Charles Hall: A Quintessential Socialist

Commentary on Charles Hall, “The Effects of Civilisation on the People in European States,” 1805.

Let me start by saying that socialism is concerned with providing people with food, shelter, clothing (i.e., their economic needs). It is not concerned with the way this is done. It seeks an end; and is silent about the means. Anarchism, by contrast, is focused on the means, which it proposed to be by democratic decisions by small communities. Combining anarchism with socialism, we get anarcho-socialism. And the model for anarcho-socialism are hunter/gatherer tribes. Their economy is based on a free access to land.

Charles Hall was a physician and his ultimate concern was with the physical and mental health of people. Writing in 1805, he did not challenge the existence of the State, and by this token he was not an anarchist. [Reminder: The French Revolution had occurred in 1789. Napoleon made himself emperor in 1804.]

While focusing on the health of people, he used the American Indians as examples of healthy people and a healthy society. [He was, thus, a precursor to Marshall Sahlins’ idea that hunter-gatherers had an “affluent society.”]
His diagnosis was that the main cause of suffering by the poor in England was due to lack of nurishment (malnutrition). So the main problem was the lack of food. This, he thought, could be solved by giving people free access to land.

He goes into detail about horticulture, giving prescriptions of how and what to grow.

He contrasted the demographics of England with that of the United States. Even though the fertility of both was substantially the same, the mortality rate of children was much higher in England than in the United States. The main difference was, he concluded, in nutrition.

He also noted that work in manufactures was unhealthy because of the conditions of work, such as exposure to noxious chemicals, and the type of bodily movements required in manufacture.

He made a distinction between crude and fine manufactures. Crude manufactures which aided the acquisition of food and diminishing necessary work were welcomed. On the other hand, he was against fine manufactures, i.e., the manufacture of luxuries.

Also too much time spent at work, did not allow time for leisurely activities, such as reading.

He was also quite aware that the State was the result of conquest. But he did not propose a change in government, he merely proposed that the State take particular measures to alleviate the condition of the poor, namely giving them access to free land. In this sense, he was a State-socialist.

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