Social Work, Standards of Living and the War

George H. Mead, Chairman of the Division; Professor of Philosophy, University of Chicago

Domestic Policy and International Adjustment

The program of the English Labor Party is one of the most important of the war documents. It has lifted the war, by its definition of the social issues that the war has made conceivable and possible, into a struggle for a new order of things. This new order of things when accepted makes of the war an entirely different struggle. It stands in this manner upon the level with the greatest of President Wilson's papers. The League to Enforce Peace, the right of self-determination of nations, the demand for full security of the small nations, all of these are part of the magna carta of an international society. But they approach the form of this international society from the outside, and by their structure they do not consider the inner nature of communities which may belong to such a society. The demand that diplomacy shall be open, that it shall be under the control of the people, is, to be sure, a step toward a reconstruction of inner order; but these measures also look toward the outer relations of nations with each other.

The program of the English Labor Party, on the other hand, is that of a country which approaches the problem of international life from the inside. In a cruder form the Russian revolution undertook also to reconstruct Russia from within from the standpoint of a society of peoples who can regulate their international affairs without armed conflict. They too have assumed that wars arise from an inner order of the states, and that a change in that order is the essential step in eliminating warfare. That they failed was due in part to their inadequate conception of the economic and political structure of the modern community, and in part to the failure of the allied communities to realize the strategic advantage of the Russian attitude. There remains this in common between the English Labor Party's program and the Russian revolution, that they assume that changed inner conditions, within the countries involved in this world war, would make war itself impossible.

The emphasis in both undertakings has been laid upon change in the economic conditions of the laboring classes. In the program of the Bolsheviki this change was to be accomplished with the sweep of a single revolutionary movement. The capitalistic society was to be at once set aside, and a new order substituted. Unfortunately the plans for this new order of things were hopelessly impracticable, and had been taken over not from constructively thought-out social programs, but from gospels of the revolution. Its tenets were those which aroused to battle those who were not on all fours with the forces which were at work in our industrial society, not in touch with the methods which in our pragmatic age must be adopted in changing social conditions.


In both these respects the program of the English Labor Party stands in sharp contrast with those of the Russian revolution. The changes that this program advocates are in the direction of those that have been steadily at work, and have been vastly stimulated by the efforts to attain supreme efficiency in the life-and-death struggles of the nations. The demand for a standard of living in determining wages, for the government direction of the wealth produced by the community toward the welfare of the community, the definition of the living conditions which should obtain throughout the nation and especially among its members who are economically the weakest, of the socially necessary education, and of the opportunities for political control for the groups which have been for various reasons politically handicapped, and finally of the foreign policy which such a renovated society must demand—these tenets are but further developments of movements which antedate the war, and which the war has heavily underscored. Nor have the English Labor Party presented their program as one which can be at once attained, nor indeed have they ventured to sketch in detail the actual changes which must take place. They confidently indicate the directions which are already plotted in recent social history, and they recognize that the method of advance here as in the domain of physical and biological sciences must be experimental.

Progress, Aristocracy and Legislation

Now the application of the experimental methods to the solution of social problems has hitherto been subject to a capital difficulty—the absence of recognized social values by which to test projects of reforms. Who was to assure us that any scheme of social betterment was not fraught with losses which would outweigh what advantages it promised, even if they could be attained ? The order of society as it exists carries with it certain values which have been secured. We have art and science, the culture which is the distilled essence of our past, and a system of training which fits at least certain classes to attain these values. The projects of social reform seem, to endanger these achievements. We are still living under the psychology of a religious philosophy which accepts a world in which the absolute values are the possession of the few. Ideals, moral elevation, beauty of character, as well as the wealth, culture and the constructions of art and science, are regretfully recognized as the possessions of the minority and a small minority of the community. Beati possidentes. Projects of fundamental reform threaten these absolute values, for on the one hand they fasten the attention. upon the interests of the mass of the community, and upon interests which appear material and mechanical, and, on the other hand, they have to do with changes which can be brought about by legislation and can be enforced by the police power of the community. These absolute values of religious experience, of art and creative science can none of them be attained in this fashion. Intelligent ordering of society may favor their appearance in those who are endowed for such achievement. They cannot be legislated

(639) into existence. To test our social and spiritual vigor by the results which can be assured by legislative enactment promises to level all values to those which can be attained by change in the external conditions in the community. Such programs are denounced as leveling, bound to arrest the free expression of the creative minds, and eliminate the great personalities together with the cultured few who can sit beside their nectar in their golden houses girdled with the gleaming world, those favored few who keep the beauty and distinction of the past alive by enjoying them.

Perhaps we are not perceptibly nearer a solution of the problems of the absolute values of goodness, beauty and truth, if these values are absolute, but we are nearer a statement of the things that are so worth while that they can form a usable test of programs for social reconstruction, and whatever the social import of religion and science—and art may be, we recognize that these things that are worth while cannot endanger this import. We are confident of this, for science has become the method of social progress, and social progress itself has become a religion; and the most dominant form of modern art, the novel, has been the medium of the imagery, the concrete pictures, by which the minds of men of all groups and classes have passed into each other. If there is such a thing as a culture that exists by itself, careless of mankind, it must soon atrophy and die.

Social Work Emboldened by the War

It is these things that are so unquestionably worth while that they are the tests of social undertakings and hypotheses, that the social worker stands for and has stood for. We may generalize them as the standards of living. They connote health, and education, and opportunity to realize enough of the social world in which we live to interpret our lives, and the opportunity to exercise the part in social control which our occupations and capacities demand. I have no intention of analyzing these standards of living either in their earlier or in their present war statements. I desire only to emphasize their growing authority and the change which this authority added to the program of the social worker brings to the social worker himself. Since the days in which we accepted the doctrine that the poor, being always with us, constituted the field for good works, the laying up of treasure in heaven, and the means of perfecting the character of the charitable—especially since the western world accepted the doctrine of the Manchester school that the economic process carried with it not only its own control but the direction of the life of the community — there has been a slow accretion of community assistance to the handicapped,  to those in misery, the submerged members of the community, which has uniformly begun with private charity, that in its turn has become more and more organized, passing with varying success into the legislative enactment.

It is this series of changes with which the social workers have been identified. They have never spoken with authority. They have carried

(640) with them the burden of responsibility for unhealthful social conditions which the community has been unwilling to acknowledge, and has accepted only in meager fashion and always with protest. And this reluctance of the community to acknowledge their responsibility for the conditions which the social workers have undertaken to present has had its effect upon the social workers. In great measure they have had to assume the attitude which would bring them such measure of success as they gain. They could not come as the prophet who spoke the words which they had received from the mouth of the Lord; nor in their effort to assist those immediately overborne by conditions within and without them, could they base their appeals upon judgments of public policy, or condemnation of social injustice. These could be made the platforms of a political party, that of the radical groups of various types. To present them as grounds for help to those in distress, would have closed both the minds and the pocketbooks from which assistance had to be sought. The social workers have had in great measure to come with the compliance of the beggar, the beggar in the cause of humanity. The social workers have been in great degree committed to the presentation of cases, and cases which they dared not generalize, and the method of approach has in great measure molded those who have used it.

In the meantime organization has given the prestige which comes with numbers and system, and without authority they have become impressive. The passage of uplift measures into legislation has brought the weight which attaches to what can be enforced by the court. Still more important has been the recognition of scientific method, the traffic in tables of statistics, which inevitably generalize the case, and slowly force upon the community in impersonal fashion the moral of the misery which a charitable response comfortably covers up. But the passage of remedial individual assistance into remedial legislation has been occasional, and had not been sensed by the community as a fundamental shift in the method of social control. Mr. Roosevelt did indeed realize that there was a reality implied in social work that offered a new observation point from which to get the range upon the enemy, and incorporated a program of social work into the platform of the Progressive party. However, Mr. Roosevelt inevitably remains the dominant issue in any campaign in which he is involved, and it was impossible for him or the community, to feel the actual import of the material which he had incorporated in the tenets of the Progressive party.

It is against this background that the war has come with its revolution in methods and standpoints of procedure. In securing efficiency the government has committed itself to a living wage, to a program of adequate housing for its employees in the shipping yards, to the principle of collective bargaining. The Federal Suffrage Amendment, with the endorsement of the President, has been started on its road toward adoption. The federal amendment abolishing the sale of alcoholic liquors is before the country, and prohibition has been accepted as essential to the efficiency of our soldiers. There has never been a record in control of

(641) venereal diseases dependent not only on the control of the men, but upon the co-operation of the surrounding community such as that obtained in the cantonments of our armies in this country.

The war has brought a sense of dependence of public effort upon individual economy, not simply in financial savings but in the avoidance of waste, such as we have not seen before. In the conduct of the government there has been a recognition of the right and expediency of the government's making as large a use of the income of the country as the needs of the country, in our exigency, require. If a continued prosecution of the war demands finally the conscription of capital to meet the country's necessity there is an attitude both in the country at large, and in the government which will undertake it. The present war has gone further in advancing the social program which social workers have recognized as essential to reaching and attaining the welfare of the community, than any of us have dreamed could be reached in several generations. For not only have such positive measures as I have listed above been actually undertaken, but the acceptance of these measures as the conditions of efficiency in the entire community organization and conduct of the war, has at last clothed these programs and those that are their champions with an authority which they have not before possessed. If any undertaking as huge and momentous as this war is on foot such a program is essential to its success, and any nation in the struggle that neglects it is handicapping itself as definitely as if it omitted part of the program of munitions and big guns.

Continued Progress or Reaction After the War?

Will it be possible for governments falling into the hands of reactionaries to maintain that in times of peace such a program is not only unnecessary but would be actually destructive of the institutions and the social goods which they conserve? Such claims will indeed be made, together with such disparagement as is possible of the value of these radical measures during the war. They will be admitted as valuable for the organization of popular support — especially the support of the laboring classes, whose devotion had to be secured at any cost. It would not be difficult to forecast a post bellum treatise of Mallock in demonstrating both the lack of economy and the lack of justice in the social program even during the war. However, these reactionary attempts to discredit the social organizations and tactics with which the war is being fought will not produce any other effect than to solidify those who are in advance and in principle opposed to them. It will be their political power in high and low places which we will have to fight, not their ideas.

The social programs in operation in England and in France and those we are putting into operation in America have been effective, not because they are technical military measures, to be discarded with the dying down of the battle; they have been effective because they have increased industrial efficiency, because they have revealed the sources of wealth taxable for common social purposes, and methods of taxation

(642) which do not dry up the springs of wealth; because they have indicated not only the manner in which children should be trained for social efficiency but the conceptions of common good in whose interest men recognize that such methods must be used. Most important of all, they indicate the conditions under which the interest of all the people can be secured for common ends; and their success in war time has demonstrated that they can be inaugurated and that they do produce the results which they have promised. In other words, they have become the touchstone of all political undertakings which claim to enlist the interest of the whole community.

Class legislation always advances as a program for the common good, and however acute and destructive may be the criticism by which the social scientist overwhelms it, the average man caught in the wheels of a society organized largely in the immediate interest of the few, sees no escape from those measures which secure him his livelihood as a part of the whole mechanism. The situation will be changed after the war, when men can apply to these undertakings the test of meeting the conditions which the war has shown alone could carry the whole country with it; and conditions immediately after the war will favor the application of this test, for the problems which the world will face, while not hanging for their solution upon military success, will be so international in their character, will demand such united action on the part of the whole community, will so definitely face the issue of removing the causes and occasions of war, that governments will need the same unanimity in the communities back of them for their solution. It has, of course, been the history of wars in the past, with the possible exception of the Boer War, that the general weariness and reaction after the high tension which fighting carries with it, have left democratic issues, that call for large vision and sustained interest on the part of all, to the mercy of those whose immediate profit lies in exploiting the situation, and this private interest is most naturally found in so handling the vast debts which war leaves behind that the financial group may make their profit out of them. The stakes will be higher after this collossal struggle than they have ever been in the past, and there will be astute minds engaged in reaping their post bellum harvest. Still we can reasonably hope that the other issues of getting the world again on its feet proper caring for the wounded and disabled, demobilizing forces such as have never before stood under arms, organizing the supply of materials for which all nations will be crying, refashioning the international fabric, will be so dominant that community interest will perforce remain vivid and possibly united.

Projection of War Programs Into the Future

However, optimism in this regard is unwise. It will be true then as before that it will be the unexpected that happens, and we may be bitterly disillusioned in the immediate outcome of the peace. But even disheartening results will not take away this achievement of war. Whether our communities arise sooner or later to their social tasks, they will have the touchstone of the social programs of the war — of labor conditions, of

(643) child welfare and education, of housing and sanitation, of control of venereal diseases, of proper political representation of all groups in the community, of common democratic statement of the issues at stake, — to apply to campaigns and platforms. I do not mean that such programs will be the actual issues involved, though they will certainly be part of aims which will be sought in the political struggle, This program will be the test of the common interest and the community good to which every political campaign must lay claim. An intelligent, effective community response is dependent upon such a social program; and measures and men whose interest finds them in opposition to such measures will be forced to admit they do not seek the aroused, intelligent response of the whole country. The agencies of this war have forced even reactionary governments to discover how the community as a whole can get into a public undertaking with sustained interest; and the method, being based on human social psychology and the economic and political structures of our communities, has the same validity in times of peace as in times of war.

But apart from the recognition of the new authority of the social program, there are practical considerations that deserve attention. The success of the program after the war is in large measure dependent upon the manner of conducting it during the war. A vast store of social statistics such as America has never gathered before with reference to her population, is gathering in the Provost General's office. It contains other information beside that bearing on military features. Men are catalogued with reference to occupations and capacities. Vital statistics with reference to their families are accumulated. The effort to determine how many can be spared for the fighting force without dangerously depleting the working force at home, gives a picture of fanning and industrial conditions which are new. The direction of laborers to occupations where they will be most effective starts us on a project of labor distribution which the government has never faced in the past. Beginning of vocational training for adults and development and intensification of vocational training for children are already under consideration. It is of the highest importance that those who realize the necessity of knowledge for the direction of social effort should come into touch with these efforts and further the methods which will pass naturally into the operations of peace. The veil which has been lifted from the contraction and spread of venereal diseases in communities which have never before faced the situation must not be allowed to fall again. The housing programs undertaken for industrial communities suddenly called into existence must be so carried out that they will be permanent, and remain as evidences of the duties of our communities for the housing of their workmen.

The problem of properly training the physiques of our children and older citizen's must especially be faced, that the illogical conclusion be not drawn that only by arousing the fears and enmities upon which depend the program of a nation in arms can we obtain a physically fit generation. The opportunities for insurance of those in the war zone

(644) must be studied and feasible plans for universal governmental insurance must be worked out. It is of peculiar importance that the interest in education should be intelligently utilized to give us not only efficiency, but the attitude of social responsibility that will extend beyond the exigencies of this conflict. The willingness to recognize the individual child or man or woman as a precious asset to the community, whose conservation must be secured even by changing formerly fixed social conditions, must be emphasized and generalized in such, forms that they will reach into times of peace. Through the actions of the state councils of defense and their subsidiary committees throughout the state, the information in regard to the favorable conditions of conducting the war should come to all our citizens and through interest in what they can do, that sustained interest which is necessary to the conduct of the war be kept in being. From such neighborhood centers an intelligent interest in conditions which will face us after the war will radiate into the problems of industry and democratic control. The spread of knowledge of our crops, the actual measures in selection of seed and method of cultivation which are known to the experts but still hidden from most of our farmers should be carried out in such fashion that the machinery will continue in operation when peace is declared. The whole problem of farm labor must be studied under favorable conditions not only for the good of the whole community, but for the special advantage of the rural community. The lists of possible fields of intensive work all looking toward social reconstruction now and after peace is declared could proceed for many pages. They present the only opportunity for legitimate profiteering which the war offers. The social worker in his organization should speak with the authority after the war with which so many of them are speaking now.

Finally, should there not arise out of this organization and the trained men and women gathered here, a central body which will make it its business to come into touch with all the war-time social activities, to fix the location of the social material which is coming into being, to indicate possible lines of development as well as exploitation, to serve not only as a clearing house, but as a means of stimulating and directing other groups of individuals in fashioning out of our present activities the social balance which the community can draw from the conflict? It would lead, perhaps, not to such a program as that of the English Labor Party, but to a statement of what the conditions are which will be necessary for an intelligent response of the whole country to the national and international problems we must face in the immediate future.


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