Clement M. Hammond, “Then and Now” (1884)




Boston, July 26, 2084

My Dear Louise:

Since I last wrote you, I have been trying to solve the problem how the people get along without governments and statesmen. To one like you, so interested in the woman suffrage and temperance movements of your time, I am sure my researches will be entertaining and perhaps instructive.

My very learned man calls to see me often, and we have some very spirited discussions, but, although of course I will not own it, he usually gets the better of the argument. You see he has the advantage of practical illustration on his side. But in spite of the fact that he can prove that the world can get along without governments, he can’t convince me that the people are as happy as they are in the dear old world in which you live. How can they be without the strong hand of the law to rely upon? How can they be without such great and good men about them as Mr. Arthur, Mr. Edmunds, Mr. Lodge, Mr. Long, Mr. Curtis, and others like them to look after the public welfare?

But when I say this to Mr. De Demain (for this is the name of my learned man—Paul De Demain), he says, “Bosh!”

I asked him how the people get along without systems of government.

He said: “Five hundred years ago the world found it impossible to get along without strong religious government. The government of the priesthood was the governor of individuals and governments. It ruled states and kings and extended into the household, exerting its sway over all the minor affairs. It had, as you well know, such power in most ‘civilized’ countries that all were forced to submit to it or die. You cannot have forgotten how the Huguenots were treated, how the Puritans were exiled, and how they in turn exiled and murdered the Quakers. Have you any doubt that the religious government of five or six hundred years ago was as strong as the civil government of two hundred years ago?”

Of course, I am a reasonable creature, and I was forced to tell him that no doubt.

“But,” he continued, “two hundred years ago you managed very nicely without any religious government,—that is, without any religious government that had power to control. You could believe the teachings of one man or men or not, as you pleased. There was no spiritual government except that of the individual, and that, too, in spite of a widespread sentiment in favor of religious things and forms. Your ancestors who first settled Boston and vicinity believed it was impossible for a people to exist without a strong religious government. They believed that happiness and prosperity both depended upon such a government. But their descendants in two hundred years found that they could live and be at least just as happy and just as prosperous without any religious control, and human nature had not improved to such a tremendous extent either. As you know, thought took a wider range as soon as religious governments were thrown over, and you became a greater, if not a happier, people.”

“Yes, but,” I replied, “as you acknowledge, religious feeling remained, it did not govern with the outward forms of the olden time, it still governed.”

“Certainly,” said Mr. De Demain, “but religious feeling and religious government are things entirely different. One governs the individual through the individual alone (and such government is liberty), while the other governs the individual through the community (and such government is slavery).

“Yes,” continued Mr. De Demain, in a half-soliloquy, “your forefathers thought the same about religious government that your people of 1881 thought about civil government. If it were given up, all sorts of crime would be committed, and the world would give itself up to all sorts of excesses. Murders, robbers rapes would be committed daily by the thousands, and there would be no remedy. But religious government passed away, and thoughtful people saw that the world was no worse; in fact, that it kept constantly getting better. People stopped wondering ‘How shall we get along without religion?’ We don’t wonder how we manage to get along without civil governments, but we do wonder how the people got along with them for so many centuries.”

I suggested that religious government was necessary for the people during the earlier centuries of the world, and that without it they would never have reached that state where such government would be unnecessary.

Mr. De Demain laughed at the paradox, and answered the sentiment. Said he: “You could as well say that it was a good thing for the world to believe for centuries that the earth was flat. Or you might argue that it was better for the world that the powers of steam and electricity were unknown for so many centuries. It was perhaps a splendid thing for humanity that the art of printing was unknown during the time when Greece was ages ahead of the rest of the world, but I am sure you do not believe it. Two hundred years ago the world said Anarchy would do for the Millennium. The world should have seen, as we have proved, that Anarchy would bring the Millennium.”

I trust, Louise, that you may be able to find arguments that will answer those if Mr. De Demain. If you can, write them out for me, and I will hurl them at him. He is to explain to me how society exists under individual self-government. I will tell you about it in my future letters.


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About Shawn P. Wilbur 2320 Articles
Independent scholar, translator and archivist.