Baltimore Evening Sun (22 November 1912): 6.


With moral crusades going on for our beriefit in each of three busy rings, not to mention the animal tent and the elevated stage, most Baltimoreans, I believe, will find much nourishing and suggestive stuff in Havelock Ellis’s new book, “The Task of Social Hygiene,” just issued by the Houghton-Mifflin Company. In particular, I recommend the work to local optionists, vice crusaders and toreadors of the Blue Laws, for it is precisely of such earnest folks that Mr. Ellis discourses most copiously and profoundly. But I give them fair warning that he is against them, and so I doubt that they will ever read him, for it is a peculiarity of all that class of men that they don’t want to hear any evidence in rebuttal.

But, meanwhile, there are thousands of other persons whose convictions, however they may lean, are less rigid and perfect, and it is to these waverers that the book will bring most instruction and, I hope, most conviction. The essential thesis of Mr. Ellis, as you will find it in his chapter on “Immorality and the Law,” is that any legal interference with the personal habits of man, no matter how well-intended, is unwise and pernicious, and that its ultimate effect must inevitably be a flouting of the law. So long as our peasant and barroom lawmakers confine themselves to prohibiting acts which involve the direct injury of one human being by another they are on safe ground and public opinion is with them, but once they begin to prohibit acts which involve only the self-injury of the individual, or the mutual injury of participes criminis, then they interfere with that freedom which every man values as his life, and the greater the penalty they lay upon the offendor the less it will ever be inflicted.

At the moment it is the war upon the social evil that most inflames the vulgar in Baltimore, and so it is of special interest to hear Mr. Ellis upon the subject. What he has to say of it chiefly takes the form of a warning that the ecstatic campaign of repression, far from affording a remedy, actually makes the evil worse, and must, in the long run, result in putting it altogether out of bounds. In brief, it essays to stamp out by law something that can never be stamped out so long as civilization remains what it is, and thus it leads from one hypocrisy to another, and the end must be, as in the case of Sunday laws, a reductio ad absurdum of the whole enterprise, or, as in the case of laws against gambling, a general and ineradicable corruption of the police.

Here Mr. Ellis is at one with Mayor Gaynor of New York, Mayor Harrison of Chicago, Director of Public Safety Porter of Philadelphia, Frederic C. Howe, director of the New York People’s Institute, and nearly all other serious and unemotional students of the problem. The trouble with our American police, he points out, is not that they are inherently more corrupt than the police of other countries, but that they are constantly under greater temptation to corruption. The laws that they are called upon to enforce are, in many cases, laws wholly unenforceable, and so it is no wonder that they occasionally strike compromises with chronic violators. In direct proportion as repression is honestly attempted, the profits of successful evasion increase. And in direct proportion as those profits increase the burden of temptation upon the police increases. No wonder they sometimes fall. If a policeman getting $20 a week has on his post a gambling house or a clandestine brothel which can afford to pay him $100 a week for looking the other way, he must indeed be an exceptional man to resist the temptation forever.

The European policeman, as a general thing, is under no such fire. In the matter of prostitution, for example, he is never given the hopeless task of stamping it out altogether. All he is expected to do is to regulate it according to a program determined by his superiors, and that program, as a rule, not only frankly admits the existence of the thing, but also gives assent to its necessity. Even in London, which the local vice crusaders are so fond of citing as a city free from disorderly houses, prostitution itself is by no means prohibited. On the contrary, it is elaborately regulated and segregated, and thus, having a lawful outlet and being relieved of hounding and blackmail, it removes itself voluntarily from probibited areas and offers no appreciable nuisance to the general population.

But let us go from London to New York. What do we find? We find a hypocritical law prohibiting prostitution altogether--and a general dispersion of the evil from end to end of the city. The London policeman, meeting a woman in Piccadilly at night, does not arrest her on the spot, for the English law forbids him to touch her unless she actually breaks the peace. But the New York policeman, meeting a woman on Broadway, is in duty bound to arrest her if she speaks to a man. No wonder his self-respect is gradually undermined by that inquisitorial and unsavory job! No wonder his decent disinclination to do his work is transformed into a crooked disinclination! No wonder he passes from a rebel into a grafter!

But this is precisely the system that the vice crusaders would introduce in Baltimore. As things stand today, there is no reason why the more orderly prostitute should pay any graft to the police, and as a matter of fact, she pays none. The law, of course, commands him to drive her out, but a wise interpretation of the law, approved by our judges, forbids him to molest her so long as she obeys rules laid down extra-legally for her behavior. But it those rules were abandoned and the law itself were enforced, in all its mediæval stupidity and cruelty, she would have to fight for life with the weapons of the outlaw. That is to say, she would have to seek to elude the police, and, failing that, to bribe them. And the net result would be a police force corrupted and disgraced, and a condition 10 times worse than that we have now.

All these arguments, however, I have rehearsed before. What I ask you to do today is to get Mr. Ellis’ book and read carefully his chapter on “Immorality and the Law.” There you will find the ripe conclusions of a man who has devoted all of his life to the study of the complex and disheartening problem. He is, by universal consent, the greatest living authority upon the subject, as he is upon several associated subjects, and I fancy that not even a vice crusader would venture to question either his knowledge or his good faith. It seems to me a significant thing that a man so well equipped should stand squarely against practically every proposition advanced by our volunteer rescuers, and I think that, while the matter is under public discussion, it is the clear duty of every thoughtful Baltimorean to give him attention.