On Picket Duty

Switzerland will probably have a government bank. The federal chambers have passed a law providing for such an institution, and a referendum is to be had on the subject. In view of recent State Socialistic tendencies, the ideal democracy will doubtless vote overwhelmingly for money monopoly. Yet our direct legislationists continue to claim that the referendum is the palladium of liberty.

Goldwin Smith has an admirable article in the August number of the North American Review, in which he lays bare the sophistries and hollow pretensions of Kidd, Drummond, and Balfour, the alleged leaders of the alleged reaction against the evolutionary philosophy which newspaper wiseacres have been discovering. The people to whom the houses built upon the sand by Kidd, Drummond, & Co. appear so substantial are those who never had the brains to assimilate the first truths of evolutionary philosophy. To the discoveries of the ignorant there is no limit. Of the past they know nothing, and hence all questions are open to them.

A propos of my recent article on L'Enfant Terrible, I am asked by a correspondent if I would passively see a woman throw her baby into the fire as a man throws his newspaper. I expected that this question would be put to me; hence it finds me prepared. I answer that it is highly probable that I would personally interfere in such a case. But it is as probable, and perhaps more so, that I would personally interfere to prevent the owner of a masterpiece by Titian from applying the torch to the canvas. My interference in the former case no more invalidates the mother’s property right in her child than my interference in the latter case would invalidate the property right of the owner of the painting. If I interfere in either case, I am an invader, acting in obedience to my injured feelings. As such I deserve to be punished. I consider that it would be the duty of a policeman in the service of the defence association to arrest me for assault. On my arraignment I should plead guilty, and it would be the duty of the jury to impose a penalty upon me. I might ask for a light sentence on the strength of the extenuating circumstances, and I believe that my prayer would be heeded. But, if such invasions as mine were persisted in, it would become the duty of the jury to impose penalties sufficiently severe to put a stop to them.

[...?] review of Dr. Shaw’s Municipal Government in Great Britain, the London Economic Journal, a periodical no one will accuse of radicalism, writes as follows: The chief objection which British readers will be inclined to make to the work is that it is altogether too eulogistic. Dr. Shaw admires everything, even the sanitary system of Manchester. He thinks Oldham a fine town. Oldham can justly claim many merits, but certainly the beauty and magnificence suggested by the word fine are not among them. Almost every municipal enterprise, according to Dr. Shaw’s account, is either succcessful or on the point of becoming successful. Doubtless the outside inquirer has some excuse for a too lenient view. He is dependent largely on information furnished to him by people engaged in the business he is describing, and these naturally show him only the best side of things. If by any chance they admit error, he is scarcely in a position to make use of the information. This is very significant. Perhaps a less conservative reviewer would find in the facts (which Mr. Bliss admonishes us to study) even less warrant for eulogy than the Economic Journal. So far only those have testified to the success of what is denominated municipal Socialism who had set out with a bias in its favor or who do not know a fact when they see it. The true account of the English municipal experiments yet remains to be written.

If anybody still doubts that Nordau is crazy, let him read the Forum article, in which Nordau tells society how it may protect itself from the degenerates and check the progress of the malady propagated by them. What do we do with lepers, small-pox victims, and other sufferers from loathsome diseases? he asks. The answer is, of course, that we isolate them, and do not allow them to have any intercourse with the normal members of the community. Well, says Nordau, do the same to the degenerates. He does not, indeed, advocate their imprisonment, but he urges a general boycott of them and their work by the press. It is to the newspapers that he chiefly appeals; to them he looks for the salvation of society. If they should determine to ignore the degenerates and say nothing about their activities, the rising generation would never learn about their existence and would thus escape all danger of contagion. Unless the newspapers undertake this humanitarian work, Nordau sees no salvation for society. Now, isn’t the man who talks such stuff hopelessly crazy? Even the editors laugh at this amazing piece of imbecility. To proclaim the modern editors as the only hope of society beats the record of all lunatic asylums. Let no one think it is merely an attempt of a charlatan to flatter a gullible and vain mob; the extravagance of the conceit is such that it cannot possibly be treated as a hypocritical pretence. No, the fellow meant it, and hopeless lunacy alone can account for it.

The New York saloon-keepers have given up their fight, and have passed resolutions in favor of due and complete submission to the Sunday law. No change of heart is responsible for this decision to sin no more; two or three saloon-keepers had been sentenced by the stern and virtuous Recorder Goff, whose blatant talk shows that he knows very little law and still less logic, to brief terms of imprisonment instead of the usual fine, and their brethren, panic-stricken, fairly fell over each other in the rush to secure the recorder’s favor by pleading guilty and paying light fines. Naturally enough, Roosevelt and his supporters claim a signal triumph for law and order, and congratulate themselves on having conclusively demonstrated to the criminal classes and their allies that laws can be enforced regardless of their unpopularity, provided honest and courageous officials do their duty. As a matter of fact, the result of this fight proves no such thing. Had the saloon-keepers been governed by principle; had they intelligently and deliberately set out to nullify the absurd Sunday law by systematic and organized resistance,—fifty Roosevelts would have been utterly powerless to offer the least opposition. There are eight thousand saloons in New York, it is said; there are, in addition, hotels, restaurants, and other public houses equally interested in defeating laws against the sale of liquors on Sunday: what could the authorities do if even half of this number chose to openly defy the law? It would be impossible even to arrest all the guilty parties, to say nothing of trying them all in accordance with legal requirements. The whole judicial and executive machinery would be utterly demoralized, and, after some vain and ridiculous attempts to cope with such a movement, they would have to acknowledge themselves beaten and surrender to the law-breakers. The reason the Sunday law can be enforced by a Roosevelt is that those immediately concerned in fighting it lack intelligence and unity. The same is true of other tyrannical and antiquated laws doubtless, but this Sunday fight should have made the lesson obvious to the dullest. The decision of the court that saloon-keepers were entitled to trial by jury really meant victory for the latter, but they were not prepared to improve their opportunity. Roosevelt has won, but let him understand why he has won.