Capital, Labor And The Law Of Christ
( Originally Published 1912 )
Whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them óJesus.
A few years ago it was predicted that our world was about entering an era of great physical and social tumult. The prophecy was largely based upon the fact that this planet, for a group of years, would sustain some peculiar relation to the other celestial bodies, resulting in a disturbance of its accustomed order and serenity. There would be a period of tumult and disaster. Earthquakes would occur, bringing their awful desolation. The sea would be convulsed, and, leaving its ancient channels, would engulf islands and cities with its gigantic floods. The atmosphere, losing its balance, would rush into frightful storm centers to help spread desolation. Pestilence would appear with its terrors. Mankind would partake in the universal commotion. Passion would dethrone reason; wars would ensue; and the boundaries of nations would be changed.
How much of the prediction was a fortunate conjecture, how much of it a conclusion drawn from study of the material and moral history of earth, we may not attempt to decide; but it must be confessed that the prophecy is in part being fulfilled. Whatever may be its cause, near or remote, there can be no doubt as to the fact of the disturbance. Whether it is brought about by some disarrangement of electric currents, superinduced by the poles of certain planets sustaining changed relations to the sun, a result of some great cosmic law whose presence is now making itself manifest, but which had hitherto escaped detection, so that the very atmosphere has become saturated with discontent and every breath we draw is surcharged with lawlessness and the spirit of rebellion: whether it is a result of some subtle spiritual agency, a malign influence set at liberty for a season to harry nature and torment mankind, clogging the beneficent stream of destiny; whether, as it relates to society, it may be traced to purely natural causes lying fully within the realm of human thought and action and hence within the bound of human responsibility; whether it is the historic forerunner of a new epoch in the career of humanity, such as have appeared at intervals in the mighty past introducing a better adjustment of affairs and bringing a higher civilization;--whatever the cause may be, such universal unrest and anxiety as are now present do not come more than once in a generation.
The agitation being unmistakably present, solicitude should be directed toward the one object of discovering its cause and remedy. Why all this unsettling and revolution? What is the meaning of the breaking up of old parties, reversal of inherited national policies, the centralizations of power, the decline of individual freedom, the extension of empire, the warfare between classes, the immense combinations of capital? To find adequate answers to these questions and satisfactory adjustments of the human relations arising from new conditions, may well engage the serious attention of all the best minds and hearts of our era. Happy may we and our children be if the answers are found on the plane of reason and love instead of on the field of force and carnage.
In a study of the problems confronting us it is necessary to consider things lying near the earth and the present hour. We need not seek for a supernatural cause and cure for the evils which infest our political, industrial, and social life until we have exhausted the field of the natural. Conventions of capitalists and laborers and political economists, animated by a spirit of justice and guided by wisdom, can do much more to adjust the difficulties than any form of religious meeting could possibly do. No passionate appeal to heaven, no fervid exhortation to the few persons assembled in the churches for an hour or two of each Sunday can reconcile hostile classes, bring peace between capital and toil or purify the politics of cities and states and the nation at large. That which has been powerless to prevent, will be as powerless to cure the evils of our country.
Moreover there has been such lack of harmony between the principles and the practices of the church that it has largely lost its power to influence society. In the public heart there is a lack of confidence in its sincerity and unworldliness and disinterestedness.
Professing to live by inspiration, it really lives by calculation. Spiritual in theory, in practice it is very material. Professing belief in a human brotherhood, actually it is a friend of caste. Worshiping a God who is no respector of persons, it has a very decided respect for persons, tolerating in the rich and powerful many things it condemns in the poor and weak. It is not surprising that it has lost much of its influence and even in ethical affairs its authority is questioned.
Nevertheless the principles upon which it is ideally founded are still in the world and have lost none of their right to command the public mind and heart. It would be a wise thing for the churches to bring those principles into great prominence. This might not do everything, but it would do something toward solving the problems and adjusting the difficulties which are now so disturbing society and threatening our republican institutions. Politics, property, trade, and labor all sustain relations to the moral law. The teacher of religion may not be a mere theorist. He should see the practical side of things. He should know the value of dollars and respect the law of supply and demand. But the political economist, the capitalists, the laborers should also be partly idealists. They should confess the sovereignity of moral principles. Political conventions, combinations of wealth, labor organizations should regulate their actions with those principles in full view. All should be careful to see that in every transaction, not only the best financially but the best morally is being done.
In moral as in material affairs every principle possesses an authority that cannot be slighted without danger. The moral law is not a pale lifeless abstraction; it is rather a throbbing reality. Every principle becomes an action and every action may be traced back to a principle. We cannot build a house nor throw a stone nor shoot an arrow nor walk without obeying the law of gravitation; neither can we perform a right action without obeying a law of right. Righteousness is only another form of good-sense. Not to see the moral in everything is to miss its meaning. Our simplest acts are related to the ten commandments. To be truthful, to be just to our neighbor, to be kind to a child, to be honest, seems to be a small thing; but it is of these small things the whole moral universe is made. Each one of them is a cohering point in that line of being which links time to eternity; it is an arc of that curve which coming full circle forms the righteousness of God. What are gravitation, growth, centralization and diffusion, exchange, supply and demand, all the facts and laws of business, money, labor, profit, but divine principles for human guidance? We have no right to reap our wheat and fix its price, to buy or sell corn or sugar, to form trusts, to operate coal mines, to sell the labor of hand or head without reference to the Golden Rule. The laws of trade should be a new edition of the Divine Scriptures.
Our age is haunted by two passions: One is the feeling that money is the sole aim of existence; the other is that those who have gained great wealth must be hated by those who have not gained it. It would seem that it is the duty of all ethical teachers and spiritual organizations to do all in their power to drive these evil spirits out of society. The makers and managers of money and those who are worshipers of luxury should be persuaded that these are not necessary to the highest form of life. Those who antagonize the possessors of wealth and luxury should learn that happiness does not depend upon the possession of these things and hatred makes the poorest of all life-motives. All the mental and moral forces of all classes should be directed to the one end of advancing human character and the well-being of the greatest possible number. With money on one side and hatred on the other, society at large can never make any advance toward true greatness and nobility. With only these forces in the field civilization will be first a long battle, then a ruin.
No one can reasonably doubt the right of laborers to organize for self protection. If the men. of money may form corporations in order to accomplish their purpose, carpenters and engineers and brakemen and coal-miners may form a union to accomplish a given purpose in their field of action. But neither has the right to form an organization that will set aside the laws of justice or benevolence or interfere with the personal liberty of any human being. For a multitude of men to sign away their liberty and obey the arbitrary dictation of some walking delegate is a mistake, but to band together and, by violence, compel all others to sign away their personal liberty is something more than a simple error of judgment. The one is a mental weakness; the other a moral wrong. On the other hand when those who form great combinations for the purpose of making enormous profits and, in the working out of their financial scheme, oppress the laborers, defraud the public, to the natural woes of life add a great burden of artificial misery, they cease to be honorable business men. Their names should not be en-rolled among those of the great industrial and commercial princes of history, but among the world's greatest bandits and pirates. Among the Pennsylvania and Virginia coal-fields the operators say that, in the present disturbance, there is nothing to arbitrate. The robber barons of Italy, who regarded mankind as their legitimate prey, or Captain Kidd or Captain LaFitte, attacking the merchant vessels on the high seas, might have said the same thing. The victims of those freebooters thought otherwise. It may be safe to assume that in nearly every dispute there is something to arbitrate. As in every argument neither contestant has all the truth on his side, so in every contest between money and toil neither side has all the justice; and, if one side should possess all or even the greater justice, it would be first to welcome arbitration. Justice is never afraid of an inquiry into its claims and methods. Conference, reason, sympathy permitted to move freely through those unhappy valleys would leave peace and friendship where they found turmoil and hatred. So long as there is a mob on one side and an army on the other a great wrong is being done. To call the present condition a commercial disturbance is a mistake. So long as injustice is being done by either party in the conflict, so long as their is oppression on one side and violence on the other, it is something more than a commercial disturbance; it is a crime. A Latin poet once said that a raging mob will listen and obey the voice that utters words of love and wisdom.
"Oft o'er a mighty people bursts the storm of civil strife;
The mob is present, but alas! the wise and loving voice is absent. While it remains abyss nothing can be done. Yes, something can be done. Hatred and violence will be increased. The absence between classes will be widened and deepened. Want and wretchedness will become more widespread and the hands on the dial of a Christian civilization will stop.
With so many contradictory reports concerning the present tumult it is very difficult to fully under-stand the situation. At this distance it is almost impossible to decide what is the real cause of the disturbance. While the cause of the tumult is unknown its cure will remain unknown. We are like people bewildered in a forest. We know we have lost the right trail and we distrust those who would point it out to us. Advice is much more abundant than information. The mine owners point one way, the miners another, the politicians another, and the socialists still another way. All of these guides may have some reason on their side. But, while none of them may have all the truth there are some whose course is entirely wrong. Reasoning men may be sometimes mistaken, but those who are acting only in obedience to selfish passion can never be safe guides. To be lost is bad, but for those who are lost to make war upon each other is infamous. The best public sentiment of our country should make itself felt in the present crisis. Moving into the valleys of Pennsylvania it would compel the mine-owners to disband their armies and the miners to throw down their clubs and firebrands and meet in the name of reason and justice for a calm consideration of their mutual differences. In doubt as to the quality and quantity of grievance the miners may have or as to the amount of justice the operators may have, every one knows that violence is wrong. Guns and clubs cannot lead to a satisfactory settlement of the difficulty. Nothing is settled until it is settled right; and nothing is settled right except by moral force.
When hunters or woodsmen become confused in a strange part of the forest the worst thing they could do would be to become excited or terrified. Instead of shrieking and wildly running in search of the lost trail, they stop and consider. They look at the sun; they try to recall the direction they have come; they study the bark on the trees and note on which side the strongest limbs are found; they mark which way the streams run, the trend of the land, and take account of every prominent land-mark. Having looked and thought they reach a conclusion as to the way they ought to travel.
This may illustrate what ought to be done in our national and industrial life. It is not a time for passion and frenzy, but for patient observation and calm reflection and wise action. Politicians with party victories to gain, extravagant orators who merely wish to inflame the working men and turn them into a mob, great, wealthy corporations whose sole aim is to turn millions into billions of dollars cannot be trusted in the present emergency. They cannot lead us to a place of safety. We must turn to men whose justice equals their intelligence; whose benevolence equals their power; whose love of country surpasses their love of party and, far above their love of wealth, towers their love of human beings. Surely our land must possess many such men. If it does not we have, indeed, reached a sad page of our history!
Those bewildered sometimes travel in a circle. In our industrial life we are perhaps doing the same thing. Every few years we come to our old starting point; and, setting out again, we encounter the familiar objects of overgrown Have and inordinate Want, of strikes and lockouts, of armies and mobs. It is time for us to change our direction. We should find a path running by the way of a more unselfish adjustment of work and wages, a more equitable distribution of profits, of greater integrity both in employers and employed, of confidence between those who work with mind and hand.
Woodsmen sometimes know which way they ought to go to escape their entanglement, but are over-taken by a strange hallucination that prevents them from taking it. They will not trust their compass. They know they ought to go north but the needle seems to point west. If they are wise they do not set their judgment against the unfailing law of earth which draws every needle toward its pole. At such times they take the compass in their hand, close their eyes, turn around, and, then, looking at the needle, without questioning its accuracy they shape their course in the way its quivering point directs.
That which many in all walks of life need is to imitate these men of the forest. Entangled in the wilderness of fluctuating prices, fictitious values, greedy corporations, gigantic fortunes, discontented laborers, marketable statesmen, for a time we should close our eyes until the hallucination caused by the mad whirl of things vanishes; then, opening them, take one clear, steady look at the never failing principle of justice and benevolence and instantly start in the way it points.
Calling ourselves a Christian people it is high time we were, at least, trying to make the reality resemble the profession. At present the name and the thing bear but little resemblance. Having lived for almost everything else it would be an interesting experiment if the churches should attempt to live for their central doctrine. It would doubtless seem strange to them for a time to live for reason and justice and love and peace; but they would become accustomed to it. They might, indeed, after a time, have a real affection for the ethics of their Master. If they do not love and teach his high philosophy and again set in motion that spirit which long ago swept through Palestine and Rome they are no longer needed in the world. In an age that is trying to turn everything into gold that Divine Spirit should be present telling us that we must not permit the love of wealth to surpass the love of man and of God. Better than to be man the millionaire is to be man the brother; man the spiritual being; man the giver of happiness; man worthy of immortal life.
Could we have a century of justice and love moulding and inspiring society what a world this would be! Then as now the seasons would come and go with their unfailing use and beauty. Gravitation would carry the globe forward in its mighty embrace. Among the host of stars it would roll through space, encompassed by its robes of ether and sunshine. Where, then, the change? It would be in the realm of man. War would all be in the past. Armies disbanded, forts fallen into ruin and overgrown with grass and vines, the oceans only furrowed by navies hurrying from shore to shore under the flag of peaceful commerce, the nations would be joined in a federation pledged to the welfare of mankind. The wealth, the harvests, all the treasures of earth would be for the multitudes of earth; and man would find an excellence and a happiness of which all former ages had dreamed, but never seen.
May the Divine Providence not withdraw from our beloved earth; but, abiding with it forever, may its high destiny be assured!