“Society ought not to exist, if not for the benefit of the whole. It is and must be against the law of nature, if it exist for the benefit of the few and for the misery of the many. I say, then, distinctly, that a society, in which the common labourer, with common health and strength and with economy and sobriety and industry and good morals and good manners, cannot secure a sufficiency of food and raiment, is a society which ought not to exist; a society contrary to the law of nature; a society whose compact is dissolved.”
William Cobbett, Political Register, 11 September 1819
Note that Cobbett includes the ways a society “contracts” to behave: with health and strength it works; with mindfulness of economy; with commitment to the dignity of work; with common morals and manners–those shared by all.
The “compact” or social contract is upheld on one side; on the other it is in breach.
As such, this society, where labor (people) fulfills its duties and yet starves due to the corruption and self-interest of the few, this contract, is null and void.
Cobbett, “noticed that farm laborers were being kept at a level of bare subsistence, and sometimes below; and yet, the fields were rich with an annual crop of rye, wheat, barley….He asked, how then it was that they were starving. The answer was that prices and distribution of goods were determined not by the productive members of society but by
‘the whole tribe of tax eaters,’ by the ‘nabobs, negro-drivers, generals, admirals, governors, commissaries, contractors, pensioners, sinecurists, commissioners, loan-jobbers, lottery dealers, bankers, stock-jobbers; not to mention the long black list in gowns and three-tailed wigs.’
The country had gone into debt to speculators and plunderers, those who made money from nothing but the need of others for money.”
“The fate of the common laborer depended on his coming to see himself not as a victim of circumstances but as a designated casualty, in a system which fostered the single basic injustice of denying the benefit of the whole.”
Such a system must come to an end, and the end must be dreadful.
This is 1820s England (Cobbett spent 8 years in America as well). Nearly 200 years on, this same system is still engorging itself on human life in the form of used up labor. Worse still, this same system has exponentially created misery for every animal species on the planet with a special emphasis on those cellophaned creatures fulfilling their destinies in our supermarkets.
There is no “reform” if it simply shackles one to another tether from an abstract lording crown.
Do not mistake, there are tethers; we do not float free. But my choice is to bind myself to my neighbor for our common benefit, and not to a system, not to a party, not to a nation, not to an abstracted calculation called “market” or an abstracted materialism called “property,” and not to the society privileging those who make money from my need for money
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*Quotes from David Bromwich, “William Cobbett, Reformer,” in A Choice of Inheritance, pp 83-4.
Photo Credit: The William Cobbett Society