Where Shall The Line Be Drawn?

ALL THINGS CONSIDERED

By HOWARD VINCENT O’BRIEN.

PRACTICALLY all the hubbub over the course of events comes down to dispute over where the line shall be drawn between collectivism and individualism.

Men are uncomfortably aware that they are dependent upon the good will and energy of other men for the food they eat and the clothes they wear, but an unquenchable egoism makes them assert stoutly that no one is going to tell them how to run their affairs, that they will not be regimented, that no army of tax-eating bureaucrats is going to lay their fortunes waste.

But no matter how rugged the individual may be, he has no desire to carry his own letters, put out his own fires, or sit up all night with a shotgun, guarding his own strongbox.

Is there any solution for this dilemma?

HATHI TRUST – Digital Library – Prohibiting Poverty

Prohibiting Poverty

Certainly there is a solution, says Prestonia Mann Martin. In her pamplet, “Prohibiting Poverty,” she cuts the knot with the sword of compromise. “The problem has been how to attain safety without losing freedom. The solution,” she says, “lies in a simple compromise between socialism and individualism by applying one to necessaries and the other to luxuries.”

Admitting that as a “plain woman” she understands nothing about money except that it is obviously at the bottom of a system which creates surplus of wealth and prevents its distribution, she proposes a system which will function without money. Meat and potatoes are things, she days; money is only a formula.

Nothing could be simpler than her plan. By it every able-bodied young person would be drafted for economic service at the age of 18, and for eight years would serve without pay in an army of production called the “commons.” These soldiers of peace, attacking what William James called “the moral equivalent of war,” would hew wood, draw water and in general produce the necessities of life for themselves and the rest of the population.

They would not be paid, they could not marry, they would have no vote and — suggests Mrs. Martin — they would not be allowed to drink.

Reward of Toil

This sounds like peonage. But wait! At the age of 26 the toilers would be free, with a livelihood guaranteed for the rest of their days. Having served their term as collectivists, they would become “capitals,” free to engage in any activity that profited or amused them. Life in the “capitals would be just as it is today, except that the necessity of earning one’s daily bread would be removed. A “capital” could go into business (luxury goods or services only), amass a fortune, wear diamonds and own yachts. Or, if he chose, he could lie on his back, playing the mouth organ. No woman would have to marry for a home, because she, too, would be independent.

“The ‘commons’ would constitute, in effect, a colossal insurance company, nation-wide, embracing every citizen without exception, which would issue a guaranteed policy of economic security in favor of every one, its premiums to be paid, not in cash but in work, and its benefits distributed, not in unstable currency but in what is more useful and stable, namely, necessary goods and services.”

Obligatory Labor

To one who objects that this is slavery, the author points out that education is compulsory — with no objections. And she suggests that some day necessary labor will be equally obligatory and accepted as a matter of course.

Beyond doubt the scheme is attractive. Who wouldn’t consent to eight years of labor in exchange for a lifetime free from care? Furthermore, there is no reason to suppose that the plan would not work. Twelve million young people, working together and using the latest machinery, could undoubtedly produce the necessities for 10 times their number. Furthermore, they would probably enjoy the work, as, from all accounts, the young people of Russia enjoy their contribution to Communism. Certainly the youth of 18 would prefer eight years with pick and shovel, with the guarantee of a free future, to four years with books and the assurance of perpetual insecurity.

Will It Be Tried?

The plan is so neat, so absurdly simple, offhand, that nothing like it will be tried in a world that always prefers complexity for the solution of its difficulties. And yet, what is the CCC but a step in this direction? And the CCC seems, on the whole, the most successful of the Roosevelt ventures along new roads.

The plan can hardly be called “practical.” But neither were the plans of Walter the Penniless or — to take a more modern instance — were the plans of John Brown.

Some day Mrs. Martin may have a monument, too.

(Copyright, 1934)

Syracuse Herald (Syracuse, New York) Jul 21, 1934

Wisconsin Rapids Daily Tribune (Wisconsin Rapids, Wisconsin) Apr 17, 1935

*   *   *   *   *

From the Free Republic:  Regarding the friendly relationship and influences between progressives and fabians:

*Read more at the link.

Mentioned in the Free Republic article above: the Ruskin Colony, an unsuccessful utopian community. – See previous post.

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One Response to “Where Shall The Line Be Drawn?”

  1. Enid Mastrianni Says:

    Glad to see this entry on the ever fascinating Prestonia Mann Martin. I’ve been researching her for years for a proposed biography. An article I wrote, “Prestonia Mann Martin’s Mountain Utopia,” can be found in the July/Aug 2000 issue of Adirondack Life magazine.

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