Reflections on Progress

Renan has said that truth is always rejected when it comes to a man for

the first time, its evolution being as follows:

First, we say the thing is rank heresy, and contrary to the Bible.

Second, we say the matter really amounts to nothing, anyway.

Third, we declare that we always believed it.

Two hundred years ago partnerships in business were very rare. A man in

usiness simply made things and sold them--and all the manufacturing was

done by himself and his immediate family. Soon we find instances of

brothers continuing the work the father had begun, as in the case of the

Elzevirs and the Plantins, the great bookmakers of Holland. To meet this

competition, four printers, in 1640, formed a partnership and pooled

their efforts. A local writer by the name of Van Krugen denounced these

four men, and made savage attacks on partnerships in general as wicked

and illegal, and opposed to the best interests of the people. This view

seems to have been quite general, for there was a law in Amsterdam

forbidding all partnerships in business that were not licensed by the

state. The legislature of the State of Missouri has recently made war on

the department store in the same way, using the ancient Van Krugen

argument as a reason, for there is no copyright on stupidity.

In London in the seventeenth century men who were found guilty of

pooling their efforts and dividing profits, were convicted by law and

punished for "contumacy, contravention and connivance," and were given a

taste of the stocks in the public square.

When corporations were formed for the first time, only a few years ago,

there was a fine burst of disapproval. The corporation was declared a

scheme of oppression, a hungry octopus, a grinder of the individual. And

to prove the case various instances of hardship were cited; and no doubt

there was much suffering, for many people are never able to adjust

themselves to new conditions without experiencing pain and regret.

But we now believe that corporations came because they were required.

Certain things the times demanded, and no one man, or two or three men

could perform these tasks alone--hence the corporation. The rise of

England as a manufacturing nation began with the plan of the

stock company.

The aggregation known as the joint-stock company, everybody is willing

now to admit, was absolutely necessary in order to secure the machinery,

that is to say, the tools, the raw stock, the buildings, and to provide

for the permanence of the venture.

The railroad system of America has built up this country--on this thing

of joint-stock companies and transportation, our prosperity has hinged.

"Commerce, consists in carrying things from where they are plentiful to

where they are needed," says Emerson.

There are ten combinations of capital in this country that control over

six thousand miles of railroad each. These companies have taken in a

large number of small lines; and many connecting lines of tracks have

been built. Competition over vast sections of country has been

practically obliterated, and this has been done so quietly that few

people are aware of the change. Only one general result of this

consolidation of management has been felt, and that it is better

service at less expense. No captain of any great industrial enterprise

dares now to say, "The public be damned," even if he ever said it--which

I much doubt. The pathway to success lies in serving the public, not in

affronting it. In no other way is success possible, and this truth is so

plain and patent that even very simple folk are able to recognize it.

You can only help yourself by helping others.

Thirty years ago, when P. T. Barnum said, "The public delights in being

humbugged," he knew that it was not true, for he never attempted to put

the axiom in practice. He amused the public by telling it a lie, but P.

T. Barnum never tried anything so risky as deception. Even when he lied

we were not deceived; truth can be stated by indirection. "When my love

tells me she is made of truth, I do believe her, though I know she

lies." Barnum always gave more than he advertised; and going over and

over the same territory he continued to amuse and instruct the public

for nearly forty years.

This tendency to coöperate is seen in such splendid features as the

Saint Louis Union Station, for instance, where just twenty great

railroad companies lay aside envy, prejudice, rivalry and whim, and use

one terminal. If competition were really the life of trade, each

railroad that enters Saint Louis would have a station of its own, and

the public would be put to the worry, trouble, expense and endless delay

of finding where it wanted to go and how to get there. As it is now, the

entire aim and end of the scheme is to reduce friction, worry and

expense, and give the public the greatest accommodation--the best

possible service--to make travel easy and life secure. Servants in

uniform meet you as you alight, and answer your every question--speeding

you courteously and kindly on your way. There are women to take care of

women, and nurses to take care of children, and wheel chairs for such as

may be infirm or lame. The intent is to serve--not to pull you this way

and that, and sell you a ticket over a certain road. You are free to

choose your route and you are free to utilize as your own this great

institution that cost a million dollars, and that requires the presence

of two hundred people to maintain. All is for you. It is for the public

and was only made possible by a oneness of aim and desire--that is to

say coöperation. Before coöperation comes in any line, there is always

competition pushed to a point that threatens destruction and promises

chaos; then to divert ruin, men devise a better way, a plan that

conserves and economizes, and behold, it is found in coöperation.

Civilization is an evolution.

Civilization is not a thing separate and apart, any more than art is.

Art is the beautiful way of doing things. Civilization is the

expeditious way of doing things. And as haste is often waste--the more

hurry the less speed--civilization is the best way of doing things.

As mankind multiplies in number, the problem of supplying people what

they need is the important question of Earth. And mankind has ever held

out offers of reward in fame and money--both being forms of power--to

those who would supply it better things.

Teachers are those who educate the people to appreciate the things they


The man who studies mankind, and finds out what men really want, and

then supplies them this, whether it be an Idea or a Thing, is the man

who is crowned with the laurel wreath of honor and clothed with riches.

What people need and what they want may be very different.

To undertake to supply people a thing you think they need but which they

do not want, is to have your head elevated on a pike, and your bones

buried in Potter's Field.

But wait, and the world will yet want the thing that it needs, and your

bones will then become sacred relics.

This change in desire on the part of mankind is the result of the growth

of intellect.

It is Progress, and Progress is Evolution, and Evolution is Progress.

There are men who are continually trying to push Progress along: we call

these individuals "Reformers."

Then there are others who always oppose the Reformer--the mildest name

we have for them is "Conservative."

The Reformer is either a Savior or a Rebel, all depending on whether he

succeeds or fails, and your point of view. He is what he is, regardless

of what other men think of him. The man who is indicted and executed as

a rebel, often afterward has the word "Savior" carved on his tomb; and

sometimes men who are hailed as saviors in their day are afterward found

to be sham saviors--to wit, charlatans. Conservation is a plan of

Nature. To keep the good is to conserve. A Conservative is a man who

puts on the brakes when he thinks Progress is going to land Civilization

in the ditch and wreck the whole concern.

Brakemen are necessary, but in the language of Koheleth, there is a time

to apply the brake and there is a time to abstain from applying the

brake. To clog the wheels continually is to stand still, and to stand

still is to retreat. Progress has need of the brakeman, but the brakeman

should not occupy all of his time putting on the brakes.

The Conservative is just as necessary as the Radical. The Conservative

keeps the Reformer from going too fast, and plucking the fruit before it

is ripe. Governments are only good where there is strong Opposition,

just as the planets are held in place by the opposition of forces. And

so civilization goes forward by stops and starts--pushed by the

Reformers and held back by the Conservatives. One is necessary to the

other, and they often shift places. But forward and forward Civilization

forever goes--ascertaining the best way of doing things.

In commerce we have had the Individual Worker, the Partnership, the

Corporation, and now we have the Trust.

The Trust is simply Corporations forming a partnership. The thing is all

an Evolution--a moving forward. It is all for man and it is all done by

man. It is all done with the consent, aye, and approval of man.

The Trusts were made by the People, and the People can and will unmake

them, should they ever prove an engine of oppression. They exist only

during good behavior, and like men, they are living under a sentence of

death, with an indefinite reprieve.

The Trusts are good things because they are economizers of energy. They

cut off waste, increase the production, and make a panic practically


The Trusts are here in spite of the men who think they originated them,

and in spite of the Reformers who turned Conservatives and

opposed them.

The next move of Evolution will be the age of Socialism. Socialism means

the operation of all industries by the people, and for the people.

Socialism is coöperation instead of competition. Competition has been so

general that economists mistook it for a law of nature, when it was only

an incident.

Competition is no more a law of nature than is hate. Hate was once so

thoroughly believed in that we gave it personality and called it

the Devil.

We have banished the Devil by educating people to know that he who works

has no time to hate and no need to fear, and by this same means,

education, will the people be prepared for the age of Socialism.

The Trusts are now getting things ready for Socialism.

Socialism is a Trust of Trusts.

Humanity is growing in intellect, in patience, in kindness--in love. And

when the time is ripe, the people will step in and take peaceful

possession of their own, and the Coöperative Commonwealth will give to

each one his due.