DISRAELI'S "TWO NATIONS"
a) Destructive culture contact is not primarily an economic phenom-
Most native societies are now undergoing a process of rapid and
forcible transformation comparable only to the violent changes of a
revolution, says L. P. Mair. Although the invaders
motives are defi-
nitely economic, and the collapse of primitive society is certainly often
caused by the destruction of its economic institutions, the salient fact
is that the new economic institutions fail to be assimilated by the native
culture which consequently disintegrates without being replaced by any
other coherent value system.
First among the destructive tendencies inherent in Western institu-
tions stands "peace over a vast area," which shatters "clan life,
patriarchal authority, the military training of the youth; it is almost
prohibitive to migration of clans or tribes" (Thurnwald, Black and
White in East Africa; The Fabric of a New Civilization, 1935, p.
394). "War must have given a keenness to native life which is sadly
lacking in these times of peace. . . ." The abolition of fighting de-
creases population, since war resulted in very few casualties, while its
absence means the loss of vitalizing customs and ceremonies and a
consequent unwholesome dullness and apathy of village life (F. E.
Williams, Depopulation of the Suan District, 1933, "Anthropology"
Report, No. 13, p. 43). Compare with this the "lusty, animated, ex-
cited existence" of the native in his traditional cultural environment
(Goldenweiser, Loose Ends, p. 99).
The real danger, in Goldenweiser's words, is that of a "cultural
in-between" (Goldenweiser, Anthropology, 1937, p. 429). On this
point there is practical unanimity. "The old barriers are dwindling
and no kind of new guiding lines are offered" (Thurnwald, Black and
White, p. 111). "To maintain a community in which the accumula-
tion of goods is regarded as anti-social and integrate the same with con-
temporary white culture is to try to harmonize two incompatible
institutional systems" (Wissel in Introduction to M. Mead, The Chang-
1932). "Immigrant culture-bearers
may succeed in extinguishing an aboriginal culture, but yet fail either
to extinguish or to assimilate its bearers" (Pitt-Rivers, "The Effect on
Native Races of Contact with European Civilization." In Man, Vol.
Or, in Lesser's pungent phrase of yet another victim
of industrial civilization: "From cultural maturity as Pawnee they
were reduced to cultural infancy as white men" (The Pawnee Ghost
Dance Hand Game, p. 44).
NOTES ON SOURCES
This condition of living death is not due to economic exploitation
in the accepted sense in which exploitation means an economic
advantage of one partner at the cost of the other, though it is certainly
intimately linked with changes in the economic conditions connected
with land tenure, war, marriage, and so on, each of which affects a
vast number of social habits, customs, and traditions of all descriptions.
When a money economy is forcibly introduced into sparsely populated
regions of Western Africa, it is not the insufficiency of wages which
results in the fact that the natives "cannot buy food to replace that
which has not been grown, for nobody else has grown a surplus of
food to sell to them" (Mair,
An African People in the
1934, p. 5). Their institutions imply a different value scale;
they are both thrifty and at the same time non-market-minded. "They
will ask the same price when the market is glutted as prevailed when
there was great scarcity, and yet they will travel long distances at
considerable cost of time and energy to save a small sum on their
purchases" (Mary H. Kingsley,
p. 339). A rise
in wages often leads to absenteeism. Zapotec Indians in Tehuantepec
were said to work half as well at 50 centavos as at 25 centavos a day.
This paradox was fairly general during the early days of the Industrial
Revolution in England.
The economic index of population rates serves us no better than
wages. Goldenweiser confirms the famous observation Rivers made in
Melanesia that culturally destitute natives may be "dying of boredom."
F. E. Williams, himself a missionary working in that region, writes
that the "influence of the psychological factor on the death rate" is
easily understood. "Many observers have drawn attention to the re-
markable ease or readiness with which a native may die." "The
restriction of former interests and activities seems fatal to his spirits.
The result is that the native's power of resistance is impaired, and he
easily goes under to any kind of sickness" (op. cit., p. 4 3 ) . This has
nothing to do with the pressure of economic want. "Thus an extremely
high rate of natural increase may be a symptom either of cultural
vitality or cultural degradation"
Observations on the
Trend of Indian Population in the United States, p. n).
Cultural degradation can be stopped only by social measures,
incommensurable with economic standards of life, such as the restora-
tion of tribal land tenure or the isolation of the community from the
influence of capitalistic market methods. "Separation of the Indian
from his land was the
writes John Collier in 1942.
DISRAELI'S "TWO NATIONS"
The General Allotment Act of 1887 "individualized" the Indian's land;
the disintegration of his culture which resulted lost him some three-
quarters, or ninety million acres, of this land. The Indian Reorganiza-
tion Act of 1934 reintegrated tribal holdings, and saved the Indian
community, by revitalizing his culture.
The same story comes from Africa. Forms of land tenure occupy
the center of interest, because it is on them that social organization
most directly depends. What appear as economic conflicts—high taxes
and rents, low wages—are almost exclusively veiled forms of pressure
to induce the natives to give up their traditional culture and thus
compel them to adjust to the methods of market economy, i.e., to work
for wages and procure their goods on the market. It was in this process
that some of the native tribes like the Kaffirs and those who had
migrated to town lost their ancestral virtues and became a shiftless
crowd, "semidomesticated animals," among them loafers, thieves, and
prostitutes—an institution unknown amongst them before—resembling
nothing more than the mass of the pauperized population of England
(b)) The human degradation of the laboring classes under early cap-
italism was the result of a social catastrophe not measurable in
Robert Owen observed of his laborers as early as 1816 that
"whatever wage they received the mass of them must be
wretched. . . ." (To the British Master Manufacturers, p. 146). It
will be remembered that Adam Smith expected the land-divorced
laborer to lose all intellectual interest. And M'Farlane expected "that
the knowledge of writing and accounts will every day become less
frequent among the common people" (Enquiries Concerning the
Poor, 1782, p. 249-50). A generation later Owen put down the
laborers' degradation to "neglect in infancy" and "overwork," thus
rendering them "incompetent from ignorance to make a good use of
high wages when they can procure them." He himself paid them low
wages and raised their status by creating for them artificially an entirely
new cultural environment. The vices developed by the mass of the
people were on the whole the same as characterized colored popula-
tions debased by disintegrating culture contact: dissipation, prostitu-
tion, thievishness, lack of thrift and providence, slovenliness, low
productivity of labor, lack of self-respect and stamina. The spreading
of market economy was destroying the traditional fabric of the rural
NOTES ON SOURCES
society, the village community, the family, the old form of land tenure,
the customs and standards that supported life within a cultural frame-
work. The protection afforded by Speenhamland had made matters
only worse. By the 1830 's the social catastrophe of the common people
was as complete as that of the Kaffir is today. One and alone, an
eminent Negro sociologist, Charles S. Johnson, reversed the analogy
between racial debasement and class degradation, applying it this
time to the latter: "In England, where, incidentally, the Industrial
Revolution was more advanced than in the rest of Europe, the social
chaos which followed the drastic economic reorganization converted
impoverished children into the 'pieces' that the African slaves were,
later, to become. . . . The apologies for the child serf system were
almost identical with those of the slave trade" ("Race Relations and
Social Change." In E. Thompson,
Race Relations and the Race Prob-
lem, i939> P- 274).
POOR LAW AND THE ORGANIZATION OF LABOR
No inquiry has yet been made into the wider implications of the
Speenhamland system, its orgins, its effects and the reasons of its abrupt
discontinuance. Here are a few of the points involved.
1. To what extent was Speenhamland a war measure?
From the strictly economic point of view, Speenhamland can not
truly be said to have been a war measure, as has often been asserted.
Contemporaries hardly connected the wages position with the war
emergency. In so far as there was a noticeable rise in wages,
had started before the war.
1795, designed to ascertain the effects of the failure of crops on the
price of corn contained (point IV) this question: "What has been the
rise (if any) in the pay of the agricultural laborers, on comparison
with the preceding period?" Characteristically, his correspondents
failed to attach any definite meaning to the phrase "preceding period."
References ranged from three to fifty years. They included the follow-
ing stretches of time:
POOR LAW AND THE ORGANIZATION OF LABOR 295
J. Boys, p. 97.
J. Boys, p. 90.
Reports from Shropshire,
Middlesex, Cambridgeshire. •
Sussex and Hampshire.
J. Boys, p. 86.
Rev. J. Howlett.
No one set the period at two years, the term of the French War,
which had started in February, 1793. In effect, no correspondent as
much as mentioned the war.
Incidentally, the usual way of dealing with the increase in pauper-
ism caused by a bad harvest and adverse weather conditions resulting
in unemployment consisted (1) in local subscriptions involving doles
and distribution of food and fuel free or at reduced cost; (2) in the
providing of employment. Wages remained usually unaffected; during
a similar emergency, in 1788-9 additional employment was actually
provided locally at lower than the normal rates. (Cf. J. Harvey,
"Worcestershire," in Ann. of Agr., v, XII, p. 132, 1789. Also
E. Holmes, "Cruckton," I.e., p. 196.)'
Nevertheless, it has been assumed with good cause that the war
had, at least, an indirect bearing on the adoption of the Speenhamland
expedient. Actually, two weaknesses of the rapidly spreading market
system were being aggravated by the war and contributed to the situ-
ation out of which Speenhamland arose: (1) the tendency of corn
prices to fluctuate, (2) the most deleterious effect of rioting on these
fluctuations. The cornmarket, only recently freed, could hardly be ex-
pected to stand up to the strain of war and threats of blockade. Nor
w^s the cornmarket proof against the panics caused by the habit of
rioting which now took on an ominous import. Under the so-called
regulative system, "orderly rioting" had been regarded by the central
authorities more or less as an indicator of local scarcity which should
be handled leniently; now it was denounced as a cause of scarcity and
an economic danger to the community at large, not least to the poor
themselves. Arthur Young published a warning on the "Consequences
of rioting on account of the high prices of food provisions" and
Hannah More helped to broadcast similar views in one of her didactic
poems called "The Riot, or, Half a loaf is better than no bread" (to
NOTES ON SOURCES
be sung to the tune of "A Cobbler there was"). Her answer to the
housewives merely set in rhymes what Young in a fictitious dialogue
had expressed thus: I 'Are we to be quiet till starved?' Most assuredly
you are not—you ought to complain; but complain and act in such a
manner as shall not aggravate the very evil that is felt." There was, he
insisted, not the slightest danger of a famine "prowded we are free of
riots" There was good reason for concern, the supply of com being
highly sensitive to panic. Moreover, the French Revolution was giving
a threatening connotation even to orderly riots. Though fear of a rise
in wages was undoubtedly the economic cause of Speenhamland, it
may be said that, as far as the war was concerned, the implications of
the situation were far more social and political than economic.
Sir William Young and the relaxation of the Act of Settlement.
Two incisive Poor Law measures date from 1795: Speenhamland
and the relaxation of "parish serfdom." It is difficult to believe that
this was a mere coincidence. On the mobility of labor their effect was
up to a point opposite. While the latter made it more attractive for the
laborer to wander in search of employment, the former made it less
imperative for him to do so. In the convenient terms of "push" and
"pull" sometimes used in studies on migration, while the "pull" of the
place of destination was increased, the "push" of the home village was
diminished. The danger of a large-scale unsettlement of rural labor as
a result of the revision of the Act of 1662 was thus certainly mitigated
by Speenhamland. From the angle of Poor Law administration, the
two measures were frankly complementary. For the loosening of the
Act of 1662 involved the risk which that Act was designed to avoid,
namely the flooding of the "better" parishes by the poor. But for
Speenhamland, this might have actually happened. Contemporaries
made but little mention of this connection, which is hardly surprising
once one remembers that even the Act of 1662 itself was carried prac-
tically without public discussion. Yet the conviction must have been
present in the mind of Sir William Young, who twice sponsored the
two measures conjointly. In 1795, he advocated the amendment of
the Act of Settlement while he was also the mover of the 1796 Bill by
which the Speenhamland principle was incorporated in law. Once
before, in 1788, he had in vain sponsored the same two measures. He
had moved the repeal of the Act of Settlement almost in the same terms
as in 1795, sponsoring at the same time a measure of relief of the poor
which proposed to establish a living wage, two-thirds of which were to
Documents you may be interested
Documents you may be interested