We are confronted by demands for social reconstruction. These pose grave problems with far-reaching implications. This book is written with the conviction that their solution must be looked for along lines not yet considered. Its aim is to show what has to be done in order that social demands coming from a large part of mankind may be turned in the direction of conscious social purpose.
Welcome or unwelcome, the facts of social life are present and must be reckoned with. Those who may object to the author's way of discussing proletarian demands should bear this in mind. He wants to present life as it really is. He is aware of the fatal consequences that will result if people refuse to look at the facts. These facts have arisen out of the life of modern mankind.
The so-called experts may not be pleased by this approach, which they may feel is not practical. It is their approach, however, that has led to the situation from which mankind is suffering today. They may condemn this book at the start because its opening pages deal less with the economic life than with the spiritual-cultural life of modern mankind. Yet it is the author's conviction, based on experience, that unless people pay close attention to the spiritual-cultural life of today they will continue to add fresh mistakes to the old ones.
On the other hand, what is said here will not altogether please those people who keep repeating that man must rise above absorption in purely material interests, that he must turn to “ideals,” to the things of the “spirit.” The author recognizes only that spirituality which forms the substance of man's own life. It shows its power just as much in mastering the problems of practical life as it does in constructing a philosophy that is able to satisfy the needs of man's soul.
The important point is not the knowledge (or supposed knowledge) of a spiritual life, but rather that the spiritual life enables man to grasp realities. The author's point of view may be of special use since he avoids any aloofness from life.
The social question discussed in this book concerns economic life, the rights of men, and the spiritual-cultural life. The author endeavors to show how the true form of the social question emerges as an outcome of the requirements of these three aspects of social life.
Only through a perception of this can the impulses come that make it possible to give these three branches of social life a shape that can lead to health within the social order. In earlier stages of mankind's evolution there were social instincts holding these three branches together in a way adapted to the human nature of that period. At present man is faced with the necessity of working out this combination of functions through conscious social will and purpose.
In those countries where the question of a social purpose is most pressing we find an overlapping and interplay of old instincts and new consciousness. The results of this are quite inadequate for the needs of modern mankind. A great deal of social thinking today is neither clear-sighted nor conscious, because the old instincts are still at work. They weaken men's capacity for understanding and dealing with urgent facts.
In the author's opinion it is necessary to recognize this fully before it is possible to apprehend the forms that the industrial economy, the rights of man and the spiritual-cultural life must take to conform to the demands of the modern age. The following pages indicate the lines that these new forms must inevitably follow. It is a path leading to social ends in keeping with the actual realities and urgent needs of life. The author believes that only through effort in this direction can our social will and purpose surmount mere utopianism and wordy sentiment.
If anyone still thinks this book has a somewhat Utopian character he
should consider the pictures people draw in their own minds of the kind
of society they seek, and how far from life such pictures are. That is
the very reason why these people, when they meet with something drawn
from reality and experience, look at it as Utopian. To many, nothing is
“concrete” that is outside their own customary line of
thought. So the concrete itself is an abstraction to them if it is
something about which they are not accustomed to think. 1April, 1919.
The author has, in the pages which follow, deliberately avoided
confining himself to the terms in common use in standard treatises on
political economy. He knows quite well the places which a technical
economist will pick out as being amateurish. But he has chosen his mode
of expression partly because he wishes to address himself also to
people who are not familiar with the literature of sociology and
economics. But he has done this chiefly because, in his opinion, most of
what is peculiarly technical in such writings will be shown by a new age
to be incomplete and defective, even in the very form of its
It may also be thought that some reference should have been made to other persons whose social ideas bear an incidental resemblance to the author's own. But it must be remembered that in the whole conception presented here, one which the author believes he owes to long years of practical experience, the essential point is not whether a particular thought has taken this or that form. The starting point is the important thing, and the road one takes in giving practical realization to the impulses that underlie this conception. As may be seen from Chapter IV, the author was already doing what he could to implement these ideas in actual practice at a time when ideas that seem somewhat similar had not as yet attracted any attention. Therefore, they will think this book is abstract.
With people whose minds are harnessed to a party program the author's views will also, at first, find no favor. He is well aware of this. But he believes that it will not be long before many party men come to the conclusion that the actual facts of evolution have gone far beyond the programs of their parties. They will see the urgent necessity of freeing themselves from all such party programs and forming an independent opinion.