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Evidently, then, there is growing up in America a power which, in response to the persistent demands of the social conscience, is likely from time to time, in order to secure the beneficial use of property, to define and restrict its rights and adjust it to the needs of a changing community. To the more static type of mind this exercise of the police-power may seem a risky venture away from the written word, but as the flexibility of a living tree is a better defence against a storm than the rigidity of a dead one, so the flexibility of a court which is sensitive to the social conscience is a better guarantee against disorder and injustice than the rigidity of one which clings to the mere letter of the law and refuses to recognize that the law itself must find its ultimate sanction in the social conscience.
What, then, should be the strategy of those who wish to defend private property because they believe that, in spite of its abuses, it is essential to the development of the individual and to the production of goods and services in such abundance as modern society demands?
First, they should abandon the eighteenth century philosophy of natural rights, cease falling back on past deliverances of the Courts or on the authority of the Constitution and the law, and frankly acknowledge that private property rests on a basis of utilitarianism. It is impossible to defend, on the grounds of ideal justice, the distribution of wealth which prevails in the Western world. As Professor Taussig says: "The history of modern capitalism tells a mixed storynot only of vigor and competition and progress but of monopoly, exploitation, unearned incomes and unearned increments. The wrongs of the past, perpetuated by inheritance, weigh heavily on almost all of the modern world.' Much digging into the history of the founding and development of great fortunes would undoubtedly in many cases unearth numerous unsavoury facts concerning them, facts such as fraud, cruelty, brutality, slavery, privilege and sheer non-ethical luck. When the young moral idealist first becomes acquainted with these facts, his sensitive conscience is often so shocked that his first impulse is to smash the society which tolerates them or blinds itself to their existence. Revolutionary ardour lays hold upon
him and he feels himself called of Heaven to denounce and forswear the past and purge the world of it, as though by fire, so as to make ready for an ideal future. But the strategy of revolution is blind and impotent. Thoughtful people did not need the example of Russia to teach them that any revolutionary attempt to redistribute private property or take forcible possession of it for the State is doomed to failure. The madness of men, even when occasioned by a sound moral protest against wrong, is never a constructive principle. Once armed with fire and sword it loses all power of discrimination and destroys the good along with the bad. In its violent effort to redistribute wealth it destroys wealth altogether. And not only wealth but the very capacity to produce more wealth, for, in the first place, without the leaders who have been killed or driven out of the country, industry is helpless, and, in the second place, after a period of fierce excitement it is difficult for the working population of any country to settle down to the routine work of daily production in the factory, the foundry and the fields. Imagination can hardly picture the misery, desolation and chaos which revolution would cause in a modern industrial country. A mere industrial crisis throws millions out of employment. What, then, would happen if the whole process of production should be thrown into confusion! Only the radical, blinded by rage and hate, can think of it without shuddering. It is not mere cowardice that turns the middle-aged man away from revolution. It is pity for the suffering which a revolution causes and sorrow for the cost in human hate which a revolution entails; it is the conviction that, however heavily the wrongs of the past may weigh upon us, it is better to bear them and live and redress them gradually and constitutionally than to risk carrying all civilization down in a mad effort to throw them off; it is the knowledge that, gross as the abuses of private property may be, it is the craving of men and women for the security which property brings that is the main incentive to a vigorous economic activity over the whole field of production. Private property, in spite of its abuses, has proved its social utility in the past and, pruned of its excesses, it is likely to continue its usefulness in the future. Society should, as it is able, cut away the
cancerous growths of the past but it must not sacrifice the patient's life in so doing.
In the second place, if private property is the greatest stimulus to production, it ought to be brought within the reach of all, so far as that is possible. The greatest drawback, both economic and social, of modern machine-industry is the complete divorce between the labourer and ownership of the plant in which he works and of the wealth which he helps to produce. His only interest in his labour is for the sake of the wages he gets for it. If the shop is unionized and all labourers of the same grade get the same wages and the relations between the labourers and the employer are unfriendly, the worker has no compunction whatever about loafing on his job nor has he any motive for connecting himself permanently with the plant if some job elsewhere seems at the moment more attractive. In such plants the annual labour turnover is enormous and it is out of these propertyless, unattached men that the ranks of wild radicalism are being constantly recruited. The sense of ownership is a great stabilizer of human life and sometimes very little is required to awaken it and satisfy its demands. For this reason, the believer in the social utility of private property will be deeply interested in all the experiments now being made by scores of business-firms with a view to attaching their employees to the firm and giving them something of the incentive to labour which the ownership of private property nearly always guarantees. The book called "Industrial Government" by Professor John R. Commons and his collaborators, which tells the story of some of these experiments, strikes a note of most welcome optimism in these distressful times and holds out the hope that out of these experiments may come some method of co-operation between employer and employee which shall make the latter feel that he belongs where he works and inspire him to put forth his whole industrial power.
In the third place, the defenders of private property must face courageously the necessity of pruning away its gross excesses or at least reducing their evil effects so far as can be done without paralysing the tendency to accumulation and energetic production. Perhaps the greatest burdens which
the institution of private property is now bearing are the unearned increments of building-sites in growing cities, the profits of monopolized industries, and the colossal inheritances which men of great fortunes leave to their children. It is these three forms of wealth which are the occasion of the most bitter attacks on the institution of private property as a whole, and if the institution is to be saved and made acceptable to all sane-minded people these abuses must be curbed. The task of curbing them is a threefold one. It is the intellectual task of thinking out the most effective means of achieving the end desired, the educational task of convincing the general public of the need for the proposed action and the political task of creating the legal instrumentalities by which the action may be carried out. Each part of the task is formidable enough, but so many thinking people are now convinced of the necessity for socializing an increasing portion of these forms of wealth by special taxation that increased activity in this direction in the future is almost inevitable.
Finally, the defenders of private property must labour to awaken in the minds of property-holders the sense of responsibility and function which in former times was more sure to be connected with ownership than it is to-day. If the sanction of private property is social utility, the owner of such property is not an owner for himself alone but for society. Ownership becomes a public function. The power over others which ownership of property confers becomes a sacred public trust. The community has as much moral right to expect the owner of property to employ the leisure which such ownership gives him (if he is not personally using his wealth for productive purposes) in some work of value to the community, as it has to expect that the boys and girls educated in its schools and colleges shall use their talents and training in the public service when they become men and women. Wealth cannot mean for any moral individual freedom from responsibility of a social nature. Rather it means freedom to give the kind of public service for which one is best adapted, freedom to encourage in one's community the development of those interests which seem to one to make most clearly for the general welfare. The war has brought to all the people a new
sense of responsibility to the country in the hour of its danger. Our young men were in no sense morally responsible for the war and yet the Government conscripted them for service across the seas simply on the ground that they were most able to perform naval and military duties. We have had driven into our deepest consciousness the truth that, when the safety of the commonwealth is threatened, no man lives to himself alone. His very life is not his own but must be risked in the protection of the group. And if even life, which of all things seems one's very own, is after all not one's very own but a social trust which must be sacrificed when the social need demands it, how much more must property be a social trust? As long as private property is used in a selfish, luxurious, spendthrift manner, its justice and utility will be questioned or denied not only by the radical but also by the sane-minded citizen. But let it be used for constructive social purposes— to develop the cultural interests of the community, to increase the productiveness of industry, to experiment as to the best methods of raising the general standard of life—and it is safe to say that as a social institution it has a long long future still ahead of it.
Meadville Theological Seminary.
ROBERT J. HUTCHEON.