Natural History Of Spoliation

Why do I give myself up to that dry science, political economy?

The question is a proper one. All labor is so repugnant in its nature

that one has the right to ask of what use it is.

Let us examine and see.

I do not address myself to those philosophers who, if not in their own

names, at least in the name of humanity, profess to adore poverty.

I speak to those who
old wealth in esteem--and understand by this word,

not the opulence of the few, but the comfort, the well-being, the

security, the independence, the instruction, the dignity of all.

There are only two ways by which the means essential to the

preservation, the adornment and the perfection of life may be

obtained--production and spoliation. Some persons may say: Spoliation

is an accident, a local and transient abuse, denounced by morality,

punished by the law, and unworthy the attention of political economy.

Still, however benevolent or optimistic one may be, he is compelled to

admit that spoliation is practiced on so vast a scale in this world, and

is so generally connected with all great human events, that no social

science, and, least of all, political economy, can refuse to consider


I go farther. That which prevents the perfection of the social system

(at least in so far as it is capable of perfection) is the constant

effort of its members to live and prosper at the expense of each other.

So that, if spoliation did not exist, society being perfect, the social

sciences would be without an object.

I go still farther. When spoliation becomes a means of subsistence for a

body of men united by social ties, in course of time they make a law

which sanctions it, a morality which glorifies it.

It is enough to name some of the best defined forms of spoliation to

indicate the position it occupies in human affairs.

First comes war. Among savages the conqueror kills the conquered, to

obtain an uncontested, if not incontestable, right to game.

Next slavery. When man learns that he can make the earth fruitful by

labor, he makes this division with his brother: You work and I eat.

Then comes superstition. According as you give or refuse me that which

is yours, I will open to you the gates of heaven or of hell.

Finally, monopoly appears. Its distinguishing characteristic is to allow

the existence of the grand social law--service for service--while it

brings the element of force into the discussion, and thus alters the

just proportion between service received and service rendered.

Spoliation always bears within itself the germ of its own destruction.

Very rarely the many despoil the few. In such a case the latter soon

become so reduced that they can no longer satisfy the cupidity of the

former, and spoliation ceases for want of sustenance.

Almost always the few oppress the many, and in that case spoliation is

none the less undermined, for, if it has force as an agent, as in war

and slavery, it is natural that force in the end should be on the side

of the greater number. And if deception is the agent, as with

superstition and monopoly, it is natural that the many should

ultimately become enlightened.

Another law of Providence wars against spoliation. It is this:

Spoliation not only displaces wealth, but always destroys a portion.

War annihilates values.

Slavery paralyzes the faculties.

Monopoly transfers wealth from one pocket to another, but it always

occasions the loss of a portion in the transfer.

This is an admirable law. Without it, provided the strength of

oppressors and oppressed were equal, spoliation would have no end.

A moment comes when the destruction of wealth is such that the despoiler

is poorer than he would have been if he had remained honest.

So it is with a people when a war costs more than the booty is worth;

with a master who pays more for slave labor than for free labor; with a

priesthood which has so stupefied the people and destroyed its energy

that nothing more can be gotten out of it; with a monopoly which

increases its attempts at absorption as there is less to absorb, just as

the difficulty of milking increases with the emptiness of the udder.

Monopoly is a species of the genus spoliation. It has many varieties,

among them sinecure, privilege, and restriction upon trade.

Some of the forms it assumes are simple and naive, like feudal rights.

Under this regime the masses are despoiled, and know it.

Other forms are more complicated. Often the masses are plundered, and do

not know it. It may even happen that they believe that they owe every

thing to spoliation, not only what is left them but what is taken from

them, and what is lost in the operation. I also assert that, in the

course of time, thanks to the ingenious machinery of habit, many people

become spoilers without knowing it or wishing it. Monopolies of this

kind are begotten by fraud and nurtured by error. They vanish only

before the light.

I have said enough to indicate that political economy has a manifest

practical use. It is the torch which, unveiling deceit and dissipating

error, destroys that social disorder called spoliation. Some one, a

woman I believe, has correctly defined it as the safety-lock upon the

property of the people.