Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 39.djvu/276

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tion may be burdensome and hurtful without being felt to be so; or, if felt to be so, the feeling may not be sufficiently acute to prompt to the action necessary to obtain a change; or, again, the feeling, though more or less acute, may not be accompanied by a sense of power to make the change. Look at individuals. Does every individual who theoretically possesses the power to alter his mode of life to his own advantage put that power into exercise? Does every individual who is shown a more excellent way at once shake off ancient habit and enter on the better path? We all know the enormous influence which procrastination, inertness, love of ease, and prejudice in favor of what is established exert on individual lives; and even so is it with society. There is salvation for the individual at given moments, at special conjunctions, at certain partings of the ways; but, the favorable opportunity missed, the situation becomes more difficult and hopeless with every hour. In social matters the civilized world has been going wrong for years past, and is now threatened with a vast increase of the tyrannical legislation which it has been inviting. It may not be too late yet, however, to make a stand, and perhaps to reverse the current of change. The object of A Plea for Liberty is to force reflection on the subject, and, if possible, to dispel the illusion under which so many have fallen that legislation alone, the action of the state, can make a way for us out of our social difficulties.

Mr. Spencer lays stress on the fact that, in many departments of life, without the intervention of government, progress is being made every day toward a better state of things. There is a power of self-adjustment in individuals which, if not artificially checked, makes infallibly toward better conditions. Elsewhere in the volume we are shown the drawbacks that more or less attend all corporate action, but which in a very marked manner attend the action of the most comprehensive and potent corporation of all—the state; and thus are furnished with an answer to the second question, which a few moments ago we were supposing to be asked: What does it matter who discharges any particular function, so long as it is discharged? If it can be shown that, within the whole radius of state-directed activity, there is a diminution of the motives that give to labor and effort their highest efficiency, then it matters a great deal whether individuals are acting freely as individuals in full contact with a natural environment or whether they are replaced by a host of state-paid employés, dragging on in a lazy and intermittent fashion a lumbering governmental machine. Nothing is more capable of demonstration than that government work is, in general, done in a more or less inefficient and perfunctory manner, and always in a wasteful manner. The natural conclusion to draw from this fact would be that the functions of government should be curtailed as much as possible, so that we might have as little as possible of such inferior and expensive work. Unfortunately, this conclusion is drawn by but few. The results of government work are visible and tangible. They are manifest in buildings, harbors, vessels, blue-books, and people are imposed upon by the scale of the operations of the state. They do not ask how much greater or better results the money expended might have yielded; still less do they ask how much of private enterprise has been paralyzed by an unnecessary extension of the functions of the state. But these questions should be asked, and it is the merest unthrift not to ask them. Of all the printing done by the Government in this country, for example, how much serves a really useful purpose? How much finds its way to the junk shop, and thence to the paper-mill? If accurate answers could be had to these questions, we think that even an indifferent public might be aroused.

One of the best essays in the volume