« PreviousContinue »
manual workers. Everyone who has observed the psychology of crowds knows that in periods of social unrest, in times when older arrangements are dissolving and substitutes are not yet installed, the mental operations of the masses most affected resemble the tendency in the circulation of money known as “Gresham's Law,” viz., the baser currency drives out the better. The moment that the ideas which had previously held society together lose that controlling power, competing ideas take possession of the unsettled minds, and these ideas do not stop with correcting the errors of the old ones. They not only drive out the oldest ideas, and newer ones which may be better, but they do not stop there. Before equilibrium is restored the ideas in circulation and control may have flown to the opposite extreme of futility and perhaps fatality. That is what took place in the French Revolution. The old régime was first criticized in a mildly academic way. It was then jostled in a rude, ungentlemanly way. It was then garroted and beheaded in a frenzied, barbarian way. The same inverted progress from worse to worst is now visible in Russia, where the Bolshevik Communist party, as Lenine now calls it, proposes to redeem Russia and then the rest of the world by the “dictatorship of the proletariat.” This means the suppression by violence of everyone who resists the exclusive rule of those who work with their hands. It means a régime in which it shall be law that no one shall have more property or income than the average workman has. It means a régime in which no one shall have any more influence upon any business, whether economic or political, than the average workman has. It means a régime in which, while it is overcoming the resistance of the old régime, anyone who has less has license to take, if he can, from him who has more, and not merely to get all the enjoyment there is in the goods thus acquired, but to pronounce a benediction upon himself as a servant of righteousness besides.
I am not concerned at this point with the ethics of this vision nor with its feasibility. I am concerned now solely with its seductiveness. It would be a superdevil who could invent an idea more likely to craze a proletarian, if he begins to ponder about himself as a proletarian. Suppose an American citizen faces the fact that he has no legal right to anything but today's wages. Suppose he falls to brooding over the fact that he holds his job only so long as another man consents to let him hold it, and if that consent is withdrawn, and no other man renews it, his only claim left is to choose between starvation, suicide, and the poorhouse. Then suppose the most masterful men of his kind that he knows stand up in crowds of proletarians and proclaim, “It's a trick! It's a fraud! It's a lie! The world belongs to us and they've stolen it from us. Come on! Let's go and take it back!” No one capable of imagining himself in that man's place can offer an explanation that can satisfy even himself why Bolsheviki have not come sooner and everywhere and in larger numbers. It would be a peculiarly constituted man who could contemplate the number of men in this country in the situation described and could persist in the belief that Bolshevikism is no concern of ours.
A man whose whole training has been in handling things, and who tries to handle an idea, thereupon converts himself into an extrahazardous risk. The chances are, not that he will master it, but that it will master him. The chances are that its mastery over him will be not the guiding, cautioning, proportioning regulation and stimulation of the truth in the idea, but that it will be some unbalancing, exaggerating, misdirecting excitement from something very likely not properly in the idea at all, something which may be forced into or forced upon the idea if imagination is allowed its way. Mother-Eddyism and Mother-Eddyists are typical cases. The man controlled by a bizarre version of an idea, or by forced meanings of an idea, is like Victor Hugo's gun that had jumped its moorings on deck in a gale-useless for his proper work and dangerous to all around. All this is unfortunately in direct ratio with the amount
. of truth contained in the perverted and perverting idea.
At risk of suspicion that I am myself already a pervert of Bolshevikism, I must point out that this doctrine, which has become so fantastic and intolerable, starts from a premise which increasing numbers of men who abhor Bolshevikism are learning to regard as unimpeachable, namely, that capital, as it is legally established in modern industrial countries, is bound to answer to the charge of having acquired legal rights which public policy cannot permanently concede. For the present I may let this proposition stand as the precipe, so to speak, without trying to represent any complainant with a bill of particulars.
Let it be repeated that the writer of this letter does not present it as proof of anything. It has simply the character of an opinion. The degree of sobriety which readers will credit to the author of the opinion is its prime credential. Its further sanction must be derived from the consensus of readers that the significance which the letter attributes to notorious facts accords with their best judgment. If then I have demonstrated nothing further than a certain agreement in reading those signs of the times which have been referred to above, I have at least established a credible working hypothesis. Apparently the attempt to reconstruct property so that it will more adequately represent present conceptions of justice is to have large scope in the near future. Herewith we arrive at the setting for the appeal which I am about to make; the judgment, namely, that a church which has no positive attitude, no definite policy toward the group of problems thus indicated, can scarcely hope to impress men whose lives pivot upon these problems as dealing with anything very close to reality.
Not long ago the writer, with another outsider, was present at a meeting of about twenty labor leaders in one of our large cities. A reference was made to the churches, and one of the labor men exclaimed, “There ain't a minister in this town except that cares a damn about the workingman!” and a general “that's so!" ran around the table. Anyone who knew the ministers of that town would have expressed almost the contradictory estimate, for not a minister in that town, with the possible exception of A, B, or C, would not be a Golden Rule type of friend to the workingman if he only knew how and if he had the opportunity. The facts are that only here and there a minister knows how, and only those ministers whose charges are in workingmen's districts have favorable conditions for learning how. Under the circumstances of the particular town in which the incident occurred there is very
little contact between labor leaders and the Protestant ministers, so that their opinion was not surprising. It will be the rule among workingmen until the gap between them and the churches, at least so far as exchange of accurate information goes, can be closed.
There may be more plausibility than conclusiveness in the hypothesis which has interested Old Testament scholars for several years, that the thread which leads straightest through the tangle of the history of Israel is the long struggle between the type of justice which satisfied the Baal worshipers of the towns and that type of justice which appealed to the Jahwe worshipers of the open country. However that may have been, it is common knowledge among people who understand their Bibles, and it is equally evident to students of Christian history from the close of the Canon up till now, that obligation to know justice and to do justice has been a traditional part of the profession of Jewish and Christian religions. The great majority of American Christians, whether Catholic or Protestant, would regard it as utterly unwarranted defamation of character if anyone should question the controlling purpose of their respective groups to stand for justice, at all costs, both when recognized justice is threatened and when circumstances require that undiscovered justice should be ascertained. Whatever may be the incidents of the next stage of relations between economic classes, there is little room for doubt that the issues will be presented by the opposing interests more or less clearly in terms of "justice.” In so far as the churches come into notice in connection with these issues, each side will demand that the churches throw their weight on the side of "justice” as the respective sides understand “justice.” On such a general issue as this, the churches will be in a deplorable plight if they are unable to speak, not only positively and emphatically, but with substantial unanimity. It would be an exhibit of pitiful incompetence if, in this critical period, bodies of the ability and resources of the Protestant churches of our northern states should default their special responsibility for interpreting Christian justice in the circumstances peculiar to the times. For reasons, however, which it is unnecessary to recite it is our duty to recognize the fact that our churches are not merely in a state of unpreparedness to formulate convincing rules of justice applicable to present and coming conditions, but this state of unpreparedness is likely often to make well-meant attempts by individuals to declare justice in the name of religion mischievous in confusing already entangled situations. Next to fundamentally upright purpose the most essential prerequisite to judicial conclusions is adequate information. Neither prerequisite can be sufficient without the other and neither can assure the other. As members of the churches we believe that their purpose is dependably Christian. As members of the churches we must confess, on the other hand, that for direct and effective influence upon standards of economic justice they are not only impotently uninformed, but the information and supposed information within their control is of such miscellaneous character as to relevance, as to accuracy, as to completeness, and as to the precise circumstances to which the information is primarily related that judgments based upon such information can seldom be conclusive. Judgments ventured, indeed, in the name of religion, on the basis of such information, have not infrequently fomented more trouble than they removed. In this respect the situation of the churches with reference to economic class conflicts is comparable with the situation of the American public in general at the present moment (January 18) with reference to the questions before the Peace Congress. We are dependent for our information almost exclusively upon the newspaper correspondents. What shall we think about such cardinal problems as a “league of nations," "freedom of the seas,” terms of reparation, territorial readjustments? Many of us decided long ago that it would be a waste of time for us to accept the newspaper invitations to keep excited over these problems, for the simple reason that, temporarily at least, we are in a state of worse than ignorance as to what the problems actually involve in the minds of the men who will put them in the next shape for world acceptance or rejection. We see that the correspondents are giving us chiefly their guesses about more or less crucial factors in the case, together with much more that is of doubtful importance. These guesses are incoherent and irreconcilable, and available for scarcely anything more than satisfaction of our craving for fiction. It is to be feared that everyone who is using these reports as a basis for political agitation is doing the public more injury than service.