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THE MORALISATION OF WEALTH.

. 4 The third lecture under the auspices of the Social Reform Association was delivered at the Athenceum Hall last evening by the Rev. J. Gibb, who explained thathe atfirstintended to speak on the moral aspect of some social questions, bnt found that for anything like a satisfactory discussion of the problem, which might be briefly named " The Moralisation of Wealth," all the time at bis disposal would be required. Mr A. Bathgate, president of the Association, occupied the chair. The Lecturer, who was heartily received by those present, said that looking backward upon the history of the Mother Country with a view to ascertain the principle upon which in past times the relations of the rich with the poor were based, we found that for many centuries it amounted simply to this: the poor existed for the rich ; the weak for the strong ; the many must toil and suffer for the sake of the few. The rich and strong of the people demanded and obtained the services of the poor and weak as their natural right. In England almost alone among the nations the doctrine of the Divine right of monarchs did not at any period meet with universal acceptance. Tho powerful barons were willing to honor the ruler and conserve his rights only so long as he consented to do them an equal service. But they were quite agreeable to act with the King in maintaining tho Divine right of the aristocracy, and in imposing a bitter and degrading bondage upon the common people. In spite, however, of the tyranny of the nobles, a middle class sprang up and grow to be a power in the State, and, when their claims could be no longer ignored, the ranks of the elect were opened to admit them, but on the implied understanding that they should make common cause with their now friends against the majority of their countrymen; and always as men emerged from the rankß of the toilers and gained admission into the circle of the landowners and capitalists they eagerly embraced the principle that the many are for the few, and that those who have may make what they choose I of those who haven't. In law after law we (race the presence of this effort of some dormant body to keep down a' lower class which had begun toshow in convenient aspirations. He (the speaker) need only instance tho combination laws, not repealed until 1825, which made it illegal for workmen to combine to raise wages or to strike; the emigration laws, which forbade them to leave the country j the laws which made it practically impossible for them to leave one parish for another in searoh of work ; the law of master and servant, whioh made breach of contract on the part of the employer a civil offence, on the part of the workman a criminal. These enactments completely ignored the rights of the laborer, and were the offspring of a cruel and greedy selfishness. It would be a mistake, however, to suppose that the condition of the laborer was one of universal misery, Strange as it might seem, there was frequently as much and more of brotherhood, of kindly feeling and genuino goodwill between the employer and his workmen than under the system which succeeded it. To Carlyle the feudal ago seemed a golden timo compared with the sordid nineteenth century, whose only bond of union was the cash nexus which he hated so heartily and denounced so furiously. And long after the period of feudalism had passed the relations of tho employer and his workman were often cordial and even affectionate. The servant was more to the master than a piece of machinery. Thore was nothing to be gained by shutting one's eyes upon these brighter sides of the old system, though we must condemn it as essentially vicious. Aud it was so. It left the workman utterly at the mercy of his employer. If the latter was a just man, the lot of the former was at least endurable; but when the master was unjust, the servant's condition was one of abject misery. But even t had the employer been uniformly kind and j considerate, the old rdgime must be con-' demnod a 9 essentially Wrong. It vio'ated ■ the fundameatgl right of every man to freedom. The'wqrf ipan' was a kjavp who might be treated well or ill, but pither way a serf and not a freeman ; he had no room to grow in —manhood of the highest sort was beyopd his reach, But there was no need to enlarge upon the evils of this former state. It had passed away, and forever. It would be a sourceof greater intoreafcandprofitto consider the causes whioh compassed the destruction of the old relations of labor to oapital, and drove the principle of tho many for tho few from the field. They were chiefly two • the steam engine of James Watt, and Adam Smith's ' Wealth of Nations.' That great Scotchman struck a Titanic blow at the in- '. dustrial system of his day, under which it reeled ana apd finally fell never to rise again. ' Tho Weafth pf Nations' • wag the first great proclamation of the rights of industry and trade, It contained (said Toynbee) two assertions: first, an assertion of the right of the workman to legal equality and independence; secondly, an assertion that industrial freedom was essential to the material prosperity of the people. These principles werp hajfed with acclamation by the laborers, and though they were fiercely opposed by the privileged classes they fought their way to almost universal accceptanoe. The legislation of England took a new departure. It ceased to be conceived in the interests of one class j it grudgingly at first, but with increasing readiness, recognised the political and industrial rights of the workers, and in 1871 the last barrier to industrial freedom was swept away when the right of workmen to combine for selfdefence and protection from the encroachments of the capitalist was acknowledged by the English Parliament. In this way then the new era was Introduced, the era of individualism, and though one ip sorry to say it of selfishness and suspioion and illwill between Capital and labor. "Every man for himself" was the motto of this new age, and we should not greatly exaggerate its spirit if wo added the customary " and Devil take the hindmost." It would bo untrue to say that this new gospel of selfishness in the region of industry affected largely the private and domestic relations of men. Yet it did affect these injuriously. You cannot believe in the principle of every man for h£n;aelf as applicab'e to any region of your life ' without consciously or unconciously being inflqen&ed by it jn ottiers. At all events, in the sphere of trade an<J industry, the new creed was accepted and practically applied as it were the very truth of God. To buy in the cheapest market and sell in the dearest was and is the maxim of commerce. Business capacity means the ability to beggar your neighbor, The merchant who looks with a friendly eye upon his rival has attained to a height of virtue that f? w ever reacn - The master looks upon njts tforktrfeu" &s go much machinery that he muejt keep in good' working and no more. And the workmen are not slow" to retaliate. They think of their master as tbejr natural enemy', always' pn' the watch to do then)

an iujury. The suspicion and ill-will engendered by the present system are deplorable enough between men who are of one flesh and blood, the offspring of one God and Father, but they are not the worst results of the reign of individualism. A great gulf in feeling lies between the capitalist and the laborer; there is as great or greater gulf between them in respect of material conditions. The principle of "every man for himself" has told almost wholly in favor of those wlto have, and against those who haven't. Trade and commerce have grown by leaps and bounds, and the profits of the merchant and the manufacturer have kept pace. What part of the spoil has fallen to the workman's share ? He is no better off than he was at the beginning of the century. Competition has yielded princely fortunes to our capitalists ; to the common people it has brought no more than a bare subsistence. The steam engine had befriended the capitalists ; it was increasingly doubtful whether it had done the workers any real service. It was, indeed, possible to argue, and with some show of reason, that the application of machinery to the production of commodities was proving an unmixed evil to the working classes. Those who asked the use of discussing this in this land must be blind to the signs of the times. We had a very deep personal concern in finding an answer I to the question, which our kinsfolk must solve or perish; and there would be the alternative presented to us also one of these days. The principle of every man for himself was in vogue here as at Home, and the results would bo the same. It was only a matter of time. Mr Downie Stewart was, by home people, reckoned a joker because he contended for the shortening of the hours of labor as the only remedy for the displacement of the workmen by labor-saving machinery. He (the lecturer) did not see where the joke came in. In a very short time, even here, the steam engine and its applications will drive the mass of our laborers from the field. The lecturer here gave a vivid picture of the condition of the poor in London, and went on to ask where would the principle of every man for himself land us, if we continued much longer to regulate our industrial relations by it? We had here the elements of a tragedy—of a revolution as grim and terrible as that which befell France at the end of last century. Is there, then, no remedy ? Yes, there is a remedy, and we are already on its track. Withiu the last few years a principle new in its application to the relations of men as employer and workmen, kut old as the Gospel of Christ as to its origin, has been adopted by a large number of men in all classes of society, and their ranks are receiving accessions every day. And it is this: " Every man for all men; every man his brother's keeper." Individualism had had its day, and now stood in the sight of the world condemned as utterly inadequate of itself to furnish a modxis vioendi between capital and labor. But human nature will have to undergo a radical change before the individual ceases to be an end to himself. Love for self is vicious as the sole rule of life j love for others by itself is hardly less injurious. Self-sacrifice is imperative ; not less so is self-preservation. The true principle of conduct is to be found in neither alone, but in the union of both. It is rtiy duty to care for myself—to think of my own interests—to strive after my own happiness and perfection. It is equally my duty to care for the interests and promote the wellbeing and perfection of my brother. To neglect one of these duties is to neglect both. It was because men were learning to understand this truth and to feel its power that he (the lecturer) did not despair of the future. The time would come when men would rest all their relations, not excepting even the relations of industry and commerce, upon this foundation. The lecturer proceeded to consider how far ought those who accept the principle to go in demanding its recognition by the State, and legislative interference on behalf of the workers. He was no Socialist, as the word was usually defined, but he would have Englishmen demand that the hideous evil of overcrowding should cease—if there were no other way the Government should buy up the rookeries and replace them by decent houses, whioh might be let to the poor at a rental which would leave them, at least, three-fourths of their scanty earnings for food and clothing. We could spend lavishly on our army and navy; we could waste immense sums on marriage portions for the Royal family—surely we might do something for our wretched brethren of the slums. And again, the State might interfereto shorten the hours of labor, perhaps to six hours a day, so as to give the workman a fairohance of competing with labor-saving machinery. Yet again, the State migtit interfere on behalf of the working classes by imposing larger taxes upon the rich, and so provide a fund to be expended in building bettor houses for the denizens of the slums, and in providing them with the means of rational recreation and self-culture. It would be said that this was grandmotherly legislation. Perhapsitwas. But a kind grandmother was a decided improvement upon a calloaß parent, and that was all the State had hitherto been to the poorest and weakest, who most need its protection. The State might also take action to put an end to the outrageous monopolies—the trade rings and corners, the gambling in stocks and produce —by means of which the poor are robbed of their due. Such were a few of the directions in which the State should interfere for the amelioration of the conditions of those who aro tho victims of the present social organisation. But, after all, we do not look for the coming of a brightor and happier day so much from the interference of the State between ' the capitalist;' and the laborer as from tho 4 ee PP n f n g of the sense of responsibility for the common welfare in the minds of all men, an<J pf those who through thp possession of (hjs wprld's goods have it in their power to materially benefit their less fortunate brethren. And finally, we may reasonably expect to see the belief in brotherhood issue in a system of profitoharing. There oould be po doubt that the soundest possible solution of the labor question would eventually be found in i such a modification of the terms of partner* { ship as should bind the interests of the I employer and workman more closely to-1 getner.. On the motion of Mr Bolt a hearty vote of thanks was, accorded to! the Rev, J, Gibb.

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https://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/newspapers/ESD18890831.2.14

Bibliographic details

THE MORALISATION OF WEALTH., Issue 8000, 31 August 1889

Word Count
2,430

THE MORALISATION OF WEALTH. Issue 8000, 31 August 1889

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