The Dream of Socialism

Letter to the Editor, The Sun

Oct. 27, 1909, p. 6

To the Editor of The Sun—Sir: Every century has its special political illusion. The illusion of the twentieth century is socialism. It is the New Jerusalem of those who have lost faith in the old creed. It is the dream of vengeance of the weak man against the strong. It is the lazy man’s Utopia. It is the phantom City of Delight imaged by those who have beer incomes and champagne tastes. Socialism is the new El Dorado: the last ignis fatuus that bedevilled man chases over the graves of his hopes.

The mantle has fallen from the shoulders of the old gods onto another, newer mythic being—the State. The Socialist believes that the State can do what the individual cannot do, forgetting that the State is no other thing than the people themselves, a thing born of the people; that it can never be any better or worse than the people, that it possesses no other powers than the aggregate powers of all the people, that when the people disappear the State disappears as surely as a shadow no longer exists when the body that cast it is gone. 

The Socialist believes there is a people plus State. He erects a pure abstraction—a word—into a thing, galvanizes it into semblance of life, sticks a crown on its head, puts a gilded wand in its hand, sets it on a throne of theories, and cries: “Behold the deliverer of Man!” And the feeble in mind and body, the drone, the coward, the ignorant, and the professional politician, crafty as the fox, wise as the serpent, bow before the poor fetich.

Men have always been the slaves of words. They are the eternal dupes of phrases. Life is struggle, life is a bitter contest between warring forces, life is an arena in which the strong man survives and the weak man goes down. It is not pleasant to believe that, but it is true. It is natural law we must face. Nature cares nothing for our personal likes or dislikes. She says: “Work or die! Battle and achieve, or slink away and bite the dust!” There is no other way. All the dreams of man count as nothing. All his tears avail not. There is not short cut to happiness. There is no back stairs to the house of life.

The State, under the socialistic régime, is to be turned into a gigantic charitable institution managed by a horde of office-holders no better or worse than the average man. A living is to be guaranteed to everybody—the most immoral proposition ever put forth. Everything that is given free undermines the character of the receiver. Every man who is guaranteed immunity from want tends to become a pauper. All dependence is a degradation. Every reward that is not earned by the sweat of the brow is a theft.

A slavery worse than that which ever prevailed in ancient times would follow the erection of the socialistic State. By destroying the competitive system the principle of individuality, the profoundest principle in nature, would be sapped at the core; men, always certain of life and the necessities, would lose the one supreme characteristic of their manhood, the ability to struggle and conquer. Under socialism we should have a race of machines with all initiative gone, ruled by a gigantic trust called the State, that would regulate the minutest affairs of life—on a theory that things could be “improved” thus.

All power tends to abuse. History gives us that as a universal truth. A power that owns all the means of production would end by owing [sic; owning?] the producers. A power that regulates the consumption and distribution of all that comes from the people would ultimately end by owning the consumers and distributors themselves. All forces seek the extreme of motion. Socialism means, in the end, decay. It is absolutism masked as “the brotherhood of man.” It is an old, old foe with a new catchword. Absolutism, tempered by a system of cooperative almsgiving, that is what we find socialism to be when the cold steel of analytical thinking has cut away the tinsel and gauze of fine speech.

A man should be helped to make a better fight, to give a deadlier blow, to strike surer if he shows signs of weakening; but he should be guaranteed nothing except death if he fails. Injustice is an equal distribution of goods. All men are born unequal. Socialism is confiscation—always popular with those who have nothing.

Whatever there is great has been done in the world by the individual. The individual is nature’s unit value. Telephones, telegraphs, railroads, canals, cables, all that makes for material progress, have been the work of individual initiative goaded on by pride and stern necessity; and it is safe to say that wherever the State has attempted to regulate unduly those things that are the property of the individual decay has followed.

Each being seeks the ultimate of development, and there can be no development where there is absolutism. The old autocracy reigned on the idea that one man should rule all men; the new autocracy called socialism reverses the old system. It believes that all men should rule each man. What no man is now capable of achieving, absolute self-government, the Socialist believes can be achieved if all men force each individual to do it, oblivious of the psychological law that when a man is forced to do a thing he conceives a hatred of that thing and those who force him.

There are unquestionably enormous injustices in the world to-day, but they flow from natural laws. Social injustices are only a higher form of cosmic injustices. Nature everywhere absolutely refuses to award her weak children the prizes she puts into the hands of her strong children. She has made of life a contest.

Socialism abolishes the feeling of danger in the individual. By guaranteeing him a living she smashes his mainspring, fear. Danger gives tang to life. If success is to be guaranteed us from birth, success will not be worth while. He who fears fear alone is weak. To be ever on your guard is to be forever strong. Socialism is stagnation.

We return again to the fundamental appeal of socialism. “Socialism will guarantee every man a right to a living.” I repeat, no man has a right to a living, or to anything else. He is born without rights. He must fight for all he gets, must labor and do battle for each crumb of bread. It is this that has brought man to his present relatively high position in the universe.

Man’s only right is a competitive right. Any form of government that guarantees him any other right except the right to seek for his living by labor weakens him. Rational government merely polices the arena. The rest it leaves to the individual.

Socialism is founded on phrases and the dream of weak men. It must fail wherever tried. The competitive system springs from the loins of nature herself. It will outlast all the foolish dreams of man.

Benjamin De Casseres.
New York, October 26.


This letter was reprinted in The Dental Scrapbook, Nov. 1909, v. 3 no. 1, pp. 12-14, with a subtitle that read:

Man Born to Labor and to Strife Must Fulfill His Destiny.

Several responses were published in both The Sun and The Dental Scrapbook. Both De Casseres’ original letter and the response were published in the Dec. 1909 issue of The Mediator, pp. 10-12.

The Sun, Oct. 29, 1909, p. 6

Socialists Agree on the Essential Things.

To the Editor of The Sun—Sir: If catchwords strung smartly together make a strong polemic, surely Mr. Benjamin De Casseres has scored a palpable hit against socialism; but there are those who hold that a real polemic requires some other qualities: For instance, some evidences of general information on the subject discussed; of relationship between the jaunty generalization and the things generalized; some approach to sequence of ideas, and some more or less apparent indications of freedom from the spell of words.

“Men have always been the slaves of words,” he gayly writes; “they are the eternal dupes of phrases.” Happy Mr. De Casseres, who can so vividly illustrate this profound truth in his own diction! Not often, indeed, does it happen that a writer is so generously gifted with the power of blending assertion and proof in single sentences. Each of his abstract terms casts its necromantic spell upon him and holds him to its service. He loses sight of the word as a symbol for expressing thought, and is in turn enchained by its magic.

Socialism does not involve any of the deplorable things asserted by Mr. De Casseres; that is to say, the primary things, the things of system and function and relationship. It does not, in spite of Mr. De Casseres, guarantee to everybody a living. It guarantees the opportunity of a living, a thing about as different from that asserted by Mr. De Casseres as light is from darkness. Nor is the State to be “turned into a gigantic charitable institution, managed by a horde of officeholders”; nor would the State “regulate” the minutest affairs of life.” Socialism is not “the lazy man’s Utopia.” It is, on the contrary, the industrious man’s notion of a common sense arrangement of economic functions and relations. Nor is socialism “absolutism.” It is the extremest opposite of absolutism: it is democracy applied to the methods of making a living.

As for the secondary things, the effects of the socialist system upon character and habit, these are of course matters of legitimate argument. You may assert, if you choose, that socialism means decay, that it means the decline of initiative, that it means impoverishment of the race; but in making these assertions you are first obliged to show that you know what the socialist system is. If it is different from the thing you loosely imagine, it may have, and no doubt will have, an entirely different effect upon character and habit.

“Absolute guarantee of a living” might indeed enfeeble a race or a community, but no one who so holds has the moral right to assert also that the guarantee of an opportunity for a living and the withholding of a living from the person who does not seek that opportunity would have an identical effect. He must bring something to show for his assertion, and he must not mix two such hopelessly different propositions.

It is strange, indeed, that with the increasing volume of good socialist literature so much general confusion exists as to the socialist position. The socialist writers in the main set down their thoughts with a precision and a clarity not attained by the writers of any other school. You may call them dogmatic if you will; you may say that they are cocksure and intolerant, and you may ascribe to them a good many other defects; but they know their books, their theories and principles, and as a rule they write with directness and simplicity. The whole course of socialist propaganda has operated toward this end. The message of socialism is directed primarily toward workingmen. Since many workingmen are unschooled, the necessity has been to express this message in clear terms. Every socialist writer and speaker makes it his practice to explain his meaning in words understood of all men. There is thus no reason why a man of average intelligence should not know the socialist position. It is wholly beside the mark to declare that socialists differ about many things. No doubt they do differ. They are free men, they believe in free thought, they think for themselves. This very freedom which they claim for themselves ought to be a sufficient answer to the foolish dread which some persons possess, or think they possess, that socialism means a mental slavery: but though socialists differ on many things, these are non-essential things. The basic things are things upon which all socialists agree. They are from time to time promulgated in resolutions and platforms of city and State and national and international conventions, and they are repeated and explained, with an iteration tiresome to the trained socialist, in a multitude of pamphlets and books. Not to know them is too frequently an indication of mental indolence or of an indifference to truth.

New York, October 27.  W. J. Ghent.

The Sun, Nov. 3, 1909, p. 6


The State Already Doing Things Desired by the Socialists.

To the Editor of The Sun—Sir: Mr. De Casseres, in a letter to The Sun about socialism, says that “men are the eternal dupes of phrases,” and straightway he employs his knowledge of this fact to deceive your readers. His hyperbolic style is equalled only by the poverty and sophistry of his arguments.

Lest he be accused of the same offence, the writer will confine himself to the most matter of fact analysis of the conditions and the remedy proposed by Socialists. It would be advisable for Mr. De Casseres and those desiring a more extended discussion to read Spargo’s book entitled “Socialism.”

Mr. De Casseres speaks of the Socialist “illusion that the State can do what the individual cannot do.” To this accusation we plead guilty. The State can enact and administer law to protect the person and property of one individual from another individual. The State can provide universal free education and fortify and protect itself from the menace of ignorance invariably arising from the private ownership and administration of education.

The State, and only the State, can adequately administer health, and thus protect its members from the scourge of contagion. Witness our boards of health, our sanitary commissions, the medical examination of school children, &c. In this most vital department of human society, not even the individual initiative of the children’s parents, who naturally have the most direct interest in preserving the health of their children, can be trusted.

The State, and only the State, can protect our natural resources from the vandalism of the individual profit seekers who destroy our forests and monopolize the resources of water, coal, iron and other vital necessities. Hence our forestry commissions and our semi-public conservation congresses, &c. The functions of the State are constantly being extended in obedience to the first laws of nature, in order that the lives and liberty of the people of this and future generations shall be preserved. 

But there is still a department of human society to which the functions of the State have not as yet been adequately extended, namely, the department of employment. Under capitalism the means of employment are in the possession of one class, whose interest it is to operate these means of employment for its sole profit. The amount of this profit is the difference between what the capitalist has to pay for labor power and what he receives for the finished product. It is to his interest that laborers should be plentiful, helpless and cheap, and that at all times a certain percentage of them should be unemployed, since it is the unemployed worker bidding for the job of the employed worker who fixes the wages and conditions of employment. In other words, the class possessing the means of production actually reaps material advantage from the misfortune of enforced idleness which it imposes on another class. This system which divides human beings into antagonistic economic classes is the one which Mr. De Casseres defends, and he is welcome to a monopoly in that respect. Aside from the personal tortures of the immediate victims of this system, society itself is menaced, since the victims are placed under the compulsion to steal or die. If the State is to protect itself from the menace of unemployment and resulting crime, it must see to it that every individual desiring employment shall have the industrial opportunity, and the democratic State must therefore extend its functions to the ownership of sufficient natural resources and industrial equipment to furnish this employment.

This does not mean a Government monopoly of all the means of production, nor does it mean compensation regardless of the services performed. (See Standard Dictionary for definition of socialism.) Since people would be paid according to services rendered, it will be readily seen that the State does not become a charitable institution, and the incentive to secure the better paid or more honorable positions will still remain.

In short, socialism says to the individual in the words of Mr. De Casseres, “Work or die,” but it does not intend that a few individuals should take away from the others the opportunity to work by virtue of their possession of the means by employment.

W. W. Passage.
New York, November 2.

The Dental Scrapbook, Dec. 1909, vol. 3 no. 2


246 E. Broad St., Westfield, N. J.
November 9, 1909.

Charles A. Meeker, D. D. S.
29 Fulton St., Newark, N. J.

Dear Dr. Meeker—The article in the current issue of the “Dental Scrap Book,” entitled “The Dream of Socialism,” is so far from the truth about socialism and shows so little understanding of its principles that I feel it would be wrong to let it go unchallenged. I earnestly desire that you find room in the “Dental Scrap Book” for this enclosed reply.

Sincerely yours,

W. Llewellyn Lloyd, D. D. S.


Benjamin De Casseres says, in “The Dental Scrap Book” for November, under the title, “The Dream of Socialism,” that “Socialism is founded on phrases and the dream of weak men.” “The illusion of the twentieth century is socialism,” and much more, to show that socialists are trying to force an impossible Utopia upon a practical world.

He does not realize that Socialists are simply trying to make a practical application of forces and conditions that are already here and are making no attempt to create artificial conditions.

Mr. De Casseres says: “Life is struggle.” “By destroying the competitive system the principle of individuality, the profoundest principle in nature, would be sapped at the core; men, always certain of life and the necessities, would lose the one supreme characteristic of their manhood, the ability to struggle and conquer.” 

[15] The trusts have already taken away the competitive system. They have proven that system to be wasteful and impossible in the age of machinery. The running of the immense machinery of modern times is too great an undertaking for individuals in competition, so wealth is combined, the trust is formed and the necessities of life can be produced faster, better and cheaper than ever before, besides the elimination of the immense waste due to competition. Thus man does not have to struggle as he once did to secure the necessities of life, the machine takes the burden off his shoulders and leaves him free to direct his struggles to higher things. Once man had to struggle with his bare hands against his natural enemies. Then a club made this easier, then other weapons followed, until his natural enemies were gone, now comes the machine to relieve his struggle still more and to give him a chance to direct his energies to higher, more noble motives. All history shows that the forms of our struggle are constantly changing. Why is it absurd to predict that our struggle for the necessities of life will be overcome, leaving us free to use our energies to enlighten and beautify the world? “Life is struggle.” Yes, and through struggle do we develop, but surely it need not always be for our bread and butter.

The trust, then, is teaching us a great lesson, but it has an evil side also.

Mr. De Casseres says: “A power that owns all the means of production would end by owning the producers.” That is his argument against socialism, but it is in reality the great evil of the trusts. This concentration of wealth means power in the hands of a few who would own the many. This is being proved already by the high prices for cheap goods.

Socialism, then, recognizing these facts, calls for an intelligent application of them.

Socialism, then, recognizing these facts, calls for an intelligent application of them.

He says, competition is gone, wealth must be concentrated. We, the whole people, must combine our wealth and be the power that owns the means of production and at the same time both producer and consumer.

Commodities would then be produced, not for profit in a foreign market, but for our own use. The incentive being to make things as good as possible, instead of as poor as possible. There would then be no reason for adulterating foods and making cheap clothing and furniture.

Mr. De Casseres thinks, “The State under the socialistic regime is to be turned into a gigantic charitable institution * * * a living to be guaranteed to every body—the most immoral proposition ever put forth.” Why is it charity or immoral to insure a man the chance to produce his own necessities? and do not nearly all immorality, dishonesty and suicide spring from the prospect of want? The proposition to own the means of production and distribution collectively is perfectly practicable. Take, for instance, our public schools, public roads, the post office. We have found we get better results by owning these things collectively. What would you say to a proposition to turn our public roads over to private persons, so that we must buy a ticket every time we wanted to go on the street? Yet that is just what we do when we ride on the railroad.

Railroads can be run collectively just [16] as well as public roads or schools or the post office.

Picture a railroad stretching across the country, employing thousands of men. Thousands of other men own stock in the road but they leave the operation of it to the trained employees.

This road is run in the interest of a few of the largest stockholders, but it is practicable for all the people to be stockholders and for the road to be run, by the same men, if you choose, in the interest of all the stockholders instead of a few. That would not pauperise nor degrade nor enslave the people, but free them from the struggle along certain lines and true to nature they would put their shoulders to the wheel where it was needed more. There is material enough in this world to much more than supply the demands of the people and it, if owned collectively would do away with the fear of starvation and put us in condition, for the first time in history, to use our energy for really great things.

Man’s really great work has always been from higher motives than to fill his stomach.

If we degenerate when it becomes easier to produce the necessities of life, we would better go back to the cares of our ancestors; whereas we know every inventions since their time has helped us in our upward struggle.

It is true as Mr. De Casseres says that life is a struggle. Life is a battle, life is war, but every one knows that in war an organized army, acting as a unit, is more successful than the same number of individuals, fighting against the same enemy, each “on his own book.” Socialism is an argument that if the human army were organized scientifically it would be more successful in its battles than if its units fought as bushwhackers—that is all.

Let me sum up by saying that socialists are intelligently using the conditions that exist, and when every man actually earns his own necessities he will be uplifted rather than degraded, and because a man need not spend his whole time getting a living he will get a greater leisure and bring greater freedom than ever before. Instead of slavery, socialism would abolish adulterated foods, shoddy clothing, cheap houses at exorbitant prices, and give in its stead pure food and the best clothing and shelter that man can produce, at cost. Instead of long hours and small pay, which sap the energy and intellect, leaving no room for man to rise above the beast, and causing theft, suicide, prostitution and slavery; filling the jails, poor houses, and creating charitable institutions, it gives him ample time for recreation and development of mind and body and it gives him actual liberty to an extent never dreamed of in this day.

W. Llewellyn Lloyd, D. D. S.