Summary and Conclusion
Although man shares many of his faculties with the rest of animal creation, he only possesses others, or enjoys them in a greater degree. This advantage, coupled with an organism peculiarly adapted to the practical application of any faculty, completes the endowment by which he was enabled to rise superior to all rivals, and to achieve civilisation. Man is the subject of our investigations, and it is unnecessary to discuss whether his superiority is due to one final act of creation, or whether it is no more than the product of a lengthy process of evolution, triumphant issue of an Intelligence clothed in material form. For present purposes, we need investigate nothing more than—"What was the environment in which this being was placed, and what is the scope of his activities?"
Man is an organism composed of matter and vital forces, and failure to nourish these forces entails waste and ultimate destruction. The consequence of this need—the need of sustenance or consumable material—implies the corresponding necessity of production. The environment in which mankind has been placed also contains a destructive principle entailing the need for security, or a means of assuring safety. Proof of this twofold need is to be found in the suffering which follows any loss of vitality.
Man suffers whenever he experiences a sense of these needs, but each satisfaction of their demands is accompanied by a feeling of pleasure. They can be satisfied by two kinds of labour—labour productive of materials which minister to vitality; destructive labour, or such actions as eliminate beings and things which menace it. But labour, of whichever class, involves an investment of vital force, consequently a pain. Man will not, therefore, labour unless his action procures, or assures, an amount of vitality superior to his expenditure, or unless the amount of pleasure derived, or suffering avoided, is greater than the liability incurred. It is this margin of gain, commonly known as "interest," which provides the stimulus of human, no less than of all other, action.
This hope of a margin of gain is the first part of the stimulus exerted by interest. The man who has become a producer immediately wishes to satisfy his need of sustenance, or security, at the least outlay of labour; or—stated from the other side—the producer endeavours to secure a constantly increasing return for the same outlay. But even this impulse would not, taken alone, suffice to impel man to perfect his means of production or destruction. Every such advance implies effort, a supplementary outlay of vital force with its accompaniment of pain. Nothing but increased effort or pain will induce a man to agree to this additional outlay, and the complementary stimulus, which is the essential condition of all progress, is found in the competition for mere life. Competition for life, for the means of sustenance, began when the multiplication of humanity outran the means of natural subsistence. In the ensuing struggle with rival species or varieties the physically strong became victors, and survived at the expense of the physically weaker. But physical strength is by no means the sole criterion of ability, and the weak were immediately impelled to make every effort to remedy their physical deficiencies by the invention of new methods, improved arms, or tools. Competition became the motive of progress, for the one depended upon the other, and the penalty of remaining stationary, still more of retrogression, was total lack of subsistence, a maximum suffering.
The action of the competitive principle upon the early stages of human existence has been traced in this book. Man, face to face with species of superior strength and endowed with more efficient natural weapons, learned to co-operate and to combine. Natural weapons were supplemented with artificial, weaker individuals destroyed that the stronger might obtain a more plentiful supply of food, and when it was finally discovered that more profit was to be gained by enslaving the weak and systematically exploiting their productive capacities, instead of spoiling and destroying, this discovery opened a new and fruitful era of progress, for it involved the formation of political States.
The struggle for existence was now transferred to a new plane. The proprietary association in these enterprises—the political States—competed with such communities as continued to live by the chase and war; finally, State opposed State. The proprietary association in each State subsisted on the nett product of its subject populations, and as this was taken, whether wholly or in part, in the form of forced labour, imposts, or payments in kind, the master naturally desired to enlarge his possessions in order to increase his income. The stronger State did this at the expense of the weaker, and the era of destructive competition—of the State of War—was thus continued on a new and larger scale, victory inclining as before to the side which disposed of the largest forces, the greatest sum of destructive ability. A State is, however, a complex unit. It needs a government—an organisation suited to the conservation and development of its forces, and able to concentrate and control their action; an army—a body capable of attaining the greatest possible powers of destruction; also a population, sufficiently industrious and economical to furnish the means of supporting, and applying, the destructive apparatus of the army. The scale of these advances increases with every development of the army, and every advance, under whatever head, in the various powers of rival States.
States, which were able to perfect these various elements to the highest pitch, proved conquerors in the State of War, acquired a decisive superiority over the barbarians whose inroads they ceased to fear, and became masters of the world. This result entailed yet another, unimagined by any one of the competitors, and no less than the secure establishment of civilisation. War, here, ceases to be the producer of security and loses all justification; its use vanishes and it becomes harmful.
The fact that war has become useless is not, however, sufficient to secure its cessation. It is useless because it ceases to minister to the general and permanent benefit of the species, but it will not cease until it also becomes unprofitable, till it is so far from procuring benefit to those who practise it, that to go to war is synonymous with embracing a loss.
A consideration of modern wars from this aspect produces two opposite replies. Every State includes a governing class and a governed class. The former is interested in the immediate multiplication of employments open to its members, whether these be harmful or useful to the State, and also desires to remunerate these officials at the best possible rate. But the majority of the nation, the governed class, pays for the officials, and its only desire is to support the least necessary number. A State of War, implying an unlimited power of disposition over the lives and goods of the majority, allows the governing class to increase State employments at will—that is, to increase its own sphere of employment. A considerable portion of this sphere is found in the destructive apparatus of the civilised State—an organism which grows with every advance in the power of the rivals. In time of peace the army supports a hierarchy of professional soldiers, whose career is highly esteemed, and is assured if not particularly remunerative. In time of war the soldier obtains an additional remuneration, more glory, and an increased hope of professional advancement, and these advantages more than compensate the risks which he is compelled to undergo. In this way a State of War continues to be profitable both to the governing class as a whole, and to those officials who administer and officer the army. Moreover, every industrial improvement increases this profit, for the enormous late increase in the wealth which nations derive from this source necessitates enlarged armaments, but also permits the imposition of heavier imposts.
But while the State of War has become more and more profitable to the class interested in the public services, it has become more burdensome and more injurious to the infinite majority which only consumes those services. In time of tranquillity it supports the burden of the armed peace, and the abuse, by the governing class, of the unlimited power of taxation necessitated by the State of War, intended to supply the means of national defence, but perverted to the profit of government and its dependents. The case of the governed is even worse in time of war. Whatever the issue of the struggle, and receiving none of the compensation afforded in previous ages, when a war ensured its safety from attack by the barbarian, it supports an immediate increase in the taxes, and a future and semi-permanent increase in the interest on loans, those inseparable accidents of modern war, and also the indirect losses which accompany the disorganisation of trade—injuries whose effects become more far-reaching with every extension in the time and area covered by modern commercial relations.
The human balance sheet under a State of War thus favours the governor at the expense of the governed, nor can the most cursory glance at the budgets of civilisation—especially if directed to their provisions for the service of National Debts—fail to perceive to which quarter, and in how large a degree, that balance inclines. This, in itself, affords no guarantee that the State of War is nearing an end, for the governing class, under present conditions, disposes of a far more formidable power than that immense, but, as we may call it, amorphous strength, which is dormant in the masses. They, as no one may deny, have often risen against governments extorting too high a price for their services, or threatening to overwhelm them with intolerable burdens, but the success of such movements seldom results in more than a change of masters, and the new governing class has usually been larger and of inferior quality. The result of these revolutions has been what it always must be—augmented burdens and a recrudescence of the State of War.
Nevertheless, this State of War must come to its inevitable conclusion. It continuously and, one may say, automatically drains the resources of the governed, and, since it is these resources which support the governing class, that class must eventually find itself face to face with the end. The same influences that maintain the State of War, though long since effete, will then close it, and humanity will enter a new and better period of existence, the period of Peace and Liberty. We have already attempted to sketch the political and economic organisation which will follow, built upon understanding of the motive forces and natural laws which govern human action. The difference between this organisation and the socialistic programme is singularly essential—it will observe, while theirs denies, these laws.
One question remains before we can conclude—the question of the respective parts played by natural laws and the law of human liberty in effecting this immense achievement. And, finally, we should also inquire the end for which this work has been carried out—a work which has raised mankind, moving him ever further and further from his first state of animalism, his equality with the beasts that perish.
Natural laws have played the higher part, for they have been the determinants of that progress which is summed up in the single word—Civilisation. Stage by stage, they have compelled man to advance under penalty of decadence and destruction. The different communities, together forming the human race, have been driven forward by successive applications of the principle of competition for an existence, to invent and apply forms and methods of government, of destruction and production. The forms and methods succeeded each other in response to new demands, and each was the most perfect devisable by the age in which it appeared. That they should be the best possible, the most efficient and most powerful—should, that is to say, conform in the highest possible degree to the Law of the Economy of Power, needs no insistence. That it was so does not, however, deny any part to the free action of mankind. Such action is subject to physical and economic laws. Man may or may not build in accordance with the law of gravity, but disobedience to that law involves the early dissolution of his buildings. Similarly, his actions may or may not conform to economic laws, but societies failing to respond to the calls of competition, wasting their forces, individually or collectively, instead of preserving and developing them, must fall into decline, and give place to nations which have lived in obedience to economic demands. These conditions have ruled the past, and they must rule the future, but the evolution of the species has tended to a continual advance in the results of individual action, whether upon the particular society of which the individual is a member or upon humanity as a whole. This was not so in the beginning. The intelligence and will of a directing minority were then everything. They led or gave laws, and a passive multitude followed without thought, and without attempting to use its potential power of control. A like system too often prevails at this day. But when the obligations imposed by a State of War have once ceased to exist, when the sphere of collective government has been reduced to its natural limits, and individual action has obtained perfect freedom, the influence of individuals upon the destinies of society and the race will rapidly increase. But this increase will entail fuller knowledge, and far more rigorous observance, of the laws which society breaks to perish.
And now—to what purpose has the mighty edifice of Civilisation been reared? Laws, never made by man, have compelled a continual enlargement of his powers over things natural. Happiness is not that end, for if progress has reduced the suffering and increased the pleasures of the race, no one can maintain that increased pleasure has been the reward of those who have actually achieved advances, nor deny that the present has too often suffered in hope of a future good. Less suffering and more pleasure may be accidents of progress, but they are not its end and purpose. Nor can we define that purpose more clearly than by saying that it is the enlargement of human powers to fit men for a future of which they have no knowledge.