The preface of a book is always the last thing written, and generally the last thing read. The author is safe, therefore, in assuming that he is addressing, in what he says in this part of his work, hose who are already familiar with the book itself. Availing myself of this presumption, I have a few observations to make of a somewhat practical nature in relation to the effects upon the conduct of the Individual which the acceptance of the principle herein inculcated should appropriately have.
At the first blush, it seems as if the Cost Principle presented the most stringent and inexorable law, binding upon the conscience, which was ever announced,--as if no man desiring to be honest could continue for a day in the ordinary intercourse of trade and pursuit of profit. The degree to which this impression will remain with different persons, upon a thorough understanding of the whole subject, will be different according to their organizations. There are powerful considerations, however, to deter any one from making a martyr of himself in a fruitless effort to act upon the true principle wile living in the atmosphere, and surrounded by the conditions, of the old and false system.
In the first place, it is impossible, in the nature of things, to apply a principle, the essence of which is to regulate the terms of reciprocity, where no reciprocity exists. The Equitist who should attempt to act upon the Cost Principle in the midst of the prevailing system, and should sell his own products with scrupulous conscientiousness at cost, would be wholly unable to obtain the products of others at cost in return; and hence his conduct would not procure Equity. He would at most obtain the wretched gratification of cheating himself knowingly and continuously. There is not space in the few pages of a preface to enter into a fundamental statement of the ethical principles involved in the temporary continuance in relations of injustice forced upon us by those upon whom whatever of injustice we commit is inflicted. The question involved is the same as that of War and Peace. A nation desirous of being at peace with all mankind, and tendering such relations to the world, may, nevertheless, be forced into war by the wanton acts of unscrupulous neighbors. Notwithstanding the over-strained nicety of the sect called Friends, and of non-resistants in such behalf, the common sentiment of enlightened humanity is yet in favor of resistance against unprovoked aggression, while it is at the same time in favor of Universal Peace,--the entire cessation of all War. In like manner, the friends of Equity, the acceptors of the cost principle, do not in any case, so far as I am aware, propose beggaring themselves, or abandoning any positions which give them the pecuniary advantage in the existing disharmonic relations of society, from any silly or overweening deference even for their own principles. They entertain rational and well-considered views in relation to the appropriate means of inaugurating the reign of Equity. They propose the organization of villages, or settlements of persons who understand the principle, and desire to act upon it mutually. They will tender intercourse with “outsiders” upon the same terms, but, if the tender is not accepted, they will then treat with them upon their own terms, so far as it is necessary, or in their judgment best, to treat with them at all. They will hold Equity in one hand and “fight” in the other,--Equity for those who will accept Equity and reciprocate it, and the conflict of wits for those who force that issue. It is not their design to become either martyrs or dupes; martyrdom being, in their opinion, unnecessary, and the other alternative adverse to their tastes.
Still any view of the practical methods of working out the principle which may be here intimated is of course binding upon no one. I state the spirit in which the principle is at present entertained, so far as I know, by those who have accepted it. Every individual must be left free, whether as an inhabitant of the world at large, or of an equitable village, to act under the dictates of his own conscience, his own views of expediency, his own sense of what he can afford to sacrifice in order to abide by the principle rather than sacrifice the principle instead; or, in fine, of whatever other regulating influence he is in the habit of submitting his conduct to. He must be left absolutely free, then, to commit every conceivable breach of the principles of harmonic society. He who is in no freedom to do wrong can never, by any possibility, demonstrate the disposition to do right; besides, whether the absolute or theoretical right is always the practical or relative right, is at least a doubtful question in morals, which each individual must be allowed to judge of solely for himself,--as of every other question of morals and personal conduct whatsoever,--assuming the Cost. Hence, even in the act of infringing one of our circle of principles, the individual is vindicating another,--THE SOVEREIGNTY OF THE INDIVIDUAL,--and in the fact of his differing from another, from the majority, or from all others, in the moral character of an act, he is merely illustrating another of the same circle of principles,--namely, INDIVIDUALITY.
It is found to be the most puzzling of all things to those who commence to examine these principles, beset as they are by the fogs of old ideas, that a social reorganization should be proposed without any social compact, the necessity of which has been alike and universally conceded both by Conservatives and Reformers. An illustration may render the matter clear. We do not bring forward a System, a Plan, or a Constitution, to be voted on, adopted, or agreed to, by mankind at large, or by any set of men whatsoever. Nothing of the sort! We point out certain principles in the nature of things which relate to the order of human society; in conforming to which mankind will find their affairs harmonically adjusted, and in departing from which they will run into confusion. The knowledge of these principles is science. It is the same with them as with the principles of Physiology. We teach them as science. We do not ask that they shall be voted upon or applied under pledges. Men cannot make or unmake them. So far as he knows them, and cordially accepts them as truths, he will be disposed to realize them in act. The human mind has a natural appetite for truth. If there are obstacles in the way of their realization, those obstacles will differ with the circumstances of each individual, and the Individual can alone judge of them. Those circumstances may change tomorrow, and then his capacity to act will change. His own appreciation of the subject may change likewise. There is Individuality, therefore, in his own different states at different periods. The man must be bound by no pledges which imply even so much as that he will be himself the same, in any given respect, at any future moment of time. It is the evil of compacts that the compact becomes sacred and the individual profane,--that man is held to be made for the Sabbath and not the Sabbath for man.
Hereupon there is based the claim that these principles constitute in the appropriate and rigid sense THE SCIENCE OF SOCIETY. It is the property of science that it does not say “By your leave.” It exists whether you will or no. It requires neither compacts, constitutions, nor ballot-boxes. It is objectively true. It exists in principles and truths. If you understand and conform, well; if not, woe be unto you. The consequences will fall upon you and scourge you. Hence the government of consequences is itself scientific, which no man-made government is. Men have sought for ages to discover the science of government; and lo! Here it is, that men cease totally to attempt to govern each other at all! That they learn to know the consequences of their own acts, and that they arrange their relations with each other upon such a basis of science that the disagreeable consequences shall be assumed by the agent himself.