Pour les vacances… et parfaire votre anglais !
In this exchange from The Open Court (April 10 and May 1, 1890) Dyer D. Lum and Rabbi Solomon Schindler square off over Edward Bellamy’s ideas in a set of sequels to Looking Backward. Schindler was a Boston radical, a proponent of Bellamyite Nationalism, and a regular contributor to The Arena. Dyer was a regular contributor to Liberty and The Index. Their exchange is a nice window into the basic conflict between the state socialists and anarchists at the turn of the centry.
A JOURNALIST’S CONFESSION. BOSTON, A. D., 2001.
[COMMUNICATED THROUGH DYER D LUM.]
You will be surprised, my dear Dr. Leete, to learn that I have severed my connection with the « Trumpet of Liberty, » but such is the fact. Your kindness in the past, your earnest zeal in laboring to secure sufficient subscribers to reimburse the executive power for expense incurred, as well as your unfailing optimism even when circumstances looked dark, all alike convince me that I would be derelict to favors received were I not to lay before you the reasons which have actuated me in this final step. Nor are the reasons purely sentimental, though I know that if I should place them upon that ground I could at once command the tender sympathies of your generous and trusting heart And if my private criticisms herein as to the wisdom of our mode of conducting newspapers should seem to lean toward treason, I can but simply throw myself upon your good nature.
The imperative necessity of first securing enough subscribers to guarantee cost before permission to publish could be obtained, necessarily made the venture in a large degree local. To the circulars sent out the replies from a distance were, as we expected, not very encouraging; the utter lack of advertising, if I may he permitted that antique word, prevented the fact from being widely known, as well as the character and scope of our work, and at the same time deprived us of means to collect names. In fact, my dear doctor, while in no wise depreciating the calm security we now possess of knowing that our material wants will he easily gratified, it still seems to me, but without indorsing Carlyle’s allusion to »pig’s wash, » that this security of the stomach tends to confine our efforts within narrower circles and restrict our intellectual horizon within the boundaries of personal intercourse. Without means to reach unknown inquirers, our work and progress has been largely retarded.
But the « Trumpet, » fortunately, having a goodly subscription list, and I being elected editor, these difficulties were surmounted, even if it prevented a material reduction in terms or increase of attractions. But here a greater difficulty arose. You remember the biting sarcasms in works of a former age in which the clergy were assailed for being necessarily subservient to the pews whence arose their support. I fancy I can put myself in the place of a clergyman under those semi-barbarous conditions prevailing before government kindly relieved us of the care of overlooking our own morals. For even under our resplendent liberty, which I have done so much to trumpet, I have found myself continually treading on tender corns and drawing forth indignant protests from my constituency. Our beloved institutions have not fostered criticism; on the contrary, the tendency is plainly toward its repression. Though our presses continually issue books, they, like papers, find great difficulty in reaching beyond a merely local market, which while heightening cost necessarily limits circulation. To write for the « pews » only, so to speak, restricts independence; while independence either curtails my list of readers or changes its personnel, in either case depriving the paper of an assured and solid basis.
To antagonize those within immediate reach, whom everything tends to render extremely conservative toward speculations relative to wider personal liberty, and without means to reach others at a distance to whom such thoughts might he welcome, is but one of the many difficulties I have encountered. Individual initiative having long since gone out of fashion, in the collapse of the ancient system of political economy, it becomes more and more difficult to assert it in the economy of intellect. I am aware that the field of journalism is regarded as exempted from the general rule of authoritative direction and, like the clergy, left to personal merit to win success; still the universal tendency of all our institutions to militant measures and direction largely invalidates the theory. This tendency to centralization, which has become the crowning glory of our civilization, is strikingly manifest even in journalism, despite its theoretical exemption.
The subscribers being, so to speak, stockholders, and persons whose everyday occupations and mode of living tend to disparage individual initiative, the first effect of anything blasphemous to the sacred shrine of the commonplace is the appointment of a committee, or board of directors, by the subscribers whose chief functions consist in promoting solidarity among the enrolled subscribers. Theoretically, I had become convinced that this was the flower of our civilization and frequently elucidated its philosophy at Shawmut College, but my later experience has not led me to be enraptured with its fragrance. Each one, in so far as individuality has survived, to however slight a degree, feels not only competent but authorized to express himself editorially; for those most fervent in presenting the superiority of collective wisdom are equally convinced that they are its organs.
When I accepted the position as editor, I believed that this reservation of journalism from collective control was wise, but what was excluded in theory reappears in practice. If you could but look over the articles I have received from the stockholders whom I represent, the « pews » to whom I preach, you might be tempted to change the name of the paper to the « Scrap Book, » or face the problem of reducing material cost without increasing intellectual costiveness. You see my dilemma: if I insert them I am publishing contradictory principles, if I exclude them I am flying in the face of our great and glorious institutions by looking backward to outgrown conditions, wherein some of your semi-barbarous forefathers were wont to prate of the inseparableness of personal initiative and responsibility.
That our social system can be criticised by writers for its compulsory enlistment for three years to secure ample supply for social demand for sewer-ditchers, night scavengers, domestic service, etc., you would undoubtedly agree with me in regarding as only coming from those in whom our beneficent institutions had not eradicated as yet the hereditary taint of being « born tired, » a complaint of which we read in some ancient authors. Yet, whatever its source, such criticisms are received, though generally concealed in allegory. Thus, recently, I bad to reject a story of considerable literary excellence, wherein was described a fancied society where parity of conditions rendered free competition equitable, and remuneration for work was determined in open market by intensity and degree of repugnance overcome, thus unsocially offered the highest inducements to disagreeable labor. I saw at once the anarchistic character of the work, and promptly suppressed it as treasonous.
I have also come to the conclusion, my dear Dr. Leete, that the newspaper is obsolete. For current gossip and small talk we already have abundant vehicles; for criticism on public polity there is no room, even if there were need, nor would it be wise to tolerate it in a community where individuality is subordinated to general welfare and protection constitutes the genius of ail institutions. Our general news we receive officially, all alike, as it is given to us, and the official bulletins meet all demands that may arise which public safety and morality deem wisdom to publish. Titles of heavier treatises than the ephemeral requirements of newspapers may always be found in the official record of publications distributed among our purchasing agencies, to those who have time to search through their voluminous bulk, and even if a title should prove misleading, a common misfortune for which I can suggest no adequate remedy, our material prosperity is so well assured that credit so wasted will not injure anyone.
Finding, therefore, that our present legally instituted scheme of journalism is incompatible with our social constitution, to preserve which all else must be sacrificed, in that it cannot be successfully conducted without individual initiative, control, and responsibility, I gladly cease the struggle to return to my chair of philosophy of history at Shawmut College. My own opinion is that the collective direction now so simplified over production and exchange in material fabrics, should be logically extended to the production and exchange of the more subtle fabrics of the brain if our glorious institutions are to permanently remain on a solid and immovable basis, To admit anarchy in thought, and insist on artificial regulation of relations which are horn of thought, is plainly illogical and dangerous to collective liberty. A social system once instituted must be preserved at all hazards; to preserve is as essential as to create; and this is the more evident when we are the creators and know the result to be to our social well being.
Happily, the compulsory solidarity to which civilization has now attained in material wealth, and the moralization of militancy a century ago, effected by political high-priests, already gives every indication of being dominant in the intellectual sphere before the close of this newly-opened century. Having organized liberty, having brought the spirit of freedom down from abstract heights to add a local habitation to its name, by excluding individual initiative and personal responsibility in economics, having substituted the kind fraternalism of direction for the wild freedom of competition, let us hasten the rapidly nearing day when intellect will also reject these survivals of a ruder age—a day wherein we will reach the culminating point of our civilization, where looking forward will be synonymous with looking backward!
Yours for organized and instituted liberty.
P. S.—Edith sends love; the baby is well, J. W.
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