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For many who made very poor fighters or priests might have made good traders or craftsmen. The great means of developing a man is to give him a chance to do what he can do best. But the middle class itself made the greatest restrictions. As we have seen, the gilds were strict in their rules, and tended to become exclusive. They bought their privileges at a high price. They did not propose to give them away, especially if giving them away was liable to reduce their value. They did not believe in “open shops.” Hence the system was a comfortable one for those who were in it, but only a limited number could share its benefits. Towns were able to secure greater liberty for their citizens than the peasants or villagers had enjoyed. This was due largely to two facts. First the town dwellers became used to acting together. They defended their walls, they made rules for markets and trading, and hence they were able to stand together against baron or king. In the second place, they had more wealth than peasants or villagers had, and so when they wanted a new privilege they could pay for it. It may seem disgraceful to us that liberty should have to be bought. If we wanted a just law or fair treatment we should think it shameful if we had to pay a legislature or a judge to grant this to us. But the liberties which the towns got in return for grants of money were not thought of as rights, which any one might feel justly belonged to him. They were rather privileges, special privileges, which had to be secured by a bargain. The course of progress has frequently been that some class or group or place would get a privilege for itself alone; then others would claim the same until it became at last a right for all. This has been conspicuously the case with education; for universities, colleges, and even more elementary schools have usually been established at first for special classes or groups; later they have been open to all.
NEW IDEALS AND STANDARDS: DIGNITY OF
E saw that the ideals of the military state W W were those of the gentleman, and that in early times it was not the thing for a gentleman to engage in trade or in manual labor. Town life did much to set up a new standard on this point; it did much to make work of any kind respected and even honorable. To appreciate the full meaning of the change in men's ideas about work we must recall, first, that in savage life a large number of the crafts were carried on largely by women, and that at a later stage these and many of the new kinds of manual labor were allotted to slaves. We must recall, secondly, that in the ancient world trading was often done by foreigners who were not admitted to citizenship but formed a separate class. The citizens were warriors or descendants of warriors; merchants were neither. In the Middle Ages the church had many communities of monks who were very industrious. They tilled the fields and set an example of regular employment at manual labor. This counted a little as against the attitude of the gentry. But it may be doubted whether the example of the monks would ever have been very successful in persuading men that work was honorable for those outside the cloister as well as for those inside. It needed a new class of men who should be workers,
and who at the same time should have power enough to make themselves respected. The rise of the middle class in the towns met this need. If lords and gentlemen had been the sole rulers in the mediaeval towns, as they were in the towns of Greece, then traders and craftsmen might have looked up to them as the only respectable people and have looked on their own trade and labor as disgraceful. For people are very likely to look on even their own work through the spectacles of those who seem to be higher in the social scale. But many of the mediaeval towns were founded by traders, and in others the traders and craftsmen gained strength enough to get control of the government. The gilds aided the craftsmen by the power through coöperation which they afforded. And when merchants and craftsmen became wealthy and wrested or bought privileges from king or lord they began to have a new feeling of respect for themselves. They built beautiful and stately gild halls. They built for themselves private houses as splendid as the palaces of bishops or dukes. It may seem as though this explanation takes away something from the real value that men now put upon work. Is not the true reason why we respect labor to be found in the simple fact that it is necessary to life, and useful for providing what gives comfort and joy to others as well as to ourselves? And if we want another good reason, shall we not find it in the fact that the skilled worker is educating himself, and becoming a more capable and effective man by doing things well? Doubtless these are the best two reasons, but the best reasons are not always the reasons which actually move men. And when we ask why anything is regarded as honorable, we have to answer that it is
How the new middle class
usually because some group or class agree in so regarding it. If the view of this class is to become widespread, then the class must be a strong one. “Honor” is, as we have said before, a class or group way of thinking and feeling. The gentleman class regarded petty trade and manual labor as dishonorable. The only way to change this situation was through the rise of a class which should count them as honorable. Towns did not do the whole work of making labor honorable. A class of free “yeomen’’ or farmers later arose in England who had the same view about their work. Many of them came to America, where the influence of frontier life added strength to their opinion and helped them form new community standards. But the towns and the gilds, with their wealth and their power of union and brotherhood, made the new social class which did most for the new ideal.
Honesty and Fairness—Honesty and fair dealing were not always prized as highly as they are now. One reason for this was that traders and those with whom they traded belonged to different groups. Traders were outsiders. Hence it was quite in accord with early group morals to drive very sharp bargains with them. And the traders, on their side, had no scruple about getting the better of the bargain if they could. In one language the word for “trader’” came to mean a cheater or defrauder.
And, quite apart from the old notion that a man from without the group had no rights, bargaining is in one respect like war: it calls out strategy; it is a game of wits. In this respect it is like playing a game of ball or chess. One likes to win, even if there is not much at stake. Some persons thus find the same pleas