CHAPTER IX. ENGLISH DEMOCRACY
All this, however, is merely machinery provided to give effect to public opinion, which determines the use to which it shall be put. But its very provision indicates that England expects the state to-day to do more and more extensive duty for the individual. For one thing the state has largely taken the place of the church as the organ of the collective conscience of the community. It can hardly be said that the Anglican church has an articulate conscience apart from questions of canon law and ecclesiastical property; and other churches are, as bodies, no better provided with creeds of social morality. The Eighth Commandment is never applied to such genteel delinquencies as making a false return of income, or defrauding a railway company or the customs; but is reserved for the grosser offences which no member of the congregation is likely to have committed; and it is left to the state to provide by warning and penalty against neglect of one's duty to one's neighbour when one's neighbour is not one individual but the sum of all. It was not by any ecclesiastical agitation that some humanity was introduced into the criminal code in the third decade of the nineteenth century; and the protest against the blind cruelty of economic laissez faire was made by Sadler, Shaftesbury, Ruskin, and Carlyle rather than by any church. Their writings and speeches awoke a conscience in the state, which began to insist by means of legislation upon humaner hours and conditions of labour, upon decent sanitation, upon a standard of public education, and upon provision being made against fraudulent dealings with more helpless fellow-men.
This public conscience has inevitably proved expensive, and the expense has had to be borne either by the state or by the individual. Now, it might have been possible, when the expense of these new standards of public health and comfort began to be incurred, to provide by an heroic effort of socialism for a perpetuation of the individualistic basis of social duty. That is to say, if the state had guaranteed to every individual an income which would enable him to bear his share of this expense, it might also have imposed upon him the duty of meeting it, of paying fees for the education of his children, for hospital treatment, for medical inspection, and so forth. But that effort was not, and perhaps could not, in the existing condition of public opinion, be made; and the state has therefore got into the habit of providing and paying for all these things itself. When the majority of male adults earn twenty shillings or less a week, and possess a vote, there would be no raising of standards at all, if they had to pay the cost. Hence the state has been compelled step by step to meet the expense of burdens imposed by its conscience. Free education has therefore followed compulsory education; the demands of sanitary inspectors and medical officers of health have led to free medical inspection, medical treatment, the feeding of necessitous school children, and other piecemeal socialism; and, ignoring the historical causes of this development, we are embarked on a wordy warfare of socialists and individualists as to the abstract merits of antagonistic theories.
It is mainly a battle of phrases, in which few pause to examine what their opponents or they themselves mean by the epithets they employ. In the sense in which the individualist uses the term socialist, there are hardly any socialists, and in the sense in which the socialist uses the term individualist, there are practically no individualists. In reality we are all both individualists and socialists. It is a question of degree and not of dogma; and most people are at heart agreed that some economic socialism is required in order to promote a certain amount of moral and intellectual individualism. The defect of so-called economic individualism is that it reduces the mass of workers to one dead level of common poverty, in which wages, instead of increasing like capital, barely keep pace with the rise of rent and prices, in which men occupy dwellings all alike in the same mean streets, pursuing the same routine of labour and same trivial round of relaxation, and in which there seems no possibility of securing for the individual adequate opportunities for that development of his individuality by which alone he can render his best service to the community.
That service is the common end and object towards which men of all parties in English history have striven through the growth of conscious and collective action. A communist has maintained that we are all communists because we have developed a common army, a common navy, and a common national government, in place of the individualistic forces and jurisdictions of feudal barons. We have, indeed, nationalized these things and many others as well, including the crown, the church, the administration of justice, education, highways and byways, posts and telegraphs, woods and forests. Even the House of Lords has been constrained to abandon its independence by a process akin to that medieval peine forte et dure, by which the obstinate individualist was, when accused, compelled to surrender his ancient immunity and submit to the common law; and this common control, which came into being as the nation emerged out of its diverse elements in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, and slowly gathered force as it realized its strength under the Tudors, has attained fresh momentum in the latest ages as the state step by step extended to all sorts and conditions of men a share in the exercise of its power.