SOCIALISM IN THIS COUNTRY
SOCIALISM AND THE AMERICAN SPIRIT.
By Nicholas Paine Gilman. Boston and
New York: Houghton, Mifflin & Co.
The sensible method employed by Prof. Gilman in writing his "Profit Sharing" insured its success, and the book remains today the one which best serves those who wish to understand, not theoretically alone, but practically, one of the most important of all modern industrial movements. The volume now under notice is of equal importance. Prof. Gilman's ideas are optimistic, and he thinks it is impossible that Socialism can make any headway in this country at least for many centuries to come, and if it ever does come it will be a Socialism as far distant as the poles from the present vague theories. As to Anarchy, that is hardly worth thinking about.
What is essentially novel is the method which serves Prof. Gilman in showing why social movements which are rife in Europe to-day cannot take root here, because of that racial difference which belongs to us as Americans. Amusingly enough, Prof. Gilman quotes somebody who urged the appointment of “a professorship of America,” whose duty would have been to explain American thought as derived from our Government, for there had grown up “a social order which is distinctly American.” We may read of troubles to-day in Belgium, but how could we have such questions arising here of a social character?
The man of science does not see Socialism in a flattering light. If Socialism means that the human race must be given up “to exclusive control by the principle of authority or by the principle of liberty, one shudders at the possible results.” One wants to know if we are so much worse to-day than the world of a thousand or only five hundred years ago. The cool, thoughtful man who has studied history must think that man is better, generally. He believes that amelioration is possible; that it is coming, too, on certain lines, and to an end quite as fair as that which the theorist conceives.
As Americans we must of course listen to the claims of Socialism, for it is characteristic of us to keep up with the times and the progress of human thought. Prof. Gilman believes that the social problem is a great degree the problem of the city. One-fourth of the population is urban. This tendency to live in cities is on the increase, and it may be that in the time to come “one-half of the population may live in towns of 4,000 inhabitants or upward.” This population is not native; it may be composed of 40 per cent of foreigners. The term foreigner in the United States has no class signification. It does not mean barbarian, for all Americans, save Indians, are of foreign birth or origin. But immigration comes from lands where there is great suffering and primarily want of bread. The city man will have to solve his own problem, but the countryman, and by that we mean the dweller on the farms, has his labour troubles, but there is no Socialism about him.
The author takes for an example two cousins, Wilhelm and Johann, who are freshly arrived from Germany. They left home because they did not want to be soldiers. Both have their heads stuffed with “abstract theories” of right social order, and a heart bursting with wrath against German Government, because of its outrages on individual freedom. Johann begins in, say, Wisconsin as a laborer and works successfully. He buys land, becomes an American citizen, and votes for a President. His boy goes to a good school. Johann may have had original ideas of his own fitted for his former German surroundings and may still abuse the Kaiser, but after a while he puts more confidence in what he observes as happening around him. He has been hard working and honest, and the fruits of perseverance are his. The cousin Wilhelm, who will drink beer and keep on the dangerous line which is near to starvation, has staid in New-York. In fact, he never could save the dollar necessary to leave it. He becomes the mooning Socialist, who believes that to “the shiftless by right belong the goods of the earth.” He may be only a maudlin Socialist, a worthless creature, or may be a violent one. He never becomes an American citizen.
Socialism “has no hold upon the distinctively American spirit.” We have crazes, and we take up a particular one in an instant, and drop it as suddenly for something new. That may be a silly trait of ours. An American gets, however, sober-minded, and never can stomach the idea of equality of reward for inequality of service. It is not likely that he ever will be so stupid as to believe in the despotic regimentation of an industrial army. His troubles worry him, but he has greater self-reliance than is given to men of any other race. He may not stand and take his trouble face to face and endure knockdowns, as would a stolid Englishman, for he knows how to dodge and double. Prof. Gilman has a little fun with William Morris, who makes sad-looking wall paper, admirable poetry, second-hand Socialistic romances, and who also constructs Americana out of “his own inner consciousness.”
In the United States we do not want to take the cars to Utopia. The American spirit despises stagnation. Common sense tells us, with Mills, that, although salient individualism may be hurtful, the crushing out of it is despotism. We bear with the excesses of the trade unions of to-day, but we deplore what is likely to be that inevitable result when the consciousness of power seems to be “in excess of the the consciousness of responsibility.” What is it which is our saving clause? It is our State Governments; their variations, the federation made up of distinctive powers. We want exactly those variants which engender the peculiar national temper. Just as we have another sky and climate than England, France, Germany, and Austria, so we have a disposition which is our own, and may we ever keep it.
We have dwelt chiefly on this American temper, which Prof. Gilman is to be credited with having so well explained, and have only touched the graver sides of this remarkable book, which describes many gradings of Socialism. While treating with all reverence the spirit of the New Testament, with the teachings of Christ on the advantages of poverty and the blessings of having no worldly possessions, we might remark that no one save the Trappist has placed reliance on poverty. As to the spiritual standards of different classes, Holmes has assorted them precisely into four grades. “First, come the comfortably rich; second, the decently comfortably; third, the very rich, who are apt to be irreligious, and lastly, the very poor, who are apt to be immoral.” That might not have been true in the past, but is the sad reality to-day