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SIR ROBERT STOUT ON SOCIAL REFORM., Issue 7946, 29 June 1889
SIR ROBERT STOUT ON SOCIAL REFORM.
The first of a series of lectures under the auspices of the Social Reform Association was given in the Athemeum Hall last night-. Mr A. Bathgate, president of the Association, occupied the chair, and there were about 160 persons present. The subject of the lecture was ' Social Reform: Its Aims andlMeans,' the lecturer being Sir Robert Stout, who referred to this as the age of social reform, and pointed out that fifty years ago the name was hardly ever mentioned except amongst a few—who were then termed philosophical Radicals. There had been a great growth in social questions of late, and people were beginning to exalt the ends of this life above everything. That was what was meant by social reform, because social reform had to deal with this life only. When he spoke of what was meant ;<s a remedy for social evils he meant socialism; and in England, America, and even over the whole Continent of Europe, there now existed such organisations for the promotion of socialism as Robert Owen would never have predicted. But that was not all. There had been going on a tremendous growth of State functions in the direction of our social life, and the State was looming larger and larger in everything that concerned the life of the people. Some 200 or 300 years ago the State considered its functions to be to look after religion, war, and the protection of its own territory ; but now the State looked after dwellings, the health of man and beast; it looked after savings banks, education : and year by year there was a struggle to extend the State's functions in various other directions, and all the directions were in looking after what might be termed the social life of the people. He instanced as another peculiar phenomena of the age the growth of voluntary cooperation and trades unionism. International societies were spreading all over the world, and there were voluntary organisations outside of mere trado organisations. It was to be seen so far as capital was concerned in trusts and syndicates—all peculiar to this century, and showing that voluntary co-operation was getting so strong that one was tempted to ask where it would tend and where it would not. Therewas a setting towards solidarity in other things besides mere labor unions, trades unions, or commercial enterprises. We saw it amongst races, and things, and people. We had also seen in this century greater individual freedom than there ever was before. He did not think that individual freedom was yet on a very high platform. There was no country in the world where a man was not punished for his opinions. The time would come when that would cease. He denied that this tendency towards State action and towards voluntary co-operation tended to weaken the individual. He contended that as society was advancing in power so the individual was advancing in power, in liberty, nnd in strength. In the past political economists referred _to the individual as a mere unit, and his relation to the State the same as that of a grain of salt to a mass of salt. They entirely ignored the fact that there was a relationship existing between the State and society that could not be said to be existing betweeu a grain of salt and a mass. Ho would illustrate his remarks in this way : A grain of Bait, if separated from a mass, remained salt, but in the same way a man could not be separated from Bociety. If ho was separated he descended to be even lower than the savage. The reason of that was that man depended on society for everything ho possessed. He could have no thought and no language, and no morality unless he was living as a social being, and hence it was wrong to say that our political economy should remain self-regarded or individualistic. What was known as the individualistic school had founded itself on that principle, but the new school had pointed out that political economy must be recast. The individual must be preserved, and freedom must be given him ; but uuless
it was based on what is in Nature—viz., man as -a social being—and unless his social instinct:-; were recognised the political economy would be fulno to Nature and would fail. If wo looked at the history of humanity we wo dd see that it was the growth of ages. Kveu the Grecian civilisation had not risen t>a national idea, and it was only of late t nit such a thing as national life had arisen; ii id the national life which was to rise in oar life was that which was pointed out a; : a life hv humanity ; and until we could ga U'.t lust as intense as our national life might ~ in i- social life was incomplete. As Burns , i.'d, .'!: was necessary that "man to man the ■\.. '■, ..'or shall brothers be for a' that." X -.1 v . .hat wo must struggle for if we <.loj : !''' rue social life and a true society. Xi.C", <.: i show what society in now, he wouid glance lightly at what it had been, and in that way we would have an idea to what extent advances must be made before we could really go far in reform. Taking Europe at the present day, we saw millions of men under arms, and at any moment they might be spending their strength and the wealth of the countries to which they belonged in a struggle for their life or death or the life or death of their nations. In the social life of the.se countries we would see that the whole of our society wa3 at present based on this : that the duty of each person was to struggle for bis individual life. And our whole commerce was based on this: that the clever commercial man w us the man who CDiild amass the most wealth at the expense of his rivals, just as the successful general ii the hero who is hailed because he has killed most of his foes. So the successful merchant who is able to crush out his rivals is worshipped, and it could bo seen why there were trusts and large companies and syndicates. They had found just what the large armies had found—that these large organisations would be better able to fight the battle of commercial life than if they were individuals standing alone. After a battle the field would be strewn with the dead aad the dying, and in the struggle of our industrial life the same thing was seen. In the slums of large cities were to be seen the people who were slain in this industrial battle. The poor had to go to the wall and die. A gentleman named Booth had visited every poor person in a certain district in London, and had found out the cause of their poverty. It was often said that poverty was caused by drunkenness and vice, and no doubt a deal was caused by these ; but Mr Booth found that one-third of the poor in that district Was in that state through want of regular employment. People struggling to obtain bread and a decent living were still crushed out by our industrial life. We had, then, to consider how it was that there was welling up in humanity this idea that the individual had in him something more than merely a unit in a mass. He might illustrate that by what was happening in our philosophy. There was a wave of philosophic thought passing over England which could not have been predicted fifty years ago. Half a century ago, and down to later times, the philosophical school that had the strong position was a school founded on individualistic sensationalism. It looked at man standing alone and said that man was fashioned by his surroundings, and that there was little of the collective element in him. It looked at man in the way that political economy looked at him—as an individual—and not from the point of view of society. But recently there had been a school founded in Germany which had got hold of all the best philosophical minds. This Hegelian school had an mormons following, too, in Kugland. Tfef recognised what was termed the absolute—practically a oneness in humanity. They recognised that a man was not merely a man for himself alone, but had something of the absolute in him, and saying so they appeal "Has he not:" The philosophers answered "lie has." And there_ was another thing which had come to their aid 11 prove it. The recent evolution doctrines had shown that man was not only a product of his surroundings. If anyone tried to find out what man is he would have to go back hundreds of years and trace !ii3 history, which was far older than his birth, and therefore a man could not be fashioned from his surroundings. The effect the teaching of this school had had on England waa wonderful. And just as he believed what might bo termed individualism had spent its force in philosophy, and although hj ha 3 spent its force in political economy, so he believed that we must look upon social reform in quite a different way to what wo looked at it in days gone by. We had therefore to look at social reform not from tio standpoint of the individual, but from the standpoint of society. Now he came t > what he thought its aim should be. He apprehended that social reform had two aims. We had to have a more complete society, and to have a more complete individual. If social reform was to accomplish anything and do any good we must have our Biciety placed on a higher platform, and wemust place the individual on a higher platform. Now, we had to strive for the complete individual, and for a higher state of society ; but we saw poverty, and vice, and crime, and we at once jumped to the conclusion that these might be abolished at once. There was, however, no short or easy method of reform. We could not expect poverty to cease when we had men poor in physical health; when we had men poorly equipped for life so far as their morals were concerned, and men pooily equipped so far as mental development was concerned. The poor we had always with ns ; nor could we get rid of the vicious. Men might be reproducing their past history of two or three generations back. So with crime. There wero animal typc3 of men just as well developed as a breed of dogs, and it was not to be expected that these types of individuals would cease at once. He mentioned this to point out that mere surroundings were not sufficient to change the life of the individual. It was necessary to give him time for moral development. The aim of social reform was this : to get the most physically perfect, fie most morally perfect, and those witli fie highest mental development. But we C3uld not get the highest type of individual unless we had the best individual in the boat surroundings. Unless we had the highest typo of individual we could not hj i.vo the highest type of society, and unlcc* wc bad the highest type of society we could not have the highest type of individual. Th l ; two things must go together. The ordinary political economist bed locked to perfect the individual, and had not looked inUiciciitly to his surroundings, nor seen l.lio need of looking after society. Tho •Socialist had gone to tho other extreme. He said: "If you only have a certain distribution of wealth and have a certain lyno of society, tho individuals will he all right." But he thought the truo aim of social reform waa to have the highest type of individual as well as the highest type of society. It had been said that the great man was like the giant oak, which killed off all the saplings, and that the whole world in the struggle for existence was tending to produce the best specimens that was, the best specimens co-related to tho world in which they lived. That was what Darwin enforced so well in many of his books; and it was said that men'who were poor, vicious, and criminal were, so to speak, the shavings cast off by this turning-lathe of society that was going tu fashion this perfect individual. That was still looking at society from the individualistic standpoint; but Dr Appleton pointed out that although the great man or the ideal man necessarily crushed out the weaker man, yet the great man was jmt doing as much good for tho perfection of tho vace by raising up the weak ones. He pointed that out for the reason that wc are apt to grow petsimistic and think there waa no such thing as morality in tho universe, and that all was chaos. Some of the greatest minds of the day had been pessimistic. James Thomson looked on life From this standpoint. He thought " What is the use of struggling and endeavoring? For centuries there had been poverty, vice, and crime, but if they havo varied the quantity has remained tho same." But Dr Appleton had pointed out that the world was being raised, and that was our hope for the future. As an instance of how the world had been raised, he said ho had read the other day of the number of murders which had been committed in tho county of Gloucester in one year in Uoary Vs. reign. If that number was equalled at this day in the whole of Europe ib would be thought appalling. That showed the growth which had been made in English
society in (300 or 700 yoars. He would point thin out to thoso who were inclined to bo pessimistic, utid would ask them to have yet hope for the future, for after all tho world was going ahead—getting better day by day. Some people said that we in tho colonics should have made greater advances than we had, because wo were freer hens. They forgot what George Eliot [jointed out- viz., that what wis have been makes us wltat we are. It would lie absurd for us to think that we should have brought a new social life here when we came with our old ideas and our past history. Then he would say something about the means of social reform. There was a double aim in all social reform —lirst, to look to the individual; and second, to narrowly watch the society. Only one way was open to deal with the individual, and that was to educate him, not by liini a. common school education, but by keeping before him the need of social reform, and the fact that he owed a duty to the society in which he lived as well as to himself. It was only by continual study wo could hope for any social reform. We had not half enough of it, and had not half devoted our attention to what should be the aim in life. In some respects we had been too individualistic. We had, in fact, two dangers to avoid. Wo had this danger of being too individualistic, and the danger of the individual being killed by any form of government, or of society, or of State, that denied him freedom. The danger of socialism was this : if the State did everything and allowed the individual no play, he was injured and weakened, and the production of the highest kind of man was stopped. On the other hand, if tho individual was allowed to work at his own sweet will he was also injured. Two things the Association should keep before them that they were fighting for the highest type of individual and for the highest type of society. Then with regard to the Association itself, he would say that if people were earnest in desiring social reform half the battle was won ; and let him say ono word more, and that was this : that we should never be discouraged in social reform. If wo did not succeed in effecting reforms, we should no mote give up the battle, than Bruce would give up the battle, even though six times defeated. (Applause.) Often it was found in England that when crime was thought to bo reduced to the lowest some new crime sprang up. So it was in every country in the world. It had been said "Life is like an ocean." There were waves of feeling as there were waves of the material ocean ; waves of crime and waves of reform; and all wo could accomplish was this—whether we be few, or whether we be many, let us at all times keep the flag of social reform flying. We knew that if we had done that, we had done our duty to ourselves and to those who would come after us. He did not expect we would see much of social reform in our clay. Any reform, to be lasting, must come exceedingly slowly ; and why ? Bocause any reforms that had come in the past had been exceedingly slow affairs, but they were abiding, and if they came quickly they would soon vanish. All we could lay to our hparts and souls was this : it is coming slowly, but it is coming, and 'wo might be able to say, as it had been said by some socialistic poet —
Oh, bo clad it is oura To aow eeeda for the yeara, Though others may gather the fruit and the flowers.
On the motion of Dr Bklcuku a hearty vote of thanks was accorded to Sir Robert Stout for his address, and a vote of thanks having been given to the chairman, the audience dispersed.
SIR ROBERT STOUT ON SOCIAL REFORM., Issue 7946, 29 June 1889
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