Popular Science Monthly/Volume 34/March 1889/Law as a Disturber of Social Order
By BENJAMIN REECE.
NOTHING is more perplexing to the inquiring mind than a contemplation of the great contrasts between the harmony and adaptation existing in the material world and the incongruities, antagonisms, and disorder which characterize the social and moral worlds. When one realizes how successfully the inventor and the artisan have followed the teachings of the scientist, he can not but suspect that much of our social unrest has arisen because our law-makers and philanthropists have not followed the teachings of social philosophy.
The fact is patent that, in the material world, where man's hand is powerless to interfere, there are perfect order and harmonious development; but in the moral and social worlds, which are always subject to man's petty and ill-considered meddling, we have great disorder and confusion. So marked are the incongruities of social condition that the philosophic thought which has failed to grasp the vital elements of development seems to be divided by the extravagant superlatives of pessimistic and optimistic expression. In his criticism of Mr. Herbert Spencer's essay, "Man vs. the State," Emile de Laveleye recognizes this uncertainty and want of harmony in human affairs, but fails to see that the disparities are caused by man's interference with the laws of his own being and development. He says: "Nature is subject to certain laws which are invariable, as, for instance, the law of gravitation. We may call these laws of nature, but in human institutions, which are ever varying, nothing of the sort can exist." He fails to realize that the law of gravitation is invariable because man's hand is powerless to change it, but directs its cunning to the construction of screws, levers, and inclined planes, in order to obtain mastery over nature.
Suppose the power had rested with man to substitute human contrivances for this unvarying law of nature, what inextricable confusion had resulted! Suppose the citizens of the vast territory whose commerce is tributary to the Northern chain of lakes should call upon their senators and representatives to devise ways and means by which to conduct their foreign trade direct from the lake ports, without first transshipping to, and thereby paying tribute to, the cities of the Atlantic coast. A physical difficulty at once presents itself, insomuch that the shallow-draught vessels of the lakes are unfit for ocean service, whereas the deep-draught vessels of the Atlantic are unable to enter the shallow waters of the canals and harbors of the lakes. After various consultations and debates, it is determined to correct this inequality of material nature by passing a law doubling the specific gravity of water in the lakes, so that ocean vessels drawing twenty-four feet of water can sail upon the lakes with little more than twelve. Is it not apparent that this single law would destroy the adjustment and adaptation of ages? Fish having been developed in water of normal density could no longer live in the lakes; the weeds and grasses which had grown upon the bed of the lakes would be uprooted by the water of double weight, to float upon the surface, and, being subjected to the sun's rays, would decompose and scatter the germs of pestilence and disease. The weight of water being doubled, it is made a little heavier than sand, so that the farms of sandy soils in Michigan and adjoining States would float away upon the waters of the lakes. Trees would be uprooted, the heavier clay soils, bridges, wharves, and railroad embankments washed away.
Then would follow an active period of legislation to neutralize the evil consequences resulting from the original interference with normal adjustments and relations. While seeking to retain all the advantages gained to commerce by the increased weight of water, law after law to restore the equilibrium would be enacted, and, where harmony and universal order once held sway, confusion worse confounded would obtain. That soils and lands might not be washed away, laws would be passed doubling their specific gravity, which would bring them nearly to the density of stone, rendering tillage very difficult and costly, while the seeds could no longer pierce through to the surface. In order that railway embankments might stand and resist these waters of such tremendous weight, the specific gravity of materials used in their construction is also doubled, but doubling the weight doubles the cost of handling and constructing, and the estimates of contractors and engineers prove worthless. Is it not evident that the waters of the lakes being doubled in weight leaves all other forms of matter correspondingly light, and the selfish propensities of men are at once aroused. Those interested in shipping desire water of increased specific gravity; those subject to floods demand legislation looking to a decrease in the weight of water; while the much-abused doctrinaire declares that the normal adjustments of ages upon ages could not be disturbed without disastrous consequences, for one law changing the relation of water to other forms of matter, makes necessary the passage of thousands of intricate laws in order to restore the equilibrium so ruthlessly destroyed, because of the vain attempt to enlarge the scope and power of one element without the corresponding diminution and weakening of all others.
In the contemplation of the material world, no discovery of science has worked more marvelous changes than the generalization known as the persistency or indestructibility of force; yet in the moral and social worlds its teachings are almost entirely disregarded. In exerting force in any form, it must be applied to something, and, whenever or however applied, that something will react with a force equal to and in an opposite direction to that which is applied. The man who lifts a hundred pounds' weight, finds the weight pulls one hundred pounds upon his arm; the man who strikes a blow, receives upon his fist a shock of equal force to that which he imposes upon the body of his antagonist: should he miss his aim, the direct force would react in a pull upon the shoulder, and might result in the dislocation of the joint. One pushes against an object until red in the face, but the redness of face and exhaustion are not caused by the direct application of power; it is because the object reacts in resisting or pushing with a force just equal to that which is applied; and, but for this pulling and pushing in reaction, men could apply force without expending force, could accomplish work without exerting energy, both of which are contradictions of terms and absurdities.
Notwithstanding this invariable law of nature, legislative enactments are daily made providing for the exertion of social and moral forces, without one thought of the reaction which must inevitably follow; and I may here say that Nihilism and political disorders in Russia are the reaction due to laws which restrict political rights; the agrarian troubles in Ireland are the reaction due to its onerous land laws; while our industrial unrest is but the reaction due to legislative interference with natural industrial forces.
The mechanic in moving large bodies secures the aid of lever, screw, or inclined plane, and is obliged to apply as much energy as the body offers resistance. In mechanics the principle of the correlation and conservation of forces is always acknowledged and obeyed; hence the unerring certainty of performance and the stability of the vast and intricate structures of the age. When large bodies are to be moved, physical energy is applied in the form of great power at low speed; where parts are to be severed, or fracture is sought, or where molecular instead of molar energy is desired, it is obtained by impact at high velocity, as is instanced in the firing of projectiles against a vessel's armor-plating: the energy applied is exhausted in penetrating the armor and generating heat, instead of imparting motion to the vessel.
In the social no less than in the material world, force is indestructible, and in the latter the hostile meeting of two unyielding bodies in collision arrests the molar energy to reappear as molecular with its equivalent in heat. So, if two social bodies meet and arrest each, other's action entirely or in part, reaction follows in the form of irritation, passion, and vengeance, to which the French Revolution and other popular outbursts bear ample testimony; and these excitations of the inner man are exactly equal to the social forces in antagonistic equilibrium, and it is this form of energy which now gives rise to the warring tendencies and bitterness of classes.
But look at our legislation. Its presumed object is to move the whole social body upon higher planes of progress; yet it essays to urge forward this vast and intricate structure by the impact of quickening laws, by the concentration of social forces into certain lines; and to these ill-considered attempts can we attribute the present incoherent social state. The social organism fails to advance as a whole because power is converted into speed, and thus applied it has torn the social body into several parts. Capitalists and laborers, millionaires and paupers, moralists and criminals, are being urged upon separate lines with varying momentum, the acceleration of speed at the expense of power finally resulting in urging one tenth part of the population ten paces in advance of the masses, when, but for this transmutation of power into speed, the whole body of the people would have advanced one step together. If the few continue this heedless progress at the expense of the many, the separation will be more and more pronounced; and the wider the gap thus made, the more severe and disastrous will be the concussion in the day of readjustment.
Through the laws of force we learn that, when individuals or social groups pull together, the resultant is equal to the sum of their separate effects; but if they pull in opposition to each other, the resultant is found in the difference of their separate effects, and, should they be equal in power, equilibrium would ensue and no work could be accomplished.
Yet in spite of this unvarying law of nature, relentless war is being waged between the classes, causing social unrest and industrial turmoil; and, having been taught that in the ballot resides the remedy for all real and fancied evils, each class clamors for legislation, not to conserve the ends of justice, but to increase their own power or decrease that of the opposition, and thereby secure the object of their strife. Politicians discerning this incoherency of the body politic, are quick to take advantage of it by appealing to every selfish interest, hoping thereby to gain the honor and emoluments of place. In the mass of State and national laws daily enacted it would appear as if the American citizen, or society at large, is utterly disregarded. Of laws we have a surfeit, but they are aimed at voting groups and fail to comprehend the good of all: pension bills for soldiers, river and harbor bills for river and coast constituencies, protective tariff laws for manufacturers, labor legislation for workingmen, land grants for railroads, interstate commerce bills for shippers, subsidies for ship-builders, and oleomargarine bills for farmers—and yet the conflict rages, cries are raised against the arrogance and grinding avarice of monopolies, while bitter complaints are made of the domineering independence and unsteadiness of labor. Is it not evident that, if these selfish elements continue to repel forces which should be mutually attracted, the continued and increasing strain must result in violent and acrimonious rupture?
Most writers upon social science fail to grasp the fundamental principles underlying social growth. They seize upon half truths only, and according to their impressions they attach more or less importance to the egoistic or individual forces of character or to the tribal or social forces, as the case may be. Thus Mr. Leslie, in his introduction to De Lavelaye's "Primitive Property," claims to see nothing but strife and contention in the universal desire for individual property, and he urges with much spirit that it is not strange that all should desire to possess; but, says he, "what needs to be explained is that such warring elements, each desiring the same objects, should permit peaceful possession by others." Mr. Leslie fails to realize that such contentious forces must find some common base of action to escape from internecine strife; this is true not only of man, but of all gregarious animals. Even Mr. Clifford, in his "Scientific Basis of Morality," is disposed to view the social or tribal characteristics of man as the more essential to survival; but carried to its extreme, this submission to the wills of others results in the inaction of physical torpor, even as the extreme development of the individual traits of aggression result in the inaction of equal forces in conflict. Hence the two forces are correlated, and if they are separated by friction this civilization will perish, as its predecessors have done.
An analysis clearly shows that in the absence of extraneous interferences the reactive effect of individual aggression is resistance and social union, for which we find many forms of expression. Individual force is made manifest in the declaration of "I will do," "I will not do," while the reactive or social form finds expression in "I will or will not permit to be done," In the individual traits are found those activities which reside in purpose or in free will; in the social group we mark the modifications of environment sometimes called destiny or foreordination. Thus each individual is at the same time acting upon others and being acted upon by others, and, as action and reaction are equal and opposite, the aggressive force of all individuals is just equal to the resisting force of society in the aggregate. When these two forces develop in the same individual, we find law-abiding, just, and energetic characters; but when separated by friction, there are injustice, bitterness, and rancor. Upon this law does the development of society depend, and in the aggressive forces are found the elements of progress, while in the submitting and resisting forces are found the elements of stability. To the aggressive features of Western civilizations is due that rapid progress which has heretofore proved wanting in stability, while to the well-defined social conditions of Eastern caste is due the stability of the civilizations of the Orient, which have for ages lacked the elements of progress. Science formulates the theory, but not until taught by bitter experience does man seem to understand that by union and interaction we secure a resultant equal to the sum of our several activities, while by conflict and counteraction forces are neutralized, or at best the resultant can be no greater than the difference between the several effects.
The lowest races respect the rights of property among themselves. Mr. Darwin says of the Fuegians: "If any present was designed for one canoe, and it fell near another, it was invariably given to the right owner." It goes without saying that from the docks of one of our populous cities, in the midst of civilization, no such respect for the rights of others would be observed. But, in the state of ungovernable passion which characterizes the savage, is it not evident that a disregard of the personal rights of others would soon end in practical extermination, while by respecting the rights of others each gains security for his own?
It is idle to speculate as to the occasion of this nascent trust or confidence on which all societies rest alike in their infancy of ungovernable violence and in the maturer developments of the restraints and social order of our present civilization. It is true the stinted trusts of the undeveloped limit the duties they create, while the extended trusts of the more evolved imply the creation of new duties coextensive with those trusts.
Let us, for illustration, suppose that two savages, in pursuit of the same game, cross paths; immediately they turn upon each other; being evenly matched, neither gains the advantage, but the game escapes, their activities being lost in the attempt to thwart each other. With frequent repetitions they ultimately realize that to work with is more profitable than to work against each other, and the first step toward civilization has been taken.
It is reasonable to suppose that the first associations of men were intermittent and capricious, the bond of union being often severed at the will of either as personal advantage seemed to dictate, and that the discernment of the permanent blessings of social union was of slow and uncertain growth, and not until a long period had elapsed would the trust of either be so complete as to make treachery possible; for this augmenting trust is of mutual growth or dissolution, the former removing fears and stimulating reciprocal confidence, the latter leading to renewed watchfulness or inducing retaliatory aggressions.
Primitive man, being unrestricted except by the wills of others, would find himself in an environment in which his will would be moderated by the desires of others; and, whether the first bond of union had its origin in accident or experimental degrees of association, it is evident that, so soon as the advantages of the new conditions were experienced, the new duties involved in the new trust were readily acknowledged and willingly performed: and this coming together from a state of isolation, until by slow and gradual growth a visible bond of union was established, must have been a dual development, in which trusts and duties balanced, for mutual benefits give rise to mutual obligations, and not until a breach of duty revealed the existence of new dangers would an enforced compliance, much less a compact, be suggested.
"Do as you would be done by" is the natural inclination of man, and, though weakened and impaired by legislation, its many features still endure, for upon the operation of the golden rule does the permanency of all bonds of union rest. The dishonest gambler is watchful of the play, expecting to be cheated; he does not hesitate to cheat in turn, but he holds with sacred regard the debts of honor contracted at the table. The Texan cow-boy who shoots his man at sight would scorn to hide himself from the fury of an antagonist; careless in taking the lives of others, he is equally reckless concerning his own. The Indian neither extends to others nor hopes himself for mercy. The untrusting are unworthy of our confidence; thus love begets love, confidence inspires confidence, and with our higher types of manhood those superior to the law will transgress its mandates rather than violate their conscience, of which class we have records of many notable examples.
The whole history of human development is replete with the recognition of new duties, and the primitive bonds of savage union have been successively extended from families to tribes and clans, thence to states, which have further united into nations, while the final evolution points to a universal brotherhood. As previously stated, these two forces are met with everywhere—the active and the reactive, the positive and the negative, the aggressive and the permissive, the individual and the social—but they have been separated by legislation, much as you would separate the electricities by friction, and, as with the electricities, the like forces are repellent, while the unlike are mutually attracted.
Let us apply this law of nature to a well-known and familiar evil. I refer to joint-stock companies and corporations. The corporation of to-day differs from those of the Elizabethan period, in so far as such grants were then regarded as special favors, often conferred because of services to the crown, either promised or performed; while the joint-stock company of the present age is adopted as an institution, without any pretense of making returns to the state for favors received.
Every new era of material progress must be accompanied by its moral correlative, which is implied in trust, else treachery is sure to follow; and only as men enlarge their confidence can honest co-operation be extended. In the beginning of the present century, the age was ripe for co-operation in its industrial forms; and it would be the distinguishing feature of our present development, had not impatient legislation introduced the joint-stock company as a legal substitute. At the period of history to which we refer, the nobility still retained possession of the land, and deemed it vulgar to engage in trade; while the merchants had amassed large fortunes in the commerce which had sprung up from the daring explorations, enlightened navigation, and energetic colonization which followed the discovery of the mariner's compass. Small shops abounded; the master-workman, journeyman, and apprentice were friends and comrades, the apprentice becoming journeyman and then master-workman in turn. In the revolutionary struggles which marked the commercial age, a fair measure of free speech had been attained; and the scientist, being free to give to the world his discoveries, was quickly followed by the inventor, who applied these discoveries to the wants of man.
Is it not pertinent to inquire why, under such conditions, science, invention, and co-operation did not flourish and develop together; and why the scientist, the inventor, and the artisan, do not share the profits of their joint creations and endeavors, which profits are now largely absorbed by capital? How is it that, with enlarged mechanical possibilities, the small shop-owners have been driven from the field of proprietorship; and the master-workman and journeyman of a hundred years ago are to be found at the bench or lathe of the mammoth workshops of the day, not as independent workmen, but as mere automatons, to pull the levers which release the cranks, gears, and pulleys of the machinery which performs the former labor of their hands?
It is often urged, and with apparent seriousness, that in this republic every man has a chance to become the owner of one of these vast establishments! What monstrous folly to claim that every man can become the employer of a thousand men, when, by implication, for every proprietor there must remain a thousand men to be employed; so, with all the vain-glorious self-congratulation, it simply means that out of every struggling thousand one may reach the goal! Driven from so untenable a position, it is declared that the fittest will survive, which, being a half-truth, means nothing, for fitness has no existence apart from its environment. A cow-boy's fitness consists of quickness of sight and dexterity of hand. The savage depends upon skill in hunting and success in war. Fitness may reside in the longest purse, the lowest cunning, or the basest treachery, according to environment. The very fact that the possessor of wealth absorbs the profits of discovery, of invention, and of handicraft is sufficient reason to demand an inquiry as to what legislation has given us so distorted an environment.
The forces required for the industrial age are, first, capital, and, second, as in every other progressive step, an extension of trust or confidence; or, to use another form of expression, first, the individual forces, in which are found aggressive action or energy, thrift and prudence, all of which are implied in capital, but in such characters are often found wanting the true sense of justice—hence strong individuality may exist and. still be distrusted and itself distrusting; second, the social forces, which are permissive, fair, honest, and just, all of which are essential to confidence—but these may all exist without energy, thrift, and prudence, which are implied in the possession of capital. Co-operation, then, is dependent upon a union of the social virtues which reside in confidence, and those personal morals which are typified in capital. Had these qualities been developed in the same individual, no laws would have been necessary to encourage combinations of capital to enter wider fields of production. The incentive to action is the expected reward, and in this case the inducement could •be found in the large profits which combinations made possible.
If, then, at the beginning of the present century, the rich returns promised to those who would co-operate were fairly discerned, and in spite of such discernment men failed to enter into co-operative action, it is evident that moral and not material growth was essential to the true progress of the race, and any law looking to the stimulation of material agencies could not but impair and weaken the moral forces of development.
The fact that men of wealth would not combine for the carrying on of great projects which promised enormous profits, is evidence that they lacked confidence in each other, and to their minds treachery would surely follow trust. Upon the other hand, we find the artisans and mechanics then, as now, bound by the closest ties of fraternal friendship, born of mutual dependence and mutual trust; but they were wanting in those individual elements of character typified in the possession of capital: hence, so far as industrial pursuits were concerned, their trust and social qualities were without avail for want of money to make their combined efforts effective. We thus find that the rich men of that time, although able, were unwilling to combine, while the mechanics were perfectly willing, but unable for want of means. It must be plain to all thinking men that further moral development was absolutely essential, and, in the absence of legislation, an energetic moral growth would have followed a recognition of the permanent benefits to be derived by this further extension of trust. The rich, by fair dealing and strict integrity, would aim to prove their worth and show to their fellows that with added trust they would perform the corresponding duties. The artisans and mechanics would have been stimulated to energy and moved to thrift, prudence, and abstemiousness, in order to secure the capital with which to render their mutual trust available for industrial co-operation; and while ten men with ten thousand dollars became convinced of each other's worth, a thousand workmen would have saved one hundred dollars each, and in this manner in action and reaction each class would have developed the weak sides of its character, and, the growing integrity of the one meeting the increased energy and prudence of the other, would have gradually lessened the disparities of condition which then existed, instead of which we now find them constantly widening, and co-operation would have been the normal growth.
It is frequently claimed by the unthinking that co-operative unions are unable to select proper leaders for direction, whereas all history belies the claim. Whether in the playground, in the feudal ages, in times of great public peril, or in popular revolutions, the leader is recognized spontaneously, and the masses have seldom failed to make a wise selection. It is true that the co-operative concerns which have their origin in the hot-beds of experimental legislation have generally failed. But who shall say that failure would have resulted with the hardy plant which has been shown to be indigenous to the soil of the present age?
The natural evolution of material progress seemed too slow, and legislation was called into play to hasten the day of industrial activity. Since each class possessed one of the essential elements of industrial progress, it is evident that two ways were open to accelerate its growth. It could have been accomplished by providing the artisans of the age with government aid in money, in which way the state would have provided men a substitute for thrift, energy, and prudence; but government has no more right to do this than she had to furnish the rich a substitute for honesty and justice, and, as limiting the liability of the one has united dishonest elements and given additional power to the strong, so would and so has government aid in money led to a union of the shiftless and improvident and made still weaker those who for want of aggressive individuality have thus far failed to assert themselves; for, being provided with the results of energy and prudence, those qualities would no longer be developed in an environment which furnished them without effort or activity. We may here say that this method has seldom found favor with legislators.
As is usually the case, if legislation is to be invoked, it is generally in favor of those already strong in aggressive energy, and with these legislative aids the way is paved for the rich to become richer and the strong to become stronger. In this case the rich were furnished a substitute for confidence by a law which limited the duties and the liabilities of those combining, whereas it has been shown that in a healthy social state trusts and duties must be coextensive.
Legislators practically declared that, while they could not make men honest, they could establish confidence by so limiting the liability of those combining that honesty, instead of being an essential element of trust, would be inconsequential as an industrial force, for the possible chances of loss to the investor should be small. In this manner legislation pushed men together who would not be drawn together by mutual confidence; and society, having seen fit to trust those who would not trust each other, now complains of the insolence, injustice, and dishonesty of corporations! But, while denouncing corporations in unstinted terms, there are those who still regard them as a public blessing, essential to the times, but pray their legislators to deprive them of their sting, much after the manner of those who, while insisting upon the heavier waters of the lakes, would seek to legislate away the natural and inevitable consequences of doubling their specific gravity.
Those possessed of capital are entitled to its rewards. Those enjoying the confidence of others are equally entitled to its blessings. But, in providing the capitalist a substitute for confidence or trust, government neutralizes the forces which reside in honesty and justice, and makes inert as an industrial factor the trust and confidence of the poor.
Is there an enterprise of uncertain origin or doubtful purpose, it appears as an incorporated company. Firms upon the verge of bankruptcy, or about to take hazardous risks, change a partnership into a joint-stock company. Swindling patent-right, insurance, and mining schemes all take the form of corporations; but if the liability of a joint-stock company is limited, it simply means that the possible losses to society are without limit. An incorporated company with one hundred thousand dollars' worth of stock fails for eleven hundred thousand dollars; the company is liable for a hundred thousand dollars in addition to their stock, while the trusting public is called upon to lose a million dollars. Why, in the name of justice, should society give to corporations unlimited chances for profit, when, in case of loss or failure, society itself must bear the burden of all losses which exceed the limit of liability? If the corporation incurs debts exceeding its liability, legislation can never make those debts less; at best it but relieves the stockholders, and makes the trusting public stand the losses of the untrusting capitalist, and throws upon the shoulders of the innocent the debts of the careless or dishonest.
But the indictment against the corporation does not end with complaints of its arrogance and unjust and dishonest methods; but its impersonal relation to society and labor is a source of growing irritation, and threatens to make the labor question a most perplexing problem. In transferring the liability from the individual to the certificates of stock, personal responsibility was extinguished. The importance or standing of a stockholder no longer depends upon his wisdom, his uprightness, or integrity, but upon the amount of his stock; and, wherever the stock is found, there the authority and liability reside, notwithstanding the stock may be yours to-day and mine to-morrow. Corporations having no personality have neither moral nor social obligations, which are, or should be, imposed on all alike; but not only are they thus relieved of duties, but even the legal liability is a limited one only.
Stockholders, screened behind their stock, will vote measures toward their workmen which they would never dare to enforce as individuals, for then they would subject themselves to the moral condemnation which unjust and ill-considered action merits; but this impersonal relation of capital has introduced into our industrial system a state of affairs resembling that of absentee landlordism in Ireland, in which the manager acts the part of "my lord's agent."
The stockholders of a corporation may be scattered over every portion of the country or even throughout the world, and their interests are in the hands of managers who best show their worth by increased dividends, and, instead of serving as connecting links between capital and labor, they more frequently serve as severing wedges. It is by no means infrequent that men's wages are reduced dimes per day to increase the earnings, while the manager's salary is increased thousands per year as a reward for his fidelity. In this manner cheerful loyalty is giving place to a spiritless, sullen performance of duty. Is it any wonder that a bitterness is being engendered against capital as such?—for, when divested of personality, personal contact and, therefore, personal feeling are impossible. In the course of twenty years' experience, I have seen cheerful compliance grow into indifference, and that indifference gradually turn into feelings of smothered hostility.
This want of personality is also debauching public morals, and juries will render verdicts against corporations in spite of facts and the law. Interests which should be mutual forces which should interact, are constantly arrayed one against the other, and the aggressions of the capitalists, who, through the medium of trusts and other devices, ruin their competitors and control prices, are confronted by the strong social forces made manifest in the close unions of labor, which find expression in frequent strikes and boycotts.
What, then, is the remedy? Various cures have been suggested, and, among others, some look to governmental control; but this would deprive us of aggressive individuality, in the same manner as the corporation has deprived us of the justice and honesty derived from natural trust and confidence. How may we retain the vigor and energy of individual push correlated with honesty and justice? Is it not plain that, with the restoration of personal liability, dishonest elements would scatter and their combinations dissolve?
It is asked, "What would then become of our great railway systems?" One thing is certain, although the impersonal corporation might vanish, the railways would remain, and there would be those to run them. If the persons united in the consolidated lines would trust each other (and if they will not, why should the public trust them?), such lines would continue as at present. If distrust should prevail, the Vanderbilts, for instance, might withdraw their capital from the West Shore, Michigan Central, Lake Shore, and other properties, and concentrate upon New York Central, leaving other capitalists to similarly withdraw from many properties, to concentrate and be responsible for one; and thus at one blow would be dissolved the mammoth consolidations which legislation has vainly aimed to check.
If, as would no doubt be threatened, our large manufacturing establishments should close, in a very short time the workmen would take possession, even as the liberated negro slave is now gradually becoming owner of the lands upon which he served in bondage. Trusts would scatter to the winds, for unfair and dishonest elements, no longer trusted by society, would prey upon each other, while the honest would withdraw, to unite among themselves. Material development might be retarded for a time, to make way for the moral growth essential to the proper conduct of industrial development. With this accomplished, cooperation would be an established institution, and the interests of capital and labor, now in constant conflict, would be united, and society would be rewarded by a resultant equal to the sum of their joint effects. Thus we have seen that in the industrial, no less than in the material, world action and reaction are opposite and equal, that force can neither be created nor destroyed, but, when it seems to disappear, it lives on, to reappear in new and equivalent effects.