Virtues and vices and other essays in moral philosophy …
Virtues and Vices: And Other Essays in Moral Philosophy
There is very much more to be said as regards this matter of state power and state interference with the lives of men. I ought to point out the extravagance and bad management of state departments. It is not often that we see people spend the money that belongs to others either quite honestly or quite intelligently, and state departments are no exception to the rule. I ought to point out the jobbery and the stupidity that so often cling to state undertakings; the unfitness of the agents that governments are obliged to employ; the necessarily bad methods, whether by competition or official nomination, of selecting them; the unfitness of the universal systems which are applied to all parts of a nation, to those who ought by the very law of their being to be differing from each other, and yet are forced to be alike; the dull, heavy routine into which these undertakings fall within a few years after they have been commenced and have ceased to attract public attention–a routine only broken by the spasmodic revolutions in their management to which they are subject, when some flagrant abuse brings them now and again under the public eye. I ought to point out how reckless in all countries becomes the rivalry of the great political parties which hope to obtain the good things that go under the name of office; the increasing deterioration of the people when invited on all hands to judge everything from the one standpoint of their own immediate advantage; the inconsistency of what is said and done by each party, when acting as government or as opposition, and the hypocrisy that is begotten while they serve their own interests under the cloak of the interests of the people. I ought to point out how heavy and sore a discouragement for labor is the load of taxation, that is thrown upon the nation to support all the grand institutions, which politicians love to look at as their own handiwork; and I ought to show that the really successful nation in the industrial competition that is now springing up so fiercely between all nations will be the one that has fewest taxes, fewest officials, and fewest departments to support, and at the same time possesses the greatest power in its individual units to adapt themselves readily to the industrial changes that come so quickly in the present day. I ought to show you that all that encourages routine, dislike of change, dependence upon external authority and direction, is fatal to this habit of self-adaptation, and that this self-adaptation can only come where the free life is led. I ought to show that all great uniform systems–clumsy and oppressive as they must always be in their rude attempt to embrace every part of a nation–clumsy and oppressive, for example, as our education system and our Poor Law system are—are always tending (sometimes in very subtle and unsuspected ways) to stupefy and brutalize a nation in character; and, as far as the richer classes are concerned, to destroy those kindly feelings, that sympathy for the pains of others, and that readiness to help those who need help, which grow, and only can grow, on a free soil. If by official regulations you prescribe for me my moral obligations toward others, you may be sure that in a short time my own moral feelings will cease to have any active share in the matter. They will soon learn to accept contentedly the official limit you have traced for them, and to drowse on, unexercised because unrequired, within that limit. Indeed, I believe that if you only taxed us enough, for so-called benevolent purposes, you would presently succeed in changing all the really generous men into stingy men. Again I ought to show how all great uniform state systems are condemned by our knowledge of the laws of nature. It has been owing to the differences of form that come into existence that the ever-continuous improvement of animal and plant life has taken place; the better fitted form beating and replacing the less-fitted form. But our great uniform systems, by which the state professes to serve the people, necessarily exclude difference and variety; and in excluding difference and variety, exclude also the means of improvement. I ought to show how untrue is the cry against competition. I ought to show that competition has brought benefits to men tenfold–nay, a hundredfold–greater than the injuries it has inflicted; that every advantage and comfort of civilized life has come from competition; and that the hopes of the future are inseparably bound up with the still better gifts which are to come from it and it alone. I ought to show, even if this were not so, even if competition were not a power fighting actively on your side, that still your efforts would be vain to defeat or elude it. I ought to show that all external protection, all efforts to place forcibly that which is inferior on the same level as that which is superior, is a mere dream, born of our ignorance of nature's methods. The great laws of the world cannot change for any of us. There is but one way, one eternally fixed way, and no other, of meeting the skill, or the enterprise, or the courage, or the frugality, or the greater honesty that beats us in any path of life, whether it be in trade or in social life, in accumulating wealth or in following knowledge, in opening out new countries or in conquering old vices, and that way is to develop the same qualities in ourselves. The law is absolute, and from it there is no appeal. No Chinese walls, no system based upon exclusion and disqualification and suppression, can do this thing for us; can bring efficiency to a level with inefficiency, and leave progress possible. I ought to show how far more flexible, adaptive, and efficient a weapon of progress is voluntary combination than enforced combination; how every want that we have will be satisfied by means of voluntary combination, as we grow better fitted to make use of this great instrument; whether it be to provide against times of depression in trade and want of employment, of sickness, of old age; whether it be to secure to every man his own home and his own plot of ground; or to place within his reach the higher comforts and the intellectual luxuries of life.
Virtues and vices and other essays in moral philosophy
Nature has disseminated her blessings variously throughout this continent. Some parts of it are favorable to some things, others to others; some colonies are best calculated for grain, others for flax and hemp, others for cotton, and others for live stock of every kind. By this means a mutually advantageous intercourse may be established between them all. If we were to turn our attention from external to internal commerce, we should give greater stability and more lasting prosperity to our country than she can possibly have otherwise. We should not then import the luxuries and vices of foreign climes; nor should we make such hasty strides to public corruption and depravity.