ARTICLE FOR CIVIC LEAGUE
Written by R. F. Cutting, New York, on Organization of Civic Conscience.
The CRIMSON publishes today an article by Robert Fulton Cutting entitled "The Organization of the Civic Conscience." This article will be the first of a series written especially for the Intercollegiate Civic League by men of both political parties who are prominent in political affairs and wish to draw the attention of college men to the necessity for more educated men in politics. The Intercollegiate Civic League, which has solicited these articles and forwarded them to a number of college papers for publication, is composed of 26 non-partisan college clubs, devoted to an interest in public affairs. The Harvard Political Club is a member of the League, and it was through this agency that the CRIMSON obtained these articles.
Mr. Cutting, who is the author of the article published today, is one of the foremost citizens of New York. He was born in New York in 1852, and has spent his entire life in the metropolis. He is President of the New York Trade School, the New York Citizens' Union, and the Association for Improving the Condition of the Poor.
The Organization of the Civic Conscience.
In an article on "The Modern Development of Municipal Government" written fifteen years ago, the Rt. Hon. Joseph Chamberlain said, "the hope of the future lies in the awakening of the public conscience and its recognition of the duty of the community to its poorest and weakest members." The awakening has commenced, it is domesticating a conscience in public life, but one that is still a crude ill-educated groping thing. It will stand a vast amount of abuse, of ridicule, of intolerance, but when to these is added insolence, and the public sense of decency is violated by official exploitation of criminal license, it becomes an avalanche and temporarily overwhelms its oppressors. Like an avalanche, however, it possesses no constructive power and when the old forces that for the time being have become subterranean, force their way again to the surface, the process is repeated. It is true that there is progress but it is not so rapid as we should have reason to expect.
The Civic Conscience is today outside of the local agencies of the great National parties and so long as those parties depend for their maintenance upon patronage and subsidies from private corporations, it will remain outside. If it would be actively represented in Civic politics and impress itself upon the community as the National parties do, it must have its own agency of expression. It is because of thorough organization and discipline that the National party can afford to ignore the Conscience of the community and to ride rough-shod over its supplications and protests. It is not a bit afraid of numbers if they lack discipline and leadership and ignores them until intoxicated with success it oversteps the limits of prudence and precipitates the cataclysm.
The problems of the American com- monwealth are today peculiarly those of the City. The issues that interest and agitate the public are increasingly local and the battle-grounds that have peculiar significance are those of New York, Philadelphia, Chicago and other great centres of population.
There has recently forced its way to the front in Civic politics, the issue generally known as Municipal Ownership. The principle involved is not new as we have long owned and operated a variety of public utilities such as water supply; it is the proposed extension of the principle upon a scale of portentous magnitude that gives the issue its engrossing interest. The proposition is in itself characteristic of the age, for whether it be regarded as a real factor in the progress of civilization or only the mistaken dream of impracticable visionaries, it is entitled to the credit of a gentle birth. It is one of the phenomena of the groping fraternalism that has so markedly characterized the civilization of the last half century. This question cannot be arbitrarily dismissed. It is far too grave to be left for solution to the partisan. He has only one policy to consider-how to get votes. Neither the morals, the economics or the common sense of any proposition interest him except in so far as they may be employed to secure his selfish ends. To the Radical, Municipal Ownership is the remedy of all the abuses of popular sovereignty. To the Reactionary it is the victory of Socialism, a fatal blow at the rights of property. But there must be a middle course between these antagonistic positions and the consideration of this important and pressing issue has made the direct representation of Conscience in local politics peculiarly essential. Conscientiousness is a normally conservative quality and while it is intolerant of oppression it is amenable to reason. If it will it can treat Municipal Ownership dispassionately and in the interests of public welfare, of financial stability and of local exigency. But whether the expansion of the function of Government comprehend Municipal Ownership of public utilities or confine itself to provision of increased privileges of education and recreation, to public baths, libraries, etc., it is bound to be costly and it is doubtful if the most economical administration would substantially reduce the City's annual budget as the demand for public improvements growing out of the awakened appreciation of their social value would probably absorb all the saving. It is most probable that for a long time to come public spirit will cheerfully carry the present burden of taxation if the expenditure only reaches its destination undiminished by graft and the incapacity of officials. We must remember that the modern treatment of established theories of property has given us some rather startling shocks. In the preface to his "Life of Gladstone," John Morley says "a firm and trained economist and no friend of Socialism, yet by his legislation upon land in 1870 and 1881 he wrote the opening chapter in a volume in which an unexpected page in the history of property is destined to be inscribed."
We seem to be developing a new sense of the nature and characteristics of the communal obligation and the limitation of the rights of the individual as a citizen, and the animating spirit of our evolution is profoundly fraternal. It is not sufficient to deplore the corruption of political life and then to shrink from the consideration of remedies