Tuesday, November 24, 2015
The Early Pilgrims and the Failure of Socialism by William Starr Myers 1919
The Early Pilgrims and the Failure of Communism by William Starr Myers 1919
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One of the best illustrations of the failure of a practical Socialistic State is that of the "Mayflower" settlement at Plymouth in 1620. In order to raise the money needed for the venture the Pilgrims borrowed seven thousand pounds from seventy London merchants. In order also to provide a species of sinking fund it was decided to accept the suggestion of the creditor merchants that the net earnings of the colonists should go into a common fund for the space of seven years and then should be divided among the shareholders. It should especially be remembered that the Pilgrims were a set of people small in number and as a consequence easy to govern; of a high type of industry and integrity; and that they were united by the strongest of all common and social interests,—that of deep religious conviction. Furthermore, the relative positions in life of the personnel of the entire Plymouth Colony showed a remarkable equality. Their method of living was primitive and most simple in form, without the usual complications of the life of even three hundred years ago, much less of that of today. And yet this communal or Socialistic system in Plymouth resulted in such a marked lack of interest among the inhabitants, the whole arrangement worked so badly, that the settlement verged on failure and destruction. The system virtually was abolished after only three years trial in the year 1623 and good results showed themselves immediately. "Individual effort returned with the prospect of individual gain." The cause of the failure is evident,—the system was opposed to the fundamental facts of human nature.
But what is "human nature"? Let us take a definition from the Socialists themselves. "If the phrase means anything at all, it means man, with his loves and hates, his desire for pleasure and aversion to pain, his noble and ignoble traits, his interests, feelings, beliefs, prejudices, ignorance, knowledge, fears and hopes. All these motives, desires and emotions vary in each individual, some of them usually dominating over the rest, yet all more or less active. Some one or more of them may be cultivated by favorable environment or almost crushed by an unfavorable environment. A saint may be dragged down to hell by adverse conditions and a rake win eminence in the same environment. If the cultured educator . . . was suddenly forced to earn his living in a vile mining center, his polish would soon wear off, and he would brood over a world that now strikes him as on the whole all right. If cast adrift at sea, within a week the wolf stare of hunger would make him and his associates seriously consider casting lots as to who should be eaten. Later the feast might actually begin and . . . human nature find it easy enough to gnaw the shin bone of a fellow castaway. This thing we call human nature is a bundle of emotions and desires that will find expression in different ways, according to the environment in which it is located, as we have seen in the example given." [Quoted from an editorial in the (daily) New York Evening Call, issue for August 29, 1918.]
This is exactly true in thesis, though utterly false in detail. But it is the object of democracy to give equality of opportunity for human nature, starting from the essential point of individual impulse (which is the precise expression of character), to work out the best of which it is capable. On the other hand, it is the object of Socialism, acting through political and economic machinery, to crowd out these varying attributes of human nature and reduce the individual to the mental status of a dull, unthinking animal. Of course human nature always has rebelled against this repression and always will do so in the final analysis. It is impossible for Socialism or any other system of uniform and outward repression to fetter the human soul and it inevitably will fail to do so in the end. It is from an experience of the difficulties and dangers, the unhappiness and injustice that will accompany this process of failure, that the opponents of Socialism and the believers in Democracy wish to spare the people of the world today.
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