The question of how much labour, as such, produces in modern societies is discussed in a later chapter.
INDIVIDUAL MOTIVE AND DEMOCRACY
The ascription of imaginary powers to the so-called “sovereign” democracy, which are really beyond the reach of any kind of government whatsoever, is, as I have said, a fallacy by no means peculiar to Socialists. Socialists merely push it to its full logical consequences; and I will begin with illustrating it by the arguments of a recent writer who, professedly as a social conservative, has dealt in detail with this precise question of the motives of the exceptional wealth-producer, which has just now been engaging us. I refer to the author of an essay in The North American Review, who hides his personality under the cryptic initial “X,” but who is said to be one of the most cultivated and best-known thinkers now living in the United States.
The subject of his essay is the growth, almost peculiar to that country, not of large, but of those colossal fortunes, which have certainly had no parallel in the past history of the world. The position of “X” is that the growth of such fortunes is deplorable, partly because they are possible instruments of judicial and political corruption, and partly because they excite antagonism against private wealth in general by exhibiting it to the gaze of the multitude in such monstrous and grotesque proportions. In any case, says “X,” “it is to the true interest of the multimillionaires themselves to join those who are free from envy in trying to remove the rapidly growing dissatisfaction with their continued possession of these vast sums of money.”
Now, though “X” hints that some of the fortunes in question may be open to further reprehension, on the ground that they have been acquired dishonestly, he by no means maintains that this opprobrium attaches itself to the great majority of them. On the contrary, he admits that the typical huge fortunes of America are based on the productive activities of the remarkable men who have amassed them. The talents of such men, he says, are essential to the prosperity of the country, and it is necessary to stimulate such men to develop their talents to the utmost by allowing them to derive for themselves some special reward for their use of them; but he contends that the rewards which they are at present permitted to appropriate are needlessly and dangerously excessive, and ought therefore to be limited. But limited by what means? It is his answer to this question that here alone concerns us.