In passing, it is worth noting that the same ethical spirit that insists upon fixing the responsibility for social ills upon particular property interests—or property owners—insists with equal vehemence upon absolving the propertyless evil-doer from personal responsibility for his acts. The Los Angeles dynamiters were but victims: the crime in which they were implicated was institutional, not personal. Their punishment was rank injustice; inexpedient, moreover, as provocative of further crime, instead of a means of repression. On the other hand, when it appears that the congestion of the slum produces vice and disease, we are not urged by the spokesmen of this ethical creed, to blame the chain of institutional causes typified by scarcity of land, high prices of building materials, the incapacity of a raw immigrant population to pay for better habitations, or to appreciate the need for light and air. Rather, we are urged to fix responsibility upon the individual owner who receives rent from slum tenements. Perhaps we can not imprison him for his misdeeds, but we can make him an object of public reproach; expel him from social intercourse (if that, so often talked about, is ever done); fasten his iniquities upon him if ever he seeks a post of trust or honor; and ultimately we can deprive him of his property. Let him and his anti-social interests be forever excommunicate, outlawed.
In the country at large the property interests involved in the production and sale of alcoholic beverages are already excommunicated. The unreformed “best society” may still tolerate the presence of persons whose fortunes are derived from breweries or distilleries; but the great mass of the social-minded would deny them fire and water. In how many districts would a well organized political machine urge persons thus enriched as candidates for Congress, the bench or even the school board? In the prohibition territory excommunication of such property interests has been followed by outlawry. The saloon in Maine and Kansas exists by the same title as did Robin Hood: the inefficiency of the law. On the road to excommunication is private property in the wretched shacks that shelter the city’s poor. Outlawry is not far distant. “These tenements must go.” Will they go? Ask of the police, who pick over the wreckage upon the subsidence of a wave of reform. Many a rookery, officially abolished, will be found still tenanted, and yielding not one income, but two, one for the owner and another for the police. The property represented by enterprises paying low wages, working men for long hours or under unhealthful conditions, or employing children, is almost ripe for excommunication. Pillars of society and the church have already been seen tottering on account of revelations of working conditions in factories from which they receive dividends. Property “affected by a public use,” that is, investments in the instrumentalities of public