After reading this article you will learn about the extension of rights in its relation to the extension of the functions of government:
The extension of rights to a greater number of persons is, for them, the creation of new and added rights. Actually, again, the creation of new and added rights is not so much a matter of the creation of something new as of the broader and more liberal interpretation of something old.
The new and added rights in the sphere of economic liberty are really new and extended versions of old and recognized rights in the sphere of civil liberty—the right to personal security, the right to personal freedom, and the right to personal property.
We may begin with the extension of the right to personal security. That right had been recognized, however imperfectly, since the end of the sixteenth century, under the old system of poor relief: and a new recognition was added, from the beginning of the nineteenth century, under the system of factory legislation.
Still another recognition has been added, in the course of the present century, under the system of joint or social insurance. There are thus three stages of recognition (first the poor law, then factory legislation, and then social insurance); but they are all stages of a continuous process, and though we may cherish a vivid sense of the value of the third stage, and associate it particularly with a conception of the ‘welfare’ State, we have to remember that it is part of a process, and that the whole process has been inspired by the one fundamental idea of the right of personal security.
It has become customary to apply the term ‘social services’ to the developments of this third stage. But services are secondary and consequential things, entailed by the primary fact of rights, which are the cause and source of all services; and we shall do well to begin any study of the nature of these developments not from the services in which they end, but from the rights in which they begin. From this point of view we may say that our century has been marked by a new and more social interpretation of the right of personal security.
This new and more social interpretation has led us to regard the right of personal security as including:
(1) The right of the worker to be protected against the risks of sickness, unemployment, and age;
(2) His right to be so protected by a method of joint or social insurance (producing a joint or social security, and thus broadening and strengthening personal security), under which he is linked with his employer in a partnership of contribution to the cost, and both are linked again in a similar partnership with the State;
(3) His right to enjoy the necessary services of government, loosely called ‘social services’, which the method of social insurance demands. The general result is an extension of the rights of economic liberty under the head and rubric of the right to personal security. But it is also at the same time— necessarily, because an extension of rights is also an extension of services—an increase of the functions of government and an extension of governing authority.
The two results go together: they are indissolubly connected. It is here that we may possibly find a limit, or a principle of limit, to the extension of our rights to the enjoyment of personal security. There is always a cost involved; and it is wise to count the cost in advance. The cost is partly financial, or a simple matter of money: it is partly also spiritual, or a more serious matter of control.
The financial cost is that involved in the payment of contributions by the worker, the employer, and the general taxpayer, to meet the expenses of a system of joint or social insurance. The spiritual cost is that involved in the extension of the area of compulsory uniformity and administrative control. The double cost may be well worth the while: what is certain is that it must always be paid.
The extension of our rights to the enjoyment of personal security is thus subject to a double proviso: the proviso that the members of the community are ready and able to pay the cost of the benefits which they receive; and the proviso that they are willing to accept the extension of the functions of government, and the increase of administrative control, which are also the price of their receipt of benefits.
In a word, new rights are new commodities which, like other commodities, have their price, and, like other commodities, must be bought. The commodity bought may be well worth the price; and the liberty gained by the greater enjoyment of personal security may be greater far than the liberty surrendered by the increased acceptance of administrative control. The fact remains that it is always wise to count the cost.
Rights are not to be had for the asking, or as a matter of pure gift. There is always a sense in which they are bought; and they are only sure when they are fairly bought by an honest bargain.
We may now turn from considering the extension of the right to personal security, and proceed to consider the extension of the right to personal freedom and the right to personal property —two rights which in their nature are closely interconnected, and which come into question together as soon as we seek to examine the further and fuller extension of economic liberty.
The extension of the right to personal security still leaves us with something which may be called passive; for though the new system of social security, attained by the method of social insurance, demands the contribution and co-operation of all, workers as well as others, it remains none the less, in its essential nature, a protective system of shelter in which the worker can find a refuge from the risks and chances of the economic process.
The question then arises whether there is not also needed something which may be called active: some system of participation or partnership under which all workers can actively share in the conduct and management of the economic process; some extension of the right of personal freedom, and also of the right of personal property, which will give them a voice and a stake in the undertaking in which they serve.
There are two general reasons for answering that question in the affirmative. The first is that you cannot well have, in the same community and at the same time two separate worlds, one of political democracy and the other of economic autocracy.
The second is that, if we assume the general principle that the ultimate purpose of all institutions is the greatest development of the capacities of personality in the greatest number of persons, we are bound to conclude that there must be room for such development in the working of the system of economic institutions which occupies so many hours of the daily life of so many persons, even though the immediate purpose of that system is simply the purpose of producing the maximum of material necessities at the minimum of cost.
We may therefore admit, on these two grounds, that there is a presumption in favour of active economic rights; and we are then confronted by the question, ‘What is the method, or methods, by which such rights may be secured and guaranteed to all the workers engaged in the general business of production?’
One method which has long been advocated, and partly put into practice, is the method of nationalization. This means, in effect, that the capital resources of some particular branch of production are taken over by the State, and that the business of production, in that branch, is thenceforth handled, directly or indirectly, by the State which owns the resources.
Such a method eliminates, in any range in which it is applied, the right of personal property in capital resources; and it eliminates, along with that right, such elements of value (initiative, variety, and personal responsibility) as are involved in its exercise. That is the price to be paid.
On the other hand there may be argued to be corresponding gains which are even greater than the price. In the first place the nationalization of capital resources makes each worker, in his capacity of a member of the nation, an owner of capital resources, vested as such with a right of property which he did not hitherto enjoy.
In the second place it makes each worker, again in his capacity of a member of the nation, an active agent in the conduct of the business of production: indeed, it may even do more, and if there is devolution of the conduct of the business of production on the workers and technicians of each particular nationalized branch, it may make each worker an active agent in his capacity of a member of that particular branch.
But it may also be argued that these gains are not so great as they seem to be, and are illusory rather than real. In the matter of ownership, or, more exactly, in the matter of a new and larger enjoyment of the right of property, we have to notice that the ownership is collective, and the right of property enjoyed is not a personal right vested in an individual person.
The extension of collective ownership is not an extension of the right of personal property: it makes each man not an owner, but (in a State of fifty million members) a fifty-millionth part of an owner.
Again in the matter of status, or the new enjoyment of the right of personal freedom arising from the new position of being an active agent in the conduct of production, we have equally to notice that the status is collective, and that the activity of each agent in the conduct of production is merely a fractional activity.
When the business of production in the whole of a particular branch is undertaken by the State, directly or indirectly, through the length and breadth of the country, the scale of the undertaking is so vast that the personal activity of the individual worker in the conduct of business is necessarily infinitesimal; and experience appears to suggest that the result is a central mechanism, ponderous and impersonal, in which there is less play for the personality of the worker than there is in a smaller undertaking, even under the system of private ownership of capital.
It may thus be argued that the method of nationalization does not attain the end which alone can justify the means—the end of extending personal and individual enjoyment of rights, and thereby extending the area of the development of the capacities of individual personality.
We may therefore turn to inquire whether another and different method would not be better calculated to promote the attainment of this end. We may begin by assuming the existence, and the continuing right to exist, of personal property in capital resources vested in individual owners. That right, it is true, is not an absolute right of the Noli me tangere order.
On the contrary, it is a relative right (as rights in general are) which has to be properly adjusted to the rights of other persons. The problem before us is accordingly a problem of the proper adjustment of the right of the capitalist to those other rights. The right of the owner of capital resources, if it is not an absolute right, is grounded on something more than the mere prescription of continuous possession in the previous course of history.
In other words, it is something more than a mere historical right which can only plead the fact that it has been in favour of the claim that it should continue to be. The right of the owner of capital resources is grounded on permanent titles, which belong to the present and the future as well as to the past, and consist in the social and moral advantages which accrue from the possession and exercise of the right.
These advantages are various; but they may be classified summarily under three heads. In the first place, the right of the individual owner of capital resources is favourable to the play of personal initiative.
It encourages responsibility for taking a personal decision, immediately and directly, at the point where the problem arises; it prevents decision from being centralized in one focus, and therefore mechanized; it remits it to, or distributes it among, a number of separate and living centres, thus following a biological rather than a mechanical pattern.
In the second place, the right of individual ownership of capital resources is favourable to variety of experiment and to the method of trial and error. It encourages competition between undertaking and undertaking, and serves, by encouraging such competition, to raise the level of all and to improve the service of each; so that here again it may be said in a metaphor, and in no ignoble sense, to follow a biological pattern.
Finally, the right of individual ownership of capital resources,is connected with and favourable to that nisus towards the development of the capacities of personality which is an essential element of our nature: it provides a way in which we try ourselves out, and become conscious of our capacities by seeing them externally expressed in results.
It is easy to exaggerate the importance of such external expression, and to forget that the development of capacity, even if it is encouraged by being expressed in external results, matters infinitely more than any result by which it may be encouraged. But results matter none the less; and men do more, and develop more, when they are moved to action by the incentive of visible results.
We may therefore hold, on the ground of these various advantages, that individual ownership of capital resources has a continuing social and moral title over and above the title of prescription and vested interest. But there is another side to the matter, and it is a side which is still more important.
Un-criticized and unadjusted, the right of the owner of capital resources at once does harm to him and depresses the workers whom he employs. It does harm to him, in so far as it gives him a power over the lives of others which corrupts, or tends to corrupt, the possessor, as un-criticized power always does: it does harm to him again, in so far as it makes him, or tends to make him, a member of a privileged and almost parasitic class, enjoying results which may not be the results of personal capacity or of personal effort, but of mere inheritance or of pure chance.
Just as it does harm to the owner, so too an un-criticized and unadjusted right of private ownership of capital resources also depresses the worker. It depresses him to the almost servile status of a ‘hand’ (or, in Aristotle’s phrase, ‘a living tool’) in the undertaking for which he works.
It depresses him also to a ‘property-less being’, with no share in the right of personal property, when by the same title of effort and output of personal capacity which the capitalist pleads he too should have his share in the capital of his undertaking. It follows that both in the interest of the capitalist and in that of the worker the State is forced to undertake the function of adjusting and reconciling the right of the owner of capital resources to the worker’s rights of personal freedom of status and the enjoyment of personal property.
This is a matter, once more, of the general task of the State: the task of achieving a right order of human relations, and thereby realizing the reign of justice, by adjusting the rights of one set of its members to the rights of another. Here the particular task is that of adjusting the old rights of the owners of capital resources, long recognized in positive law, to the worker’s new rights, or more exactly his new claims to rights, which are now being recognized in social thought and are moving forwards to the further stage of legal recognition.
The method by which the State will seek to perform this task, if it remains true to its own proper nature and continues to follow the line of action which it has hitherto followed, will not be the method of ‘nationalization,’ but the method of ‘supervision’.
It will not assume the new form of the socialist State, annexing the means and administering the business of general production: it will keep its old form of the supervisory State, still watching and easing the play of rights, as it has always done, but extending the range of its vision and increasing its work of adjustment.
Recognizing the right of individuals who are owners of capital resources as a necessary part of the process of production, it will at the same time supervise the whole of the process of production with a view to coordinating this right, belonging to these individuals, with the other rights of other individuals which are also a necessary part of the process.
It will see with the eye of its vision individual persons and personal rights, and it will think in terms of such persons and rights; but at the same time it will ‘over-see’ them and think them over together (which is the true sense of ‘supervision’), and it will seek to adjust them accordingly.
If we can imagine the State engaged in reflection, and expressing its reflections in speech, it might address itself and its members in words such as these:
‘I am by my nature, and I must remain if I am to be true to my nature, a legal association. As such, I am not an agent of production, except where the principle of co-operation compels me to produce some system of public or common equipment (a postal system, or a system of fuel and power, or a transport system) which is needed by all and must be provided by the cooperation of all; but even here I think it best, as a general rule, to delegate the actual work of management to some economic body or board which will manage it simply and separately as a pure matter of business, and thus prevent it from being entangled in my own legal machinery. On the other hand, if I am not an agent of production, I am by my nature the supervisor of the whole process of production; and though it is not my business to manage the work of production, it certainly is my business to lay down the general rules to which such management must conform.
That is the line of action which I have long been following. It is now a century and a half since I began to lay down the rules of factory legislation, in order to protect the right of every factory worker to the enjoyment of personal security. My rules have grown and grown.
They are based on my two great principles of liberty and equality: they are intended to protect and secure the rights which are involved in the application of those principles; and as the social interpretation of those principles grows, my rules must continue to grow in order to keep in step with that interpretation.
Today the interpretation of these principles is beginning to demand from me an adjustment of the right of the owner of capital to the double right of the worker: his right to enjoy a status of personal freedom, by virtue of being treated not as an instrument but as a collaborator; and his further right to enjoy the permanent possession of some personal property, by virtue of being made a partner or ‘share-holder’ in the ownership of capital.
The beginnings of that adjustment have already been made in the course of the last fifty years; I started, for example, as long ago as 1909, a system of Trade Boards which gave to workers in unorganized industries an active right of helping to fix the rate of their wages, and thus enabled them to enjoy a status of greater personal freedom. Much has been done since 1909; but there is more to be done in order to improve the status of the worker, and far more to be done in order to increase the diffusion of ownership.
It is all a matter for tentative experiment and progressive movement from stage to stage. It is a matter of keeping a constant watch on the whole of the process of production: a matter of noting emergent claims for new rights, and how they affect and impinge on the existing scheme of rights; a matter of observing the tentative efforts made by the parties concerned to secure some form of voluntary adjustment between new claims and old rights, until finally, at the end of the watch and the noting and the observing, the time comes for my making of a uniform rule of compulsory adjustment, in the light of all the data collected and all the experience gained.
If this is the way in which I act, I shall be acting strictly within my sphere as a legal association: I shall be simply adjusting one right to another— the right of the owner of capital resources to the worker’s rights both of status and property—as it always is my duty to adjust rights and to serve thereby as the organ of justice.’
There is a gloss or corollary which follows naturally on this view of the economic function of the State. Whatever the State may do in the way of securing an involuntary adjustment of rights by the method of legal compulsion and in the form of statutory rules, there also exists, and there will always exist, the way of voluntary adjustment by the method of spontaneous agreement between the parties concerned.
This way of voluntary adjustment has had a long if chequered history. It has meant the formation of associations of workers, trade by trade: it has meant the long struggle of these associations, or trade unions, for recognition and for the right of bargaining and making agreements with the similar associations formed by employers.
At first thwarted by the State, and repressed by Combination Acts, but afterwards recognized and even encouraged, these associations have gradually established themselves as permanent social organs, seeking to achieve by social methods a social accommodation between conflicting claims.
In themselves, and by the mere fact of their existence and action, they have already given the worker a new and added enjoyment of freedom of personal status which he derives from their collective strength. They have their defects as well as their qualities.
The collective strength which can give to the worker a new enjoyment of personal freedom can also be used to insist that each worker shall merge himself and his personality in the collective mass; and the adhesion of these associations of workers, in the mass and in their collective capacity, to a particular political party wedded to policies of nationalization, has had the disadvantage, whatever its gains may have been, of distracting them from that policy of the voluntary social adjustment of rights which belongs to their essential nature, and of turning their attention to the method of compulsory legal regulation through the agency of the State.
Yet these may not be the permanent trends; and it is possible to hope, that the future may have in store not only negotiation and voluntary adjustment between the associated workers and the associated employers in each industry, but also negotiation and voluntary adjustment, in some form of voluntary ‘social parliament’, between representatives of the whole body of associated workers and the whole body of associated employers over the whole of the field of production.
This is not to say that the State will tend to become less active in its own work of legal adjustment by general rules. On the contrary it may well become even more active. A country which follows simultaneously the two ways of adjustment between conflicting claims of right—the way of voluntary adjustment by social agreement, and the way of legal adjustment by means of general rules—may become increasingly busy in pursuing both of these ways.
True, the State will normally wait for the exploration of the way of self-help and voluntary social agreement before it begins to follow the way of public help and legal adjustment. True, again, the State, when it follows that way, will often, and perhaps even mainly, find itself concerned with generalizing, and making compulsory for all, what has already been tried and has already approved itself experimentally in the field of self- help and voluntary social agreement.
But that only goes to prove that an increase of activity and experimentation in the social field, far from discouraging, will tend to encourage and foster an increase of activity in the legal field and the area of State- adjustment. The busier the effort of voluntary adjustment the greater will be the amount of material and the volume of suggestion on which the State can act.
The general method of advance which emerges from these considerations is a method which may be called by the name of ‘experimentalism’. It is a method which begins with the ventilation of new claims to rights in the field of social thought and the forum of social discussion; with the pitting of these new claims against the old rights which they challenge; and with the demand for an adjustment between the old and the new.
It is a method which then proceeds to the stage of social and voluntary adjustment, along a variety of lines and by a variety of experiments which tentatively compete with one another, and are tentatively pitted against one another, in the course of a process of social selection.
It is a method which finally arrives at the stage of a legal and general adjustment, ultimately achieved by the State (through the action of its various organs of political discussion), as it works on the data before it and selects for endorsement and registration the solution which commands the adherence of general or common conviction.
The whole method is a dialectical method, though it is far from being the method of ‘dialectical materialism’: it also is a method which has in its favour biological analogy, though it is far from being a method of natural selection of the fittest, and may rather be called a method of spiritual selection of the best—so far as the spirit of man is able to discover the best.
If we call it by the name of experimentalism, which is only a shorthand name with the necessary defects of shorthand, we may plead that we mean by that name the process of gradually feeling a way, through time, by means of discussion, with the aid of the method of trial and error.
This experimentalism, if it may be so called, is something different from ‘gradualism’. Gradualism means that you start from, and stick to, a preconceived plan, though you move slowly and with a Fabian cunctation towards its achievement. Experimentalism means that you start from the postulate of the sanctity of human rights—but also from the postulate of the constant growth of new rights (or the constant reinterpretation and extension of old rights) and the consequent need of adjustment between the new and the old—and that you are always seeking to discover, by fresh thought and experiment as you come to each new problem in each new generation, how you can meet the demands of your double postulate.
But just as experimentalism is not gradualism, so neither is it opportunism; and just as it is not a plan or ‘blue-print,’ inherited from some past prophet, for the methodical shaping of the future, so neither is it a matter of immediate and extemporized expedients intended merely to meet an immediate contingency.
Its essence is indeed the freedom of the present to shape and determine itself by its own motion, in the light of the situation immediately presented for decision. But it is also the essence of experimentalism that the situation so presented has itself been prepared by thought, experiment, and debate, and is thus, as it were, a ‘planned situation’, which as such suggests and invites a planned and deliberate decision.
There is thus, after all, a plan in the method of experimentalism. But the plan is not a transcendent scheme, preconceived before the beginning of action: it is immanent in the process of action, and conceived by and during that process. To proceed by experiment is to proceed by constant planning, but not to proceed ‘according to plan’.