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The Immigration of Aliens (S616a: 1904)

Editor Charles H. Smith's Note: A brief essay printed on page 8 of the 3 June 1904 issue of The Clarion (London). To link directly to this page connect with: http://people.wku.edu/charles.smith/wallace/S616A.htm

     Our great philosopher, Herbert Spencer, who has so recently left us, in one of his earliest works stated the important principle that when a state of society is fundamentally unsound there is, as regards many social problems, no right course, but only a choice between greater and less degrees of wrong-doing. This principle well applies to the case now under discussion--the restriction of the immigration of aliens into England.

     That our social system is absolutely wrong and fundamentally unjust admits of no question. With enormously greater wealth in proportion to our population than at any earlier period of our history, we yet have millions of our people living in the most degrading want and misery, although often working for longer hours, and under more unhealthy conditions, than any slaves or serfs; other millions are supported by charity because under our competitive system no employer needs them--and all this occurs in the midst of greater luxury, more wasteful public and private expenditure, than at any previous epoch. So long as this unutterably vicious system exists, how can we expect that any of the evils or injustices that arise from it can be dealt with by considerations of pure ethics? We must right the fundamental wrong before we can deal ethically with any of the subordinate wrongs. That any of our own citizens willing to work should yet have to live idle lives, and be supported in a state of semi-slavery in our workhouses, is a grievous wrong; but it is a still greater wrong to let them starve. Here, then, we have an instance of there being no choice but between a greater and a lesser wrong.

     So as regards aliens. We all feel it to be wrong to refuse admission into our country to any foreigner able and willing to work. But when thousands and millions of our own people are struggling for work, and often cannot obtain it, and other thousands are working long hours for barely enough to keep body and soul together, then it may be--and I believe it is--a greater wrong to permit free immigration from every other country, whose people may, perhaps, be enduring a similar struggle, but rarely a severer one, than our own. Our first duty is surely to our own people. The question of the numbers of such immigrants is wholly immaterial to the matter at issue. With so deadly a struggle as ours, any addition to the number of strugglers must tend to lower wages, to make work more difficult to obtain, to force some from a miserable insufficiency into the gulf of absolute starvation.

     There is another and more general reason for this view. When free immigration is allowed in any country, it has two bad effects. In the country to which immigrants are admitted it blinds people to the real causes of unemployment and starvation in the midst of superfluous wealth, while in the country from which the emigration takes place it to some extent relieves the pressure of competition, and enables both the Government and the people to shut their eyes to the real causes of the evil. These causes are, the gigantic social wrong of the private monopoly of land and capital, which, with the right of inheritance, production for profit, and competition for employment, inevitably lead to all the misery and starvation, and most of the vice and crime, that now exists in every civilised nation, and in nearly direct proportion to its wealth.

     For these reasons, which I have not leisure to give at greater length, I believe that restriction of immigration is the lesser of the two evil courses at present open to us; and it has this advantage over the other course, that it compels each nation to solve its own social problems. Thus, perhaps, the people's eyes may be the sooner opened, and the cause of humanity advanced.

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