The Principles of Political Economy

Henry Sidgwick

Book III

Chapter IX


§4. A consideration of facts like these leads us naturally to the widest and deepest question that the subject of the present chapter suggests; whether, namely, the whole individualistic organization of industry, whatever its material advantages may be, is not open to condemnation as radically demoralizing. Not a few enthusiastic persons have been led to this conclusion, partly from a conviction of the difficulty of demonstrating the general harmony of private and common interest---even if we suppose a perfectly administered system of individualistic justice;---partly from an aversion to the anti-social temper and attitude of mind, produced by the continual struggle of competition, even where it is admittedly advantageous to production. Such moral aversion is certainly an important, though not the most powerful, element in the impulses that lead thoughtful persons to embrace some form of socialism. And many who are not socialists, regarding the stimulus and direction of energy given by the existing individualistic system as quite indispensable to human society as at present constituted, yet feel the moral need of some means of developing in the members of a modern industrial community a fuller consciousness of their industrial work as a social function, only rightly performed when done with a cordial regard to the welfare of the whole society,---or at least of that part of it to which the work is immediately useful. From this point of view great interest attaches to the development of what is called, in a special sense, `co-operation'; by which the conflict of interests---either between producers and consumers, or between different sets of workers engaged in the same productive industry---has been more or less subordinated to the consciousness of associative effort for a common good. Any experiment of this kind that is economically successful is to be welcomed as a means of education in public spirit, no less than for its more material advantages.

Meanwhile it is always open to any individual who dislikes the selfish habits of feeling and action naturally engendered by the individualistic organization of society to counteract them in his private sphere by practising and commending a voluntary redistribution of wealth for the benefit for others. This leads me to the consideration of the influence exercised by Political Economy on the moral sentiments and judgments of instructed persons in respect of this redistribution.

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