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'Reason and the Social Question'
J.A. Andrews, 'Reason', January, 1896.

We should be more original in profession than in practice if we did not treat reason as necessary to the solution of the Social Problem. But we are not content with affirming reason to be the means for discovering a solution; we are convinced, further, that reason is itself the solution.

To put the case briefly: if there are any social results which are absurd in their nature, that must proceed from a departure from reason in their causes.

Now, there is only one way of departing from reason as a social principle, and that is to establish any other principle of a less - there cannot be any of a more - adaptative character. It is a truism that every rule has its exceptions; make a rule for the exceptions, and you require another to provide for exceptions yet again upon that. On the whole, if the object of a rule is to save the trouble of bringing reason to bear upon the particular instances, it seems like the proverbial "lazy man's short cut," as more effort has generally to be expended in finding out precisely what rules apply to the combination of points on which a decision is wanted, than would be needed for forming an original and independent judgment. Then again, while reason may fail from want of knowledge on which to proceed, rule must go wrong from the very fact that, being unable to provide for all the exceptions, it has to content itself with deciding upon some of them as if they were not what they really are - as if they really were what they are not. And while people may fail to use reason correctly, they are certainly no less liable to misconstrue rules than to misconstrue facts - so that one fails to see where the advantage of rule over free reason in any matter at all comes in.

We can understand a common agreement about some point which a number of people will accommodate each other to observe; that rests on reason. But the extent to which an understanding arrived at is to be acted upon, is also a matter for reason to determine. If Henry promises John, "I will be at such a place at 9.30," and a fierce shower of rain occurs, the question is whether the appointment is of such importance that the parties ex- pect each other to get wet for its sake. It is for Henry to decide whether John is likely to be waiting for him, and if so whether it is more serious for him to get wet or for John to be disappointed; whether John is likely to prefer (and to prefer him) to keep dry, or to keep the appointment. If you make the keeping of appointments compulsory, however, say under penalty of a month in goal, you open up a brilliant prospect before a new industry - that of speculating in appointments with a view to making the other fellow buy their cancellation.

Of course, if there were several persons liable to be disappointed together by Henry's not turning up, he might need much stronger grounds of excuse than where it was only an affair between him and John (on the other hand their number might make his presence less important); but if a million people agree together that they will keep their appointments, they cannot succeed in making an appointment between Henry and all of them out of a simple personal appointment between Henry and John - so that, unless indeed you would deem it your duty for you to seize Henry by force and drag him violently through the streets to keep an appointment at which you had no business, when he thought he had sufficient excuse for not going, you cannot profess that any other outsider ought to do so, and therefore certainly you cannot profess that all outsiders collectively ought to do it, or anything equivalent to it.

All this apart from the fact that a rule is very often not an agreement at all, but either a simple habit foolishly treated as obligatory simply on account of being habitual, or a mere command.

The principle, here exposed, of making universal, observances whose desirability or appropriateness is only general, or even less, and justifying this by the fallacious assumption that the public have an actual joint and uniform concern in the cases where they have really only a common liability to separate and variable concern in other possible single cases of the kind, appears to be the starting point of all evils which are radical in the present system of society, and the great cause which imposes spasmodic revolutions to remedy abuses and errors which would otherwise have had already a gradual and easy rectification in the course of social development, which would have outpaced and not lagged behind their own. It is the primary departure from the working of reason into practice. And it is the principle from which the socialists of to-day expect everything!

A correction in this point would be a development of individualism in the true sense, for it is only through an individualistic medium that reason - since the ends it has to serve and circumstances which it has to deal with are the matters of the people individually - can freely and really transform itself into action. And Individualism, if it means anything but isolation, jealousy, and mutual hostility - if it means INDIVIDUALISM - means the condition in which all individual satisfaction is rendered most fully and harmoniously possible by the emancipation of individual action. While such a correction would not be socialistic as socialism goes, it would certainly reform out of existence all the real evils against which socialism is protesting, and at the same time reform in the opposite direction - by enlarging and vivifying them - the imagined evils in destroying which, socialism would make itself a curse to humanity.

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Last modified: May 1, 1999

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