A friend sent me this quote from the book Sin and Society by Edward Alsworth Ross, published in 1907 (with forward by Theodore Roosevelt!). (Ross was in Madison, Wisconson, where he would finish out his career, but he had just spent 5 years as a professor at the U of Nebraska.)

The popular symbol for the criminal is a ravening wolf, but alas, few latter day crimes can be dramatized with a wolf and a lamb as the cast! Your up-to-date criminal presses the button of a social mechanism, and at the other end of the land or year innocent lives are snuffed out. The immediate sacrifice of human beings to the devil is extinct. But fifteenth-century Marshal de Retz, with his bloody offerings to Satan, has his modern counterpart in the king whose insatiate greed, transmitted noiselessly through administrative belting and shafting, lops off the right hand of Congolese who fail to bring in their dues of rubber; in the avaricious nobleman who, rather than relinquish his lucrative timber concession on the Yalu, pulled the wires that strewed Manchuria with corpses.

Yet, thanks to the space that divides sinner from sinned-against, planetary crimes such as these excite far less horror than do the atrocities of Jack the Ripper or black Sam Hose. The public, laden of imagination, is moved only by the concrete. It heeds the the crass physical act, but overlooks the subtile iniquities that pulse along those viewless filaments of interrelations that bind us together. At the present moment, nothing would add so much to the security of life in this country as stern dealing with the …. carrying corporations. These however, escape, because the community squanders the vials of its wrath on the old-style, open-air sinner, who has the nerve to look his victims in the face as he strikes.

    Wow, what lines:

  • “insatiate greed, transmitted noiselessly through administrative belting and shafting…”
  • “the subtile iniquities that pulse along those viewless filaments of interrelations that bind us together…”
  • “the old-style, open-air sinner, who has the nerve to look his victims in the face as he strikes.”

It reminds me of P. T. Forsyth’s remark, from the same era, that the church needs people who understand the morality of the current economic system as well as Isaiah did in his day.