(continued from WPMY 111)
“Public ownership of the means of production,” Mr. Propter repeated. “But unfortunately governments have a way of regarding individual producers as being parts of the means. Frankly, I’d rather have Jo Stoyte as my boss than Jo Stalin. This Jo” (he laid his hand on Mr. Stoyte’s shoulder) ” this Jo can’t have you executed; he can’t send you to the Arctic; he can’t prevent you from getting a job under another boss. Whereas the other Jo…” he shook his head. “Not that,” he added, “I’m exactly longing to have even this Jo as my boss.”
“You’d be fired pretty quick,” growled Mr. Stoyte.
“I don’t want any boss,” Mr. Propter went on. “The more bosses, the less democracy. But unless people can support themselves, they’ve got to have a boss who’ll undertake to do it for them. So the less self-support, the less democracy. In Jefferson’s day, a great many Americans did support themselves. They were economically independent. Independent of government and independent of big business. Hence the Constitution.”
“We’ve still got the Constitution,” said Mr. Stoyte.
“No doubt,” Mr. Propter agreed. “But if we had to make a new Constitution today, what would it be like? A Constitution to fit the facts of New York and Chicago and Detroit; of United States Steel and the Public Utilities and General Motors and the C.I.O. and the government departments. What on earth would it be like?” he repeated. “We respect our old Constitution, but in fact we live under a new one. And if we want to live under the first, we’ve got to recreate something like the conditions under which the first was made. That’s why I’m interested in this gadget.” He patted the frame of the machine. “Because it may help to give independence to anyone who desires independence. Not that many do desire it,” he added parenthetically. “The propaganda in favour of dependence is too strong. They’ve come to believe that you can’t be happy unless you’re entirely dependent on government or centralized business. But for the few who do care about democracy, who really want to be free in the Jeffersonian sense, this thing may be a help. If it makes them independent of fuel and power, that’s already a great deal.”
Mr. Stoyte looked anxious. “Do you really think it’ll do that?”
“Why not?” said Mr. Propter. “There’s a lot of sunshine running to waste in this part of the country.”
Mr. Stoyte thought of his presidency of Consol Oil Company. “It won’t be good for the oil business,” he said.
“I should hate it to be good for the oil business,” Mr. Propter answered cheerfully.
“And what about coal?” He had an interest in a group of West Virginia mines. “And the railroads?” There was that big block of Union Pacific shares that had belonged to Prudence. “The railroads can’t get on without long hauls. And steel,” he added disinterestedly; for his holdings in Bethlehem Steel were almost negligible. “What happens to steel if you hurt the railroads and cut down trucking? You’re going against progress,” he burst out in another access of righteous indignation. You’re turning back the clock.”
“Don’t worry, Jo,” said Mr. Propter. “It won’t affect your dividends for quite a long while. There’ll be plenty of time to adjust to the new market conditions.”
With an admirable effort, Mr. Stoyte controlled his temper. “You seem to figure I can’t think of anything but money,” he said with dignity. “Well, it may interest you to know that I’ve decided to give Dr. Mulge another thirty thousand dollars for his Art School.” (The decision has been made there and then, for the sole purpose of serving as a weapon in the perennial battle with Bill Propter.) “And if you think,” he added as an afterthought, “if you think I’m only concerned with my own interests, read the special World’s Fair number of the New York Times. Read that,” he insisted with the solemnity of a fundamentalist recommending the Book of Revelation. “You’ll see that the most forward-looking men in our country think as I do.” He spoke with unaccustomed and incongruous unction, in the phraseology of after-dinner eloquence. “The way of progress is the way of better organization, more service from business, more goods for the consumer!” Then, incoherently, “Look at the way a housewife goes to her grocer,” he added, “and buys a package of some nationally advertised cereal or something. That’s progress. Not your crackpot idea of doing everything at home with this idiotic contraption.” Mr. Stoyte had reverted completely to his ordinary style. “You’ll always were a fool, Bill, and I guess you always will be. And remember what I told you about interfering with Bob Hansen. I won’t stand for it.” In dramatic silence he walked away; but after taking a few steps, he halted and called back over his shoulder. “Come up to dinner, if you feel like it.”
“Thanks,” said Mr. Propter. “I will.”
Mr. Stoyte walked briskly towards his car. He had forgotten about high blood pressure and the living God and felt all of the sudden unaccountably and unreasonably happy. It was not that he had scored any notable success in his battle with Bill Propter. He hadn’t; and, what was more, in the process of not scoring a success he had made, and was even half aware that he had made, a bit of a fool of himself. The source of his happiness was elsewhere. He was happy, though he would never have admitted the fact, because, in spite of everything, Bill seemed to like him.
After Many a Summer Dies the Swan
Aldous Huxley 1939