Labor Legislation -- By: William Cox Cochran

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 057:225 (Jan 1900)
Article: Labor Legislation
Author: William Cox Cochran

Labor Legislation

William Cox Cochran

I envy another person the wealth that he has acquired and I am able to take it from him by force or stealth. Why shouldn’t I? My family needs bread and clothing, I have none to give them. My neighbor has more than he can possibly use. Why shouldn’t I compel him to divide with me? If I am unable by myself to take it, why should I not combine with others as needy as myself and thus force the coveted surrender, or division?

A company borrows a million of capital, and with it erects buildings, and fits them up with boilers, engines, and expensive machinery, and employs a thousand men to turn out some manufactured product. Trade falls off; competition becomes fierce; the company must reduce wages, or suspend operations, or go on at a loss and sink the borrowed capital. Should not the thousand men insist on the latter course, and use force and intimidation, if necessary, to accomplish their purpose?

These and many similar questions have been asked, with more or less directness and force, in late years and by persons disposed to back up their convictions by appropriate action. The answer that suggests itself to most minds is, that all such action is contrary to law. Fortunately for the peace and welfare of the community, this answer is generally considered all-sufficient, and people do not trouble themselves to inquire into the reasons for the law.

Anarchists affirm that this is no answer at all; that it is a mere evasion to say that any thing is contrary to law. If laws interfere with what they term “natural rights,” they ought not to be obeyed; and if any rulers attempt to enforce such laws, they ought to be resisted and, if possible, overthrown. They argue, with a certain deceptive plausibility, that all our legislation and framework of government is designed to favor a certain pampered class, and to deprive all the rest of their “natural rights”; and that laws and government ought to be abolished or openly defied. Most legislation is for the benefit of the law-abiding. Laws protecting the rights of property benefit mainly those who have property. Laws protecting life and chastity benefit mainly those who value life and are virtuous. Laws for the preservation of decency and good order benefit mainly the sober and fastidious; while they deprive many people of almost the only enjoyment they are capable of taking.

But such laws also bless the whole community, Including even those who are tempted to violate them; and nothing is plainer to the student of history than that those who are lowest in the social scale and most likely to complain of existing conditions would have been ...

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