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The Pilgrims and Socialism

From  Of Plymouth Plantation, by Governor William Bradford:

All this while no supply was heard of, neither knew they when they might expect any. So they began to think how they might raise as much corn as they could, and obtain a better crop than they had done, that they might not still thus languish in misery. At length, after much debate of things, the Governor (with the advice of the chiefest amongst them) gave way that they should set corn every man for his own particular, and in that regard trust to themselves; in all other things to go on in the general way as before. And so assigned to every family a parcel of land, according to the proportion of their number, for that end, only for present use (but made no division for inheritance) and ranged all boys and youth under some family. This had very good success, for it made all hands very industrious, so as much more corn was planted than otherwise would have been by any means the Governor or any other could use, and saved him a great deal of trouble, and gave far better content. The women now went willingly into the field, and took their little ones with them to set corn; which before would allege weakness and inability; whom to have compelled would have been thought great tyranny and oppression.

The experience that was had in this common course and condition, tried sundry years and that amongst godly and sober men, may well evince the vanity of that conceit of Plato’s and other ancients applauded by some of later times; that the taking away of property and bringing in community into a commonwealth would make them happy and flourishing; as if they were wiser than God. For this community (so far as it was) was found to breed much confusion and discontent and retard much employment that would have been to their benefit and comfort. For the young men, that were most able and fit for labour and service, did repine that they should spend their time and strength to work for other men’s wives and children without any recompense. The strong, or man of parts, had no more in division of victuals and clothes than he that was weak and not able to do a quarter the other could; this was thought injustice. The aged and graver men to be ranked and equalized in labours and victuals, clothes, etc., with the meaner and younger sort, thought it some indignity and disrespect unto them. And for men’s wives to be commanded to do service for other men, as dressing their meat, washing their clothes, etc., they deemed it a kind of slavery, neither could many husbands well brook it. Upon the point all being to have alike, and all to do alike, they thought themselves in the like condition, and one as good as another; and so, if it did not cut off those relations that God hath set amongst men, yet it did at least much diminish and take off the mutual respects that should be preserved amongst them. And would have been worse if they had been men of another condition. Let none object this is men’s corruption, and nothing to the course itself. I answer, seeing all men have this corruption in them, God in His wisdom saw another course fitter for them.

 

 

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Donald R. McClarey

Cradle Catholic. Active in the pro-life movement since 1973. Father of three and happily married for 35 years. Small town lawyer and amateur historian. Former president of the board of directors of the local crisis pregnancy center for a decade.

5 Comments

  1. I’ve always found that argument extremely weak. I heard Limbaugh retelling the same tale on Wednesday. He made one statement, during his ‘story’, about how their initial ‘socialist’ model left those with the talents and abilities without motivation to work hard. Now, maybe it’s me, but I think they had plenty of motivation, called survival. With so many who would die, and knowing their plight, they had a motivation beyond any conceivable economic theory. Their problem was that they didn’t know how to survive in a radically different environment than they were used to. Their plans had gone wrong, they landed where they weren’t planning, they came late in the season with harsh weather and no clear knowledge of how to survive. That they survived at all was a miracle. That they happened into an area where different native tribes would be willing to consider new allies in their own struggles, helped. But trying to make this a Capitalist/Socialist morality play is, to me, along the same lines as making it all about imperialist invaders and beautiful and noble natives who only want to give peace a chance.

  2. Socialism has a poor economic record Dave. The Pilgrim example is just one page of a very long book. I also think that William Bradford, who was there, has a better insight into what happened than either of us. I do agree that the Pilgrims were quite ill-prepared to be successful settlers beyond the common ownership system they initially saddled themselves with.

    Jamestown had a similar experience, but there the problem was crony capitalism with all profits and land owned by the Virginia Company. The colony flourished once a private property system for the colonists was instituted

    https://www.gilderlehrman.org/history-by-era/early-settlements/essays/jamestown-and-founding-english-america

  3. Socialism does have a poor record, but I don’t think we can equate the trials that the pilgrims experienced as the result. Like I said, when I heard Limbaugh say that the problem they encountered that first year was a lack of motivation, I had to think that survival was likely a good motivator. And it was. Their plight was rather the result of poor planning and a series of circumstances that dropped them into an area for which they were not prepared. Again, this does not in any way mean Socialism is good, it’s just I don’t think this is one of the better examples, especially when pointing to their first winter.

  4. Dave, if survival is a proper motivator (and hey, I won’t knock it), then the question becomes: how did anyone starve ye ‘olde Communist countries?

    Probably for the same reason people don’t lose weight nowadays even though doing so would be in the interest of their survival. Because growing crops (likes exercise) means being more concerned about the survival far down the road, whereas we have right now. And I don’t wanna.

    That’s always the catch. By the time survival happens and suddenly the people are motivated to grow, it’s a bit too late for the crops to come.

  5. The motivation issue here quoted from Bradford has some sameness with issues in
    Obamacare (young healthy people not signing on) and other shared responsibility schemes including Social Security (being used for current needs) etc

    ” For the young men, that were most able and fit for labour and service, did repine that they should spend their time and strength to work for other men’s wives and children without any recompense. The strong, or man of parts, had no more in division of victuals and clothes than he that was weak and not able to do a quarter the other could; this was thought injustice. The aged and graver men to be ranked and equalized in labours and victuals, clothes, etc., with the meaner and younger sort, thought it some indignity and disrespect unto them. “

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