Play-House Philanthropy.

Play-House Philanthropy.

[Liberty, November 26, 1881.]

Among the ablest and most interesting contributions to the columns of the Irish World are the sketches of one of its staff correspondents, Honorious, in which that writer, week after week, with all the skill and strategy of a born general, marshals anecdote, illustration, history, biography, fact, logic, and the experiences of every-day life in impregnable line of battle, and precipitates them upon the cohorts of organized tyranny and theft, making irreparable breaches in their fortifications, and spreading havoc throughout their ranks. The ingenuity which he displays in utilizing his material and turning everything to the account of his cause is marvellous. Out of each new fact that falls under his notice, out of each new character with whom he comes in contact, he develops some fresh argument against the system of theft that underlies our so-called civilization, some novel application of the principles that must underlie the coming true society.(167 ¶ 1)

Unless we are greatly mistaken, the latest of his assaults will not prove the least effective, since in it he has improved an excellent opportunity to turn his guns upon enemies nearer home, enemies in the guise of friends. He briefly tells the story of the career of a Yorkshire factory-lord, one Sir Titus Salt, who, through his fortunate discovery of the process of manufacturing alpaca cloth, accumulated an enormous fortune, which he expended in the establishment of institutions for the benefit of his employees and in deeds of general philanthropy. To this man he pays a tribute of praise for various virtues, which, for aught we know, is well deserved. But he supplements it by forcible insistance on the fact that Sir Titus was but a thief after all; that, however great his generosity of heart, it was exercised in the distribution of other people’s earnings; and that his title to exemption from the condemnation of honest men was no better than that of the more merciful of the Southern slave-owners. The importance of this lesson it is impossible to overestimate. Gains are no less ill-gotten because well-given. Philanthropy cannot palliate plunder. Robbery, though it be not born of rapacity, is robbery still. This Sir Titus Salt but serves as a type of a large class of individuals who are ever winning the applause and admiration of a world too prone to accept benevolence and charity in the stead of justice and righteousness.(167 ¶ 2)

Perhaps the most conspicuous example of the class referred to now posing before the world is the man referred to by Honorious in connection and comparison with Sir Titus,—Godin of Guise, the famous founder of the Familisterre. The great Godin of Guise, Honorious styles him; and it is precisely because this clear-headed writer, misinformed as to the real facts, makes him the object of exaggerated and misplaced adulation that the present article is written. Of Sir Titus Salt we could not speak, but of the Familisterre and its founder we can say somewhat that may interest and enlighten their admirers. But first the words of Honorious:(167 ¶ 3)

Sir Titus Salt was the companion, as a noble-souled employer, to that fellow-philanthropist, the great Godin of Guise, who founded the famous social palace known as the Familisterre, although not so grand a character as the renowned Frenchman. Titus Salt was a sectarian. His $80,000 church was for the accommodation of his own sect, and those who held to other creeds found no place of worship from his money. Godin was a grand, liberal soul. Though educated a Catholic, he made the most liberal provision for every shade of belief among his working people, and he despised every form of narrowness and bigotry. Godin, too, was too noble a soul to descend to the arts of the politician, and would have despised himself had he solicited a vote from any of his people. So wonderful was the success of his industrial experiment at Guise that Louis Napoleon became jealous of the possibilities for labor which he had demonstrated, and that despicable fraud and royal scoundrel, Louis the Little, repeatedly went out of his way to hamper his business, and even sought to disenfranchise him.(167 ¶ 4)

Let us see how much of this is true,—if this man is really great, or only a pretender and a sham. It was once our privilege to visit the Familisterre. The visit extended through the better part of a week, and occurred at a very favorable time, including one of the two annual fête days (celebrating Education and Labor) peculiar to the institution. But the impression left on our mind was by no means favorable. The establishment seemed pervaded throughout by an atmosphere of supervision and routine, tempered here and there by awkward attempts at the picturesque. The air of buoyant contentment which the glowing accounts given of the Social Palace would lead one to expect did not characterize the members of the large household to any great extent. The workmen seemed to feel themselves and their class still the victims of oppression. A very slight acquaintance with them was sufficient to reveal the fact that their boss and benefactor does not appear as godlike in their eyes as in those that view him at a distance. In the presence of the inquiring observer their faces assumed an expression that seemed to say: Oh, you think it’s all very pretty, no doubt: no rags here, no dirt; everything clean and orderly, and a moderate degree of external comfort among us all. But all this has to be paid for by somebody, and it is the outside world that foots the bills. Our master has the reputation of being very kind and generous, but he is our master. We enjoy this material welfare at the expense of something of our independence. Besides, he’s got a soft thing of it,—rolling up his millions year by year and excusing himself by distributing a certain proportion of his stealings among us; but he and the rest of us are living very largely on our fellow-laborers elsewhere, out of whose pockets these immense profits come.(167 ¶ 5)

And actual questioning proved that their faces told the truth. Inability to converse fluently in French prevented us from inquiring closely into details; but from an intelligent young Russian visiting the place at the same time and on much the same mission as ourselves, whose knowledge of French and English was excellent, we elicited information quite sufficient. The more intelligent of the workmen had told him confidentially just what we had read in their faces as stated above, not a few of them confessing that M. Godin, who at that time was a member of the National Chamber of Deputies, held his seat by a method strikingly similar to that which in Massachusetts the Boston Herald is wont to apologize for as civilized bulldozing,—that is, prior to election day he contrived to have it understood among his employees that a convenient opportunity would be found for the discharge of such of them as should fail to vote for him, no matter what their previous political affiliations or present political beliefs. And yet Honorious says (or seems to hint) that he is not ambitious, and Honorious is an honorable man. Hundreds of thousands of honorable men share the same delusion,—for a delusion it certainly is.(167 ¶ 6)

A strange sort of philanthropist, this! A singular nobility of soul is M. Godin’s! His religious liberality referred to by Honorious evidently does not extend into his business and politics. Here is a man, ingenious, shrewd, calculating, with large executive capacity and something of a taste for philosophy, who discovers an industrial process which, through a monopoly guaranteed by the patent laws, he is enabled to carry on at an enormous profit; he employs hundreds of operatives; for them and their families he builds a gigantic home, which he dignifies by the name of a palace, though it needs but a few bolts and bars to make it seem more like a prison, so cheerless, formal, and forbidding is its gloomy aspect; he distributes among them a portion of the profits, perhaps to quiet his conscience, perhaps to become noted for fair dealing and philanthropy; the balance—more than sufficient to satisfy the ordinary manufacturer subject to competition—he complacently pockets, putting forth, meanwhile, the ridiculous pretence that he holds this fund as a trustee; finally, knowing nothing of Liberty and Equity and sneering at their defenders, he professes to think that he can regenerate the world by the fanciful and unsound schemes of education that he spends his leisure hours in devising and realizing, supporting them with wealth gained by theft, power gained by indirect bribery and bulldozing, and popularity gained by pretence and humbuggery. Nevertheless, for doing this the whole humanitarian world and not a few hard-headed reformers bow down and worship him! Even clear-sighted Honorious heaps honors on his head. But Honorious knows, and does not fail to emphasize, the true lesson of the man’s life, which is that the impending social revolution has certain fixed principles behind it; that one of these principles is, Thou shalt not steal; that any scheme by which a single individual becomes inordinately rich, whether as proprietor or trustee (unless the trust be purely voluntary), is necessarily carried on in violation of that principle; and that whoever prosecutes it as in accordance with that principle thereby proves himself either too ignorant or too insincere to be allowed to serve, much less to lead, in the revolutionary movement. Such a man is of the plunderers, and should be with them. Idol-smashing is no enviable task; but to unmask the pretensions of play-house philanthropists whose highest conception of distributive justice seems to be the sharing with a fortunate few of goods stolen from the many is a service that, however disagreeable, is of prime necessity in the realization of that Equity which distributes to each the product of his labor and that Liberty which renders it impossible for one to reap the profit of another’s toil.(167 ¶ 7)