The Early Literature of Socialism by Daniel Joseph Ryan 1920
From the book Historic Failures in Applied Socialism
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THE ideal commonwealth wherein everyone shares equally in property, profits and opportunity has been the dream of humanity. The iridescent mirage of a state without poverty, where there was no injustice, no wrong-doing, no unmerited suffering, and where the citizenship was a brotherhood living under laws that produced universal happiness has been the ambitious project of socialism that has led millions of innocent and well-meaning souls into a state of confusion, far away from the paths of sound thinking.
Long before the modern socialist sought to make it a question of sociology or of government this "NeverNever Land" of human happiness was the theme of poetic thinkers and philosophical dreamers. When they were aroused to discontent by imperfect and unjust social relations, when they saw the greed of man oppressing the poor and the gross injustice of the ruling classes, their aspirations and ideals were bound to break into articulate expression. Thus the sentimental genesis of such ideas forced their way into the literature of our race in philosophic dissertations or poetical fiction. First, men think of things, then they write of them, and as a result they carry them into action. This evolution of aspiration, expression and performance is the history of every human movement. Nor can there be accurate historic narration without these antecedents as a background. Therefore a summarized review of the literature having for its purpose the exposition of the idealized or socialized state is necessary to a full understanding of the unsuccessful attempts at socialism.
The protagonist in this class of literature is Plato, who in his Republic created an ideal state, but like a true logician he first created an ideal people, and so made it a perfect commonwealth. In this work, which is his acknowledged masterpiece, he expresses himself through Socrates, who in his lifetime was the teacher of Plato. Thus the spirit of Socrates, conversing with companions, is the vehicle for Plato's thoughts. In tracing the rise of a state he says: "Man, isolated from his fellowmen, is not self-sufficient. Hence the origin of society, and of the state, which requires the concurrence of four or five men at least, who establish the first elements of a division of labor, which becomes more minute as the members of the community increase. Thus the society comprises at first only husbandmen, builders, clothiers, shoemakers. To these are soon added carpenters, smiths, shepherds, graziers. Gradually a foreign trade arises, which necessitates increased production at home, in order to pay for the imported goods. Production carried out on so large a scale will form into existence a class of distributors, shops and a currency. Thus the state requires merchants, sailors, shopkeepers and hired laborers.
"A state, thus constituted, will be well supplied with the necessaries of life, if its members do not multiply too rapidly for its resources. But if it is to be supplied with the luxuries, as well as the necessaries, of life, it must contain in addition cooks, confectioners, barbers, actors, dancers, poets, physicians, etc. It will therefore require a larger territory, and this want may involve it in a war with its neighbors. But war implies soldiers, and soldiers must be carefully trained to their profession. Hence the state must possess a standing army, or class of Guardians."
These Guardians, Plato says, must be selected with reference to high qualities. "They must be strong, swift and brave; high spirited but gentle; and endowed with a taste for philosophy." They must not own any property, for otherwise they might become avaricious, and instead of being watchdogs they will almost be sure to become wolves. They must live a hardy, frugal life, quartered in tents, not houses, and be supported by the contributions of the other citizens. They must be scrupulously educated; truth, courage and self-control must be inculcated from childhood. Their speech must be simple and severe. They must be educated in music —in songs, harmonies and musical instruments. No soft or enervating music will be allowed them, and only the simplest instruments—the lyre, the guitar and the pipe shall be used." After music the Guardians must be trained in gymnastics. Their diet must be simple and moderate, and therefore healthy, the object being to make them independent of physicians except in case of accident or acute illness.
From the Guardians thus educated and disciplined are selected the magistrates of the states—the lawmakers, law interpreters and law enforcers. They must be the oldest, the wisest, the ablest and the most patriotic members of that body. These constitute the real Guardians—the remainder are called the Auxiliaries— the soldiers. The laborers and craftsmen are called Producers.
It is evident that Plato had some knowledge of the institutions of Sparta, to which we shall afterwards refer, for we find him incorporating into his imaginary state some of the principal practices and institutions that obtained among the Spartans. For instance, he provided for what we should now-a-days call the "nationalization of women." There was a community of sexual relations entirely aside from the marriage state, based upon good health and desirable offspring, foreshadowing the modern aspirations of eugenics. He therefore regulated the sexual association with the greatest detail. He regarded children as the property of the state, the purpose being to perpetuate a healthy race, and he required the defective ones, to use his own words "to be concealed in some mysterious and unknown hiding place." The state of Plato, unlike that of Sparta, was intended to be a highly intellectual community, and therefore the greatest attention was paid to education and the development of the intellectual and spiritual side of its inhabitants. Hence the state undertook to develop in the highest degree the arts and sciences.
Thus Plato created his perfect state with three orders: the Guardians, or ruling class; the Auxiliaries, or military class; and the Producers, or working class. He makes Socrates, by his well-known method of question and answer, prove that it is the truest and most beneficent state for man. Plato, a philosopher with the soul of a poet, died in the year 347 before Christ. He was the first writer of antiquity who advocated a project for a socialistic community where man should live for his species and not for himself, but his work was without fruit except to plant the thought in other minds; but it is a masterpiece of mingled metaphysics and idealism, of reasoning and romance. He has had great influence on imaginative literature and social evolution, and has suggested to the reformers of subsequent ages much of their impracticable movements.
But there were philosophers and writers under Christianity that had the same longing views of an ideal community as Plato had, and we find them expressing themselves in the form of some of the most brilliant writings of their time. The most remarkable and impressive of these productions was written by Sir Thomas More, the Lord High Chancellor of England. He lived in the reign of Henry VIII, a very turbulent and tumultuous period of English history; he was a great character, a profound philosopher, and a brilliant writer. Seeing the disturbed and unequal conditions of the times, he wrote Utopia the creation of an imaginary people who lived upon an island, and enjoyed a happy welfare of being, socially, industrially, intellectually and religiously, in a community in which the labor class was made the basis. He foreshadowed things that have happened in our day—short hours of labor, sanitary reform, healthful recreation, popular education, just principles of penal law, religious toleration, a concord and friendship of nations. This he pictured out in the most romantic style, which appeared to him as an idealism that would never come true, but which future generations have all seen turn into facts. As a piece of literature it is intensely worthy of study, and is of great interest and instruction.
In Utopia there was no private property, no money, no rich and no poor; all shared alike; there was no crime, because there was no inducement to crime. All the produce raised from the land was controlled by public authority; it was dispensed to the people for immediate use or preserved for the future. Every man and woman worked. The hours of labor were reduced to a minimum, and the leisure hours were employed under direction of the state in the cultivation of the arts and sciences, especially music, since intellectual pleasure is considered the highest form of enjoyment.
Sir Thomas More's book was regarded in his day as a satire on existing conditions in England, and an indirect argument for the reconstruction of English society. He did not dare print it in Great Britain, so he published it at Louvain in 1516.
Another book that created a great impression in England at the time of its production, was Sir Francis Bacon's New Atlantis, written in 1629, more than a century after the appearance of More's Utopia. Lord Bacon's social philosophy was embodied in this publication. It followed somewhat the lines of Utopia. It was built upon a humane philosophy, and constructed a state based upon kindness and compassion towards the distressed, and its purpose was to open a way to the liberal thought of England to do something in that direction. Bacon's speculations were bold and original, but they were not impracticable. Macaulay's essay reviewing Lord Bacon's works, says of New Atlantis that "some parts, and not the least startling parts, of the glorious vision have been accomplished, even according to the letter, and the whole construed according to the spirit is daily accomplishing all around us." Both More's Utopia and Bacon's New Atlantis are exceedingly romantic in their contents, and are written in brilliant literary style. Among the attractive incidents of Bacon's romance is "Solomon's House," a combination of a college and museum, dedicated to the study of the works and creations of God. Of his description of this, Macaulay says "that there is not to be found in any human composition a passage more eminently distinguished by profound and serene wisdom."
Contemporaneous with the New Atlantis was the City of the Sun, by Thomas Campanella, who was a Dominican monk. This work was written in Spain, and notwithstanding that he was defended by Pope Urban VIII, he suffered much on account of the opinions expressed, but it was in the same nature and spirit of all the writers that have endeavored to formulate their idealistic views, and bears in many respects a striking resemblance to More's Utopia.
There is another work of a more modern type than these which we have been discussing, and of more interest from the fact that it is directly connected with the United States. This is A Voyage to Icaria, by a Frenchman named Etienne Cabet. It follows the general lines of the idealistic philosophy similar to the literature of this nature from Plato down. The government of Icaria was pictured as a democratic commonwealth, with community of goods, cooperative industrialism, progressive income tax, state regulation of wages, national work shops, agricultural colonies, political freedom, liberal education and equality of the sexes. It prohibited the publication of any newspapers except the official journal of the state. The work was received by the starved proletariat of France with joyful acclaim, and they looked with anxiety and longing upon the prospect of a future society where capitalists could no longer domineer over the sons of toil, or put to their own uses the profits of labor. The book created a profound impression; the author was regarded with great enthusiasm, and his system was cried for by the multitude.
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