The Menace of Privilege, by Henry George Jr.
Installment 46

We are pleased to present, in installments, a very rare yet significant book written by former Congressman Henry George Jr. in 1905.

Earlier installments are available at the Progress Report Archive.


Monopoly Freezes Freedom of Thought

If this is true of Mr. Rockefeller and his gifts to the Chicago University, the same is to be said of the manifold gifts from Privilege to the higher institutions of learning throughout the country. Not that there are not some - many even - who, having acquired fortunes by privilege, are willing to spend liberally to educate the people to see the folly of privilege grants. Such men are as much to be honored as they are exceptional. But Princes of Privilege generally have no such liberal intentions. They strive to preserve their advantages, as to the origin of which they endeavor to keep the people ignorant.

This principle of preservation operates also in respect to Mr. Andrew Carnegie's gifts to the smaller colleges and to his $10,000,000 professional pension fund.

Much praise may without doubt be given to various forms of Mr. Carnegie's public munificence in spending the interest and perhaps something of the principal of his enormous fortune,2 even if the manner is not after the scriptural injunction to let not the left hand know what the right hand doeth.

The phrase "to die rich is to die disgraced" has been popularly thought to have been uttered by Mr. Carnegie, and the deduction was that he intended to distribute practically his whole fortune before dying. In an interview in the New York Times, March 30, 1905, Mr. Carnegie was reported as saying: "I never said that to die rich was to die disgraced." Yet Mr. Carnegie did twice use a phrase that admits of the popular construction. It appeared in two articles bearing his signature, on the "Gospel of Wealth," in the North American Review for June and December, 1889. These articles have since been published in book form by the Century Company under title of "The Gospel of Wealth and Other Timely Essays." On page 19 of this volume will be found this passage:

First stands the founding and magnificent endowing of the Carnegie Institution at Washington to discover the principles of science, although it is highly improbable that steps will be taken to discover and to establish the principles of the science of political economy. Nor should it be overlooked that this Carnegie patronage of scientific research closely resembles the patronage of learning in the fourteenth century by the Florentine prince, Lorenzo the Magnificent - performed out of a great fortune wrung from the sweat of the common man's face. Perhaps less, but yet much, may be said in favor of the dispensing of some $30,000,000 over the country in "Carnegie Libraries," although the word "library" in this case means only buildings, and not books, nor does it provide for sites or for maintenance. These libraries really represent larger public than Carnegie outlay, so that while the buildings stand as monuments to Carnegie generosity, they might very much more justly be called public libraries - public monuments to learning.

Yet if the Carnegie Institution and the library building gifts pass with mixture of praise and questioning criticism, little but adverse comment is to be made on the Carnegie gifts to the smaller colleges and the provision for pensioning of teachers in the greater colleges and universities. How can such a course but help raise the premium for that contemptible, degrading "obsequiousness" which Adam Smith declared to be the accompaniment of "extraneous jurisdiction"? The multitude of the masters in our higher institutions of learning are but scantily paid and can make only slight provision for superannuation. The multitude of our lesser colleges are gaunt and eager with hunger.

The university develops moral characters according to its material nourishment. Thomas Jefferson uttered the political and economic shibboleth of "Equal rights for all, special privileges to none." The University of Virginia which he founded breathed the doctrine of equal rights, except perhaps as to slavery. Jefferson himself, however, was clearly and emphatically against slavery. But now that Mr. Carnegie has given it half a million dollars on condition that others should contribute a like amount, is the dictum of "special privileges to none" to be forgotten?

Shall this and the other colleges which Carnegie bounty has favored teach the truth about matters of vast public concern at this time: about rebates, pools, combines, stock water, lobbies, tariff schedules, monopolies of transit, oil, natural gas, coking coal and iron ore? Or shall there be dodging, dust-throwing, silence? Who can doubt the latter, except by the occasional college, or by such rare professors, as, taking their professional lives in their hands and ignoring "extraneous jurisdiction," boldly proclaim the truth?

The case is not merely as if Captain Kidd in his latter days, leaving off his ship-looting ways to endow colleges and win peace and honor, should have expected the preceptors to refrain from referring ever so delicately to the spring whence flowed his bounty. It goes deeper. It is as if, in making the endowment, the illustrious mariner, through his endowments, should have quietly intimated that the departments expounding the natural laws of commerce should do that expounding in such a way as not to proscribe the highly profitable vocation of piracy!

And thus it is that President Woodrow Wilson of Princeton declares, "We can't abolish the trusts; we must moralize them." Ex-President Cleveland, delivering one of the Stafford Little Lectures at the same institution, reviews the Government's part in the Chicago strike of 1894, calmly telling how, through the Attorney-General of the United States, "instead of relying entirely upon warrants issued upon criminal statutes against persons actually guilty of the offense of obstructing United States mails," he devised a plan of procedure not contemplated by the laws - a plan by which "the courts should be asked to grant injunctions which would restrain and prevent any attempt to commit such offense."

Professor Simon N. Patton of the University of Pennsylvania is reported as saying that "the whole social problem would be solved" were the young wife "to become income producer" in addition to the young husband. Professor J. S. Clark of Northwestern is said to contend that an unskilled American laborer can and should support a family decently and perhaps put something away out of $300 a year. Or observe how Mr. Rockefeller quotes as a defense of his career a thesis appearing in the Quarterly Journal of Economics of Harvard, and has it published in book form for gratuitous presentation to clergymen. Again, take note that President Charles W. Eliot of Harvard, addressing high school pupils in Buffalo, repeats his former declaration that "a scab is a hero," and adds: "I believe that long hours and hard work are best for every man. Work is the foundation of civilization, and work makes nations as it does individuals. No man can work too hard or hours too long if his health will permit."

Is it strange that in such an atmosphere the body of students come to harbor warped views about universities and other things? Thence come they to think that this alma mater - this fostering, nourishing, bountiful mother - is most wise, just, upright; and that all gathered within her sheltering fold are favored as by a kind of life fellowship. President Butler of Columbia says, "The esprit de corps of a college is its life." College "spirit" it is called, but in the social conditions arising from the present unequal distribution of wealth it is fast becoming caste feeling.

For college "spirit" is not merely drawing a line, but digging a trench between those within and those without the college pale. Within, to college view, are the intelligent, the cultured, the wise, the well-to-do. Those without as a whole appear to be poor, improvident, ignorant, unreasoning and unreasonable. The college makes no real, concerted attempt to find why this is or appears to be so. That would expose Privilege, which interferes with the just distribution of wealth, and hence breeds social differences. The college treats the superficial appearance as the inner reality of things, and tacitly says that what thus appears to be, is right.

We have previously noted the uprising of class feeling among us. College spirit is giving to it the intellectual stamp. We hear now of the "intelligent class" and of the "ignorant class." This means, in plain words, that the people of leisure who go to college are the "intelligent class," while the people who have to work for a living and who do not go to college are the "ignorant class."

As yet this has had only sporadic issue in action. College students have appeared in New York and elsewhere as strike breakers. Their numbers have been insufficient to have material effect, but the spirit hostile to organized labor and critical of the whole body of "work people" has been manifested. Under stress of widening social disparities, the present nebulous college esprit de corps is likely to condense into sharply defined, aggressive, warring caste sentiment.

Such a state of things is hastened by the increasing cost of college life, which raises the barrier against the poor. At least such cost is rising in the greater universities, and the sentiments bred there must spread to the lesser institutions. Mr. John De Witt Warner, a regent of Cornell, has noted that the expense of the average undergraduate there is fifty per cent. greater now than before 1885. ("Simplicity and Economy in Student Life," Cornell Alumni News, Nov.23, 1904.)

He ascribes this, to some extent, to the added cost of living common to the whole population. But the great cause he believes to be a departure from the simplicity and economy that until lately was the characteristic of the American college. Mr. Warner says: -

Mr. Warner suggests a policy of administration to mitigate the evil. But nothing short of a vigorous and rigid paternalism could check the quickening pace set by our young Princelings of Privilege. How unlikely is the adoption of such a policy appears from the abuse of the elective principle in selecting studies-an abuse which enables those who have been called "the lazy rich" to graduate with the least possible effort.

Now, as of yore, many poor young men, by strict economy and working outside between times, manage to carry themselves through such institutions. At Columbia, for instance, a considerable number of the undergraduates while enrolled in the university incidentally earn a portion of the pay for their schooling and living. Among their occupations are tutoring, soliciting for mercantile houses, ushering in theaters and elsewhere, bookkeeping, census taking, preaching, singing and playing in choirs, typewriting, waiting on table and clearing snow from sidewalks.

There is something of the old American independence of spirit and eagerness to learn about this. But in the former times the money disparity between such as these and the other students was comparatively small. There was then no class of students who could bet a thousand dollars on a college game, pay $800 for the papering of a single room, spend $200 on a small supper, and give half that sum for a couple of seats at a championship fight. The valets and chauffeurs of such princelings at college get more of the creature comforts than many an earnest young undergraduate, who, with infinite strain, is grinding his way through.

Who will believe that all this is as it should be or that it is but the workings of the inevitable? In their heart of hearts, few. He who runs may read. Privilege, which itself is unnatural, has taken hold of instruction in the higher institutions and will hold to it as to its life.

Next Week: Turn to the Pulpit and Look at Privilege's Influence on Religion!

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