Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 50.djvu/803

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REVERSIONS IN MODERN INDUSTRIAL LIFE.

REVERSIONS IN MODERN INDUSTRIAL LIFE.
By FRANKLIN SMITH.
PART FIRST.

IF the law of reversion holds true of physical life, it holds equally true of industrial life. Under its operation is revived the career of institutions as indicative of conditions long passed away as any deformity that may once have saved from extinction a race of brutes. However useful in the elevation of man from degradation and savagery, they contributed, after the completion of their purpose, no further service than one of evil. To many social reformers, the legislation in revival of the old trade and professional corporations, whose noble achievements fill one of the lighter pages of history, seems important and beneficent. But an error more alluring and dangerous was never current. Such legislation will not, as Herbert Spencer has often shown, further human welfare. On the contrary, it will undo the work of civilization, and renew the ravages of barbarism.

 
I.

When feudal corporations came into the world, there was an excuse for them. It was to prepare the way for modern industrial civilization. They found Europe in a state of anarchy. Every man's hand was against his neighbor's. War was almost the universal occupation. The men not engaged in robbery and slaughter were the menials—the serfs and slaves. It was in the midst of this disorder and carnage that the feudal corporations were born. The natural and spontaneous product of the times, and not of the wisdom of some philanthropist or statesman, they met the most urgent of needs—peace and security. "The working-men's corporation and the commercial guild," says Pigeonneau, "were, first of all, an instrument of defense, a kind of mutual assurance against the violence, the exactions, or the negligence of the seignior and his representatives."[1] For these most unfortunate people, there was no police, no armed force for protection, no public security of any kind. They were plundered and murdered with impunity. For them there were no schools, no charities, no social organizations. Even religious privileges were denied them. Under the stress of threatened extermination, as well as the loss of all the blessings of life, the industrial classes, the most contemptible of human creatures, came together in powerful organizations for mutual aid and protection. "Individuals," says

  1. Histoire du Commerce de France. Par H. Pigeonnean, vol. i, p. 111. See Palgrave, Dictionary of Political Economy. Corporations, by Prof. J. K. Ingram, vol. i, p. 429.