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
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
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
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
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
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.