—that the religion of humanity should have had no faith in human beings. Jealous of all individuals, democracies have turned to machines. They have tried to blot out human prestige, to minimize the influence of personality. That there is historical justification for this fear is plain enough. To put it briefly, democracy is afraid of the tyrant. That explains, but does not justify. Governments have to be carried on by men, however much we distrust them. Nobody has yet invented a mechanically beneficent sovereign.
Democracy has put an unfounded faith in automatic contrivances. Because it left personality out of its speculation, it rested in the empty faith that it had excluded it from reality. But in the actual stress of life these frictions do not survive ten minutes. Public officials do not become political marionettes, though people pretend that they are. When theory runs against the grain of living forces, the result is a deceptive theory of politics. If the real government of the United States "had, in fact," as Woodrow Wilson says, "been a machine governed by mechanically automatic balances, it would have had no history; but it was not, and its history has been rich with the influence and personalities of the men who have conducted it and made it a living reality." Only by violating the very spirit of the constitution have we been able to preserve the letter of it. For behind that balanced plan there grew up what Senator Beveridge has called so brilliantly the "invisible government," an empire of natural groups about natural leaders. Parties are such groups: they have had a power out of all proportion to the intentions of the Fathers. Behind the parties has grown up the "political machine"—falsely called a machine, the very opposite of one in fact, a natural sovereignty, I believe. The really rigid and mechanical thing is the charter behind which Tammany works. For Tammany is the real government that has defeated a mechanical foresight. Tammany is not a freak, a strange and monstrous excrescence. Its structure and the laws of its life are, I believe, typical of all real sovereignties. You can find Tammany duplicated wherever there is a social group to be governed—in trade unions, in clubs, in boys' gangs, in the Four Hundred, in the Socialist Party. It is an accretion of power around a center of influence, cemented by patronage, graft, favors, friendship, loyalties, habits,—a human grouping, a natural pyramid.
Only recently have we begun to see that the "political ring" is not something confined to public life. It was Lincoln Steffens, I believe, who first perceived that fact. For a time it was my privilege to work under him on an investigation of the "Money Power." The leading idea was different from customary "muckraking." We were looking not for the evils of Big Business, but for its anatomy. Mr. Steffens came to the subject with a first-hand knowledge of politics. He knew the "invisible government" of cities, states, and the nation. He knew how the boss worked, how he organized his power. When Mr. Steffens approached the vast confusion and complication of big business, he needed some hypothesis to guide him through that maze of facts. He made a bold and brilliant guess, an hypothesis. To govern a life insurance company, Mr. Steffens argued, was just as much "government" as to run a city. What if political methods existed in the realm of business? The investigation was never carried through completely, but we did study the methods by which several life and fire insurance companies, banks, two or three railroads, and several industrials are controlled. We found that the anatomy of Big Business was strikingly like that of Tammany Hall: the same pyramiding of influence, the same tendency of power to center on individuals who did not necessarily sit in the official seats, the same effort of human organization to grow independently of legal arrangements. Thus in the life insurance companies, and the Hughes investigation supports this, the real power was held not by the president, not by the voters or policy-holders, but by men who were not even directors. After a while we took it as a matter of course that the head of a company was an administrative dummy, with a dependence on unofficial power similar to that of Governor Dix on Boss Murphy. That seems to be typical of the whole economic life of this country. It is controlled by groups of men whose influence extends like a web to smaller, tributary groups, cutting across all official boundaries and designations, making short work of all legal formulae, and exercising sovereignty regardless of the little fences we erect to keep it in bounds.
A glimpse into the labor world revealed very much the same condition. The boss, and the bosslet, the heeler—the men who are "it"—all are there exercising the real power, the power that independently of charters and elections decides what shall happen. I don't wish to have this regarded as necessarily malign. It seems so now because we put our faith in the ideal arrangements which it disturbs. But if we could come to face it squarely—to see that that is what sovereignty is—that if we are to use human power for human purposes we must turn to the realities of it, then we shall have gone far towards leaving behind us the futile hopes of mechanical perfection so constantly blasted by natural facts.
The invisible government is malign. But the evil doesn't come from the fact that it plays horse with the Newtonian theory of the constitution. What is dangerous about it is that we do not see it, cannot use it, and are compelled to submit to it. The nature of political power we shall not change. If that is the way human societies organize sovereignty, the sooner we face that fact the better. For the object of democracy is not to imitate the rhythm of the stars but to harness political power to the nation's need. If corporations and governments have indeed gone on a joy ride the business of reform is not to set up fences, Sherman Acts and injunctions into which they can bump, but to take the wheel and to steer.
The corruption of which we hear so much is certainly not accounted for when you have called it dishonesty. It is too widespread for any such glib explanation. When you see how business controls politics, it certainly is not very illuminating to call the successful business men of a nation criminals. Yet I suppose that all of them violate the law. May not this constant dodging or hurdling of statutes be a sign that there is something the matter with the statutes? Is it not possible that graft is the cracking and bursting of the receptacles in which we have tried to constrain the business of this country? It seems possible that business has had to control politics because its laws were so stupidly obstructive. In the trust agitation this is especially plausible. For there is every reason to believe that concentration is a world-wide tendency, made possible at first by mechanical inventions, fostered by the disastrous experiences of competition, and accepted by business men through contagion and imitation. Certainly the trusts increase. Wherever politics is rigid and hostile to that tendency, there is irritation and struggle, but the agglomeration goes on. Hindered by political conditions, the process becomes secretive and morbid. The trust is not checked, but it is perverted. In 1910 the "American Banker" estimated that there were 1,198 corporations with 8,110 subsidiaries liable to all the penalties of the Sherman Act. Now this concentration must represent a profound impetus in the business world—an impetus which certainly cannot be obliterated, even if anyone were foolish enough to wish it. I venture to suggest that much of what is called "corruption" is the odor of a decaying political system done to death by an economic growth.
It is our desperate adherence to an old method that has produced the confusion of political life. Because we have insisted upon looking at government as a frame and governing as a routine, because in short we have been static in our theories, politics has such an unreal relation to actual conditions. Feckless—that is what our politics is. It is literally eccentric: it has been centered mechanically instead of vitally. We have, it seems, been seduced by a fictitious analogy: we have hoped for machine regularity when we needed human initiative and leadership, when life was crying that its inventive abilities should be freed.
Roosevelt in his term did much to center government truly. For a time natural leadership and nominal position coincided, and the administration became in a measure a real sovereignty. The routine conception dwindled, and the Roosevelt appointees went at issues as problems to be solved. They may have been mistaken: Roosevelt may be uncritical in his judgments. But the fact remains that the Roosevelt regime gave a new prestige to the Presidency by effecting through it the greatest release of political invention in a generation. Contrast it with the Taft administration, and the quality is set in relief. Taft was the perfect routineer trying to run government as automatically as possible. His sincerity consisted in utter respect for form: he denied himself whatever leadership he was capable of, and outwardly at least he tried to "balance" the government. His greatest passions seem to be purely administrative and legal. The people did not like it. They said it was dead. They were right. They had grown accustomed to a humanly liberating atmosphere in which formality was an instrument instead of an idol. They had seen the Roosevelt influence adding to the resources of life—irrigation, and waterways, conservation, the Panama Canal, the "country life" movement. They knew these things were achieved through initiative that burst through formal restrictions, and they applauded wildly. It was only a taste, but it was a taste, a taste of what government might be like.
The opposition was instructive. Apart from those who feared Roosevelt for selfish reasons, his enemies were men who loved an orderly adherence to traditional methods. They shivered in the emotional gale; they obstructed and the gale became destructive. They felt that, along with obviously good things, this sudden national fertility might breed a monster—that a leadership like Roosevelt's might indeed prove dangerous, as giving birth may lead to death.
What the methodically-minded do not see is that the sterility of a routine is far more appalling. Not everyone may feel that to push out into the untried, and take risks for big prizes, is worth while. Men will tell you that government has no business to undertake an adventure, to make experiments. They think that safety lies in repetition, that if you do nothing, nothing will be done to you. It's a mistake due to poverty of imagination and inability to learn from experience. Even the timidest soul dare not "stand pat." The indictment against mere routine in government is a staggering one.
For while statesmen are pottering along doing the same thing year in, year out, putting up the tariff one year and down the next, passing appropriation bills and recodifying laws, the real forces in the country do not stand still. Vast changes, economic and psychological, take place, and these changes demand new guidance. But the routineers are always unprepared. It has become one of the grim trade jokes of innovators that the one thing you can count upon is that the rulers will come to think that they are the apex of human development. For a queer effect of responsibility on men is that it makes them try to be as much like machines as possible. Tammany itself becomes rigid when it is too successful, and only defeat seems to give it new life. Success makes men rigid and they tend to exalt stability over all the other virtues; tired of the effort of willing they become fanatics about conservatism. But conditions change whether statesmen wish them to or not; society must have new institutions to fit new wants, and all that rigid conservatism can do is to make the transitions difficult. Violent revolutions may be charged up to the unreadiness of statesmen. It is because they will not see, or cannot see, that feudalism is dead, that chattel slavery is antiquated; it is because they have not the wisdom and the audacity to anticipate these great social changes; it is because they insist upon standing pat that we have French Revolutions and Civil Wars.
But statesmen who had decided that at last men were to be the masters of their own history, instead of its victims, would face politics in a truly revolutionary manner. It would give a new outlook to statesmanship, turning it from the mere preservation of order, the administration of political machinery and the guarding of ancient privilege to the invention of new political forms, the prevision of social wants, and the preparation for new economic growths.
Such a statesmanship would in the '80's have prepared for the trust movement. There would have been nothing miraculous in such foresight. Standard Oil was dominant by the beginning of the '80's, and concentration had begun in sugar, steel and other basic industries. Here was an economic tendency of revolutionary significance—the organization of business in a way that was bound to change the outlook of a whole nation. It had vast potentialities for good and evil—all it wanted was harnessing and directing. But the new thing did not fit into the little outlines and verbosities which served as a philosophy for our political hacks. So they gaped at it and let it run wild, called it names, and threw stones at it. And by that time the force was too big for them. An alert statesmanship would have facilitated the process of concentration; would have made provision for those who were cast aside; would have been an ally of trust building, and by that very fact it would have had an internal grip on the trust—it would have kept the trust's inner workings public; it could have bent the trust to social uses.
This is not mere wisdom after the event. In the '80's there were hundreds of thousands of people in the world who understood that the trust was a natural economic growth. Karl Marx had proclaimed it some thirty years before, and it was a widely circulated idea. Is it asking too much of a statesman if we expect him to know political theory and to balance it with the facts he sees? By the '90's surely, the egregious folly of a Sherman Anti-Trust Law should have been evident to any man who pretended to political leadership. Yet here it is the year 1912 and that monument of economic ignorance and superstition is still worshiped with the lips by two out of the three big national parties.
Another movement—like that of the trust—is gathering strength to-day. It is the unification of wage-workers. We stand in relation to it as the men of the '80's did to the trusts. It is the complement of that problem. It also has vast potentialities for good and evil. It, too, demands understanding and direction. It, too, will not be stopped by hard names or injunctions.
What we loosely call "syndicalism" is a tendency that no statesman can overlook to-day without earning the jeers of his children. This labor movement has a destructive and constructive energy within it. On its beneficent side it promises a new professional interest in work, self-education, and the co-operative management of industry. But this creative power is constantly choked off because the unions are compelled to fight for their lives—the more opposition they meet the more you are likely to see of sabotage, direct action, the greve perlee—the less chance there is for the educative forces to show themselves. Then, the more violent syndicalism proves itself to be, the more hysterically we bait it in the usual vicious circle of ignorance.
But who amongst us is optimistic enough to hope that the men who sit in the mighty positions are going to make a better show of themselves than their predecessors did over the trust problem? It strains hope a little too much. Those men in Washington, most of them lawyers, are so educated that they are practically incapable of meeting a new condition. All their training plus all their natural ossification of mind is hostile to invention. You cannot endow even the best machine with initiative; the jolliest steam-roller will not plant flowers.
The thought-processes in Washington are too lumbering for the needs of this nation. Against that evil muckraking ought to be directed. Those senators and representatives are largely irrelevant; they are not concerned with realities. Their dishonesties are comparatively insignificant. The scorn of the public should be turned upon the emptiness of political thought, upon the fact that those men seem without even a conception of the nation's needs. And while they maunder along they stifle the forces of life which are trying to break through. It was nothing but the insolence of the routineer that forced Gifford Pinchot out of the Forest Service. Pinchot in respect to his subject was a fine political inventor. But routine forced him out—into what?—into the moil and toil of fighting for offices, and there he has cut a poor figure indeed. You may say that he has had to spend his energy trying to find a chance to use his power. What a wanton waste of talent is that for a civilized nation! Wiley is another case of the creative mind harassed by the routineers. Judge Lindsey is another—a fine, constructive children's judge compelled to be a politician. And of our misuse of the Rockefellers and Carnegies—the retrospect is appalling. Here was industrial genius unquestionably beyond the ordinary. What did this nation do with it? It found no public use for talent. It left that to operate in darkness—then opinion rose in an empty fury, made an outlaw of one and a platitudinous philanthropist of the other. It could lynch one as a moral monster, when as a matter of fact his ideals were commonplace; it could proclaim one a great benefactor when in truth he was a rather dull old gentleman. Abused out of all reason or praised irrelevantly—the one thing this nation has not been able to do with these men is to use their genius. It is this life-sapping quality of our politics that should be fought—its wanton waste of the initiatives we have—its stupid indifference.
We need a new sense of political values. These times require a different order of thinking. We cannot expect to meet our problems with a few inherited ideas, uncriticised assumptions, a foggy vocabulary, and a machine philosophy. Our political thinking needs the infusion of contemporary insights. The enormous vitality that is regenerating other interests can be brought into the service of politics. Our primary care must be to keep the habits of the mind flexible and adapted to the movement of real life. The only way to control our destiny is to work with it. In politics, at least, we stoop to conquer. There is no use, no heroism, in butting against the inevitable, yet nothing is entirely inevitable. There is always some choice, some opportunity for human direction.
It is not easy. It is far easier to treat life as if it were dead, men as if they were dolls. It is everlastingly difficult to keep the mind flexible and alert. The rule of thumb is not here. To follow the pace of living requires enormous vigilance and sympathy. No one can write conclusively about it. Compared with this creative statesmanship, the administering of a routine or the battle for a platitude is a very simple affair. But genuine politics is not an inhuman task. Part of the genuineness is its unpretentious humanity. I am not creating the figure of an ideal statesman out of some inner fancy. That is just the deepest error of our political thinking—to talk of politics without reference to human beings. The creative men appear in public life in spite of the cold blanket the politicians throw over them. Really statesmanlike things are done, inventions are made. But this real achievement comes to us confused, mixed with much that is contradictory. Political inventors are to-day largely unconscious of their purpose, and, so, defenceless against the distraction of their routineer enemies.
Lacking a philosophy they are defenceless against their own inner tendency to sink into repetition. As a witty Frenchman remarked, many geniuses become their own disciples. This is true when the attention is slack, and effort has lost its direction. We have elaborate governmental mechanisms—like the tariff, for example, which we go on making more "scientific" year in, year out—having long since lost sight of their human purpose. They may be defeating the very ends they were meant to serve. We cling to constitutions out of "loyalty." We trudge in the treadmill and call it love of our ancient institutions. We emulate the mule, that greatest of all routineers.
Our government has certainly not measured up to expectations. Even chronic admirers of the "balance" and "symmetry" of the Constitution admit either by word or deed that it did not foresee the whole history of the American people. Poor bewildered statesmen, unused to any notion of change, have seen the national life grow to a monstrous confusion and sprout monstrous evils by the way. Men and women clamored for remedies, vowed, shouted and insisted that their "official servants" do something—something statesmanlike—to abate so much evident wrong. But their representatives had very little more than a frock coat and a slogan as equipment for the task. Trained to interpret a constitution instead of life, these statesmen faced with historic helplessness the vociferations of ministers, muckrakers, labor leaders, women's clubs, granges and reformers' leagues. Out of a tumultuous medley appeared the common theme of public opinion—that the leaders should lead, that the governors should govern.
The trusts had appeared, labor was restless, vice seemed to be corrupting the vitality of the nation. Statesmen had to do something. Their training was legal and therefore utterly inadequate, but it was all they had. They became panicky and reverted to an ancient superstition. They forbade the existence of evil by law. They made it anathema. They pronounced it damnable. They threatened to club it. They issued a legislative curse, and called upon the district attorney to do the rest. They started out to abolish human instincts, check economic tendencies and repress social changes by laws prohibiting them. They turned to this sanctified ignorance which is rampant in almost any nursery, which presides at family councils, flourishes among "reformers"; which from time immemorial has haunted legislatures and courts. Under the spell of it men try to stop drunkenness by closing the saloons; when poolrooms shock them they call a policeman; if Haywood becomes annoying, they procure an injunction. They meet the evils of dance halls by barricading them; they go forth to battle against vice by raiding brothels and fining prostitutes. For trusts there is a Sherman Act. In spite of all experience they cling desperately to these superstitions.
It is the method of the taboo, as naive as barbarism, as ancient as human failure.
There is a law against suicide. It is illegal for a man to kill himself. What it means in practice, of course, is that there is punishment waiting for a man who doesn't succeed in killing himself. We say to the man who is tired of life that if he bungles we propose to make this world still less attractive by clapping him into jail. I know an economist who has a scheme for keeping down the population by refusing very poor people a marriage license. He used to teach Sunday school and deplore promiscuity. In the annual report of the president of a distilling company I once saw the statement that business had increased in the "dry" states. In a prohibition town where I lived you could drink all you wanted by belonging to a "club" or winking at the druggist. And in another city where Sunday closing was strictly enforced, a minister told me with painful surprise that the Monday police blotter showed less drunks and more wife-beaters.
We pass a law against race-track gambling and add to the profits from faro. We raid the faro joints, and drive gambling into the home, where poker and bridge whist are taught to children who follow their parents' example. We deprive anarchists of free speech by the heavy hand of a police magistrate, and furnish them with a practical instead of a theoretical argument against government. We answer strikes with bayonets, and make treason one of the rights of man.
Everybody knows that when you close the dance halls you fill the parks. Men who in their youth took part in "crusades" against the Tenderloin now admit in a crestfallen way that they succeeded merely in sprinkling the Tenderloin through the whole city. Over twenty years ago we formulated a sweeping taboo against trusts. Those same twenty years mark the centralization of industry.
The routineer in a panic turns to the taboo. Whatever does not fit into his rigid little scheme of things must have its head chopped off. Now human nature and the changing social forces it generates are the very material which fit least well into most little schemes of things. A man cannot sleep in his cradle: whatever is useful must in the nature of life become useless. We employ our instruments and abandon them. But nothing so simply true as that prevails in politics. When a government routine conflicts with the nation's purposes—the statesman actually makes a virtue of his loyalty to the routine. His practice is to ignore human character and pay no attention to social forces. The shallow presumption is that undomesticated impulses can be obliterated; that world-wide economic inventions can be stamped out by jailing millionaires—and acting in the spirit of Mr. Chesterton's man Fipps "who went mad and ran about the country with an axe, hacking branches off the trees whenever there were not the same number on both sides." The routineer is, of course, the first to decry every radical proposal as "against human nature." But the stand-pat mind has forfeited all right to speak for human nature. It has devoted the centuries to torturing men's instincts, stamping on them, passing laws against them, lifting its eyebrows at the thought of them—doing everything but trying to understand them. The same people who with daily insistence say that innovators ignore facts are in the absurd predicament of trying to still human wants with petty taboos. Social systems like ours, which do not even feed and house men and women, which deny pleasure, cramp play, ban adventure, propose celibacy and grind out monotony, are a clear confession of sterility in statesmanship. And politics, however pretentiously rhetorical about ideals, is irrelevant if the only method it knows is to ostracize the desires it cannot manage.
Suppose that statesmen transferred their reverence from the precedents and mistakes of their ancestors to the human material which they have set out to govern. Suppose they looked mankind in the face and asked themselves what was the result of answering evil with a prohibition. Such an exercise would, I fear, involve a considerable strain on what reformers call their moral sensibilities. For human nature is a rather shocking affair if you come to it with ordinary romantic optimism. Certainly the human nature that figures in most political thinking is a wraith that never was—not even in the souls of politicians. "Idealism" creates an abstraction and then shudders at a reality which does not answer to it. Now statesmen who have set out to deal with actual life must deal with actual people. They cannot afford an inclusive pessimism about mankind. Let them have the consistency and good sense to cease bothering about men if men's desires seem intrinsically evil. Moral judgment about the ultimate quality of character is dangerous to a politician. He is too constantly tempted to call a policeman when he disapproves.
We must study our failures. Gambling and drink, for example, produce much misery. But what reformers have to learn is that men don't gamble just for the sake of violating the law. They do so because something within them is satisfied by betting or drinking. To erect a ban doesn't stop the want. It merely prevents its satisfaction. And since this desire for stimulants or taking a chance at a prize is older and far more deeply rooted in the nature of men than love of the Prohibition Party or reverence for laws made at Albany, people will contrive to drink and gamble in spite of the acts of a legislature.
A man may take liquor for a variety of reasons: he may be thirsty; or depressed; or unusually happy; he may want the companionship of a saloon, or he may hope to forget a scolding wife. Perhaps he needs a "bracer" in a weary hunt for a job. Perhaps he has a terrible craving for alcohol. He does not take a drink so that he may become an habitual drunkard, or be locked up in jail, or get into a brawl, or lose his job, or go insane. These are what he might call the unfortunate by-products of his desire. If once he could find something which would do for him what liquor does, without hurting him as liquor does, there would be no problem of drink. Bernard Shaw says he has found that substitute in going to church when there's no service. Goethe wrote "The Sorrows of Werther" in order to get rid of his own. Many an unhappy lover has found peace by expressing his misery in sonnet form. The problem is to find something for the common man who is not interested in contemporary churches and who can't write sonnets.
When the socialists in Milwaukee began to experiment with municipal dances they were greeted with indignant protests from the "anti-vice" element and with amused contempt by the newspaper paragraphers. The dances were discontinued, and so the belief in their failure is complete. I think, though, that Mayor Seidel's defense would by itself make this experiment memorable. He admitted freely the worst that can be said against the ordinary dance hall. So far he was with the petty reformers. Then he pointed out with considerable vehemence that dance halls were an urgent social necessity. At that point he had transcended the mind of the petty reformer completely. "We propose," said Seidel, "to go into competition with the devil."
Nothing deeper has come from an American mayor in a long, long time. It is the point that Jane Addams makes in the opening pages of that wisely sweet book, "The Spirit of Youth and the City Streets." She calls attention to the fact that the modern state has failed to provide for pleasure. "This stupid experiment," she writes, "of organizing work and failing to organize play has, of course, brought about a fine revenge. The love of pleasure will not be denied, and when it has turned into all sorts of malignant and vicious appetites, then we, the middle-aged, grow quite distracted and resort to all sorts of restrictive measures."
For human nature seems to have wants that must be filled. If nobody else supplies them, the devil will. The demand for pleasure, adventure, romance has been left to the devil's catering for so long a time that most people think he inspires the demand. He doesn't. Our neglect is the devil's opportunity. What we should use, we let him abuse, and the corruption of the best things, as Hume remarked, produces the worst. Pleasure in our cities has become tied to lobster palaces, adventure to exalted murderers, romance to silly, mooning novels. Like the flower girl in Galsworthy's play, we have made a very considerable confusion of the life of joy and the joy of life. The first impulse is to abolish all lobster palaces, melodramas, yellow newspapers, and sentimentally erotic novels. Why not abolish all the devil's works? the reformer wonders. The answer is in history. It can't be done that way. It is impossible to abolish either with a law or an axe the desires of men. It is dangerous, explosively dangerous, to thwart them for any length of time. The Puritans tried to choke the craving for pleasure in early New England. They had no theaters, no dances, no festivals. They burned witches instead.
We rail a good deal against Tammany Hall. Reform tickets make periodic sallies against it, crying economy, efficiency, and a business administration. And we all pretend to be enormously surprised when the "ignorant foreign vote" prefers a corrupt political ring to a party of well-dressed, grammatical, and high-minded gentlemen. Some of us are even rather downcast about democracy because the Bowery doesn't take to heart the admonitions of the Evening Post.
We forget completely the important wants supplied by Tammany Hall. We forget that this is a lonely country for an immigrant and that the Statue of Liberty doesn't shed her light with too much warmth. Possessing nothing but a statistical, inhuman conception of government, the average municipal reformer looks down contemptuously upon a man like Tim Sullivan with his clambakes and his dances; his warm and friendly saloons, his handshaking and funeral-going and baby-christening; his readiness to get coal for the family, and a job for the husband. But a Tim Sullivan is closer to the heart of statesmanship than five City Clubs full of people who want low taxes and orderly bookkeeping. He does things which have to be done. He humanizes a strange country; he is a friend at court; he represents the legitimate kindliness of government, standing between the poor and the impersonal, uninviting majesty of the law. Let no man wonder that Lorimer's people do not prefer an efficiency expert, that a Tim Sullivan has power, or that men are loyal to Hinky Dink. The cry raised against these men by the average reformer is a piece of cold, unreal, preposterous idealism compared to the solid warm facts of kindliness, clothes, food and fun.
You cannot beat the bosses with the reformer's taboo. You will not get far on the Bowery with the cost unit system and low taxes. And I don't blame the Bowery. You can beat Tammany Hall permanently in one way—by making the government of a city as human, as kindly, as jolly as Tammany Hall. I am aware of the contract-grafts, the franchise-steals, the dirty streets, the bribing and the blackmail, the vice-and-crime partnerships, the Big Business alliances of Tammany Hall. And yet it seems to me that Tammany has a better perception of human need, and comes nearer to being what a government should be, than any scheme yet proposed by a group of "uptown good government" enthusiasts. Tammany is not a satanic instrument of deception, cleverly devised to thwart "the will of the people." It is a crude and largely unconscious answer to certain immediate needs, and without those needs its power would crumble. That is why I ventured in the preceding chapter to describe it as a natural sovereignty which had grown up behind a mechanical form of government. It is a poor weed compared to what government might be. But it is a real government that has power and serves a want, and not a frame imposed upon men from on top.
The taboo—the merely negative law—is the emptiest of all the impositions from on top. In its long record of failure, in the comparative success of Tammany, those who are aiming at social changes can see a profound lesson; the impulses, cravings and wants of men must be employed. You can employ them well or ill, but you must employ them. A group of reformers lounging at a club cannot, dare not, decide to close up another man's club because it is called a saloon. Unless the reformer can invent something which substitutes attractive virtues for attractive vices, he will fail. He will fail because human nature abhors the vacuum created by the taboo.
An incident in the international peace propaganda illuminates this point. Not long ago a meeting in Carnegie Hall, New York, to forward peace among nations broke up in great disorder. Thousands of people who hate the waste and futility of war as much as any of the orators of that evening were filled with an unholy glee. They chuckled with delight at the idea of a riot in a peace meeting. Though it would have seemed perverse to the ordinary pacificist, this sentiment sprang from a respectable source. It had the same ground as the instinctive feeling of nine men in ten that Roosevelt has more right to talk about peace than William Howard Taft. James made it articulate in his essay on "The Moral Equivalent of War." James was a great advocate of peace, but he understood Theodore Roosevelt and he spoke for the military man when he wrote of war that: "Its 'horrors' are a cheap price to pay for rescue from the only alternative supposed, of a world of clerks and teachers, of co-education and zo-ophily, of 'consumers' leagues' and 'associated charities,' of industrialism unlimited, and feminism unabashed. No scorn, no hardness, no valor any more! Fie upon such a cattleyard of a planet!"
And he added: "So far as the central essence of this feeling goes, no healthy minded person, it seems to me, can help to some degree partaking of it. Militarism is the great preserver of our ideals of hardihood, and human life with no use for hardihood would be contemptible. Without risks or prizes for the darer, history would be insipid indeed; and there is a type of military character which everyone feels that the race should never cease to breed, for everyone is sensitive to its superiority."
So William James proposed not the abolition of war, but a moral equivalent for it. He dreamed of "a conscription of the whole youthful population to form for a certain number of years a part of the army enlisted against Nature.... The military ideals of hardihood and discipline would be wrought into the growing fibre of the people; no one would remain blind, as the luxurious classes now are blind, to man's relations to the globe he lives on, and to the permanently sour and hard foundations of his higher life." Now we are not concerned here over the question of this particular proposal. The telling point in my opinion is this: that when a wise man, a student of human nature, and a reformer met in the same person, the taboo was abandoned. James has given us a lasting phrase when he speaks of the "moral equivalent" of evil. We can use it, I believe, as a guide post to statesmanship. Rightly understood, the idea behind the words contains all that is valuable in conservatism, and, for the first time, gives a reputable meaning to that tortured epithet "constructive."
"The military feelings," says James, "are too deeply grounded to abdicate their place among our ideals until better substitutes are offered ... such a conscription, with the state of public opinion that would have required it, and the many moral fruits it would bear, would preserve in the midst of a pacific civilization the manly virtues which the military party is so afraid of seeing disappear in peace.... So far, war has been the only force that can discipline a whole community, and until an equivalent discipline is organized I believe that war must have its way. But I have no serious doubt that the ordinary prides and shames of social man, once developed to a certain intensity, are capable of organizing such a moral equivalent as I have sketched, or some other just as effective for preserving manliness of type. It is but a question of time, of skilful propagandism, and of opinion-making men seizing historic opportunities. The martial type of character can be bred without war."
To find for evil its moral equivalent is to be conservative about values and radical about forms, to turn to the establishment of positively good things instead of trying simply to check bad ones, to emphasize the additions to life, instead of the restrictions upon it, to substitute, if you like, the love of heaven for the fear of hell. Such a program means the dignified utilization of the whole nature of man. It will recognize as the first test of all political systems and moral codes whether or not they are "against human nature." It will insist that they be cut to fit the whole man, not merely a part of him. For there are utopian proposals made every day which cover about as much of a human being as a beautiful hat does.
Instead of tabooing our impulses, we must redirect them. Instead of trying to crush badness we must turn the power behind it to good account. The assumption is that every lust is capable of some civilized expression.
We say, in effect, that evil is a way by which desire expresses itself. The older moralists, the taboo philosophers believed that the desires themselves were inherently evil. To us they are the energies of the soul, neither good nor bad in themselves. Like dynamite, they are capable of all sorts of uses, and it is the business of civilization, through the family and the school, religion, art, science, and all institutions, to transmute these energies into fine values. Behind evil there is power, and it is folly,—wasting and disappointing folly,—to ignore this power because it has found an evil issue. All that is dynamic in human character is in these rooted lusts. The great error of the taboo has been just this: that it believed each desire had only one expression, that if that expression was evil the desire itself was evil. We know a little better to-day. We know that it is possible to harness desire to many interests, that evil is one form of a desire, and not the nature of it.
This supplies us with a standard for judging reforms, and so makes clear what "constructive" action really is. When it was discovered recently that the boys' gang was not an unmitigated nuisance to be chased by a policeman, but a force that could be made valuable to civilization through the Boy Scouts, a really constructive reform was given to the world. The effervescence of boys on the street, wasted and perverted through neglect or persecution, was drained and applied to fine uses. When Percy MacKaye pleads for pageants in which the people themselves participate, he offers an opportunity for expressing some of the lusts of the city in the form of an art. The Freudian school of psychologists calls this "sublimation." They have brought forward a wealth of material which gives us every reason to believe that the theory of "moral equivalents" is soundly based, that much the same energies produce crime and civilization, art, vice, insanity, love, lust, and religion. In each individual the original differences are small. Training and opportunity decide in the main how men's lust shall emerge. Left to themselves, or ignorantly tabooed, they break forth in some barbaric or morbid form. Only by supplying our passions with civilized interests can we escape their destructive force.
I have put it negatively, as a counsel of prudence. But he who has the courage of existence will put it triumphantly, crying "yea" as Nietzsche did, and recognizing that all the passions of men are the motive powers of a fine life.
For the roads that lead to heaven and hell are one until they part.
THE CHANGING FOCUS
The taboo, however useless, is at least concrete. Although it achieves little besides mischief, it has all the appearance of practical action, and consequently enlists the enthusiasm of those people whom Wells describes as rushing about the country shouting: "For Gawd's sake let's do something now." There are weight and solidity in a policeman's club, while a "moral equivalent" happens to be pale like the stuff of which dreams are made. To the politician whose daily life consists in dodging the thousand and one conflicting prejudices of his constituents, in bickering with committees, intriguing and playing for the vote; to the business man harassed on four sides by the trust, the union, the law, and public opinion,—distrustful of any wide scheme because the stupidity of his shipping clerk is the most vivid item in his mind, all this discussion about politics and the inner life will sound like so much fine-spun nonsense.
I, for one, am not disposed to blame the politicians and the business men. They govern the nation, it is true, but they do it in a rather absentminded fashion. Those revolutionists who see the misery of the country as a deliberate and fiendish plot overestimate the bad will, the intelligence and the singleness of purpose in the ruling classes. Business and political leaders don't mean badly; the trouble with them is that most of the time they don't mean anything. They picture themselves as very "practical," which in practice amounts to saying that nothing makes them feel so spiritually homeless as the discussion of values and an invitation to examine first principles. Ideas, most of the time, cause them genuine distress, and are as disconcerting as an idle office boy, or a squeaky telephone.
I do not underestimate the troubles of the man of affairs. I have lived with politicians,—with socialist politicians whose good-will was abundant and intentions constructive. The petty vexations pile up into mountains; the distracting details scatter the attention and break up thinking, while the mere problem of exercising power crowds out speculation about what to do with it. Personal jealousies interrupt co-ordinated effort; committee sessions wear out nerves by their aimless drifting; constant speech-making turns a man back upon a convenient little store of platitudes—misunderstanding and distortion dry up the imagination, make thought timid and expression flat, the atmosphere of publicity requires a mask which soon becomes the reality. Politicians tend to live "in character," and many a public figure has come to imitate the journalism which describes him. You cannot blame politicians if their perceptions are few and their thinking crude.
Football strategy does not originate in a scrimmage: it is useless to expect solutions in a political campaign. Woodrow Wilson brought to public life an exceedingly flexible mind,—many of us when he first emerged rejoiced at the clean and athletic quality of his thinking. But even he under the stress of a campaign slackened into commonplace reiteration, accepting a futile and intellectually dishonest platform, closing his eyes to facts, misrepresenting his opponents, abandoning, in short, the very qualities which distinguished him. It is understandable. When a National Committee puts a megaphone to a man's mouth and tells him to yell, it is difficult for him to hear anything.
If a nation's destiny were really bound up with the politics reported in newspapers, the impasse would be discouraging. If the important sovereignty of a country were in what is called its parliamentary life, then the day of Plato's philosopher-kings would be far off indeed. Certainly nobody expects our politicians to become philosophers. When they do they hide the fact. And when philosophers try to be politicians they generally cease to be philosophers. But the truth is that we overestimate enormously the importance of nominations, campaigns, and office-holding. If we are discouraged it is because we tend to identify statecraft with that official government which is merely one of its instruments. Vastly over-advertised, we have mistaken an inflated fragment for the real political life of the country.
For if you think of men and their welfare, government appears at once as nothing but an agent among many others. The task of civilizing our impulses by creating fine opportunities for their expression cannot be accomplished through the City Hall alone. All the influences of social life are needed. The eggs do not lie in one basket. Thus the issues in the trade unions may be far more directly important to statecraft than the destiny of the Republican Party. The power that workingmen generate when they unite—the demands they will make and the tactics they will pursue—how they are educating themselves and the nation—these are genuine issues which bear upon the future. So with the policies of business men. Whether financiers are to be sullen and stupid like Archbold, defiant like Morgan, or well-intentioned like Perkins is a question that enters deeply into the industrial issues. The whole business problem takes on a new complexion if the representatives of capital are to be men with the temper of Louis Brandeis or William C. Redfield. For when business careers are made professional, new motives enter into the situation; it will make a world of difference if the leadership of industry is in the hands of men interested in production as a creative art instead of as a brute exploitation. The economic conflicts are at once raised to a plane of research, experiment and honest deliberation. For on the level of hate and mean-seeking no solution is possible. That subtle fact,—the change of business motives, the demonstration that industry can be conducted as medicine is,—may civilize the whole class conflict.
Obviously statecraft is concerned with such a change, extra-political though it is. And wherever the politician through his prestige or the government through its universities can stimulate a revolution in business motives, it should do so. That is genuinely constructive work, and will do more to a humane solution of the class struggle than all the jails and state constabularies that ever betrayed the barbarism of the Twentieth Century. It is no wonder that business is such a sordid affair. We have done our best to exclude from it every passionate interest that is capable of lighting up activity with eagerness and joy. "Unbusinesslike" we have called the devotion of craftsmen and scientists. We have actually pretended that the work of extracting a living from nature could be done most successfully by short-sighted money-makers encouraged by their money-spending wives. We are learning better to-day. We are beginning to know that this nation for all its boasts has not touched the real possibilities of business success, that nature and good luck have done most of our work, that our achievements come in spite of our ignorance. And so no man can gauge the civilizing possibilities of a new set of motives in business. That it will add to the dignity and value of millions of careers is only one of its blessings. Given a nation of men trained to think scientifically about their work and feel about it as craftsmen, and you have a people released from a stupid fixation upon the silly little ideals of accumulating dollars and filling their neighbor's eye. We preach against commercialism but without great result. And the reason for our failure is: that we merely say "you ought not" instead of offering a new interest. Instead of telling business men not to be greedy, we should tell them to be industrial statesmen, applied scientists, and members of a craft. Politics can aid that revolution in a hundred Ways: by advocating it, by furnishing schools that teach, laboratories that demonstrate, by putting business on the same plane of interest as the Health Service.
The indictment against politics to-day is not its corruption, but its lack of insight. I believe it is a fact which experience will sustain that men steal because they haven't anything better to do. You don't have to preach honesty to men with a creative purpose. Let a human being throw the energies of his soul into the making of something, and the instinct of workmanship will take care of his honesty. The writers who have nothing to say are the ones that you can buy: the others have too high a price. A genuine craftsman will not adulterate his product: the reason isn't because duty says he shouldn't, but because passion says he couldn't. I suggested in an earlier chapter that the issue of honesty and dishonesty was a futile one, and I placed faith in the creative men. They hate shams and the watering of goods on a more trustworthy basis than the mere routine moralist. To them dishonesty is a contradiction of their own lusts, and they ask no credit, need none, for being true. Creation is an emotional ascent, which makes the standard vices trivial, and turns all that is valuable in virtue to the service of desire.
When politics revolves mechanically it ceases to use the real energies of a nation. Government is then at once irrelevant and mischievous—a mere obstructive nuisance. Not long ago a prominent senator remarked that he didn't know much about the country, because he had spent the last few months in Washington. It was a profound utterance as anyone can testify who reads, let us say, the Congressional Record. For that document, though replete with language, is singularly unacquainted with the forces that agitate the nation. Politics, as the contributors to the Congressional Record seem to understand it, is a very limited selection of well-worn debates on a few arbitrarily chosen "problems." Those questions have developed a technique and an interest in them for their own sake. They are handled with a dull solemnity quite out of proportion to their real interest. Labor receives only a perfunctory and largely disingenuous attention; even commerce is handled in a way that expresses neither its direction nor its public use. Congress has been ready enough to grant favors to corporations, but where in its wrangling from the Sherman Act to the Commerce Court has it shown any sympathetic understanding of the constructive purposes in the trust movement? It has either presented the business man with money or harassed him with bungling enthusiasm in the pretended interests of the consumer. The one thing Congress has not done is to use the talents of business men for the nation's advantage.
If "politics" has been indifferent to forces like the union and the trust, it is no exaggeration to say that it has displayed a modest ignorance of women's problems, of educational conflicts and racial aspirations; of the control of newspapers and magazines, the book publishing world, socialist conventions and unofficial political groups like the single-taxers.
Such genuine powers do not absorb our political interest because we are fooled by the regalia of office. But statesmanship, if it is to be relevant, would obtain a new perspective on these dynamic currents, would find out the wants they express and the energies they contain, would shape and direct and guide them. For unions and trusts, sects, clubs and voluntary associations stand for actual needs. The size of their following, the intensity of their demands are a fair index of what the statesman must think about. No lawyer created a trust though he drew up its charter; no logician made the labor movement or the feminist agitation. If you ask what for political purposes a nation is, a practical answer would be: it is its "movements." They are the social life. So far as the future is man-made it is made of them. They show their real vitality by a relentless growth in spite of all the little fences and obstacles that foolish politicians devise.
There is, of course, much that is dead within the movements. Each one carries along a quantity of inert and outworn ideas,—not infrequently there is an internally contradictory current. Thus the very workingmen who agitate for a better diffusion of wealth display a marked hostility to improvements in the production of it. The feminists too have their atavisms: not a few who object to the patriarchal family seem inclined to cure it by going back still more—to the matriarchal. Constructive business has no end of reactionary moments——the most striking, perhaps, is when it buys up patents in order to suppress them. Yet these inversions, though discouraging, are not essential in the life of movements. They need to be expurgated by an unceasing criticism; yet in bulk the forces I have mentioned, and many others less important, carry with them the creative powers of our times.
It is not surprising that so many political inventions have been made within these movements, fostered by them, and brought to a general public notice through their efforts. When some constructive proposal is being agitated before a legislative committee, it is customary to unite the "movements" in support of it. Trade unions and women's clubs have joined hands in many an agitation. There are proposals to-day, like the minimum wage, which seem sure of support from consumers' leagues, women's federations, trade unions and those far-sighted business men who may be called "State Socialists."
In fact, unless a political invention is woven into a social movement it has no importance. Only when that is done is it imbued with life. But how among countless suggestions is a "cause" to know the difference between a true invention and a pipe-dream? There is, of course, no infallible touchstone by which we can tell offhand. No one need hope for an easy certainty either here or anywhere else in human affairs. No one is absolved from experiment and constant revision. Yet there are some hypotheses that prima facie deserve more attention than others.
Those are the suggestions which come out of a recognized human need. If a man proposed that the judges of the Supreme Court be reduced from nine to seven because the number seven has mystical power, we could ignore him. But if he suggested that the number be reduced because seven men can deliberate more effectively than nine he ought to be given a hearing. Or let us suppose that the argument is about granting votes to women. The suffragist who bases a claim on the so-called "logic of democracy" is making the poorest possible showing for a good cause. I have heard people maintain that: "it makes no difference whether women want the ballot, or are fit for it, or can do any good with it,—this country is a democracy. Democracy means government by the votes of the people. Women are people. Therefore women should vote." That in a very simple form is the mechanical conception of government. For notice how it ignores human wants and human powers—how it subordinates people to a rigid formula. I use this crude example because it shows that even the most genuine and deeply grounded demands are as yet unable to free themselves entirely from a superficial manner of thinking. We are only partially emancipated from the mechanical and merely logical tradition of the Eighteenth Century. No end of illustrations could be adduced. In the Socialist party it has been the custom to denounce the "short ballot." Why? Because it reduces the number of elective offices. This is regarded as undemocratic for the reason that democracy has come to mean a series of elections. According to a logic, the more elections the more democratic. But experience has shown that a seven-foot ballot with a regiment of names is so bewildering that a real choice is impossible. So it is proposed to cut down the number of elective offices, focus the attention on a few alternatives, and turn voting into a fairly intelligent performance. Here is an attempt to fit political devices to the actual powers of the voter. The old, crude form of ballot forgot that finite beings had to operate it. But the "democrats" adhere to the multitude of choices because "logic" requires them to.
This incident of the "short ballot" illustrates the cleavage between invention and routine. The socialists oppose it not because their intentions are bad but because on this issue their thinking is mechanical. Instead of applying the test of human need, they apply a verbal and logical consistency. The "short ballot" in itself is a slight affair, but the insight behind it seems to me capable of revolutionary development. It is one symptom of the effort to found institutions on human nature. There are many others. We might point to the first experiments aimed at remedying the helter-skelter of careers by vocational guidance. Carried through successfully, this invention of Prof. Parsons' is one whose significance in happiness can hardly be exaggerated. When you think of the misfits among your acquaintances—the lawyers who should be mechanics, the doctors who should be business men, the teachers who should have been clerks, and the executives who should be doing research in a laboratory—when you think of the talent that would be released by proper use, the imagination takes wing at the possibilities. What could we not make of the world if we employed its genius!
Whoever is working to express special energies is part of a constructive revolution. Whoever is removing the stunting environments of our occupations is doing the fundamentals of reform. The studies of Miss Goldmark of industrial fatigue, recuperative power and maximum productivity are contributions toward that distant and desirable period when labor shall be a free and joyous activity. Every suggestion which turns work from a drudgery to a craft is worth our deepest interest. For until then the labor problem will never be solved. The socialist demand for a better distribution of wealth is of great consequence, but without a change in the very nature of labor society will not have achieved the happiness it expects. That is why imaginative socialists have shown so great an interest in "syndicalism." There at least in some of its forms, we can catch sight of a desire to make all labor a self-governing craft.
The handling of crime has been touched by the modern impetus. The ancient, abstract and wholesale "justice" is breaking up into detailed and carefully adapted treatment of individual offenders. What this means for the child has become common knowledge in late years. Criminology (to use an awkward word) is finding a human center. So is education. Everyone knows how child study is revolutionizing the school room and the curriculum. Why, it seems that Mme. Montessori has had the audacity to sacrifice the sacred bench to the interests of the pupil! The traditional school seems to be vanishing—that place in which an ill-assorted band of youngsters was for a certain number of hours each day placed in the vicinity of a text-book and a maiden lady.
I mention these experiments at random. It is not the specific reforms that I wish to emphasize but the great possibilities they foreshadow. Whether or not we adopt certain special bills, high tariff or low tariff, one banking system or another, this trust control or that, is a slight gain compared to a change of attitude toward all political problems. The reformer bound up in his special propaganda will, of course, object that "to get something done is worth more than any amount of talk about new ways of looking at political problems." What matters the method, he will cry, provided the reform be good? Well, the method matters more than any particular reform. A man who couldn't think straight might get the right answer to one problem, but how much faith would you have in his capacity to solve the next one? If you wanted to educate a child, would you teach him to read one play of Shakespeare, or would you teach him to read? If the world were going to remain frigidly set after next year, we might well thank our stars if we blundered into a few decent solutions right away. But as there is no prospect of a time when our life will be immutably fixed, as we shall, therefore, have to go on inventing, it is fair to say that what the world is aching for is not a special reform embodied in a particular statute, but a way of going at all problems. The lasting value of Darwin, for example, is not in any concrete conclusion he reached. His importance to the world lies in the new twist he gave to science. He lent it fruitful direction, a different impetus, and the results are beyond his imagining.
In that spiritual autobiography of a searching mind, "The New Machiavelli," Wells describes his progress from a reformer of concrete abuses to a revolutionist in method. "You see," he says, "I began in my teens by wanting to plan and build cities and harbors for mankind; I ended in the middle thirties by desiring only to serve and increase a general process of thought, a process fearless, critical, real-spirited, that would in its own time give cities, harbors, air, happiness, everything at a scale and quality and in a light altogether beyond the match-striking imaginations of a contemporary mind...."
This same veering of interest may be seen in the career of another Englishman. I refer to Mr. Graham Wallas. Back in the '80's he was working with the Webbs, Bernard Shaw, Sidney Olivier, Annie Besant and others in socialist propaganda. Readers of the Fabian Essays know Mr. Wallas and appreciate the work of his group. Perhaps more than anyone else, the Fabians are responsible for turning English socialist thought from the verbalism of the Marxian disciples to the actualities of English political life. Their appetite for the concrete was enormous; their knowledge of facts overpowering, as the tomes produced by Mr. and Mrs. Webb can testify. The socialism of the Fabians soon became a definite legislative program which the various political parties were to be bulldozed, cajoled and tricked into enacting. It was effective work, and few can question the value of it. Yet many admirers have been left with a sense of inadequacy.
Unlike the orthodox socialists, the Fabians took an active part in immediate politics. "We permeated the party organizations," writes Shaw, "and pulled all the wires we could lay our hands on with our utmost adroitness and energy.... The generalship of this movement was undertaken chiefly by Sidney Webb, who played such bewildering conjuring tricks with the Liberal thimbles and the Fabian peas that to this day both the Liberals and the sectarian Socialists stand aghast at him." Few Americans know how great has been this influence on English political history for the last twenty years. The well-known Minority Report of the Poor Law Commission bears the Webb signature most conspicuously. Fabianism began to achieve a reputation for getting things done—for taking part in "practical affairs." Bernard Shaw has found time to do no end of campaigning and even the parochial politics of a vestryman has not seemed too insignificant for his Fabian enthusiasm. Graham Wallas was a candidate in five municipal elections, and has held an important office as member of the London County Council.