The Invalid Corps

The Invalid CorpsI should not fail to mention, “resumed the doctor, “that for those too deficient in mental or bodily strength to be fairly graded with the main body of workers, we have a separate grade, unconnected with the others—a sort of invalid corps, the members of which are provided with a light class of tasks fitted to their strength. All our sick in mind and body, all our deaf and dumb, and lame and blind and crippled, and even our insane, belong to this invalid corps, and bear its insigns. The strongest often do nearly a man’s work, the feeblest, of course nothing; In their lucid intervals, even our insane are eager to do what they can.”

“That is a pretty idea of the invalid corps,” I said, “Even a barbarian from the nineteenth century can appreciate that. It is a graceful way of disguising charity, and must be grateful to the feelings of its recipients.”

“Charity!” repeated Doctor Leete. “Did you suppose that we consider the incapable class we are talking of objects of charity?”

“Why, naturally,”  I said, “insamuch[sic] as they are incapable of self support.”

But here the doctor took me up quickly.

“Who is capable of self support?” he demanded, “There is no such thing in a civilized society as self-support. In a state of society so barbarous as not even to know family cooperation, each individual may possibly support himself, though even then for a part of his life only; but from the moment that men begin to live together, and constitute even the rudest of society, self-support becomes impossible. As men grow more civilized, the subdivision of occupations and services is carried out, a complex mutual dependence becomes the universal rule. Every man, however solitary may seem his occupation, is a member of a vast industrial partnership, as large as the nation, as large as humanity. The necessity of mutual dependence should imply the duty and guarantee of mutual support; and that it did not in your day constituted the essential cruelty and unreason of your system.”

Edward Bellamy, Looking Backward (1888) Penguin ed. 1986 p. 109-110

I started this book yesterday. I’ve always meant to read it, and prompted by a somewhat disparaging review of it by William Morris, I decided that now was the time. Morris called its utopian view “state communism” and I believe it is. In the future, i.e. the year 2000, the trusts and robber barons have coalesced into a giant mega-corporation which is the government. Curiously, for Bellamy, this is a good thing. Much more to say later, but I found it interesting that this “invalid corps” in the great industrial army (his description of the workforce) is rooted in the Civil War; the Union found its invalid corps in 1863, the confederacy in 1864.