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LECTURE BY MR WHITE.

Mr D. White, M.A., gave a lecture at the Athemeum Hall last evening on ‘ The Stateand Social Systems in their Relation tc Private Property,’ The lecture was the fourth of a series arranged by the Soda? Reform Association, and the chair was taken by Mr A. Bathgate, president, Mr White first referred to the difficulty of giving an exact definition of Socialism, as many of its most important and most essential terms had no commonly accepted or well-defined meaning. He then quoted some definitions, and adduced some facts that were known to underlie those definitions. One of those facts was that there were large classes of society who were poor, miserable, wretched ; that there were others who were happy, contented, prosperous. Some writers affirmed that this social difference was inevitable and irremediable, but no one attempted to deny the facts. They came home more or Iced forcibly to everyone, and humanity and sympathy were always making praiseworthy efforts, in a more or less successful way, to ameliorate the social condition of the poor and the unfortunate ; but the final solution of the problem, the most effective means of bringing it about, were all at present matters of common dispute. There were three well-defined ana separate systems for bringing about the amelioration of the masses. There was first the ecclesiastical system, the cardinal principles of which might be taken to mean that all human efforts were distinctly inadequate to improve the social state of society, unless they were supported and prompted by religious, or rather by supernatural agencies, or influence. Religion alone could reform the human heart, and until theheart was changed they could have no hope of any permanent improvement in the social condition of the people. The next system was the natural or philosophic system of reform, the essential doctrines of which clearly involved the idea that man was capable by himself of working out his own happiness under the guidance and operation of natural laws. Culture and development expressed the hope and aim of this school as in these words r “Culture seeks to do away with classes ; to make the beat that has been thought in theworld known and current everywhere ; tomake all men live in an atmosphere of sweetness and light. This is the social idea, and the men of culture are the apostles of equality.” Socialists, however, thought that the ecclesiastical and natural systems had had a long and fair trial, and that the social problems were just now as far from solution aa ever, They had, therefore, many social reformers and as many social systems. To understand those social systems it was of importance that they should know something of the constitution and growth of society. Now, the race had been gettingbettcr, getting worse, or it remained stationary. He believed most people thought it was getting better. Inquiry into the history of development concerning the condition of society made it distinctly apparent that the course of evolution had been from the communistic or general to the particular or individualistic. They would have to consider, in framing any social scheme, whether they had to retrace their steps and take society back to the communistic stage, or if the individual stage was capable of reaching something better and higher. It was impossible to dissociate the historical development of society from the historical development of ownership, or theories of ownership—of the various modes of acquiring, or holding, and of transferring property. Though private ownership in real property was practically a modern institution, there had been from time immemorial something in the shape or nature of personal property. Now, what were the most favorable conditions for the increase and security of property ? Maine held that no one was at liberty to attack the principle of private property and to say at the same time that he valued civilisation. The history of the two could not be disentangled. As with the form of society, so with the forms of ownership ; there had been a change from the communistic to the individualistic form. Along with this condition of society they had an intensely active principle of economic law. What had been the effect of that law upon the history of the race ? There was a great difference of opinion as to the benefits of competition, but, considered economically, competition provided the most effective means for the production of wealth. It wis, then, an ever active factor in the forces at work in modern society. One more view of the active principles or forces apparent in the progress of the human race required attention. With the rise and progress of individualism came the growth and terrible increase of pauperism. To be igr orant of the causes of pauperism was to know nothing about Socialism. The causes had been pointed out as follows: Pauperism is the result of personal sin, for which the individual alone Is responsible, and for which he ought to suffer. “ Suffering and poverty enter into the plan of Providence.” (2) Pauperism is transmitted to other members of the race who are not responsible for it. (3) Pauperism is induced and permitted by defective and class legislation. Each of these causes of pauperism required a different remedy. It would not do to devise social schemes and apply them indiscriminately to all these. Nor must they ever expect to remove pauperism altogether. Given those facts and principles that he had enumerated, what system of reform afforded the readiest means of improving and developing human society ? They could not disregard the past history or the present condition of society. Society had not developed from the primitive uniformity of their complex civilisation by caprice or accident, but uuder the stimulus of certain fixed principles inherent in human nature. For his own part, he believed in the social school; that was, he believed that material wealth and comfort tended forcibly to arouse a desire for, and maintain a higher typo of, life in all its aspects. It was not “property and crime,” but “ poverty and crime ” that gave so much trouble. But he had no ultraSocialismgto put forward. He should say that they should advance on the lints that had been already followed, but followed in a very incomplete and partial way. His position with regard to the question was beat expressed in the words of Mr John Morlcy : “ If Socialism means the abolition of all private property, if it means the assumption of land and capital by the State, if it means the equal distribution of the products of labor by the State, then I say communism of that stamp, Socialism of that stamp, is against human nature. We must concede to individualism its proper sphere. We must not allow it to go too far. The more the individual develops his own moral, intellectual, and physical nature, the better a man he is. But we have unfair and excessive individualism and competition, and we must have some powerful means of correcting these.” That power he (the speaker) took to he State control, central and local, la (io'crmining its sphere of action the State must be guided by expediency as well as by principle. To see what those were, let them think for a little of the State’s relation to private enterprise. In no two countries was the sphere of government exactly the same. What was foreign to State control in one country seemed legitimate enough in another. In many countries religion had been excluded from the State’s control, whilst education was now generally looked upon as a primary duty. They had numerous institutions under the control of the State. In the post

■office they had a good instance of State management. He had read that it was in England first farmed cut; it was then taken over by the Government, not without opposition from private post offices, Tolegi aphs, railways, canals, etc., showed the extent (f the State’s interference. Local State legialation was also fust becoming wider and wider. Municipal legislation in undertaking gasworks and waterworks, in providing regulations about lodginghouses, public - houses, theatres, and in sanitary affairs, marked a wide sphere of Government work and Government control. Admitting that legislation was empirical, in the experimental stage, they would still be enabled from the instances and cases be had given of State interference to gather up some sundry principles that would be of use in the inquiry. What were the principles cf State interference? 1. The State should concern itself ch'efly with the distribution of wealth and property, and not with Reproduction. 2. The State should seek no gain or profit. 3. The principles of economy and efficiency, as compared with private enterprise, must not bo omitted. 4. The State must not create a monopoly in the sense of being carried on in the interests of class, but for the common benefit, use, or convenience of all. Those were approximately—perhaps roughly—the principles that appeared to justify the State’s interference. They were now in a position to see what further extension, of the power of the State was possible. He thought the most important social function of the State was by means of legislation to reduce the possibilities of great inequality in tiie distribution cf ’wealth. That might be done by means of taxation, a kind of indirect ownership which the State assumed ia private property. Might they not have rocial canons of taxation ? As, for instance, that nothing that the poor used or consumed should he taxed at all, and that all property over a certain value should be subject to a tax increasing with the increased value of the property. Would not that have both a direct ami an indirect effect in preventing enormous accumulation in individual hands ? It was a matter of history that in England at one time the great burden of taxation was removed from land and property to the Customs—an antisocial and distinctly retrograde movement. All the benefits arising from State tenancy and State ownership might, ho thought, be reaped with greater facility by means of social legislation. The laws regulating the distribution of land were important socially. In a new settlement there was usually some restriction us to the size of holdings in agricultural, pastoral, and mining land. Why not in town and suburban land—the most valuable of all ? The fortune possessor was enabled by the increase of population and trade to become possessed of enormous wealth in the shape of rents, for which he rendered no adequate service to man. The State determined, not only that a man’s interest in his personal property should be subject to limitations; it sometimes affirmed that it should cease altogether. A man invented something of great utility, and he patented it to prevent infringement of his rights; but he was not allowed a privilege and monopoly for an unlimited time. As in industrial inventions, so in art and literature. The copyright law gave the author exclusive rights for about forty years; after that the individual interest ceases, and the community had the full benefit of the work. This principle should be extended still further. When property passed from owner to owner the State had an opportunity of asserting its interests in private property. The history of testamentary disposition of property afforded ample evidence of the wide jurisdiction of the State in regulating the transfer and succession of property, so as to prevent its inequitable distribution in the hands of a family or group of families ; but it should go further than this. After the decease of the individual how should his property be disposed of ? Tenthain, in stating some general principles with regard to the disposition of property on the death of the owner, says that the legislator should have in view the equalisation of fortnuea. The individual was only a trustee; the State was the real owner, and ho thought tho State should have large control in the disposition of property on the decease of the individual. The individual had the power of diverting wealth to any extent, and in any channel he pleased. Who conceded to him the power of saying what was to bo done with it for ever? We all knew how absurdly and capriciously this power was exercised sometimes. After fair provision for natural heirs the amount to bo determined by the Legislature, the surplus should revert to the State for the benefit of the community. Probate duties mean something of this, but they arc far too insignificant. In this and in many other ways, by allowing the State exclusive control in the distribution of wealth, on the one hand, we should have all the advantages arising from the incessant activity and industry of the individual, and, on the other, the security and equalising influence of the State. This interaction and composition of forces would have the effect of greatly improving tho social, moral, and intellectual condition of the people.—(Applause.) Mr W. Hutchisoit, in moving a hearty vote of thanks to Mr White for the intellectual treat he had afforded his hearers, expressed his regret that the audience was not more numerous.

The vote was carried nem. con.. After being duly acknowledged by Mr White the meeting was brought to a close with a vote of thanks to the chairman.

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https://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/newspapers/ESD18890928.2.2

Bibliographic details

LECTURE BY MR WHITE., Issue 8024, 28 September 1889

Word Count
2,210

LECTURE BY MR WHITE. Issue 8024, 28 September 1889

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