Arthur Nash: The Golden Rule in Business

By Bro. HAROLD MARSHALL, Massachusetts


The Master Mason - June 1924

Here is a story of a great man and a great Mason, who, discovering the Golden Rule to be as much a law of human relations as the law of gravitation is in the physical world, applied it to industry with amazing results - as shown by the fact that on May 23, he distributed $600,000 worth of stock in his Company to his fellow- workers. A fuller account of Brother Nash and his work may be read in his book entitled The Golden Rule in Business, in which we are shown how a profound spiritual experience worked itself out in a great industrial enterprise - solving the tragic problem of capital and labor by doing away with it altogether, and making use of a new - old principle taught in our lodges and preached in our pulpits, but seldom used. Brother Marshall, the writer of the present article, is also a Mason, and though a close friend, writes with fine insight and detachment.

MASONRY is a fellowship of seekers for the lost way of life. “It is not an accident of human association nor an invention of ecclesiastics, but a fraternity rooted in the nature and need of humanity; an order of men initiated, sworn and trained to uphold all the redeeming ideals of society and to make righteousness and the will of God prevail.”

The story of Arthur Nash is the story of a man far wandered from “the way,” who rediscovered it for himself in terms of Masonry, and is revealing it to his fellows in terms of industry.

The son of devout parents, educated in religious schools, and destined for the ministry of a church that makes tip in perfervid zeal what it lacks in numbers, Mr. Nash might well have said with the Apostle Paul, “After the straightest sect of our religion I lived a Pharisee.”

Then came the shattering vision of a larger life than could be contained in his little system. He escaped expulsion for heresy by leaving his church before he was cast out, but he did not escape from becoming an outcast. The young minister had to take whatever work offered, wandering from job to job, and casual labor made him a casual laborer.

“I am often asked,” he says, “how much my personality has to do with the success of our company. I want to answer definitely and positively that I had no personality until I accepted a principle, and that it is out of the principle that the personality developed. When I was carrying the hod at the Soldiers Home at Marion, Indiana, I had the personality of a hod-carrier; when I was working in a bridge gang on the Vandalia Railroad, I had the personality of a bridge gang worker.”

Speaking recently in the neighborhood of his birthplace in Indiana, Mr. Nash said: “Last night as I walked the streets of this city and my mind went back thirty years and I remembered how I tramped these same streets in rags, a tramp lost, without God and without hope in the world, working at all kinds of jobs but never sticking to any for more than a few weeks, sleeping often in the woods, I never became so little in my own eyes, so humble before God.”

A short time ago the Masons of Cincinnati undertook to raise $2,000,000 for a new temple. It was a big undertaking, and after a little seemed to halt with a threat of failure. Then came a day when something happened. “Much like a revival meeting, with men springing to their feet to confess their faith, so yesterday’s noon- day report of the zone chairmen and team captains in the $2,000,000 Masonic Temple Campaign. Swayed by the eloquence of Arthur Nash, who delivered a stirring address on the ideals of Masonry, the men at the meeting vied for the privilege of increasing their personal subscriptions to the new fund. Mr. Nash himself led in this by doubling his personal subscription of $5,000, making his new pledge $10,000. It was the second time he had increased his gift.

“ ‘I thought I had given all I could,’ he said, ‘but when I stopped to think of what Masonry did for me - how it took me, hardly more than a tramp, when I came to Cincinnati, and its ideals made me what I am today - I felt that I had given all too little, and I am here to tell you today that I want to do more - I am going to start by doubling my subscription. We are not here to build a temple merely of stone and mortar. If this new temple is not going to make better Masons out of us, I am not interested in this building.

“ ‘I went into the Masonic Blue Lodge in 1909 in Waterville, Ohio.  At that time the lessons of the Degrees made no great impression upon my mind, perhaps because my mind was not in a condition to be impressed. I took the higher degrees of Scottish Rite Masonry in what was known as the Golden Jubilee Class of 1919, at Cincinnati, and later in the same year went through the York Rite.

Then during the troublesome war times, in which my heart was crying out in agony for deliverance of humanity from the bondage of hatred, envy and murder, it was altogether another story, and as I have often said, my soul was not awakened at a church revival, but through the exemplification of the lessons of the higher degrees of Masonry, the new birth came to me and I became a new creature.’ “

“To those who have caught a vision of its meaning,” said Walter Rauschenbusch, “democracy is a holy word.” And to Arthur Nash the word “brother,” which to so many of us is in merely a part of our ritual, became also holy and a literal living reality.

Shortly after this vision of brother-hood came to him, he had to decide how far he was prepared to live it in his own life. He was forced to take control of a sweatshop in which men and women had been exploited as they have been from time immemorial. The pay-roll sheet which he took home with him that night showed a wage scale ranging from a maximum of $18 per week for men down to a minimum of $4 for women, at a time when the war had doubled living costs. It burned and quivered before his eyes like the letters of doom on the walls of Belshazzar’s palace. For him it was the day of decision. The next morning he went down to the shop, called the little group of workers together, told them that he had been made to see that they were his brothers and sisters, and that he intended to make the Golden Rule the governing law of the factory. That meant that when any policy was decided he must ask himself, “If I were in your place and you were in mine, what would I want you to do?” And he told them that he expected them to let the same rule govern their actions.

Now, of course, any sane business man would instantly see that such a policy could only lead to bankruptcy and ruin, especially in the clothing industry, where competition is fierce and merciless.  There is a homely old saying, however, that the “proof of the pudding is in the eating,” and the verdict as to whether Mr. Nash’s policy of making the Golden Rule the governing law of his factory was sane or insane must be decided by results.

There was nothing in Mr. Nash’s own business past or in the previous history of his company to lead anyone to anticipate a rapid growth, but bear in mind that Mr. Nash insists that brotherhood is not a counsel of perfection but a divine law of life.  He insists that the Golden Rule is God’s greatest economic law, the divine law governing human relationships. Now all modern- minded men have come to realize that to discover and obey the laws of the universe is to succeed, to ignore or disobey them is to fail. What evidence can Mr. Nash offer to sustain his assertion that the Golden Rule is the law of life?

In 1918, the company occupied half a floor in a small building containing many other clothing manufacturers and had twenty-nine employees, and the total business for that year amounted to $132,000. In 1919, the business amounted to $525,000; in 1920, $1,580,000; in 1921, $2,077,000; in 1922, $3,750,000; and in 1923, nearly $6,000,000.

This means that from making a few hundred suits and overcoats a month in 1918, they have increased to an output of 10,000 to 12,000 a week, which means four completed suits or overcoats a minute for every working day.

The capital of the company had grown from $60,000 to $1,000,000, and is now $3,000,000.

But this is not the story of a factory but the study of a man. One who knows him intimately remarked not long ago that the most remarkable development of these six years has been Arthur Nash himself. When he determined to make brotherhood the law of life, it was with the expectation of business failure, not with the hope of business success. By 1920, however, he saw his faith in brotherhood as the law of life working an industrial miracle. The Golden Rule was for him becoming literally the Rule of Gold.

But this threatened to make him personally the victim of another kind of misfortune. “I became conscious,” he says, “that with a company working in obedience to this law, while practically all other companies were drifting or disobeying the law of success, a spectacular development was inevitable. As I owned practically all the stock of the company at the beginning of the experiment, in the natural course of events I was doomed to become a rich man.  Please let that word ‘doomed’ register in your mind, for that was the horrible mental picture that was before me. A little later I met my friend, Harold Marshall, of Boston, and told him something of this. He seemed to sense deeply the thing that was in my mind, and I have heard him many times tell great audiences that I had said to him with a look of deep concern in my face and agony in my eyes that I saw no way to keep from becoming a millionaire.”

Mr. Nash has not told the whole story of that interview, moved perhaps by generous consideration for the writer of this article. For he himself had then decided to escape from the possession of great wealth by giving the business to the workers. He outlined to me the plan by which he proposed to supplant his corporation by a co- operative workers’ association. The discussion lasted far into the night, he insisting that he must do it immediately, I insisting that he was dealing with a group still incoherent and most of whom were economic children, and that he must keep control until he had taught them self-control and given them opportunity to develop a group consciousness. Finally he yielded, saying, “Well, if I must, I must, but how I dread it!”

Yes,” I said, “but remember this, that crucifixion is not a fact of history but a process of life. This is what Paul meant by ‘dying daily.’”

Of course, misunderstanding has been inevitable. Many times and by many people the old sneering question has been raised, “Does job serve God for naught?” Three or four years ago certain magazines made bitter attacks on his motives and his integrity, based on entire misstatement of facts. I then wrote a statement of what I knew to be the truth, but before publishing it sent a copy to him. Here are some paragraphs from his reply.

“Once and for all remember that we have passed the point where it should ever occur to you that I have any human feeling. We are only pawns in the great game of life, to be moved as seems best regardless of what particular square we may be on or the direction in which our inclination would carry us.

“I note what you say about making reply to the charges that have been made. I hope you will think carefully regarding this before you do so. Read over again the fifty-third chapter of Isaiah and study carefully the seventh verse, and remember that war is destructive, whether it be a battle of words or a battle of cannon and that there is only one standard in the final judgment and that is ‘By their fruits ye shall know them.’ What we need is not someone to fight battles for us or someone to answer our tormentors, but the prayer of all the Father’s children that the mind which was in Christ Jesus may be in us.”

To have watched not only Arthur Nash’s own development but the way in which the workers associated with him have caught his spirit and in turn passed it on to the newer workers in the group has been a rich and thrilling experience. Step by step they have found their way to ever-increasing economic efficiency. Day by day they have developed an ever closer fellowship. It would have been easy to understand how the small original group could have been welded into a family under the influence of a great personality, but there are now nearly four thousand of them, recruited from many races, members of diverse and often conflicting religious sects. Yet together they have taken and together they are living this workers’ pledge:

“In the spirit of Jesus we unite ourselves in the Fellowship of the Golden Rule, pledging our utmost endeavor to make God’s law of brotherhood the law of our lives.”

Here is an adventure in dynamics, not an experiment in mechanics.  It ignores our common class and caste philosophy and advances to a new insistence upon elemental democracy. It is as illogical, as thrilling, perhaps as prophetic as primitive Christianity. If there is any body of men in the world who ought to understand it, to sympathize with it, and to imitate it in their own lives, it is the brothers of our Great Fraternity.