Nonfiction > Upton Sinclair, ed. > The Cry for Justice

Upton Sinclair, ed. (1878–1968).
The Cry for Justice: An Anthology of the Literature of Social Protest.  1915.
The Failure of Civilization

By Frederic Harrison

(English essayist and philosopher, 1831–1923; President of the Positivist Society)
I CANNOT myself understand how any one who knows what the present manner is can think that it is satisfactory. To me, at least, it would be enough to condemn modern society as hardly an advance on slavery or serfdom, if the permanent condition of industry were to be that which we behold; that ninety per cent of the actual producers of wealth have no home that they can call their own beyond the end of the week; have no bit of soil, or so much as a room that belongs to them; have nothing of value of any kind, except as much old furniture as will go in a cart; have the precarious chance of weekly wages, which barely suffice to keep them in health; are housed for the most part in places that no man thinks fit for his horse; are separated by so narrow a margin from destitution that a month of bad trade, sickness or unexpected loss brings them face to face with hunger and pauperism. In cities, the increasing organization of factory work makes life more and more crowded, and work more and more a monotonous routine; in the country, the increasing pressure makes rural life continually less free, healthful and cheerful; whilst the prizes and hopes of betterment are now reduced to a minimum. This is the normal state of the average workman in town or country, to which we must add the record of preventable disease, accident, suffering and social oppression with its immense yearly roll of death and misery. But below this normal state of the average workman there is found the great band of the destitute outcasts—the camp-followers of the army of industry, at least one-tenth of the whole proletarian population, whose normal condition is one of sickening wretchedness. If this is to be the permanent arrangement of modern society, civilization must be held to bring a curse on the great majority of mankind.  1

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