As always yours,
FRANKLIN K. LANE
On February 22, 1912, Lane delivered the annual address at the University of Virginia. He spoke on American Tradition, saying that as Americans are physically, industrially, and socially the “heirs of all the ages” our supreme tradition is a “hatred of injustice.” That one of the great experiments that a Democracy should make is to find a more equitable distribution of wealth “without destroying individual initiative or blasting individual capacity and imagination.” This address brought a letter from Oliver Wendell Holmes, Justice of the Supreme Court.
TO FRANKLIN K. LANE
March 17, 1912
My dear sir,—Let me thank you at once for your Virginia address, which I have just received and just read—read with the greatest pleasure. I admire its eloquence, its imagination, its style. I sympathize with its attitude and with most of its implications. I gain heart from its tone of hope. I am old—by the calendar at least—and at times am more melancholy, so that it does me good to hear the note of courage. One implication may carry conclusions to which I think I ought to note my disagreement,—the reference to unequal distribution. I think the prevailing fallacy is to confound ownership with consumption of products. Ownership is a gate, not a stopping place. You tell me little when you tell me that Rockefeller or the United States is the owner. What I want to know is who consumes the annual product, and for many years I have been saying and believing that to think straight one should look at the stream of annual products and ask what change one would make in that under any regime. The luxuries of the few are a drop in the bucket—the crowd now has all there is. The difference between private and public ownership, it seems to me, is mainly in the natural selection of those most competent to foresee the future and to direct labor into the most productive channels, and the greater poignancy of the illusion of self-seeking under which the private owner works. The real problem, under socialism as well as under individualism, is to ascertain, under the external economic and inevitable conditions, the equilibrium of social desires. The real struggle is between the different groups of producers of the