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- Caesar's Column - 20/54 -
workmen still get their $1.50 per day, and _Cunning_ pockets the remainder. But this is not all: If one man can now do the work of ten, then there are nine men thrown out of employment. But the nine men must live; they want the one man's place; they are hungry; they will work for less; and down go wages, until they reach the lowest limit at which the workmen can possibly live. Society has produced one millionaire and thousands of paupers. The millionaire cannot eat any more or wear any more than one prosperous yeoman, and therefore is of no more value to trade and commerce; but the thousands of paupers have to be supported by the tax-payers, and they have no money to spend, and they cannot buy the goods of the merchants, or the manufacturers, and all business languishes. In short, the most utterly useless, destructive and damnable crop a country can grow is--millionaires. If a community were to send. to India and import a lot of man-eating tigers, and turn them loose on the streets, to prey on men, women and children, they would not inflict a tithe of the misery that is caused by a like number of millionaires. And there would be this further disadvantage: the inhabitants of the city could turn out and kill the tigers, but the human destroyers are protected by the benevolent laws of the very people they are immolating on the altars of wretchedness and vice."
"But what is your remedy?" asked Max.
"Government," I replied; "government--national, state and municipal--is the key to the future of the human race.
"There was a time when the town simply represented cowering peasants, clustered under the shadow of the baron's castle for protection. It advanced slowly and reluctantly along the road of civic development, scourged forward by the whip of necessity. We have but to expand the powers of government to solve the enigma of the world. Man separated is man savage; man gregarious is man civilized. A higher development in society requires that this instrumentality of co-operation shall be heightened in its powers. There was a time when every man provided, at great cost, for the carriage of his own letters. Now the government, for an infinitely small charge, takes the business off his hands. There was a time when each house had to provide itself with water. Now the municipality furnishes water to all. The same is true of light. At one time each family had to educate its own children; now the state educates them. Once every man went armed to protect himself. Now the city protects him by its armed police. These hints must be followed out. The city of the future must furnish doctors for all; lawyers for all; entertainments for all; business guidance for all. It will see to it that no man is plundered, and no man starved, who is willing to work."
"But," said Max, "if you do away with interest on money and thus scatter coagulated capital into innumerable small enterprises, how are you going to get along without the keen-brained masters of business, who labor gigantically for gigantic personal profits; but who, by their toll and their capital, bring the great body of producers into relation with the great body of consumers? Are these men not necessary to society? Do they not create occasion and opportunity for labor? Are not their active and powerful brains at the back of all progress? There may be a thousand men idling, and poorly fed and clothed, in a neighborhood: along comes one of these shrewd adventurers; he sees an opportunity to utilize the bark of the trees and the ox-hides of the farmers' cattle, and he starts a tannery. He may accumulate more money than the thousand men he sets to work; but has he not done more? Is not his intellect immeasurably more valuable than all those unthinking muscles?"
"There is much force in your argument," I replied, "and I do not think that society should discourage such adventurers. But the muscles of the many are as necessary to the man you describe as his intellect is to the muscles; and as they are all men together there should be some equity in the distribution of the profits. And remember, we have gotten into a way of thinking as if numbers and wealth were everything. It is better for a nation to contain thirty million people, prosperous, happy and patriotic, than one hundred millions, ignorant, wretched and longing for an opportunity to overthrow all government. The over-population of the globe will come soon enough. We have no interest in hurrying it. The silly ancestors of the Americans called it 'national development' when they imported millions of foreigners to take up the public lands, and left nothing for their own children.
"And here is another point: Men work at first for a competence--for enough to lift them above the reach of want in those days which they know to be rapidly approaching, when they can no longer toil. But, having reached that point, they go on laboring for vanity--one of the shallowest of the human passions. The man who is worth $ 100,000 says to himself, 'There is Jones; he is worth $500,000; he lives with a display and extravagance I cannot equal. I must increase my fortune to half a million.' Jones, on the other hand, is measuring himself against Brown, who has a million. He knows that men cringe lower to Brown than they do to him. He must have a million--half a million is nothing. And Brown feels that he is overshadowed by Smith, with his ten millions; and so the childish emulation continues. Men are valued, not for themselves, but for their bank account. In the meantime these vast concentrations of capital are made at the expense of mankind. If, in a community of a thousand persons, there are one hundred millions of wealth, and it is equally divided between them, all are comfortable and happy. If, now, ten men, by cunning devices, grasp three-fourths of all this wealth, and put it in their pockets, there is but one-fourth left to divide among the nine hundred and ninety, and they are therefore poor and miserable. Within certain limits accumulation in one place represents denudation elsewhere.
"And thus, under the stimulus of shallow vanity," I continued, "a rivalry of barouches and bonnets--an emulation of waste and extravagance--all the powers of the minds of men are turned--not to lift up the world, but to degrade it. A crowd of little creatures--men and women--are displayed upon a high platform, in the face of mankind, parading and strutting about, with their noses in the air, as tickled as a monkey with a string of beads, and covered with a glory which is not their own, but which they have been able to purchase; crying aloud: 'Behold what I _have got!_' not, 'Behold what I _am!_'
"And then the inexpressible servility of those below them! The fools would not recognize Socrates if they fell over him in the street; but they can perceive Crœsus a mile off; they can smell him a block away; and they will dislocate their vertebrę abasing themselves before him. It reminds one of the time of Louis XIV. in France, when millions of people were in the extremest misery--even unto starvation; while great grandees thought it the acme of earthly bliss and honor to help put the king to bed, or take off his dirty socks. And if a common man, by any chance, caught a glimpse of royalty changing its shirt, he felt as if he had looked into heaven and beheld Divinity creating worlds. Oh, it is enough to make a man loathe his species."
"Come, come," said Maximilian, "you grow bitter. Let us go to dinner before you abolish all the evils of the world, or I shall be disposed to quit New York and buy a corner lot in Utopia."
THE COUNCIL OF THE OLIGARCHY
Precisely as Rudolph had forecast, things came to pass. I arrived at the palace of the Prince at half past six; at half past seven, my ordinary suit was covered with a braided livery, and I accompanied Rudolph to the council-chamber. We placed the table, chairs, pens, ink, paper, etc., in order. Watching our opportunity, we drew aside a heavy box in which grew a noble specimen of the _cactus grandiflorus_ in full bloom, the gorgeous flowers just opening with the sunset, and filling the chamber with their delicious perfume. I crawled through the opening; took off my liveried suit; handed it back to Rudolph; he pushed the box into its place again; I inserted the hooks in their staples, and the barricade was complete. With many whispered injunctions and directions he left me. I heard him go out and lock the door--not the door by which we had entered--and all was silence.
There was room, by doubling up my limbs, Turk-fashion, to sit down in the inclosure. I waited. I thought of Estella. Rudolph had assured me that she had not been disturbed. They were waiting for hunger to compel her to eat the drugged food. Then I wondered whether we would escape in safety. Then my thoughts dwelt on the words she had spoken of me, and I remembered the pleased look upon her face when we met in Rudolph's room, and my visions became very pleasant. Even the dead silence and oppressive solitude of the two great rooms could not still the rapid beatings of my heart. I forgot my mission and thought only of Estella and the future.
I was recalled to earth and its duties by the unlocking of the farther door. I heard Rudolph say, as if in answer to a question:
"Yes, my lord, I have personally examined the rooms and made sure that there are no spies concealed anywhere."
"Let me see," said the Prince; "lift up the tapestry."
I could hear them moving about the council-chamber, apparently going around the walls. Then I heard them advancing into the conservatory. I shrank down still lower; they moved here and there among the flowers, and even paused for a few moments before the mass of flowering cacti.
"That _flagelliformis_," said the Prince, "looks sickly. The soil is perhaps too rich. Tell the gardener to change the earth about it."
"I shall do so, my lord," said Rudolph; and to my great relief they moved off. In a few minutes I heard them in the council-chamber. With great caution I rose slowly. A screen of flowers had been cunningly placed by Rudolph between the cacti and that apartment. At last, half-stooping, I found an aperture in the rich mass of blossoms. The Prince was talking to Rudolph. I had a good view of his person. He was dressed in an evening suit. He was a large man, somewhat corpulent; or, as Rudolph had said, bloated. He had a Hebraic cast of countenance; his face seemed to be all angles. The brow was square and prominent, projecting at the corners; the nose was quite high and aquiline; the hair had the look of being dyed; a long, thick black mustache covered his upper lip, but it could not quite conceal the hard, cynical and sneering expression of his mouth; great bags of flesh hung beneath the small, furtive eyes. Altogether the face reminded me of the portraits of Napoleon the Third, who was thought by many to have had little of Napoleon in him except the name.
There was about Prince Cabano that air of confidence and command which usually accompanies great wealth or success of any kind. Extraordinary power produces always the same type of countenance. You see it in the high-nosed mummied kings of ancient Egypt. There is about them an aristocratic _hauteur_ which even the shrinking of the dry skin for four thousand years has not been able to quite subdue. We feel like taking off our hats even to their parched hides. You see it in the cross-legged monuments of the old crusaders, in the venerable churches of Europe; a splendid breed of ferocious
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