Henry Bourne Higgins, M.H.R
The Two Principles
It is clear that in Australia there is a struggle being waged between two conflicting principles
– The commercial principle and the principle of solidarity – the principle of private interest
against the principle of common interest.
The strife of the adherents of these rival principles is the staple of our newspaper
controversies, our Parliamentary debates, our economic and social discussions. The one fixes
its attention in all that has been won in the past by competition, by the pursuit of private gain
and profit. The other prefers the general good to private gain, looks to the diffusion among the
masses of such benefits as nature and civilisation afford it proclaims that the best cannot be
got out of life by a man or by any class when the masses around are in want or misery.
Reduced to its simplest terms the bourgeois principle is “each for himself and the devil take
the hindmost.” The aim of the other class is to prevent such private appropriation, to make the
benefits accrue to the gain of all.
The contending parties are each seeking to get control of the State. The truth is, the bourgeois
likes the State interference, so long as it helps him to make private gain and profit. He dislikes
that interference when it tends to favour public as distinct from the private advantage.
The Power of the State
Nor is it surprising that both parties should look to the State for help in achieving what it
thinks to be right. The State can act by compulsion, it has an arm more far-reaching than any
other power, it has greater credit, greater taxing power than any man. Justice between man
and man can beat the secured by mass action, by the action of the organised community. It
was the must hope, with the view of securing justice, as they saw justice, and an orderly
peasantry contented to duck their heads, and uncover to the squire and all his rich relations,
that they made so many laws to compel labourers to work for a maximum wage; and it now
with a similar view, probably, that the mine-owners of the Rand and of Kimberly make their
labour laws and their location laws, and their hut taxes, this as to compel the roving Kaffirs to
settle down and spend their lives in unhealthy, low paid labour. It is with the view also of
securing justice that the labouring classes, ever since they have found an articulate voice and
votes have been pressing for a minimum wage instead of a maximum wage.
Unless one realises the distinction between these two principles of action, its impossible to
understand the broad leaning of our political struggles, or to discern the blurred lines of
cleavage between the contending parties. But when you once see it, you see it always, You
will find it in the movement what is called “A White Australia; “ in the movement represented
by our factories acts; in the opposition to liberalism and in the growing sense of the vulgarity
of titles and gaudy uniforms; in the attempt to regulate our export trade ; in the efforts for
healthy finance as against borrowing; in our treatment of education, of literature, theatre; of
art; in our manners and our morals. One policy is to facilitate private gain; the other is to
promote the common good. One policy is disintegrating ; the other is combining. One policy
is, in a sense, anarchic ; the other is social – or, as some prefer to call it, socialistic.
Where does Kanaka labour find it’s chief support?
Where do you find most advocates of the Chinese and Japanese Immigration?
Is it not in the bourgeois chambers of Commerce, Shire Councils, Stock Exchanges,
Agricultural Societies – bodies which throughout Australia seem to be dominated by profitmakers as against wage-earners?
Where do you find the chief opponents of coloured aliens?
Obviously, among the labouring classes the latter have, with a truer instinct resulting, no
doubt, from a more intimate experience and closer contact discerned not merely the danger of
lower wages, but the danger to our national character.
The admixture of such differing types of civilisation is bad for both. Human life reaches its lowest degradation where two civilisations meet and cannot fully blend. The rich man and his children have not to rub shoulders with the coloured alien, as the poor man and his children have – have not to compete with the alien for a living. Therefore the rich man in this matter represents the anarchic spirit – the spirit which makes one’s personal ease and comfort, and wealth the chief end of life.
What is the ideal before us in our Factories Acts and similar legislation — such as laws for
conciliation and arbitration in labour disputes. It is a nobler physical and moral manhood and
womanhood — a free, healthy, stalwart, self-respecting race. When we aim; at fair wages, fair
hours and fair conditions of labour, we take as our post-plate; that profits are of less
importance than the character of our people.
As in the case of the coloured alien question, it is the national character of the future
generations in Australia that is involved, The pale and overworked, underpaid, and underfed
makers of shirts or boots, not merely are stunted and miserable in their own lives, but their
offspring also suffer; and our society suffers.
THE MOST PRECIOUS TREASURE WHICH ANY NATION HAS IS ITS HUMAN
BEINGS; AND WE MUST GUARD THAT TREASURE JEALOUSLY.
Labour is good for us all; but it is good only when it draws out and develops our powers, not
when it dwarfs or crushes them.
I am not going to discuss whether what we are doing is not rather what the doctors call
treating the symptoms rather than the causes of our social distempers. It is enough to say that
we are feeling our way by experiment, and all with an eye to a high standard of human life.
But we interfere with profit-making; and then the bourgeois takes objection. He pulls the
strings of the Shire Councils, and the Shire Councils pass resolutions against the factory laws.
‘ None of your factory laws for the country districts,’ the bourgeois exclaims ; and then he
finds that labourers will flock into the towns where wages are kept up, and will refuse to work
at the country employment, where they are refused the protection of the factory laws, where
they are often housed and treated worse than the employers Beasts.
So free men everywhere condemn the social arrangements which doom the bulk of humanity
to excessive toil, to insufficient; sustenance, insufficient rest,, insufficient recreation — to
dependence on others for opportunity to work and live, to perpetual -anxiety as to the means
of subsistence. No one can estimate, the gains to science, to art, to literature, to national and
social life, if every child reared- to manhood -or womanhood had equal, or even
approximately equal, opportunities for leading a sane, healthy existence, in which there is
scope for the exercise of all the vital powers.
Titles give a false weight to one’s acts and utterances. We listen, we repeat their words, not
because of their merit, but because they proceed from a man with a title.
Titles are really devices for creating distinctions in name where there is no distinction in fact
— for putting men in a false perspective — a means of gaining deference for persons whose
personalities would not necessarily gain deference otherwise.
It is moral superiority which is the only true basis of distinction. George Washington William
Ewart, Gladstone, Michael Davitt, John Burns, George Higinbotham, Abraham Lincoln —
these men are raised to eminence and distinction in the hearts of their con temporaries, and of
posterity, by their acts and their principles, not by the artificial advantage of having
themselves styled ‘ Sir’ This or ‘ Lord ‘ That !