MAY 12, 1926
"And the Lorde was with Joseph and he was a luckie felowe."'
—Genesis xx.xix. 2 (Tyndale's translation).
By the end of the sixteenth century the divorce between religious theory and economic realities had long been evident. But in the meantime, within the bosom of religious theory itself, a new system of ideas was being matured, which was destined to revolutionize all traditional values, and to turn over the whole field of social obligations a new and penetrating light. On a world heaving with expanding energies, and on a Church uncertain of itself, rose, after two generations of premonitory mutterings, the tremendous storm of the Puritan movement. The forest bent; the oaks snapped; the dry leaves were driven before a gale, neither all of winter nor all of spring, but violent and life-giving, pitiless and tender, sounding strange notes of yearning and contrition, as of voices wrung from a people dwelling in Meshec, which signifies Prolonging, in Kedar, which signifies Blackness; while amid the blare of trumpets, and the clash of arms, and the rending of the carved work of the Temple, humble to God and haughty to man, the soldier-saints swept over battlefield and scaffold their garments rolled in blood.
In the great silence which fell when the Titans had turned to dust, in the Augustan calm of the eighteenth century, a voice was heard to observe that religious liberty was a considerable advantage, regarded “merely in a commercial view.” A new world, it was evident, had arisen. And this new world, born of the vision of the mystic, the passion of the prophet, the sweat and agony of heroes famous and unknown, as well as of mundane ambitions and commonplace cupidities, was on in which, since “Thorough” was no more, since property was secure, and contracts inviolable, and the executive tamed, the judicious investments of business men were likely to yield a profitable return. So the epitaph, which crowns the life of what is called success, mocks the dreams in which youth hungered, not for success, but for the glorious failure of the martyr or the saint.
I.Puritanism and Society
The principal streams which descended in England from the teaching of Calvin were three—Presbyterianism, Congregationalism and a doctrine of the nature of God and man, which, if common to both, was more widely diffused, more pervasive and more potent than either. Of these three off-shoots from the parent stem, the first and eldest, which had made some stir under Elizabeth, and which it was hoped, with judicious watering from the Scotch, might grow into a state Church, was to produce a creedal statement carved in bronze, but was to strike, at least in its original guise, but slender roots. The second, with its insistence on the right of every Church to organize itself, and on the freedom of all Churches from the interference of the state, was to leave, alike in the Old World and in the New an impoverished legacy of civil and religious liberty. The third was Puritanism. Straitened to no single sect, and represented in the Anglican Church hardly, if at all, less fully than in those which afterward separated from it, it determined, not only conceptions of theology and church government, but political aspirations, business relations, family life and the minutiae of personal behavior.
The growth, triumph and transformation of the Puritan spirit was the most fundamental movement of the seventeenth century. Puritanism, not the Tudor secession from Rome, was the true English Reformation, and it is from its struggle against the old order that an England which is unmistakably modern emerges. But, immense as were its accomplishments in that inner world, of which politics are but the squalid scaffolding, were mightier still. Like an iceberg, which can awe the traveler by its towering majesty only because sustained by a vaster mass which escapes his eye, the revolution which Puritanism wrought in Church and state was less than that which it worked in men’s souls, and the watchwords which it thundered, and amid the hum of Parliaments and the roar of battles, had been learned in the lonely nights, when Jacob wrestled with the angel of the Lord to wring a blessing before he fled.
We do it wrong, being so majestical
To offer it to the show of violence.
In the mysticism of Bunyan and Fox, in the brooding melancholy and glowing energy of Cromwell, in the victorious tranquility of Milton, “unshaken, unseduced, unterrified,” amid a world of self-seekers and apostates, there are depths of light and darkness which posterity can observe with reverence or with horror, but which its small fathom-line cannot plumb.
There are types of character which are like a prism, whose various and brilliant colors are but broken reflections of a single ray of concentrated lights. If the inward and spiritual grace of Puritansim eludes the historian, its outward and visible signs meet him at every turn, and not less in market-place and counting-house and camp, than in the student’s chamber and the gathering of the elect for prayer. For the Puritan, a comtemner of the vain shows of sacramentalism, mundane toil becomes itself a kind of sacrament. Like a mean who strives by unresting activity to exorcise a haunting demon, the Puritan, in the effort to save his own soul, sets in motion every force in heaven above or in the earth beneath. By the mere energy of his expanding spirit, he remakes, not only his own character and habits and way of life, but family and church, industry and city, political institutions and social order. Conscious that he is but a stranger and pilgrim, hurrying from his transitory life to a life to come, he turns with almost physical horror from the vanities which lull into an awful indifference souls dwelling on the borders of eternity, to pore with anguish of spirit on the grand facts, God, the soul, salvation, and damnation. “It made the world seem to me,” said a Puritan of his conversation, “as a carcass that had neither life nor loveliness. And it destroyed those ambitious desires after literate fame, which was the sin of my childhood….It set me upon that method of my studies which since then I have found the benefit of….It caused me first to seek God’s Kingdom and his Righteousness and most to mind the One thing needful, and to determine first of my Ultimate End.”
Overwhelmed by a sense of his “Ultimate End,” the Puritan cannot rest, nevertheless, in reflecting upon it. The contemplation of God, which the greatest of the Schoolmen described as the supreme blessedness, is a blessedness too great for sinners who must not only contemplate God, but glorify Him by their work in a world given over to the powers of darkness. “The way to the Celestial City lies just through this town, where this lusty fair is kept; and he that will go to the City, and yet not go through this town, must needs go out of the world.” For that awful journey, girt with precipices and beset with fiends, he sheds every encumbrance, and arms himself with every weapon. Amusements, books, even intercourse with friends, must, if need be, be cast aside; for it is better to enter into eternal life halt and maimed, than having two eyes to be cast into eternal fire. He scours the country, like Baxter and Fox, to find one who may speak the world of life to his soul. He seeks from his ministers, not absolution, but instruction, exhortation and warning. Prophesyings—that most revealing episode in early Puritanism—were the cry of a famished generation for enlightenment, for education, for a religion of the intellect; and it was because “much preaching breeds faction, but much praying causes devotion” that the powers of this world raised their parchment shutters to stem the gale that blew from the Puritan pulpit. He disciplines, rationalizes, systemizes his life; “method” was a Puritan catchword a century before the world had heard of Methodists. He makes his very business a travail of the Lord’s vineyard, in which he is called to labor.
Feeling in him that which “maketh him more fearful of displeasing God than all the world,” he is a natural republican, for there is none on earth that he can own as master. If powers and principalities will hear and obey, well; if not, they must be ground into dust, that on their ruins the elect may build the Kingdom of Christ. And, in the end, all these—prayer, toil, and discipline, master of self and master of others, wounds and death—may be too little for the salvation of a single soul. “Then I saw that there was a way to Hell even from the Gates of Heaven, as well as from the City of Destruction”—those dreadful words haunt him as he nears his end. Sometimes they break his heart. More often, for grace abounds even to the chief of sinners, they nerve his will. For it is will—will organized and disciplined and inspired, will quiescent in rapt adoration or straining in violent energy, but always will—which is the essence of Puritanism, and for the intensification and organization of will every instrument in that tremendous arsenal of religious fervor is mobilized. The Puritan is like a steel spring compressed by an inner force, which shatters every obstacle by its rebound. Sometimes the strain is too tense, and when its imprisoned energy is released, it shatters itself.
The spirit bloweth where it listeth, and men of every social grade had felt their hearts lifted by its breath, from aristocrats and country gentlemen to weavers who, “as they stand in their loom, can set a book before them or edifie one another.” But, if religious zeal and moral enthusiasm are not straitened by the vulgar categories of class and income, experience proves, nevertheless, that there are certain kinds of environment in which they burn more bravely than in others, and that, as man is both spirit and body, so different types of religious experience correspond to the varying needs of different social and economic milieux. To contemporaries the chosen seat of the Puritan spirit seemed to be those classes in society which combined economic independence, education and a certain decent pride in their status, revealed at once in a determination to live their own lives, without truckling to earthly superiors, and in a somewhat arrogant contempt for those who, either through wickedness of character or through economic helplessness, were less resolute, less vigorous and masterful, than themselves. Such, where the feudal spirit had been weakened by contact with town life and new intellectual currents, were some of the gentry. Such conspicuously, were the yeomen, “mounted on a high spirit, as being slaves to none,” especially in the freeholding counties of the east. Such, above all, were the trading classes of the towns, and of those rural districts which had been partially industrialized by the decentralization of the textile and iron industries.
II. A Godly Discipline Versus The Religion of Trade
Puritanism was the schoolmaster of the English middle classes. It heightened their virtues, sanctified, without eradicating, their convenient vices, and gave them an inexpugnable assurance that, behind virtues and vices alike, stood the majestic and inexorable laws of an omnipotent Providence, without whose foreknowledge not a hammer could beat upon the forge, not a figure could be added to the ledger. But it is a strange school which does not teach more than one lesson, and the social reactions of Puritanism, trenchant, permanent and profound, are not to be summarized in the simple formula that it fostered individualism. Weber, in a celebrated essay, expounded the thesis that Calvanism, in its English version, was the parent of capitalism, and Troeltsch, Shulze-Gaevernitz and Cunningham have lent to the same interpretation the weight of their considerable authority. But the heart of man holds mysteries of contradiction which live in vigorous incompatibility together. When the shriveled tissues lie in our hand, the spiritual bond still eludes us.
In every human soul there is a socialist and an individualist, an authoritarian and a fanatic for liberty, as in each there is a Catholic and a Protestant. The same is true of the mass movements in which men marshal themselves for common action. There was in Puritanism an element which was conservative and traditionalist, and an element which was revolutionary; a collectivism which grasped at an iron discipline, and an individualism which spurned the savorless mess of human ordinances; a sober prudence which would garner the fruits of this world, and a divine recklessness which would make all things new. For long nourished together, their discords concealed, in the furnace of the Civil War they fell apart, and Presbyterian and Independent, aristocrat and Leveler, politician and merchant and Utopian, gazed with bewildered eyes on the strange monsters with whom they had walked as friends. Then the splendors and illusions vanished; the force of common things prevailed; the metal cooled in the mold; and the Puritan spirit, shorn of its splendors and its illusions, settled finally into its decent bed of equable respectability. But each element in its social philosophy had once been as vital as the other, and the battle was fought, not between Puritanism sold for one view and a state committed to another, but between rival tendencies in the soul of Puritanism itself. The problem is to grasp their connection, and to understand the reasons which caused this to wax and that to wane.
“The triumph of Puritanism,” it has been said, “swept away all traces of any restriction or guidance in the employment of money.” That it swept away the restrictions imposed by the existing machinery is true; neither ecclesiastical courts, nor High Commission, nor Star Chamber, could function after 1640. But, if it broke the discipline of the Church of Laud and the State of Strafford, it did so but as a step toward erecting a more rigorous discipline of its own. It would have been scandalized by economic individualism, as much as by religious tolerance, and the broad outlines of its scheme of organization favored unrestricted liberty in matters of business as little as in the things of the spirit. To the Puritan of any period in the century between the accession of Elizabeth and the Civil War, the suggestion that he was the friend of economic or social license would have seemed as wildly inappropriate as it would have appeared to most of his critics, who taunted him, except in the single matter of usury, with an intolerable meticulousness. A godly discipline was, indeed, the very ark of the Puritan covenant.
“Discipline” included all questions of moral conduct, and of these, in an age when a great mass of economic relations were not the almost automatic reactions of an impersonal mechanism, but a matter of human kindliness or meanness between neighbors in village or borough, economic conduct was naturally a part. Calvin and Beza, perpetuating with a new intensity the mediaeval idea of a Church-civilization, had sought to make Geneva a pattern, not only of doctrinal purity, but of social righteousness and commercial morality. Those who had drunk from their spring continued, in even less promising environments, the same tradition. Bucer, who wrote when something more fundamental than a politician’s reformation seemed possible to enthusiasts with their eyes on Geneva, had urged the reconstruction of every side of the economic life of a society which was to be Church and state in one. English Puritanism, while accepting after some hesitation Calvin’s much qualified condonation of moderate interests, did not intend in other respects to countenance a laxity welcome only to worldlings. Knewstub appealed to the teaching of “that worthy instrument of God, Mr. Calvin,” to prove that the habitual usurer ought to be “thrust out of the society of men.” Smith embroidered the same theme. Baro, whose Puritanism lost him his professorship, denounced the “usual practice amongst rich men, and some of the greater sort, who by lending, or by giving out their money to usury, are wont to snare and oppress the poor and the needier sort.” Cartwright, the most famous leader of Elizabethan Puritanism, described usury as “a heinous offence against God and his Church,” and laid down that the offender should be excluded from the sacraments until he satisfied the congregation of his penitence. The ideal of all was that expressed in the apostolic injunction to be content with a modest competence and to shun the allurements of riches. “Every Christian man is bound in conscience before God,” wrote Stubbes, “to provide for his household and family, but yet so as his immoderate care surpasse not the bands, nor yet transcend the limits, of true Godlynes…So Farre from covetousnes and from immoderate care would the Lord have us, that we ought not this day to care for tomorrow, for (saith he) sufficient to the day is the travail of the same.”
The emergence of the idea that “business is business,” and that the world of commercial transactions is a closed compartment with laws of its own, if more ancient than is often supposed, did not win so painless a triumph as is sometimes suggested. Puritan as well as Catholic accepted without demur the view which set all human interests and activities within the compass of religion. Puritans, as well as Catholics, essayed the formidable task of formulating a Christian casuistry of economic conduct.
They essayed it. But they succeeded even less than the Popes and Doctors whose teaching, not always unwittingly, they repeated. And their failure had its roots, not merely in the obstacles offered by the ever recalcitrant opposition of a commercial environment, but like all failures which are significant, in the soul of Puritanism itself. Virtues are often conquered by vices, but their rout is most complete when it is inflicted by other virtues, more militant, more efficient, or more congenial, and it is not only tares which choke the ground where the good seed is sown. The fundamental question, after all, is not what kind of rules a faith enjoins, but what type of character it esteems and cultivates. To the scheme of Christian ethics which offered admonitions against the numberless disguises assumed by the sin which sticketh fast between buying and selling, the Puritan character offered, not direct opposition, but a polished surface on which these ghostly admonitions could find no enduring foothold. The rules of Christian morality elaborated by Baxter were subtle and sincere. But they were like seeds carried by birds from a distant and fertile plain, and dropped upon a glacier. They were at once embalmed and sterilized in a river.
“The capitalist spirit” is as old as history, and was not, as has sometimes been said, the offspring of Puritanism. But it found in certain aspects of later Puritanism a tonic which braced its energies and fortified its already vigorous temper. At first sight, no contrast could be more violent than that between the iron collectivism, the almost military discipline, the remorseless and violent rigors practiced in Calvin’s Geneva, and preached elsewhere, if in a milder form by his disciples, and the impatient rejection of all traditional restrictions on the economic enterprise which was the temper of the English business world after the Civil War. In reality, the same ingredients were present throughout, but they were mixed in changing proportions, and exposed to different temperatures at different times. Like traits in individual character which are suppressed till the approach of maturity releases them, the tendencies of Puritanism, which were to make it later a potent ally of the movement against the control of economic relations in the name either of social morality or of the public interest, did not reveal themselves till political and economic changes had prepared a congenial environment for their growth. Nor, once those conditions were created, was it only England which witnessed the transformation. In all countries alike, in Holland, in America, in Scotland, in Geneva itself, the social theory of Calvinism went through the same process of development. It had begun by being the very soul of authoritarian regimentation. It ended by being the vehicle of an almost utilitarian individualism. While social reformers in the sixteenth century could praise Calvin for his economic rigor, their successors in Restoration England, if of one persuasion, denounced him as the parent of economic license, if of another, applauded Calvinist communities for their commercial enterprises and for their freedom from antiquated prejudices on the subject of economic morality. So little do those who shoot the arrows of the spirit know where they will light.
III. The Triumph of the Economic Virtues
“One beam in a dark place,” wrote one who knew the travail of spirit, “hath exceeding much refreshment in it. Blessed be His name for shining upon so dark a heart as mine.” While the revelation of God to the individual soul is the centre of all religion, the essence of Puritan theology was that it made it, not only the centre, but the whole circumference and substance, dismissing as dross and vanity all else but this secret and solitary communion. Grace alone can save, and this grace is the direct gift of God, unmediated by any earthly institution. The elect cannot by any act of their own evoke it; but they can prepare their hearts to receive it, and cherish it when received. They will prepare them best, if they empty them of all that may disturb the intentness of their lonely vigil. Like an engineer, who, to canalize the rush of the oncoming tide, dams all channels save that through which it is to pour, like a painter who makes light visible by plunging all that is not light in gloom, the Puritan attunes his heart to the voice from Heaven by an immense effort of concentration and abnegation. To win all, he renounces all. When earthly props have been cast down, the soul stands erect in the presence of God. Infinity is attained by a process of subtraction.
To a vision thus absorbed in a single intense experience, not only religious and ecclesiastical systems, but the entire world of human relations, the whole fabric of social institutions, witnessing in all the wealth of their idealism and their greed to the infinite creativeness of man, reveal themselves in a new and wintry light. The fire of the spirit burns brightly on the hearth; but through the windows of his soul the Puritan, unless a poet or a saint, looks on a landscape touched by no breath of spring. What he sees is a forbidding and frost-bound wilderness, rolling its snow-clad leagues toward the grave—a wilderness to be subdued with aching limbs beneath solitary stars. Through it he must take his way, alone. No aid can avail him; no preacher, for only the elect can apprehend with the spirit the word of God; no Church, for to the visible Church even reprobates belong; no sacrament, for sacraments are ordained to increase the glory of God, not to minister spiritual nourishment to man; hardly God himself, for Christ died for the elect, and it may well be that the majesty of the Creator is revealed by the eternal damnation of all but a remnant of the created.
His life is that of a soldier in hostile territory. He suffers in spirit the perils which the first settlers in America endured in body, the sea behind, the untamed desert in front, a cloud of inhuman enemies on either hand. Where Catholic and Anglican had Caught a glimpse of the invisible, hovering like a Consecration over the gross world of sense, and touching its muddy vesture with the unearthly gleam of a divine, yet familiar, beauty, the Puritan mourned for a lost Paradise and a creation sunk in sin. Where they had seen society as a mystical body, compact of members varying in order and degree, but dignified by participation in the common life of Christendom, he saw a bleak antithesis between the spirit which quickeneth and an alien, indifferent or hostile world. Where they had reverenced the decent order whereby past was knit to present, and man to man, and man to God, through fellowship in works of charity, in festival and fast, in the prayers and ceremonies of the Church, he turned with horror from the filthy rags of human righteousness. Where they, in short, had found comfort in a sacrament, he started back from a snare set to entrap his soul.
We receive but what we give.
And in our life alone does Nature live.
Too often, contemning the external order as unspiritual, he made it, and ultimately himself, less spiritual by reason of his contempt. Those who seek God in isolation from their fellowmen, unless trebly armed for the perils of the quest, are apt to find, not God, but a devil, whose countenance bears an embarrassing resemblance to their own. The moral self-sufficiency of the Puritan nerved his will, but it corroded his sense of solidarity. For, if each individual's destiny hangs on a private transaction between himself and his Maker, what room is left for human intervention? A servant of Jehovah more than of Christ, he revered God as a Judge rather than loved him as a Father, and was moved less by compassion for his erring brethren, than by impatient indignation the blindness of vessels of wrath who "sinned their mercies." A spiritual aristocrat, who sacrificed fraternity to liberty, he drew from his idealization of personal responsibility a theory of individual rights, which, secularized and generalized, was to be among the most potent explosives that the world has known. He drew from it also a scale of ethical values, in which the traditional scheme of Christian virtues was almost exactly reversed, and which, since he was above all things practical, he carried as a dynamic into the routine of business and political life.
For, since conduct and action, though availing nothing to attain the free gift of salvation, are a proof that the gift has been accorded, what is rejected as a means is resumed as a consequence, and the Puritan flings himself into practical activities with the demonic energy of one who, all doubts allayed, is conscious that he is a sealed and chosen vessel. Once engaged in affairs, he brings to them both the qualities and limitations of his creed, in all their remorseless logic. Called by God to labor in his vineyard, he has within himself a principle at once of energy and of order, which makes him irresistible both in war and in the struggles of commerce. Convinced that character is all and circumstances nothing, he sees in the poverty of those who fall by the way, not a misfortune to be pitied and relieved, but a moral failing to be condemned, and in riches, not an object of suspicion—though like other gifts they may be abused—but the blessing which rewards the triumph of energy and will. Tempered by self-examination, self-discipline, self-control, he is the practical ascetic, whose victories are won not in the cloister, but on the battlefield, in the counting-house, and in the market.
From the very beginning, Calvinism had comprised two elements, which Calvin himself had fused, but which contained the seeds of future discord. It had at once given a wholehearted imprimatur to the life of business enterprise, which most earlier moralists had regarded with suspicion, and had laid upon it the restraining hand of an inquisitorial discipline. At Geneva, where Calvinism was the creed of a small and homogeneous city, the second aspect had predominated; in the many-sided life of England, where there were numerous conflicting interests to balance it, and where it was long politically weak, the first. Then, in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries, had come the wave of commercial and financial expansion—companies, colonies, capitalism in textiles, capitalism in mining, capitalism in finance—on the crest of which the English commercial classes, in Calvin's day, still held in leading-strings by conservative statesmen, had climbed to a position of dignity and affluence.
Naturally, as the Puritan movement came to its own, these two elements flew apart. The collectivist, half-communistic aspect, which had never been acclimatized in England, quietly dropped out of notice, to crop up once more, and for the last time, to the disgust and terror of merchant and landowner, in the popular agitation under the Commonwealth.
The individualism congenial to the world of business became the distinctive characteristic of a Puritanism which had arrived, and which, in becoming a political force, was at once secularized and committed to a career of compromise. Its note was not the attempt to establish on earth a "Kingdom of Christ," but an ideal of personal character and conduct, to be realized by the punctual discharge both of public and private duties. Its theory had been discipline; its practical result was liberty.
What in Calvin had been a qualified concession to practical exigencies, appeared in some of his later followers as a frank idealization of the life of the trader, as the service of God and the training-ground of the soul. Discarding the suspicion of economic motives, which had been as characteristic of the reformers as of mediaeval theologians, Puritanism in its later phases added a halo of ethical sanctification to the appeal of economic expediency, and offered a moral creed, in which the duties of religion and the calls of business ended their long estrangement in an unanticipated reconciliation. Its spokesmen pointed out, it is true, the peril to the soul involved in a single-minded concentration on economic interests. The enemy, however, was not riches, but the bad habits sometimes associated with them, and its warnings against an excessive preoccupation with the pursuit of gain wore more and more the air of after-thoughts, appended to teaching the main tendency and emphasis of which were little affected by these incidental qualifications. It insisted, in short, that money-making, if not free from spiritual dangers, was not a danger and nothing else, but that it could he, and ought to he carried on for the greater glory of God.
The practical application of these generalities to business is set out in the numerous works composed to expound the rules of Christian conduct in the varied relations of life. A characteristic specimen is The Tradesman's Calling, by Richard Steele. His main thesis is a comfortable one—that there is no necessary conflict between religion and business. "Prudence and Piety were always very good friends. . . . You may gain enough of both worlds if you would mind each in its place." His object is to show how that agreeable result may be produced, by dedicating business—with due reservations—to the service of God, and he has naturally little to say on the moral casuistry of economic conduct, because he is permeated by the idea that trade itself is a kind of religion. A tradesman's first duty is to get a full insight into his calling, and to use his brains to improve it. "He that hath lent you talents hath also said, 'Occupy till I come!' Your strength is a talent, your parts are talents, and so is your time. How is it that ye stand all the day idle? . . . Your trade is your proper province. Your own vineyard you should keep. . . .Your fancies, your understandings, your memories. . . are all to be laid out therein." So far from there being an inevitable collision between the requirements of business and the claims of religion, they walk hand in hand. By a fortunate dispensation, the virtues enjoined on Christians—diligence, moderation, sobriety, thrift—are the very qualities most conducive to commercial success. The foundation of all is prudence; and prudence is merely another name for the "godly wisdom [which] comes in and puts due bounds" to his expenses, "and teaches the tradesman to live rather somewhat below than at all above his income." Industry comes next, and industry is at once expedient and meritorious. It will keep the tradesman from "frequent and needless frequenting of taverns," and pin him to his shop, "where you may most confidently expect the presence and blessing of God."
The springs of economic conduct lie in regions rarely penetrated by moralists, and to suggest a direct reaction of theory on practice would be paradoxical. But, if the circumstances which determine that certain kinds of conduct shall be profitable are economic, those which decide that they shall be the object of general approval are primarily moral and intellectual. For conventions to be adopted with wholehearted enthusiasm, to be not merely tolerated, but applauded, to become the habit of a nation and the admiration of its philosophers, the second condition must be present as well as the first. The insistence among men of pecuniary motives, the strength of economic egotism, the appetite for gain—these are the commonplaces of every age and need no emphasis. What is significant is the change of standards which converted a natural frailty into a resounding virtue. After all, it appears, a man can serve two masters, for—so happily is the world disposed—he may be paid by one, while he works for the other. Between the old-fashioned denunciation of uncharitable covetousness and the new-fashioned applause of economic enterprise, a bridge is thrown by the argument which urges that enterprise itself is the charge of a duty imposed by God.
The idea of economicprogress as an end to be consciously sought, while ever receding, had been unfamiliar to most earlier generations of Englishmen, in which the theme of moralists had been danger of unbridled cupidity, and the main aim of public policy had been the stability of traditional relationships. It found a new sanction in the identification of labor and enterprise with the service of God. The magnificent energy which changed in a century the face of material civilization was to draw nourishment from that temper. The worship of production and ever greater production slavish drudgery of the millionaire and his unhappy servants—was to be hallowed by the precepts the same compelling creed.
The loftiest teaching cannot escape from its own shadow. To urge that the Christian life must be lived in a zealous discharge of private duties—how necessary! Yet how readily perverted to the suggestion that there are no vital social obligations beyond and above them! To insist that the individual is responsible, that no man can save his brother, that the essence of religion is the contact of the soul with its Maker, how true and indispensable! But how easy to slip from that truth into the suggestion that society is without responsibility, that no man can help his brother, that the social order and its consequences are not even the scaffolding by which men may climb to greater heights, but something external, alien and irrelevant—something, at best, indifferent to the life of the spirit, and, at worst, the sphere of the letter which killeth and of the reliance on works which ensnares the soul into the slumber of death! In emphasizing that God's Kingdom is not of this world, Puritanism did not always escape the suggestion that this world is no part of God's Kingdom. The complacent victim of that false antithesis between the social mechanism and the life of the spirit, which was to tyrannize over English religious thought for the next two centuries, it enthroned religion in the privacy of the individual soul, not without some sighs of sober satisfaction at its abdication from society. Professor Dicey has commented on the manner in which "the appeal of the Evangelicals to personal religion corresponds with the appeal of Benthamite Liberals to individual energy." The same affinity between religious and social interests found an even clearer expression in the Puritan movement of the seventeenth century. Individuals in religion led insensibily, if not quite logically, to an individualist morality, and an individualist morality to a disparagement of the significance of the social fabric as compared with personal character.
Few tricks of the unsophisticated intellect are more curious than the naïve psychology of the business man, who ascribes his achievements to his own unaided efforts, in bland unconsciousness of a social order without whose continuous support and vigilant protection he would be as a lamb bleating in the desert. That individualist complex owes part of its self-assurance to the suggestion of Puritan moralists, that practical success is at once the sign and the reward of ethical superiority. “No question,” argued a Puritan pamphleteer, “but it [riches] should be the portion rather of the godly than of the wicked, were it good for them; for the life to come.” The demonstration that distress is a proof of demerit, though a singular commentary on the lives of Christian saints and sages, has always been popular with the prosperous. By the lusty plutocracy of the Restoration, roaring after its meat and not indisposed, if it could not find it elsewhere to seek it from God, it was welcomed with a shout of applause.
As the history of the Poor Law in the nineteenth century was to prove, there is no touchstone, except the treatment of childhood, which reveals the true character of a social philosophy more clearly than the spirit in which it regards the misfortunes of those of its members who fall by the way. Such utterances on the subject of poverty were merely one example of a general attitude, which appeared at times to consign to collective perdition almost the whole of the wage-earning population. It was partly that, in an age which worshiped property as the foundation of the social order, the mere laborer seemed something less than a full citizen. It was partly the result of the greatly increased influence on thought and public affairs acquired at the Restoration by the commercial classes, whose temper was a ruthless materialism, determined at all costs to conquer world-markets from France and Holland, and prepared to sacrifice every other consideration to their economic ambitions. It was partly that, in spite of a century of large-scale production in textiles, the problems of capitalist industry and of a propertyless proletariat were still too novel for their essential features to be appreciated. Even those writers, like Baxter and Bunyan, who continued to insist on the wickedness of extortionate prices and unconscionable interest, rarely thought of applying their principles to the subject of wages. Their social theory had been designed for an age of petty agriculture and industry, in which personal relations had not yet been superseded by the cash nexus, and the craftsman or peasant farmer was but little removed in economic status from the half dozen journeymen or laborers whom he employed.
In a world increasingly dominated by great clothiers, iron-masters and mine-owners, they still adhered to the antiquated categories of master and servant, with the same obstinate indifference to economic realities, as leads the twentieth century to talk of employers and employed, long after the individual employer has been converted into an impersonal corporation.
In a famous passage of the Communist Manifesto, Marx observes that "the bourgeoisie, wherever it got the upper hand, put an end to all feudal, patriarchal, idyllic relations, pitilessly tore asunder the motley feudal ties that bound man to his 'natural superiors,' and left remaining no other bond between man and man than naked self-interest and callous cash payment." An interesting illustration of his thesis might be found in the discussions of the economics of employment by English writers of the period between 1660 and 1760. Their characteristic was an attitude toward the new industrial proletariat noticeably harsher than that general in the first half of the seventeenth century, and which has no modern parallel except in the behavior of the less reputable of white colonists toward colored labor. The denunciations of the "luxury, pride and sloth" of the English wage-earners of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, are, indeed, almost exactly identical with those directed against African natives today. It is complained that, compared with the Dutch, they are self-indulgent and idle; that they want nomore than a bare subsistence, and will cease work the moment they obtain it; that, the higher their wages, the more—"so licentious are they"—they spend upon drink; that high prices, therefore, are not a misfortune, but a blessing, since they compel the wage-earner to be more industrious; and that high wages are not a blessing, but a misfortune, since they merely conduce to "weekly debauches."
It would be misleading to dwell on the limitations of Puritan ethics, without emphasizing the enormous contribution of Puritanism to political freedom and social progress. The foundation of democracy is the sense ofspiritual independence, which nerves the individual to stand alone against the powers of this world, and in England, where squire and parson, lifting arrogant eyebrows at the insolence of the lower orders, combined to crush popular agitation, as a menace at once to society and to the Church, it is probable that democracy owes more to Nonconformity than to any other single movement. The virtues of enterprise, diligence and thrift are the indispensable foundation of any complex and vigorous civilization. It was Puritanism which, by investing them with a supernatural sanction, turned them from an unsocial eccentricity into a habit and a religion. Nor would it be difficult to find notable representatives of the Puritan spirit, in whom the personal austerity, which was the noblest aspect of the new ideal, was combined with a profound consciousness of social solidarity, which was the noblest aspect of that which it displaced. Firmin the philanthropist, and Bellers the Quaker, whom Owen more than a century later hailed as the father of his doctrines, were pioneers of Poor Law reform. The Society ofFriends, in an age when the divorce between religion and social ethics was almost complete, met the prevalent doctrine that it was permissible to take such gain as the market offered, by insisting on the obligation of good conscience and forbearance in economic transactions, and on the duty to make the honorable maintenance of the brother in distress a common charge.
The general climate and character of a country are not altered, however, by the fact that here and there it has peaks which rise into an ampler air. The distinctive note of Puritan teaching was different. It was individual responsibility, not social obligation. Training its pupils to the mastery of others through the mastery of self, it prized as a crown of glory the qualities which arm the spiritual athlete for his solitary contest with a hostile world, and dismissed concern with the social order as the prop of weaklings and the Capua of the soul. Both the excellences and the defects of that attitude were momentous for the future. It is sometimes suggested that the astonishing outburst of industrial activity, which took place after 1760, created a new type of economic character, as well as a new system of economic organization. In reality, the ideal which was later to carry all before it, in the person of the inventor and engineer and captain of industry, was well established among Englishmen before the end of the seventeenth century. Among the numerous forces which had gone to form it, some not inconsiderable part may reasonably be ascribed to the emphasis on the life of business enterprise as the appropriate field for Christian endeavor, and on the qualities needed for success in it, which was characteristic of Puritanism. These qualities, and the admiration of them, remained, when the religious reference, and the restraints which it imposed, had weakened or disappeared.