Stedman and Hutchinson, comps. A Library of American Literature: An Anthology in Eleven Volumes. 1891. Vols. VIVIII: Literature of the Republic, Part III., 18351860
Socialism the Path to a Despotic Government
By Theodore Dwight Woolsey (18011889)
[Communism and Socialism in their History and Theory. 1880.]
BUT in such a thorough change of society as socialism contemplates there is no room for compromise. The plan is to take away all the means of productionall land, machinery, manufactories, all means of transportfrom private persons, and transfer property in them to the state; to abolish all private trade, credit, business relations, and the medium of circulation, without which these could not go on: so that there is not a work in life, not an employment or pursuit, that would not be put on a wholly new basis. What room for compromise is there here? There never was a revolution in history, since history told the story of the world, so complete as this. Nations have passed under the sway of conquerors; but an age or two brought back the rights of property and free management of their affairs to multitudes of the conquered. Nations have been deported to distant settlements; but multitudes throve in the land of exile, or their descendants were restored to their properties in the old home. Is it conceivable that, with all the personal evils which stand at the very door of such a change in view, multitudes would succumb and compromise rather than risk their lives for an essential good and a sacred right, as they regard it, of themselves and their posterity?
As the issue in such a conflict is uncertain, so the form which the state, constructed on the ruins of private property, would assume would be uncertain, except so far as the industrial changes should require some special conformation of the government. We have, then, a problem to solve, when the social state is to be considered, which has to take some uncertain factors into account. But we have more right to speculate on this point than socialists themselves have; for our speculations can do little harm if they prove false, while theirs, if they prove false, may involve themselves and their countries in remediless ruin.
Properly speaking, we need to look at two pointsthe governments under which the socialists hope to carry out their industrial theory, and the form of state polity which the theory itself seems to render necessary. As for the inclinations and opinions of the socialists and communists, there is no question that, as a body, from the commencement of the French Revolution, both in France and elsewhere, they have leaned toward the principle of equality as the main foundation of a well-regulated state. But equality is a broad term, and the question at once arises how much must it include? Liberty and equality stand side by side in all the declarations of French political Utopias. But it is evident that, if personal liberty has the breadth of rights which is conceded to it even in some arbitrary governments, equality of condition and inequality of situation, or of amount of worldly advantages, may be found together; so that a conflict must necessarily arise between the two, which cannot easily be adjusted. Equality of condition, the absence of all ranks and orders, secured by constitutions, would be accepted by all socialists as a sine qua non, before the working class can be raised above the disadvantages which encounter them in modern society; but inequality of situation, some power by which the free action of an individual may enable him to rise above a general level, is clung to, in existing society, far more tenaciously than the proper democratic principle of equality in political rights and the sameness of condition throughout society.
The feeling of equality, then, is not confined to the equal diffusion of political rights; but it extends to material advantages. It is the feeling of one competitor toward anotherthe same feeling which has led and may again lead to the lot, as preventing a man of more influence and ability from gaining an office by his ability. The world is not full enough and never will be full enough of material goods to satisfy all; and if the struggle for them were not checked by the social system, one would secure for himself more than another, if the state did not interpose. It is not to be denied that evils attend on the present system of unlimited power to gain wealth; but the point which we now make is that, in seeking to prevent these evils, the social theorists find it necessary to restrict the freedom of individuals, especially the power of rising by enterprise, soundness of judgment, unbounded energy, and other qualities, which not only aid the individual in his advancement, but contribute to the improvement of general society.
When the individual is confined by law and public institutions in his sphere of operations, society loses a great part of its force; and the state must acquire an equal or greater amount of force, or all the hopes of a community will be shipwrecked. Thus, if private capital is to cease, the state must have the new function of general business director, or there will soon be no state at all. Is it not perfectly evident that the state must become exceedingly strong to undertake such new duties, in addition to many of its old ones? And may we not argue with certainty, from the checks which society, as it now is, puts on the occasional violence and arbitrary power of the state, that, when society is stripped of its force in opinion and in action, a vast increase of independence, even a despotical sway, must be gained by the state from this source also?
The state, then, under socialism must become strong and uncontrollable, not only because new offices are committed to it, but also because these offices are taken away from society and from its individual members, who now will no longer be able to oppose, or correct, or enlighten the state in favor of the interests of general society. What the form of the state in its socialistic era would be is of little importance. The essential characteristic is that it must become all but unlimited; and our readers are well aware that all unlimited governments are more like one another, whether they be called monarchies or oligarchies or democracies, than they are each like to a limited government of their own name.