Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 24.djvu/173

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search
This page has been validated.



which control the government machine. In former days it often happened that 'the state' was a barber, a fiddler, or a bad woman. In our day it often happens that 'the state' is a little functionary on whom a big functionary is forced to depend."

In Chapter I—"On a New Philosophy: that Poverty is the Best Policy"—Professor Sumner says: "It is commonly asserted that there are in the United States no classes, and any allusion to classes is resented. On the other hand, we constantly read and hear discussions of social topics in which the existence of social classes is assumed as a simple fact. 'The poor,' 'the weak,' 'the laborers,' are expressions which are used as if they had exact and well-understood definitions. Discussions are made to bear upon the assumed rights and misfortunes of certain social classes; and all public speaking and writing consists in a large measure of the discussion of general plans for meeting the wishes of classes of people who have not been able to satisfy their own desires. These classes are sometimes discontented and sometimes not. Sometimes they do not know that anything is amiss with them until the 'friends of humanity' come to them with offers of aid. Sometimes they are discontented and envious. They do not take their achievements as a fair measure of their rights. They do not blame themselves or their parents for their lot as compared with that of other people. Sometimes they claim that they have a right to everything of which they feel the need for their happiness on earth. To make such a claim against God or Nature would, of course, be only to say that we claim a right to live on earth if we can. But God and Nature have ordained the chances and conditions of life on earth once for all. The case can not be reopened. We can not get a revision of the laws of human life. We are absolutely shut up to the need and duty, if we would learn how to live happily, of investigating the laws of Nature, and deducing the rules of right living in the world as it is. These are very wearisome and commonplace tasks. They consist in labor and self-denial repeated over and over again, in learning and doing. When the people whose claims we are considering are told to apply themselves to these tasks, they become irritated and feel almost insulted. They formulate their claims as rights against society—that is, against some other men. In their view they have a right not only to pursue happiness, but to get it; and, if they fail to get it, they think they have, a claim to the aid of other men—that is, to the labor and self-denial of other men—to get it for them. They find orators and poets who tell them that they have grievances so long as they have unsatisfied desires. . . . The humanitarians, philanthropists, and reformers, looking at the facts of life as they present themselves, find enough which is sad and unpromising in the condition of many members of society. They see wealth and poverty side by side. They note great inequality of social position and social chances. They eagerly set about the attempt to account for what they see, and