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



Boston, August 9, 2084.

My Dear Louise:

Without governments, how can crime be prevented or suppressed? I know that this is the question which you most want answered. I will allow Mr. De Demain to tell you in the language, as near as I can remember, in which he told me:

“Did government ever prevent crime altogether, or even materially lessen it? Under the strongest governments does not history show that crimes have been most frequent? Hundreds, thousands, millions of laws, even the commands of gods, coupled with the threats of endless torture, have not prevented crimes. Some crimes it is perfectly natural for man to commit, and so long as man continues to be man,—that is, an animal,—he will continue to be an offender. The only excuse governments ever had for existing was that they were necessary to prevent crime and punish criminals. Ostensibly they were organized and maintained to protect the weaker as against the stronger, but you know well that a government that did this never existed. Governments are strong, and draw the strong about them; did a state ever protect the weak from itself?

“Let me read you from this book, which contains stories for the children, a little legend:

“‘In the midst of a most beautiful country there was a mighty castle, from whose turrets one might watch the toiling, sweating, tired, and hungry people throughout the length and breadth of the land. The people called it the Strong Castle, or the Castle of State.

“‘Tradition said that soon after the first conquest of the country a monster, half god and half beast, volunteered to protect the conquerors and their heirs and assigns forever in their possession of the country,—the land, its products, and their increase. This was a pleasing promise. The monster said: “Give up all you possess to me, and I will loan it to you for a small annual rental. This is merely that I may say to other monsters like myself, ‘This is all mine,’ when really, of course, it is yours.” So all property was given up to him. Then he said to the people: “Now, upon the condition which I shall name, you may dwell upon these lands, but you must never forget that you are simply my slaves. You must give up to me, if I ask it, even your lives. Here is a list of the things you must not do at all, and another of the things you must not do without my consent. I shall add to both as often as it suits my convenience. As a reward for your generosity to me, I will see that you are properly punished when you do what I have commanded that you shall not do.”

“‘So ran the tradition. After a few generations men gathered about the Strong Castle and took upon themselves the work of mediators between the people and the monster. The monster was never seen, but these mediators, who were variously termed princes, lords, and statesmen, made known to the people his commands and gathered the tributes. For centuries, the people never questioned the right of the monster to command and rob them. These mediators were clever men, and they said to the people: “If this monster be killed, some other monster, still more terrible, will devour you, or you will devour each other. You are a bad lot.” So he who said: “Let us pay no more tribute to this monster; let us slay him, and pull down his Strong Castle,” was answered thus: “But these mediators, who are men of great brain, say we could not do without him; if he were killed, we should immediately be possessed of the desire to set upon and slay other.” And the people contented themselves with this answer, and worked on with the sweat streaming from their brows. But there were murmurings and muttered curses, and distrust and threats. Finally one morning the people formed into a body and marched up to the Strong Castle. The Mediators blew trumpets and flourished swords. They threatened, then argued, then pleaded. but to no avail. The people said: “We will slay the monster.” They rushed upon the Castle and broke down the palisades and gates. “The monster! the monster!” they shouted, but there was no monster found. The mediators had thrown off their priestly garments and mixed with the people. The Castle was deserted and quiet. The monster was a myth, and the people saw how they had been duped. The Strong Castle was pulled down, and, when the sun set, the people had done the grandest day’s work of all time.’

“Government was the great landlord, or rather the great all-lord,” said Mr. De Demain,—“for it not only loaned the land, but all other privileges worth the having. It gathered to itself with its strong hand all rights pertaining to business, labor, capital, money, religion, marriage, morals, etc, etc., and farmed them out. The state, in some of its phases, was like a meddlesome old woman; in others, like a heartless robber; in others, like a scheming villain.

“There is a government today, but no governments. Instead of being governed by a despotic king, a despotic parliament, or a despotic republic,—a government of the people, by the people, for the people,—we have a government of the individual, by the individual, for the individual.”

“But,” I asked, “does not this prevent all harmonious action?”

“Just the opposite. All collective action under the system of individual rule is harmonious. Individuals with the same purpose in view act together and act as a unit. There is no ruling of minorities by majorities.”

“But take a community of five thousand people. Four thousand desire to do something to which one thousand are opposed. The thing will benefit the four thousand in favor, but will injure the one thousand opposed. What is the result?”

“Such a state of affairs is very rare, but when it does occur, arbitration is resorted to. Government does not step in and say the majority is right, as was always the case under the old system. Why, man contains all of justice that exists between man and man. How absurd it is for man to set up an abstraction, and call upon it to decide the question of right or wrong. If the strong in numbers are given the power to rule the weak, they will do so, and call such rule right. If they are not given such power, such action becomes crime. In your time the State licensed majorities to commit crime; to rob, torture mentally and physically, and even to commit murder. Minorities were given over as fit prey to majorities. There was an absolute standard of right and wrong set up; the majority was right and the minority wrong. Now, the natural justice—that is, the man—decides.”

“Suppose,” asked I, “that in a town of five thousand inhabitants four thousand wish to construct and maintain a system of water works, and the remaining one thousand are opposed to the scheme,—what is the result?”

“Why, simply this, the four thousand construct and maintain the water works and reap the advantages. Under the government of majorities the one thousand people would be obliged to pay a tax for the building and working of something they did not want.

“This, I trust, shows you how Anarchy prevents thousands of crimes, and how, instead of producing discord and disorder, it produces harmony and freedom. Humanity is something like a dish of cane syrup; if you keep stirring it, it granulates; if you leave it alone, it crystallizes.

“The next time we meet I hope to explain further how Anarchy makes impossible most of the crimes that governments had to deal with. After that I will explain how it punishes,” and I, Louise, will be faithful in my note-taking and in writing out those notes for you.


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