• Samuel Hobson

National Guilds and the State


The interaction between State and Nation is the true sphere of politics; and, properly understood, the purging and exclusion of its modern debasement, now as real politics has passed through since the glory of Greece set it on its way, it is as true now as ever that successful statesmanship is founded on enduring principles and not upon the appraisement or nice balancing of material considerations. There is a practical sagacity, notably in the obiter dicta of Bacon and later in Cromwell’s policy that does not disregard the economic factors; but that sagacity turns to cunning or opportunism if it loses faith in the fundamental principles disclosed by time and circumstance. This is not to deny the main fact of modern industrialism that economic power precedes and dominates political action. There is a sense in which that aphorism is permanently true; another sense in which it is a polemic peculiar to existing conditions. It is permanently true in that statesmanship must possess the material means to encompass its ends, precisely as one must have the fare and sustenance before proceeding on a journey. But whilst the fare must be available as a condition precedent to the journey, it remains a means to the end. Our aphorism is a polemic peculiar to private capitalism in that the fare to continue the metaphor is controlled by an interested section of the community, which can consequently decide the time and direction of the journey. But when the fare an sustenance pass from private to communal control, in the process increasing in abundance and availability, we find ourselves as a people free to embark on whatever spiritual or political enterprise we desire.

Economic power is not finally found in wealth but in the control of its abundance or scarcity. If I possessed the control of the water supply, my economic power would be stupendous; but with equal access to water by the whole body of citizens, that economic power is dispersed and the community may erect swimming-baths or fountains of artificial lakes without my permission. Not only so; but the abundance of water, which economically considered is of boundless value, grows less serious as a practical issue the more abundant it becomes. Upon the substantial truth of this hangs our conception of citizenship and State policy. I have consistently disclaimed for the future Guilds the control of wealth, conceding to them no more and no less than the control, through monopoly, of their labor power. The product of their labor is not Guild property but a national trust. The disposal or distribution of that product must, in the ultimate, be guided by public policy, which knows neither producer nor consumer as such (favorably or adversely affecting now one, now the other), and has regard only the public good. On any great issue affecting the general welfare, the citizen body will naturally discuss ways and means with the representatives of the Guilds possibly a joint session of parliament and the Guild Congress_ but the final decision can only rest with the State, as the formal representative of the nation. To admit the principle of co-sovereignty is to admit co-equality between means and end, between the instrument and the purpose. But I am not now discussing the particular point of co-sovereignty; the principle in question is that, however economic power may be dispersed after wage-abolition; the subsequent growth of wealth depreciates it as a social consideration, and, in consequence, appreciates principle (which is an affair of the spirit) as a dominant factor in the sphere of politics. Thus, the destruction of private capitalism terminates all polemics based upon it, and sets in true relation the means to the end, wealth to life. The end in view is a triumphant citizenship, which knows how sanely to apply its wealth, “that it may have life and have it abundantly.” The dominance of economic power depends, therefore, upon two main considerations-artificially, by the private control of wealth; fundamentally, by a natural scarcity. If the former be abolished and the latter overcome, the State possesses the means to achieve its purposes, so far as they depend upon economic resources. In this connection, it is not without significance that common parlance often describes a propertied man as “a man of means,” But it is usual to refer to a statesman as one having ends to be served by political method. These philological distinctions are at bottom instinctive citizenship-a recognition that wealth is a means to an end.

The future of Society, of the Nation, and finally of civilization, therefore, rests upon the will of citizenship. But this will or volition is limited by knowledge, rooted in the surrounding world, “irradiated with the colors of things that man has perceived as a theoretical spirit, before he took action as practical spirit.” Reality projects itself into the theoretical spirit, which reacts with new perceptions, out of which emerge beginnings and new facts. Viewed in this light, the spiritual process, comprehending the forms of practical activity, and creating the will to change in whatever degree surrounding conditions, is of incalculably greater moment than the means by which those changes are effected. The spiritual life of a people, thus vaguely suggested and more vaguely defined by, I fear, an illicit use of philosophic terms, cannot fail to be profoundly influenced by the State; ought, in fact, to be so influenced, when State activities are no longer entangled in that debasing realpolitik, by which the industrial system not merely survives but dominates. If this be so, if the State, as here defined, is cast for the beau role, then a Democracy that knows its business, whilst ensuring economic health and strength, will most anxiously concern itself with the meaning and growth of ideas: will, with vigilance, guard against false and disruptive ideas: will diligently explore new ideas for the enrichment of life. So long as public policy is molded by material factors, we are only a little higher than the animals; when our policy is guided by pure ideas, we are only a little lower than the angels.


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