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being realized in political life."1 This is what gives its fundamental character to the present age. The consciousness of contradiction between economic progress and spiritual ideals may use the language of social philosophy, or may take the form of social service, or may be organized in social legislation, or may simply utter itself in the passionate cry of indignation or hate which comes from the hungry or despairing, or from those who sympathize with them. In all these varied, and often unreasonable or extravagant, ways the characteristic emotion of the time expresses itself. It is the age of the social question. Never were so many people, learned and ignorant, rich and poor, philosophers and agitators, men and women, so stirred by this recognition of inequality in social opportunity, by the call to social service, by dreams of a better social world.
There is, of course, a huge, inert mass of unobservant humanity, with no perception of this new region of hope and faith into which the present generation is entering. These persons live their lives of business or of pleasure, as Jesus, with splendid satire, said of such persons in his own age, with just enough power of observation to tell the signs of to-morrow's weather, but without the capacity to discern the signs of their own times.1 No one, however, who lifts his eyes from his own private life can mistake these signs of the times. The literature of the present age is saturated with the desire for social amelioration or social revolution; workmen with grimy hands and women with eager eyes are turning the pages of the economists in search of practical guidance; social panaceas are confidently offered on every hand; organization on an unprecedented scale is consolidating the fighting force of the hand-working class; legislation is freely advocated which practically revolutionizes the earlier conception of the function of government; and, finally, the party of revolution, with its millions of voters in European countries, officially announces that all other issues are to be subordinated to the social question, and that all other parties are to be regarded as "a mere reactionary mass."? It is the age of the social question; and to pretend that social life is undisturbed, or is but superficially agitated, is simply to confess that one has been caught in an eddy of the age and does not feel the sweep of its main current.
1 A. Wagner, “Lehrbuch der politischen Oekonomie,” 2. Aufl., 1876, s. 36. So also Bebel, “ Die Frau und der Sozialismus," 10. Aufl., 1891, s. 240: “Society, in its form of wealth, has grown far more aristocratic than in any earlier age, ... in its ideals and its legislation it has grown far more democratic."
It is, however, not enough to say that among human interests the social question is just now
1 Matt. xvi. 2, 3; Luke xii. 54-56.
2“ Die Befreiung der Arbeit muss das Werk der Arbeiterklasse sein, der gegenüber alle anderen Klassen nur eine reaktionäre Masse sind," Programm der sozialdemokratischen Partei Deutschlands, Gotha, 1878.
central and commanding. There are, it must be added, two characteristics of the modern temper which make of the social question of the present time something quite different from the economic and social agitations of the past. In the first place, we are now confronted by a degree of radicalism and a scope of reconstructive purpose which practically create a new situation. Social and industrial reforms in the past have been for the most part ameliorative or philanthropic measures, accepting the existing order of things, and mitigating its harsher effects. Now and then a sudden wave of indignation has risen out of the depths of human nature and has swept away some special abuse like American slavery, or some special form of social relationship like the ancien régime of France; but for the most part the desire to relieve the unfortunate and improve the condition of the hand-worker has satisfied itself with deeds of charity and with industrial expedients which calm the surface of social life. A wholly different state of mind prevails to-day. Beneath all the tranquillizing arrangements of philanthropy or industry which are being applied to social disorder, there is a vast and rising tide of discontent, stirring to its very bottom the stream of social life. The social question of the present age is not a question of mitigating the evils of the existing order, but a question whether the existing order itself shall last. It is not so much a problem of social amelioration
which occupies the modern mind, as a problem of social transformation and reconstruction. The new social interest is concerned not so much with effects as causes; not with social therapeutics, but with social bacteriology and social hygiene. Indeed, in this frame of mind there is often to be discerned a violent reaction from traditional ways of charity and from moderate measures of reform. The time is wasted, it is urged, which is given to lopping off occasional branches of social wrong, when the real social question cuts at the root from which these branches grow. Instead of inquiring what ways of charity are wise, let us rather, it is urged, inquire why charity is neces. sary and why poverty exists. Instead of reforming the adjustments of industry, let us rather ask why the effects of industry are so cruel, debasing, and unjust. Not a merciful use of things as they are, but a state of things where mercy will not be necessary; not patronage, but justice; not the generous distribution of superfluous wealth, but the righteous restitution of wealth to those who have created it, — such are the demands to which our ears have of late become accustomed, and which indicate the character of the modern social question. “The number of relief- and charity-panaceas for poverty," said an English agitator, "are of no more value than a poultice to a wooden leg. What we want is economic revolution, and not pious and heroic resolutions.” 1
1 Ben Tillett, in London Times, January 1, 1895.
This unflinching radicalism proceeds to examine the very pillars of social life, and to consider whether they are worth what it costs to buttress and maintain them. Three such social institutions appear to support the fabric of modern civilization — the family, private property, and the State; and there is not one of these institutions whose
not confidently prophesied. Is not the institution of the family to be regarded as a passing incident in the course of social evolution, the end of whose social service has nearly arrived ? Is not the institution of private property a mere symbol of social oppression, so that, as the earlier revolutionists cried, “Property is robbery,” their modern followers may now add, “It is right to rob the robbers”? Is not the institution of the State, in its present form, a mere instrument of the privileged class, and must it not be supplanted by a coöperative commonwealth of collective ownership? Questions like these, freely agitated in our day by all sorts and conditions of people, indicate how fundamental and thoroughgoing the social problem of which they are a part must be. They propose a revolution, not only in the outward conditions of social life, but in the very instincts and habits of
Such possibilities of social change are viewed by many persons with grave apprehension, and by