The Monopolist Instincts by Grant Allen

Story type: Essay

In the first of these after-dinner causeries I ventured humbly to remark that Patriotism was a vulgar vice of which I had never been guilty. That innocent indiscretion of mine aroused at the moment some unfavourable comment. I confess I was sorry for it. But I passed it by at the time, lest I should speak too hastily and lose my temper. I recur to the subject now, at the hour of the cigarette, when man can discourse most genially of his bitterest enemy. And Monopoly is mine. Its very name is hateful.

I don’t often say what I think. At least, not much of it. I don’t often get the chance. And, besides, being a timid and a modest man, I’m afraid to. But just this once, I’m going to “try it on.” Object to my opinions as you will. But still, let me express them. Strike–but hear me!

Has it ever occurred to you that one object of reading is to learn things you never thought of before, and would never think of now, unless you were told them?

Patriotism is one of the Monopolist Instincts. And the Monopolist Instincts are the greatest enemies of the social life in humanity. They are what we have got in the end to outlive. The test of a man’s place in the scale of being is how far he has outlived them. They are surviving relics of the ape and tiger. But we must let the ape and tiger die. We must begin to be human.

I will take Patriotism first, because it is the most specious of them all, and has still a self-satisfied way of masquerading as a virtue. But after all what is Patriotism? “My country, right or wrong; and just because it is my country.” It is nothing more than a wider form of selfishness. Often enough, indeed, it is even a narrow one. It means, “My business interests against the business interests of other people; and let the taxes of my fellow-citizens pay to support them.” At other times it is pure Jingoism. It means, “My country against other countries! My army and navy against other fighters! My right to annex unoccupied territory over the equal right of all other people! My power to oppress all weaker nationalities, all inferior races!” It never means anything good. For if a cause is just, like Ireland’s, or once Italy’s, then ’tis the good man’s duty to espouse it with warmth, be it his own or another’s. And if a cause be bad, then ’tis the good man’s duty to oppose it tooth and nail, irrespective of your “Patriotism.” True, a good man will feel more sensitively anxious that justice should be done by the particular State of which he happens himself to be a member than by any other, because he is partly responsible for the corporate action; but then, people who feel deeply this joint moral responsibility of all the citizens are not praised as patriots but reviled as unpatriotic. To urge that our own country should strive with all its might to be better, higher, purer, nobler, juster than other countries around it–the only kind of Patriotism worth a brass farthing in a righteous man’s eyes–is accounted by most men both wicked and foolish.

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Patriotism, then, is the collective or national form of the Monopolist Instincts. And like all those Instincts, it is a relic of savagery, which the Man of the Future is now engaged in out-living.

Property is the next form. That, on the very face of it, is a viler and more sordid one. For Patriotism at least can lay claim to some expansiveness beyond mere individual interest; whereas property stops dead short at the narrowest limits. It is not “Us against the world!” but “Me against my fellow-citizens!” It is the final result of the industrial war in its most hideous avatar. Look how it scars the fair face of our England with its anti-social notice-boards, “Trespassers will be prosecuted!” It says, in effect, “This is my land. God made it; but I have acquired it and tabooed it. The grass on it grows green; but only for me. The mountains rise beautiful; no foot of man, save mine and my gamekeepers’, shall tread them. The waterfalls gleam fresh and cool in the glen: avaunt there, you non-possessors; you shall never see them! All this is my own. And I choose to monopolise it.”

Or is it the capitalist? “I will add field to field,” he says, in despite of his own scripture; “I will join railway to railway. I will juggle into my own hands all the instruments for the production of wealth that I can lay hold of; and I will use them for myself against the producer and the consumer. I will enrich myself by ‘corners’ on the necessaries of life; I will make food dear for the poor, that I myself may roll in needless luxury. I will monopolise whatever I can seize, and the people may eat straw.” That temper, too, humanity must outlive. And those who can’t outlive it of themselves, or be warned in time, must be taught by stern lessons that their race has outstripped them.

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As for slavery, ’tis now gone. That was the vilest of them all. It was the naked assertion of the Monopolist platform: “You live, not for yourself, but wholly and solely for me. I disregard your life entirely, and use you as my chattel.” It died at last of the moral indignation of humanity. It died when a Southern court of so-called justice formulated in plain words the underlying principle of its hateful creed: “A black man has no rights which a white man is bound to respect.” That finally finished it. We no longer allow every man to “wallop his own nigger.” And though the last relics of it die hard in Queensland, South Africa, Demerara, we have at least the satisfaction of knowing that one Monopolist Instinct out of the group is pretty well bred out of us.

Except as regards women! There, it lingers still. The Man says even now to himself:–“This woman is mine. If she ventures to have a heart or a will of her own, woe betide her! I have tabooed her for life; let any other man touch her, let her look at any other man–and–knife, revolver, or law court, they shall both of them answer for it!” There you have in all its natural ugliness another Monopolist Instinct–the deepest-seated of all, the vilest, the most barbaric. She is not yours: she is her own: unhand her! The Turk takes his offending slave, sews her up in a sack, and flings her into the Bosphorus. The Christian Englishman drags her shame before an open court, and divorces her with contumely. Her shame, I say, in the common phrase, because though to me it is no shame that any human being should follow the dictates of his or her own heart, it is a shame to the woman in the eyes of the world, and a life of disgrace she must live thenceforward. All this is Monopoly and essentially slavery. As man lives down the Ape and Tiger stage, he will learn to say, rather: “Be mine while you can; but the day you cease to feel you can be mine willingly, don’t disgrace your own body by yielding it up where your soul feels loathing; don’t consent to be the mother of children by a father you despise or dislike or are tired of. Let us kiss and part. Go where you will; and my good will go with you!” Till the man can say that with a sincere heart, why, to borrow a phrase from George Meredith, he may have passed Seraglio Point, but he hasn’t rounded Cape Turk yet.

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You find that a hard saying, do you? You kick against freedom for wife or daughter? Well, yes, no doubt; you are still a Monopolist. But, believe me, the earnest and solemn expression of a profound belief never yet did harm to any one. I look forward to the time when women shall be as free in every way as men, not by levelling down, but by levelling up; not, as some would have us think, by enslaving the men, but by elevating, emancipating, unshackling the women.

There is a charming little ditty in Louis Stevenson’s “Child’s Garden of Verse,” which always seems to me to sum up admirably the Monopolist attitude. Here it is. Look well at it:–

“When I am grown to man’s estate
I shall be very proud and great,
And tell the other girls and boys,
Not to meddle with my toys.”

That is the way of the Monopolist. It catches him in the very act. He says to all the world: “Hands off! My property! Don’t walk on my grass! Don’t trespass in my park! Beware of my gunboats! No trifling with my women! I am the king of the castle. You meddle with me at your peril.”

“Ours!” not “Mine!” is the watchword of the future.

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