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

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V.

THE STATE AND SELFISHNESS.

Boston, September 6, 2084.

My Dear Louise:

In my last letter I mentioned that I was to attend a novel entertainment with Mr. De Demain as escort. The concert hall is an immense building in the West Roxbury park and will seat twenty thousand people, I think Mr. De Demain said. I should judge there were that many present on the evening when my kind friend and I were of the number. There is a large circular platform in the centre of the hall on which the performances are given. This performance it is about as hard for me to describe as a musical concert would be for one who had never seen a musical instrument or heard a tune. The effect is produced by a series of harmonious blendings of innumerable colors and forms with an occasional discharge of noiseless pyrotechnics. Objects made of twenty different materials and of a hundred different shapes and shades of color, calcium lights, different colored fires, stereoscopes, and many mechanical contrivances unseen, help to make up a grand and pleasing entertainment, the whole a sort of gigantic kaleidoscope with additions and improvements. I never spent two hours more pleasantly than I did gazing at the blending of colors and forms that night. Returning home, Mr. De Demain discoursed something as follows, often interrupted, of course, by questions from me:

“Music is by no means a thing of the past. Wagner, Mozart, Haydn, and a dozen more whose names you are familiar with, as well as musicians of more modern times and just as great masters of the art, have thousands, millions of admirers. But while music has the same basis as the concert which you attended tonight,—harmony,—the former appeals to the passions, while the latter does not. Music fired the soul for war and warmed the heart for love; such harmony as you witnessed tonight soothes the mind for sleep, or for calm, dispassionate thought. It makes men thinkers,—dreamers if you will,—instead of fighters and lovers. Music is like wine, it inflames and stimulates for the moment; such a concert as you saw tonight is like a mild narcotic, it quiets the animal and thus allows the man more freedom. Man has improved much under a century of Anarchy, and this is an outgrowth of it. As man grows wiser and better, he constantly devises means and conceives sentiments whereby he becomes still wiser and still better. Improvement brings with it still greater possibilities for improvement. So this entertainment, a result of improved conditions of life and purer sentiment, is also the cause of still better conditions, by stimulating thought, and of still purer sentiment.”

“Is it not.” asked I, “because man is so much better and wiser today than he was two centuries ago that Anarchy is so successfully practised?”

“It is because of Anarchy that man is so much better and wiser. Said they who opposed it in your time, ‘Oh, yes, Anarchy will do when all men are perfect, or nearly so, but for it to be a success man must be divested of his selfishness. He must be willing to help his brother for his brother’s sake, and the world for the sake of the world. Man today is too much of a selfish animal for Anarchy, and he will be for several centuries’—and after delivering themselves of this wise remark, they would turn on their heels and walk away.

“Selfishness is certainly a strong quality of man’s nature, and Anarchy recognizes this fact and provides for it. The State was constantly demanding that man disregard self for the benefit of other selves with whom he had no sympathy and who had no moral claim upon him. The State said to man, ‘you must be unselfish; you must aid and love all mankind unless I specify certain individuals or nations that you must hate and strive to injure all possible.’ Anarchy says, ‘selfishness is a part of man’s individuality; let it act freely, and human discretion will curb it enough.’

“The State gathered everything within its grasp and doled out a small quantity to this one and a large quantity to that one, and there was in consequence constant wrangling. The worst feature of selfishness was continually being brought to the surface. If no one man has a chance for more than a dozen, most men will be satisfied with a dozen, but if one man is to have a hundred, all men desire a hundred. This is the sort of selfishness fostered by the State. Anarchy simply says to all men, ‘here is the earth with plenty for all, help yourselves.’ It is selfishness that prompts man to take his fair share, but it is a natural and entirely proper selfishness, and Anarchy sees wisely that it is so and does wisely in allowing it to act without restraint or irritation. Thus are prevented many of the crimes for whose punishment States were thought necessary.”

“You say Anarchy invites everyone to take his fair share from the bounties of the earth; how is it determined what shall be a fair share?” asked I.

“By the labor expended in wresting wealth from nature’s grasp, not, as was formerly the case, by the ingenuity displayed in robbing the less ingenious. Under the State the conditions of social life were so arranged, or disarranged rather, that the individual life of everyone was a constant struggle. The poor man struggled against absolute want, the well-to-do struggled to become better-to-do and not to become worse, the rich struggled to become more and more rich, struggling constantly, too, against those less rich who struggled to be richer. The State was like an unhealthy marsh from which arose and spread abroad miasmic particles (laws) which irritated the human tissues until a fever ensued which gnawed at the stomach and tore at the brain. This fever became so prevalent that most men believed it the natural state of man’s system, and they looked upon those who had not this fever as the ones diseased. Truly all the world was mad, and those few who were sane were looked upon by insane humanity as being most insane.

Struggle has been succeeded by progress. The wild-eyed, hot-breathed god of greed has abdicated in favor of the clear-eyed, sweet-faced, plump-formed goddess of plenty. Every man knows that nature has locked up for him in her storehouse enough for all at least of his more pressing needs, and his individual labor is the only key by means of which his store can be got. The robber has no means of entry. There is no State with a duplicate key which it may give up at will to the plunderer.”

“Man, then, has fallen into a state where he is without ambition or energy beyond enough to provide himself daily with food, clothing, and shelter?” I suggested.

‘No, man is still an ambitious and energetic creature, as you may imagine by what you have seen during your stay among us. He has lost, however, certain ambitions and energies. He is no longer ambitious to rule his fellow man or to rob his fellow man that he may become a millionaire. The energy formerly pended in the struggle for wealth and power is now turned into other channels. Such an entertainment as we have enjoyed tonight is a far better result of man’s energy than the accumulation of a fortune. There is about so much force and ingenuity in man, and it is bound to work itself out in some way. If this force and ingenuity is expended in gaining wealth by legalized robbery of those who labor, it cannot be used in devising means whereby more wealth can be produced with less labor, or whereby man may be made happier. Enough human energy was expended in warfare during the seventeenth, eighteenth, and nineteenth centuries to have pushed humanity ahead at least ten centuries, had there been no wars.”

“I judge from what you say that warfare is a thing of the past.”

“Yes, war was simply a means whereby States decided their quarrels. The abolishment of the State was the abolishment of war. No human force is wasted in that way now, no human lives are lost, no accumulated wealth is squandered.”

Mr. De Demain said “Good night,” for we had reached my room, and I also will say “Good night” to you.

Josephine

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About Shawn P. Wilbur 2166 Articles
Independent scholar, translator and archivist.