Between Man and Man.

From: The Creed of Kinship (1935)
Author: Henry S. Salt
Published: Constable & Co Ltd 1935 London


  “I don’t care how the poor live; my only regret is that they live at all.” (GEORGE MOORE.)

  As far as physical injuries and sufferings are concerned, the close kinship existing between man and man is now largely rercognised. One of the best of O. Henry’s stories is that entitled “Makes the Whole World Kin,” in which he very brilliantly shows how rheumatism can be a kindly link between even the burglar and the householder, and there is seriousness, as well as humour, in the proposition. In dealing with actual personal maladies, whatever their cause, whether they result from disease, or from accident, or have been purposely inflicted in warfare, the assertion might be made with some approach to truth that the claims of kinship have been established.

  But unfortunately there are other pains, other wrongs, less visible to the eye, but equally harmful in themselves, which need for their removal a much fuller understanding of what is ultimately implied in brotherhood, and it is of these that I have to speak. I refer to the ills caused by that social injustice under which one man, one class, is permitted to grow rich, to find ease and enjoyment, through the labour, and therefore at the expense and suffering of others. It is here that the creed of kinship has yet to make itself felt.

  I do not in the least mean to suggest that there will ever be a pretence of an affection which in the nature of things could not subsist between folk who dwell apart; for that would be merely mawkish, and all sentimentality has here to be set aside. What is meant is that in a happier age than any the world has yet seen it will be possible, and indeed necessary, that each individual, while not less conscious than now of the claims of relationship or of neighbourhood, shall also be moved by a wider regard for the well-being of others—of those who are at present looked upon as “outsiders”—and by a determination that they shall not be sacrificed to any interests, or supposed interests, of his own.

  Are they now sacrificed, it may be asked and this brings us to the social question—when huge sums are annually spent on hospitals, and refuges, and generally for the relief of those who have fallen in life’s struggle? They are; for no amount of charities can ever make up for the absence of just conditions, and just conditions cannot be said to exist in an age when one class is able to exploit another, and in lands where the richer persons live by the labour of the poorer. How else do they live? It is plain that they live somehow, and that it is not on bank-notes or coinage. Admirable as it is, for example, that hospitals should be provided by the benevolence of the well-to-do, and great as is the immediate boon thus bestowed, it is plain, if the facts are faced, that so-called “charities” are ultimately paid for by the very class on whom they are bestowed!

  When Mr. George Moore, for instance, in his Confessions, represented his “blithe modern pagan” as using the words that I have prefixed to this chapter (amazing indeed!), and as then giving the beggar a shilling, he surely overlooked the fact that it is on the poor, and the work of the poor, that the blithe modern pagan himself lives—what else can he live on?—and that without their aid he would fare very ill indeed.

  A real sense of kinship would prompt all kindly persons not merely to mitigate the consequences of unjust social conditions, at whatever cost to themselves (and the cost would be heavy), but to confront and remove the cause. “Pauper,” as Richard Jefferies insisted, is an “inexpressibly wicked word.” It is not the well-to-do man who is the real sustainer of nations.

  There is much talk nowadays about what are called “the Charities.” Without the least wish to undervalue the great charitable work that is done in this country, thanks to the generosity and unselfishness of individuals, the fact remains that it is a recognition of the Decencies, even more than of the Charities, that is needed for the welfare of the nation. For excellent as it is to provide homes, and hospitals, and remedies of every sort, physical or spiritual, for the overworked, such alleviations are but tampering with the trouble while people are overworked—that is to say, so long as the burden of work is borne mainly by one class and evaded by another.

  Of late years there has been much controversy concerning what is named “the dole,” sometimes “the demoralising dole,” as it is called by those who (themselves comfortably off) object to the granting of allowances; and it could be wished that in such discussions folk who believe in the kinship of mankind would draw more attention than they have hitherto done to the important, and indeed essential fact that doles are not only of the one sort that we are accustomed to hear so much of, but that all persons living on unearned incomes are themselves in receipt of what is actually a dole, by whatever specious name it may be called.

  There can be nothing meaner than the talk about the demoralising effect of the dole, that is, of the allowance made to poor men who are out of work, when those who complain are often themselves well-to-do folk who have never been in work, but are living on the labour of others under the pleasant garb of “private means.” As Henry Thoreau, that uncompromising individualist, wrote many years ago: “What an army of non-producers society produces! Many think themselves well employed as charitable dispensers of wealth which somebody else earned; and those who produce nothing, being of the most luxurious habits, are precisely those who want the most, and complain loudest when they do not get what they want.” Such persons are as certainly “on the dole” as any working man ever was; yet it is largely from their class that the outcry proceeds. The situation, if it were frankly faced, would be seen to have its humorous, as well as its tragic side. If economy is to be enforced, let it be remembered that there is a Rich Man’s Dole as well as a poor man’s, and that it is much less excusable.

  As has been pointed out by Mr. Bernard Shaw, “to live on what is called an independent income, without working, is to live the life of a thief”1; and indeed, when one thinks of it, even work done under such conditions is rather a method of appeasing one’s own self-respect than of making any return to the party whose pocket has suffered! It is they who in either case are the losers.

  The Christian churches now seem to regard it as their mission to preach a passive content and acquiescence; but it has not always been so, for as Lecky pointed out in his History of European Morals (ii, 86) some of the early Fathers “proclaimed charity to be a matter not of mercy, but of justice, maintaining that all property is based on usurpation, that the earth by right is common to all men, and that no man can claim a superabundant supply of its goods, except as an administrator for others.” This, it may be said, is “Communism”; but unless we are to be frightened by a word, it is the very practical question that a future generation will have to solve; and if a real sense of kinship is ever developed between man and fellow-man it is difficult to see what conclusion can be arrived at except that of those early and genuinely religious Fathers.

  Truth, indeed, may yet be found in the words of an old writer:2

  “There is something in human nature, resulting from our very make and constitution, which renders us obnoxious to the pains of others, causes us to sympathise with them, and almost comprehends us in their case. It is grievous to see or hear (and almost to hear of) any man, or even any animal whatever, in torture.”

  Note the contrast between that early pronouncement and the encyclicals of the Pope, in which all forms of socialism are denounced, and the inviolable right of private property maintained.3 To appeal to the rich and the poor alike, to accept their relative stations in life, has a specious sound to those by whom the central fact is ignored but can deceive no one who has realised that it is the toiler, the producer of the wealth, who “keeps” the moneyed man, not the moneyed man who “keeps” the toiler, and that the folk who do not themselves work, but are said to “give work “ to others, and who take credit for doing so (there is a humorous side even to so grim a subject as this!), are actually supported by the workers are themselves dependent on charity. As in Edwin Markham’s fine poem, The Sower:

“He is the stone rejected, yet the stone
Whereon is built metropolis and throne.
Out of his toil come all their pompous shows,
Their purple luxury and plush repose;
The grime of this bruised hand keeps tender white
The hands that never labour, day nor night.
His feet that know only the field’s rough floors
Send lordly steps down echoing corridors.”

  And as an instrument for calculating a man’s merits and deserts, it is difficult to imagine anything less trustworthy than “money”; piled up, and passed on, as it often is, from parent to child, from generation to generation—how can it be justly “inherited.” The newspapers lately reported a case where an Englishman was recognised as the sole heir to a vast estate in a foreign country, the property of a relative who had died many years before, and pointed out how the fortunate gentleman had thus at last come into “his own.” His own! One would have thought it was somebody else’s. In view of such doings, how absurd is the objection often raised against socialistic ideas, that if they prevailed, mankind would suffer from a loss of individuality!

  But let everyone speak for himself. I cannot honestly pretend that I ever tried hard to obtain work; and such work as I did obtain, at a public school, was so highly paid as to make an early retirement possible, a great deal more possible than, say, in the case of a manual or genuine worker. I have thus been in receipt of the dole, the pleasant form of dole, for full half a century; and if by living very simply, and doing for myself some of the work that is usually done by servants, I have somewhat lessened the amount of the dole, the fact is not materially altered thereby.

  A word must here be said on one very common misunderstanding. It is evident that a faith based on kinship must largely breed compassion; but it should not be forgotten, as it often is, that the sense of kinship means much more than compassion. It is not only what is called “altruism” that makes us shrink from wronging a fellow-being, whether human or sub-human; there is a higher egoism which does the same. We avoid a selfish act because, when once it is clearly apprehended, it becomes intolerable to ourselves.

  There is no worse misapprehension of the humanitarian faith than the notion that it is mere “sentiment,”4 due wholly to a self-sacrificing regard for others, whereas in fact it is equally to satisfy his own needs, his own instincts, that a humane man revolts from savage practices. Humaneness is not a dead external precept, but a living impulse from within; not self-sacrifice, but self-fulfilment.

  I would like to close this chapter with an expression of deep gratitude to the great public benefactors to whom we all owe so much; by whom I do not mean the rich persons who, having inherited or accumulated wealth, occasionally bequeath large sums for charitable purposes—to endow a hospital perhaps, or some other needed institution. The philanthropists I have in mind are not those well-to-do ones kind and generous as they personally are (for: as I have said, they do but give from what they have been given), but the millions of poor unknown workers, whose labour, unrecognized and unrewarded, has kept so many of us others living in comfort and ease, while their life has been one of anxiety and toil. It is to them, I think, the thanks of the community are due, and to them, when the facts are rightly apprehended, our thanks will be given.

1 The Intelligent Woman’s Guide to Socialism and Capitalism, p. 457. See Mr. Punch’s cartoon of 1843, reprinted by the New Leader, of July 30th, 1926, “with apologies to his respectable descendant.”
2 Wollaston, in his Religion of Nature, 1759.
3 May 18th, 1932.
4 See Chapter XIV.

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