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Alfred Russel Wallace : Alfred Wallace : A. R. Wallace :
Russel Wallace : Alfred Russell Wallace (sic)

Not Ripe for Socialism. Interesting Points Discussed by Alfred Russell Wallace. (S394a: 1887)

Editor Charles H. Smith's Note: On 15 February 1887 Wallace gave a talk in Washington, D.C. titled "Social Economy Versus Political Economy." A local newspaper, The National Republican, printed an anonymous story on, and synopsis of, the talk on page 1 of its 16 February 1887 issue. To link directly to this page, connect with: http://people.wku.edu/charles.smith/wallace/S394A.htm

     An audience thoroughly classical, scientific, and learned assembled last night in the law lecture room of the Columbian University. They were the guests of the Anthropological Society to welcome and listen to Mr. Alfred Russell Wallace, one of England's foremost thinkers, talk on "Social Economy Versus Political Economy." There were many ladies in attendance, and their presence added interest to the occasion. That much was to be expected of the lecturer was evidenced by the number of persons seen busily taking notes. Shortly after 8 o'clock the platform of the hall was comfortably filled with well-known scientists. Maj. Powell1 introduced Mr. Wallace in a happy manner. All eyes were immediately riveted upon the man who, it is said, gave Prof. Darwin many ideas that led to the advancement of the theory of the "origin of species," as he stood before his audience.

     He is tall in stature, and possesses a well-built frame. His hair is gray, the forehead broad and high, and the face marked by strong intellectual lines, and a full gray beard fell far below the collar. He read from manuscript for over an hour. There was a clearness about his voice which, though not strong, was easily heard. He made no effort at oratory or gesticulation.

     There was a bold, fearless, and at the same time radical method of presenting his views which is characteristic of men of his standing. This he seemed to be conscious of and he was encouraged in it by the frequent approvals of his audience.

     In speaking of socialism he did not believe the day for its practical operations had arrived or would arrive for many generations. In the meantime individualism2 must prevail. Ownership of land, he believed, should be enjoyed in common, and instead of articles being manufactured by operatives huddled together in immense factories owned by a few capitalists, and the workmen living in close quarters in large cities, he considered it practical for the workmen to act independently, having machinery for manufacturing purposes at their houses, with the power for running the same as is done in the distribution of gas. He further argued that this would tend to discourage the formation of large cities. The laborers should own their homes, with enough land surrounding each to provide for their requirements. By this method they could cultivate the soil and in bad weather be with their families profitably employed in manufacturing articles. The idea that machinery for manufacturing purposes must be on a large scale was not well founded. Small machinery would readily be supplied when there was a demand for it, as is the sewing machine. The great advantage of this would be that the laborer would not be at the mercy of the capitalist. He made a radical proposition by declaring that the loaning of money on interest was the root of much evil in the social system. If there was a desired improvement to be made in a community notes could be issued for the amount needed which would pass as currency. Even in individual cases he thought it would be well if the law did not make it obligatory to pay debts, then money could be borrowed only by those having high standing for honesty. The ownership of all great public improvements, such as railroads, &c., should be owned by the state. In answer to the argument that wages are increasing he cited the fact that in the northeastern states the wealth of the population had increased four fold within the past few decades, while the condition of the laborer was practically the same and unimproved. The question was who was benefitted by this? It had been said, he remarked, that what the rich man spends benefits the poor, but by a happy illustration he showed that those who provide the luxuries for the rich are practically idlers so far as providing for the maintenance of the general community.

     The audience before leaving the hall gave the lecturer a rising vote of thanks.

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Editor's Notes

1 "Maj. Powell" was John Wesley Powell, of Grand Canyon exploration fame.

2 The term "individualism" here is used as a near-synonym for "capitalism."

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