The Menace of Privilege Chapter Six first part
|January 9, 2007||Posted by Staff under Archive, Progress Report, The Progress Report|
The Menace of Privilege, by Henry George Jr.
We are pleased to present, in installments, a very rare yet significant book written by former Congressman Henry George Jr.
Earlier installments are available at the Progress Report Archive.
start of CHAPTER 6, AMUSEMENTS, DISSIPATIONS AND MARITAL RELATIONS
TURN to the amusements of the privileged rich and ask if they run with the customs and habits of the mass of our people.
A despatch from Saratoga last summer told how Mr. John W. Gates, with smiles, lost $10,000 in a six hours’ game of faro. Mr. Reginald C. Vanderbilt enjoys the distinction of having lost many times that amount during a single night in a high-priced gambling establishment in New York. To the very rich, either winning or losing is nothing in itself. It can add little to or take little from their wealth. The end sought is stimulation. Those who have a surfeit of all that mere wealth can bring seek change in excitement. And so there is much recourse to gambling of one kind or another, from bridge whist to plain “buck the tiger.” (The very rich may indulge this weakness without fear of ordinary exposure. But those less rich, belonging to what corresponds in England to the middle and the upper middle classes, are not so fortunate. Several select, sumptuously furnished gambling houses for women have been raided by the New York police within the year.) “Good-by, my dear,” said a lady of quality to a guest, taking her departure from a house party. “So glad you came; enjoyed your company so much – and do remember, dear, you lost a trifle to me at bridge – $300.”
What stimulates, or, at any rate, what accompanies this growing passion for card gaming is a passion for the race-track. Our princes not only bet heavily, they are the owners of the biggest and most expensive racing stables, with some horses worth $100,000 apiece. More than that, in New York some of them control the State Racing Commission, which controls the racing. In this way they conduct racing matters, ostensibly to improve the breed of horses, but really as large-scale gambling enterprises, and this in the very teeth of the law. (Act I, Sect. 9, of the Constitution of the State of New York runs: “Nor shall any lottery or the sale of any lottery tickets, pool-selling, book-making or any other kind of gambling hereafter be authorized or allowed within this State, and the Legislature shall pass appropriate laws to prevent offenses against any of the provisions of this section.” Overtly, at least, this mandate is observed everywhere except on the race-track. Certain corporations have exclusive right by statute to conduct races. These race-track corporations have obtained legislative exemptions or modifications of penalty, so that, while a man caught “making a book” outside of a racing corporation’s fence would be sentenced to two years’ imprisonment, for doing the same thing inside that fence there is practically no penalty at all. The State Constitution is so much of a dead letter on the racing corporations’ grounds that these associations actually sell the right to gamblers to make books on the track. The statute law makes a monopoly of race-track gambling, and gives that monopoly to the race-track associations, controlled by the State Racing Commission.)
Multitudes of the general public – that is, of the middle class and plain people – attend the races under the auspices of these and other race-track princes, and on the whole they lose, and lose heavily. The race-track princes come in for a handsome share of the winnings. (The New York State Comptroller’s report shows that the profits for 1904 of the eight great more or less allied tracks coming under the jurisdiction of the State Racing Commission were $3,805,125.51. This was aside from the huge betting receipts.) But other of the princes go there merely for the excitement. They are careless whether they win or lose. They are imbued with something of the reckless spirit of the early California miner, who suggested to another miner, as a test of their relative riches, that each alternately cast twenty-dollar gold pieces into San Francisco Bay until one of them be “cleaned out.”
The automobile brought a novelty into racing excitement. In the fall of 1904 the first big race was held — the 284-mile international contest on Long Island, for a silver cup offered by Mr. W. K. Vanderbilt, Jr. For the amusement of those conducting and witnessing the race, thirty miles of public roadway were practically closed against general use — proof of the degree to which common rights bend to Privilege! No danger to the public? No, not if the public keep out of the way; but death and destruction to any who get in the way. As it was, one participant was killed outright, another very badly hurt, and for a time paralyzed. Many other fatalities have since attended high speeding. But what of that? There will be such racing and high speeding so long as a craving for excitement exists and finds no other outlet. The very danger involved adds fire to the agitation. Are not jockeys killed every year in the horse races? Does that increase or lessen interest?
Would this imply that our Princes of Privilege have brutal tastes? What I assert is that, lifted above interest in normal things, our princes as a class crave unusual stimulants. So far has this appetite advanced, that women of the privileged order are now seen at prize-fights. Fifty of them were found among the spectators at a private “mill” raided by the police in Brooklyn not long since. Of the three thousand persons who witnessed the six-round “bout” between two prize-ring celebrities in Philadelphia within the year, four hundred were women — women of station in that city. One of them, in a newspaper statement, to which her name was attached, said of her presence there, and the sensations she experienced: —
- I didn’t want to go, because I think all such things very brutal; but I was asked, and I didn’t want to refuse. So I went, and I am very glad I did. Thinking it over, I feel surprised at myself. But to be candid, from the minute the men started I liked it. There was a funny little shock, a revulsion, at first. But after that the blood began to tingle in one’s veins, and one felt alive all over. I’d never go to another prize-fight. But I certainly understand why men like to go.
This is the utterance of a highly respected woman. She spoke so in the face of the fact that, although the fight was only “six rounds” in length, and was declared a “draw” at the end, there was a frightful lot of hard hitting. One man’s eye was split open, and both men, bleeding profusely, were smeared with their own and each other’s blood. Brutality was there, but it was forgotten in the mad excitement. This was also true of many who attended the gladiatorial fights in Roman days. In his “History of European Morals,” Lecky repeats the story related by St. Augustine, how one of the latter’s friends, being drawn to the gladiatorial spectacle, endeavored by closing his eyes to guard against a fascination he knew to be sinful. A sudden cry caused him to break his resolution, and he never could withdraw his gaze again.
Mr. Bryce notices (The Outlook, March 25, 1905) a change common to all classes, “all the more noticeable in America, because it is there quite recent.” This change is “the passion for looking on and reading about athletic sports ” — of being, not actors, but mere spectators.
- The love of playing and watching games which require strength and skill is as old as mankind, and needs no explanation. So the desire not to play, but to look on at chariot races and gladiatorial combats, was a passion among the people of Rome for many centuries. The circus factions at Constantinople have their place in history, and a bad place it is. But this taste is in America a thing almost of yesterday. It has now grown to vast proportions. It occupies the minds, not only of the youth at the universities, but also of their parents and of the general public. Baseball matches and football matches excite an interest greater than any other public events except the presidential election, and that comes only once in four years.
The interest of the universities is attested by the huge revenues of their athletics. The receipts from athletics at Yale for the fiscal year ending September 30, 1904, aggregated more than $106,000, while the total expenses were $75,174. And some of the games are essentially brutal, especially football. It appears to be a settled feature of the coaching in the latter game to pick out the most dangerous man on the opposing team, and “put him out” in the first few minutes’ play, “putting him out” meaning to injure him in some foul way, so as to incapacitate him from further play.
Nor is the preeminently national game, baseball, free of brutality. If it does not take the form of crippling players, it prejudices pure sport. Association owners engage players to win games by any method, with the intention of getting the biggest possible gate receipts. Polite, generous usages succumb to coarse, brutal hustling. There is unseemly wrangling among players, almost fist fights with umpires, and tolerance of the loosest shoutings from the roughest and most turbulent part of the spectators, who thrive on disorder. Among the colleges there is complaint that many of the best players are practicing deception to evade the amateur restrictions against taking pay, and that they descend to the pay and the hurly-burly of professionalism.
Or with small thought for all this, and finding occupation in other channels, see how some of our princes study and practice what they are pleased to call “The Science of Philanthropy.” It really is not a science. It is not effectual, nor can it be. It does not go to fundamentals; it merely touches here and there on the surface. It does not stop the robbery of the masses, the robbery that reduces them to poverty. It simply gives a few sops to them out of the spoil taken from them. If the beneficiaries do not see this, yet it is so. With the best intentions in the world, they can do nothing far-reaching or permanent unless they do justice, and justice means stopping the robbery of some for the enriching of others. With justice in respect to privileges, the practice of “philanthropy” would not be required. With justice not practiced, the “science of philanthropy” can only be a study of how, in Tolstoy’s words, to do “anything for the poor but get off their backs.”
What then if the Charity Organization Society of New York, for instance, be built up into a sort of “clearing house to the other charitable societies,” enabling those philanthropically disposed to quickly ascertain “what to give and how to give it”? What if the “Tenement Shade Tree Committee of the Tree Planting Association of New York City” line the streets of poor districts with trees? What if Mr. Carnegie appoint a “Hero Commission,” and transfer to it from the vast fortune he accumulated through privileges, $5,000,000 in first collateral five per cent. gold bonds of the United States Steel Corporation, the interest of which is to be used by the Commission for the awarding of medals to heroes and pecuniary aid to the injured heroes and the wives and children of those heroes who die? What if Mr. Henry Phipps, for so long a partner in the Carnegie Company, establish tenement houses on a basis of five per cent. income on the investment? What if societies be established to enable “the worthy poor” to pawn their small personal effects at lower than the legal rates? What if hospital beds be endowed, and a thousand other things in themselves more or less good, which “the science of philanthropy” can suggest be done? What of it all? It falls far short of justice, which is all that is needed. But justice is something that Privilege does not and will not see. Many of the privileged pursue “the science of philanthropy” as an intermittent occupation or amusement; some of them, perhaps, as a conscience easer.
And what are the offsets to this seeking for excitement or searching for occupation and peace of mind? Often it is misdirected interest in things. For instance, one lady daily sends her dog out in her victoria for a “constitutional,” liveried driver and footman on the box. Another treats her toy spaniel to the opera, on one occasion taking him to hear Caruso. Another has her darling quadruped massaged, in order that “his spirits may be kept high, and his life may be prolonged.” Yet another has the teeth of her pedigreed pet gold-filled, just as the Empress Poppaea had her horse gold-shod, — the horse that the Emperor Nero made consul. Then there are those who choose snakes, lions, pigs and bears for pets.
At other times there is the very madness of inanity: valentine dinners, golden-dish dinners, appendicitis dinners, horseback dinners, monkey dinners, bull and bear dinners, clown dinners and Egyptian desert dinners — the latter given by a New Yorker who lives abroad, the table being set as a miniature desert, where each guest dug up jewels with tiny gold pick and shovel.
A twist is given to the inanity by introduction of the English revival of falconry. Many cotes containing merlins, bastards, bobbies and goshawks are reported to have been set up on large private estates in western New York and the Berkshire Hills within the past two or three years. Then there are colonial fox-hunts and English “squire balls”; also revels and pastoral vapidities, such as were so favored in the dry-rot days of the French court, before ingulfment by the revolution. There are midnight beach parties, wild animal cotillions and vegetable parties, the latter in various ways suggestive of those mindless growths of the earth in imitation of which the participants dress. Perhaps there is a flocking to some such place as Sherry’s in New York, to listen to the “melancholy apostle of beauty” descant on “The Mystery of Blue Hydrangeas”; or to some place like Delmonico’s to applaud a more matter-of-fact person read from a manuscript book on “Marital Unrest,” or another discourse on “How to Get Rid of a Lover.”
These are the conditions in which our Princes of Privilege raise their offspring. As in all other courts of princes, flattery, cajolery and temptation fawn, snare and pander. Is it any wonder that pride, slothfulness and self-indulgence seek to possess the princelings?
There are honorable exceptions. Some of the heirs to empires of power choose deliberately to work and to work seriously. There are princelings, however, of a very different kind. Having slipped through college, by some sort of oiled process, they make no pretense of troubling with any more serious business than how to dress in the pink of fashion. If outwardly some are more seriously inclined, their thoughts are not so. I have a princeling in mind who entered a banking house to become fitted to follow his banker-father’s footsteps. Though of voting age, his lack of interest in the business qualified him for no better place in the establishment than that of high-class messenger boy. Odd intervals he devoted to study. But what kind of study? To the difficult art of picking horses, to the delicate one of mixing drinks. For the most part the young scions are not troubling themselves about any kind of industry save that of amusement. They pay $40 or $50 for choice seats at championship fights. They nonchalantly stake large sums on the speed of a horse, the turn of a wheel, the chance of a card.
Privilege has taken many good Americans and turned them gradually into selfish oddities. What’s your reaction? Tell it to The Progress Report!