The Ethics of Capitalism

In the expositions of Ethical Socialism one constantly finds the assertion that it presupposes the moral purification of men. As long as we do not succeed in elevating the masses morally we shall be unable to transfer the socialist order of society from the sphere of ideas to that of reality. The difficulties in the way of Socialism lie exclusively, or predominantly, in men’s moral shortcomings. Some writers doubt whether this obstacle will ever be overcome; others are content to say that the world will not be able to achieve Socialism for the present or in the immediate future.

We have been able to show why the socialist economy is impracticable: not because men are morally too base, but because the problems that a socialist order would have to solve present insuperable intellectual difficulties. The impracticability of Socialism is the result of intellectual, not moral, incapacity. Socialism could not achieve its end, because a socialist economy could not calculate value. Even angels, if they were endowed only with human reason, could not form a socialistic community.

If a socialist community were capable of economic calculation, it could be set up without any change in men’s moral character. In a socialist society different ethical standards would prevail from those of a society based on private ownership in the means of production. The temporary sacrifices demanded of the individual by society would be different. Yet it would be no more difficult to enforce the code of socialist morals than it is to enforce the code of capitalist morals, if there were any possibility of making objective computations within the socialist society. If a socialist society could ascertain separately the product of the labour of each single member of the society, his share in the social product could be calculated and his reward fixed proportionately to his productive contribution. Under such circumstances the socialist order would have no cause to fear that a comrade would fail to work with the maximum of energy for lack of any incentive to sweeten the toil of labour. Only because this condition is lacking, Socialism will have to construct for its Utopia a type of human being totally different from the race which now walks the earth, one to whom labour is not toil and pain, but joy and pleasure. Because such a calculus is out of the question, the Utopian socialist is obliged to make demands on men which are diametrically opposed to nature. This inadequacy of the human type which would cause the breakdown of Socialism, may appear to be of a moral order; on closer examination it turns out to be a question of intellect.

The Alleged Defects of Capitalist Ethics

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