Social Justice


By the Most Reverend WILLIAM TEMPLE, Archbishop of York

Delivered over the British Broadcasting System, October 18, 1940

Vital Speeches of the Day, Vol VII, pp. 114-117

THERE has never yet been a state of society in which perfect justice was established. This could only be done if all citizens completely obeyed the command "Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself." Of course that has never happened; indeed it is unlikely that any single individual, except Our Lord Himself, ever obeyed that commandment perfectly. We are all of us born self-centered; that is our Original Sin. We estimate the value and importance of things by the way in which they affect ourselves. Some by education, and more deeply by conversion, are enabled to escape from a great deal of this entanglement of self-interest; but all of us are involved in it more or less. Our task as Churchmen is to submit ourselves to the power which can effect our deliverance and to direct other people to it; our task as Christian citizens is to take our share in so moulding society that the nearest practicable approximation to justice is actually established.

The Need For Training For Citizenship

If we approach the matter as Christians, we shall be careful to understand this in terms of personal life rather than of purely economic wealth; from this standpoint, the most serious inequality today is found in the matter of educational opportunity. We have made great strides in this field during the present century: the position is entirely different from what is was in 1900. When the State began to interest itself in education, in the middle of the nineteenth century, it almost inevitably worked by the principle of an irreducible minimum—a point to which all children must be brought. At the outset it was impossible to aim at more. But this had deplorable results, including the notorious half-time system, and a provision under which children who reached the required standards could leave school a year before the general school-leaving age. In other words, if a child was clever enough to profit by remaining at school, he was allowed to leave early; if he was too stupid to gain much from it, he had to stay there for the full period.

Moreover, what was envisaged was schooling rather than education. The first Board Schools, which, as Charles Masterman said, "proclaimed, by the very audacity of their ferocious ugliness, the advantages of State-given education," were no more than vast boxes of class-rooms. There was no corporate life of the school, and no attempt to make its architecture the expression of a communal life. The entire conception was purely individualistic: the children were taught in droves because it was too expensive to teach them separately. The fact that the school itself can and should be the great educator of its pupils, apart from all instruction given by teachers, was almost completely ignored.

A vast change has come since 1900, and especially since 1920. But we are still far from that measure of equality in educational opportunity which can be provided in spite of the inevitable differences in the cultural quality of homes and families. Those differences, indeed, cannot be removed unless (as Plato advocated partly with this object) the family is abolished and children are brought up in State institutions. These differences in home training are not chiefly a matter of social class or of income, though poverty is a dire hindrance to culture. There are plenty of aristocratic and of wealthy homes in which the children very seldom hear any intelligent conversation; and there are plenty of poor and of working-class homes where they hear a great deal; and the most influential of all educational factors is the conversation in a child's home.

These differences in home influence will persist. But the opportunities provided outside the home should be as far as possible the same for all. Of course this does not mean that everyone is to be taught the same things. That would be most unfair, for the subjects selected would suit some and not others. There must be the greatest possible variety, and the aim must be the fullest possible development of each according to his or her talent. We have abandoned the principle of the irreducible minimum. We must deliberately adopt that of the maximum attainable.

The vital point is this. The community of young people is itself the great educator; and care must be taken that all young people up to the age of eighteen are members of such a community or fellowship, enjoying its support and bracedby consciousness of responsibility for its tradition and welfare. This community need not be a school if by that we mean a place of book-learning; but it must be a place of training for citizenship by the actual experience and practice of life in a community. The newly launched Youth Movement may do great things here if it is conceived on lines sufficiently bold and untraditional.

But more potent than school, or even than home, as a moral influence, is the whole structure of society, and especially its economic structure. This fixes for all their place in the general scheme; and the way in which they gain and keep that place of necessity determines a great deal of their conduct and profoundly influences their outlook upon life. Can it be said that the social and economic system with which we have been familiar expresses and inculcates a view of human life akin to Christianity? The salient feature of it, when judged from this standpoint, is the fact of unemployment on a large scale. In the middle of last summer—1940—the expert correspondent of The Times, commenting on the fact that the figure for unemployment was then three-quarters-of-a-million, said that this was probably near the minimum, even though millions of young men are in the Forces and we are making our maximum effort. If that is so, it is a sign that our system, as we have known it, is inadequate to our needs. It is clearly demanded by social justice that we should gain for the mass of the people deliverance from this nightmare of insecurity.

Trade Competition Leads to International Conflict

There is another equally serious charge to be laid against it; it contains the seeds of war, because it relies so largely on the profit-motive, with which love of power is closely bound up. No doubt it is not the economic system itself so much as policies associated with it, which tend towards conflict. But the tendency is there. The directors of companies are elected by shareholders, whose interest in the company is that it should pay the best possible dividends. This was always open to objection on moral grounds, but at least it supplied a useful stimulus to production in a period when the market was capable of indefinite expansion. But this is no longer true. The market today does not expand in such a way as to keep pace with the increased power of production. Consequently there is competition for the limited market; and as the well-being of whole nations depends on that competition, we have here an occasion of international conflict. It may never reach the point of open war. There are very few businesses that profit by war, and far the majority of industrialists desire peace. But they also desire what tends to destroy peace, and thus the working of the system has an inherent tendency towards international rivalry, jealousy and conflict.

The root of the trouble is that we have deserted the natural order. In the nature of things, the object of producing goods is that human needs may be satisfied: in economic terms, production exists for the sake of the consumer. Consequently, the production of food should be regulated with a view to satisfying the hunger of men— not with a view to the profits of the producers. Of course they cannot work at a loss; that leads to bankruptcy and cessation of the whole process. But the organizations could be so devised as to express and secure the predominant interest of the consumer.

Now the consumer is the general public. Every man is a consumer, whether he is also a producer or not; that is why idleness and theft are morally indistinguishable. The idle man (however much he legally possesses) is consuming without producing; he enjoys what he does not earn. As Paulsen remarked: "If any will not work neither let himeat" is only another way of saying "Thou shalt not steal." But if there is an obligation upon every man to contribute something, spiritual, intellectual or material, to the common stock on which he draws to keep himself alive, it is also true that it is for the satisfaction of his needs and those of his fellows that the whole process of industry exists.

It is easy to infer from this that some form of Communism or State Socialism is the ideal system. But these ignore the fact that a man is still a human being in his activity as a producer and not only as a consumer; he ought to have free play for his personality, as far as may be, in the act of production—and this is the root-truth of individualistic capitalism. Our task must be to do justice as far as possible to the truth of capitalism, as well as to the truth of socialism.

To this end the State, as the representative of the whole community and, therefore, of the consumer, must undertake the planning of our economic life, taking care, as far as may be, that all essential needs are met, and that there is no glutting of the market so that stoppage occurs in that process of production whereby most men earn their livelihood.

Planning Combined with Personal Initiative

There may be some industries which are best conducted by management directly responsible to the State, as the Post Office is. But this should probably be rare and confined to services indispensable to the whole community. For State management involves bureaucracy, and this easily becomes as stifling to free personality as grinding competition. We do not want one cast-iron system, but the fullest attainable combination of order or planning with freedom or personal initiative.

I start with the economic legislation of the Bible. The principle of the Divine Law, as there set out for economics, is to allow the maximum personal freedom compatible with the prevention of all exploitation either of the land by any person or group, or of one person or group by another. Thus, in the Law of Moses, purchase of land in perpetuity is forbidden, for the land belongs to God and is granted by Him to His people for their use. Now it is the Common Law of England at this moment, that all the land of England belongs to the King, as representing the whole community and the divinely constituted authority within it. All so-called landowners hold the use of the land but not absolute dominion over it. They can therefore be restrained from a use or development of the land which might be profitable to them but detrimental to the public interest, and this should be done much more than it is. Town-planning legislation, for example, is still in its infancy, and the instalments we have yet had are cautious or timid as you please, but certainly not bold. It must, however, be recognised that the rural landlord discharges many social functions, and ownership of agricultural land, subject to consideration of the public welfare, should not be subject to the same restrictions as ownership of industrial stocks and shares; moreover, as family tradition is in this field a valuable social asset, I should personally urge the total exemption of all agricultural land from death-duties.

The social function of the urban landlord is less evident; and the social function of the ordinary shareholder, as such, simply does not exist. The ancient law of Jubilee, whereby once in fifty years the original equal distribution of land was to be restored, can therefore be applied more directly to these. It can be done in any one of three ways or by a combination of these: shares may take the form of debentures and be repayable at a certain date; or invested capital, after bearing interest for a number of years, may lose a proportion of itsvalue each year till it is extinguished; or the inheritance of it may be curtailed by drastic death-duties. In one way or another it should be secured that no one, by investing capital alone, can become possessed of a permanent and saleable right to levy a tax upon the enterprise in which he invests his money together with a voice in the control of it. Thus the grip of profit-seeking capital upon industry will be loosened.

We must go further. The investor gets his interest; the workman gets his wages. There is no reason why the former should also get a share in the control and the latter should not. Labour has historically been very reluctant to accept a share in the control of industry or the direction of its policy. It is doubtful whether Labour at present would generally accept its proportion of places on the Boards of Directors or make a very good use of those places if it did. There is need, on any showing, for a new enterprise of planning in industry, and this must obviously be undertaken by the State. It may be that Labour will best exercise its control, at any rate at first, through the organ of Government responsible for this.

Meanwhile, great transformations are going on before our eyes. There is growing up a great section of society—Industrial Management—which has many of the characteristics of a profession or a civil service. In a planned economy, Management would inevitably be responsible to the State as much as to Directors representing shareholders, and the State would have to nominate members of the Boards of Directors. Thus alike in the general plan and in the particular administration, the consumer, through the State, would have his effective voice.

Limitation of Profits

One more modification of the present system may be mentioned as required by social justice: wherever limitation of liability is granted it should be accompanied by limitation of profits. The Articles of Association should provide for the allocation of surplus profits to such purposes as these: an equalisation fund for the maintenance of wages in bad times, even though hours of work be reduced; a similar fund for the maintenance of interest to shareholders at a specified minimum; a sinking fund for the repayment of invested capital; a fund for the extension of fixed capital, and so forth. Thus investor and workman gain greater security and the urge to secure maximum profits is mitigated.

If we are to move in this direction, some action is required now. The first is an act of resolve that the controls over private enterprise established for war-time purposes shall be retained when peace returns. They will, of course, call for modification; but they must not be abolished. Secondly, they must be used at once to ensure deferred spending, so that inflation may be avoided and the wealthier classes may not appropriate an unfair share of the new limited amount of available goods. Justice seems to require that this should be accompanied by a scheme of Family Allowances—to begin, perhaps, with the third child born in one family.

There is one further necessary change. No scheme of publicly organised production can be satisfactory apart from national control of credit. We all have reason to be grateful for the stability of our banking system and for the ability and integrity with which it is administered. Yet it cannot be justified in modern conditions that the banks, even the Bank of England, should, in order to meet national needs, create credit which earns interest for themselves. "The State must resume the right to control the issue and cancellation of every kind of money." Till that is done, a body within the community will control what is vital to the welfare of the community: and that is a false principle.

I offer these proposals not as dogmas but as matter fordiscussion and as indications of a spirit rather than as a definite policy. It may be that there are other and better ways of attaining our object. But our object is clear: it is to reverse that reversal of the natural order, which is characteristic of our phase of civilisation; the natural order is that consumption should control production and production should utilise finance. And this must be done in the way that will most secure both freedom and order, both initiative and security, and may promote the only real progress, which is the development of personality in fellowship.