Page images
PDF
EPUB

saw and sympathized with the suffering and the ominous disquietude of the toilers, and with rare selfdevotion undertook measures for their relief; others, smitten themselves with a great unrest in view of the way the momentous social problem was left to drift, urged upon the State the duty, to take precedence of all other duties, of looking after the most vital interests of the great body of its people, and, by managing the great industries, prevent the abuse of them.

THE WORK OF SAINT-SIMON

The snows of only two winters had whitened the blood-drenched field of Waterloo when one of those geniuses came to the front who seem to rise now and then as if on purpose to make amends, materially or spiritually, for the losses inflicted on the world. by another of their countrymen: * Claude Henri, Comte de Saint-Simon. Of aristocratic birth, as his title indicates, Saint-Simon early freed himself of the exclusive feeling characteristic of his class; and seeing the backward trend of France, seeing too the wrongs done to the great mass of the toilers, who, driven to desperation by the situation in which they. found themselves, must ultimately, if denied social justice, either break out in violent revolution or so degenerate physically and morally as to imperil the

*It will be remembered that Huxley said of Pasteur that his material service alone made good to France the indemnity of five milliards francs paid to Germany, - price of the folly, not to say the crime, of Napoleon III.

future of the whole race, undertook with prophetic self-consecration to devise a social system which, resting on established scientific and ethical principles, should be free from the fatal drawbacks of the present order. He dissociated his system as far as possible from revolutionary politics, so far, indeed, that he even had hopes of its being accepted by Louis XVIII. and put immediately into operation. It will help toward an understanding of the social unrest we are considering to glance at this and some of the subsequent plans for meeting it.

To the mind of Saint-Simon the work of bettering human conditions, after all the stress and strain of a most perturbed generation, had made slight headway compared with what remained to be done. The Revolution had attempted something, but had soon lost its way and passed as a vision of the night. Napoleon had come and gone, leaving little more than tracks of fire and blood across the continent phantoms of death and hell passing with a deluded world under the name of glory. A social reconstruction was called for, which should put an end to the inimical competition of men with one another and the exploiting of the many for the aggrandizement of the few. Private fortunes should no more be ground out of the toil of an army of operatives, but all enterprises, great and small, should be so managed that the proceeds would have equitable distribution among the contributors. The grave problem before Saint-Simon was to lay out a scheme to this end which

might reasonably be expected to work, and which, put in operation, should not disastrously quench the spirit of enterprise or benumb the power of initiative on which material progress so much depends. On this latter score, while admittedly some decline would result, it could be urged that a system of industry might be acceptable though it did tend to weaken the ambition of a few if at the same time it greatly strengthened the ambition of the many. It could be said that the overweening eagerness of the managers to get vastly rich is a blight on them and on the world, leading them often into such incessant and exhaustive outlay of vital force that they do not live out half their days, or live them in a sad neglect of what are really the best things in life. What is yet worse, this devouring ambition to gain a private advantage, while it develops enterprise, prompts that exploiting of the workers which takes all ambition out of them. The world therefore, thought Saint-Simon, can afford some curbing of the abnormal energy of the chiefs of industry if it can have an uplift and a quickening given to the spirit of its toilers. He held that the world would not lose the services of these chiefs if their private gains were very considerably restricted. He would keep them at their posts of management. They might work a little less furiously, but they would work sufficiently, for every man delights in the exercise of his capabilities. He proposed that the State assume oversight of all industries, and arrange affairs so that the products, or the value of them, should

go to the persons engaged in the just proportion that their several efforts contribute to the production. A formidable undertaking no doubt, and one not to be perfectly carried out. Strictly equitable distribution would be difficult if not impossible to arrive at; there would be unavoidable dissatisfaction here and there; but no distribution could be made on this plan which would approach in inequity the actual distribution of profits in the great industries as then and now conducted.

Saint-Simon's plan would convert the capable chiefs of industry, the managers of all enterprises, who in his day as now were seeking to turn into their own coffers the largest possible part of the earnings of the largest possible number of people, — into public servants laboring not for their own good only but for the good as well of the people serving under them. In lieu of greed he urged generosity; in lieu of rivalry he would bring in fraternity. So his scheme allied itself in his thought with the teaching of Jesus, and he came to call it "The New Christianity," which at the same time he declared was primitive Christianity, whose fundamental principle he held to be: "Men ought to regard one another as brothers." This principle, modernized and glorified, he made to read: "Religion must aid society in its chief purpose, which is the most rapid improvement of the lot of the poor." In these terms he lifted the question of social reconstruction into a religion. And, indeed, he found it nowise difficult to show that he was

following after Jesus, who distinctly said his mission was especially to the poor, in whose welfare he ever showed himself most concerned. And it was apparent to Saint-Simon, as it must be to every one who candidly considers the subject, that Christianity as it now exists is not based on any such principle. On the contrary, in the Christian more than ever in the pagan world, and more and more as wealth increases, the idle are surfeited in luxury, while diligent toilers are quite generally without the comforts, often without the necessaries of life.

That good men and true, profound thinkers in the highest fields, should be taking such ground in the first quarter of the nineteenth century (Saint-Simon died in 1825), is as salient an indication of the grave social unrest of the time as was the smashing of machines by riotous workmen in the great centers of industry. So heavily lay upon his conscience the doing of this first great socialistic work that he devoted to it the best years of his life and spent on it his entire fortune, so that ere he was through with his task he was in the straitened circumstances of another lover of mankind of whom it is said that he "had not where to lay his head." In a letter appealing for help he wrote:

"For fifteen days I have lived upon bread and water. I have worked without fire, and have sold everything but my clothes to defray the cost of copying my work for the printer. It is my interest in the public well-being, my desire to discover a means for terminating in some gentle manner the fearful crisis

« PreviousContinue »