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.