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




Boston, October 25, 2081.

My Dear Louise:

I have now ceased to be a great curiosity, and have an opportunity to walk about the streets and visit stores, manufactories, schools, places of amusement, etc., and study the people under all phases of life. Every moment, almost, there is something new to attract my attention, some strange thing to give me food for thought. There is a most striking contrast, surely, between the condition of the people of today and of those of two centuries ago. Humanity seems to be a different thing from what it was then. The mere fact that there is no such thing as poverty must prove this to you. There are no hard times now-a-days; there is plenty for all to do, and, of course, you can easily understand that, where there is work for every one, there must be plenty for every one to eat, drink, and wear. Charitable organizations are not needed to keep men and women and children from starving and freezing. Poverty was always the great cause of crime. To plenty, more than anything else, is due the honesty and gentleness of the people today.

Don’t think from this, Louise, that I have become an Anarchist I believe—for I cannot help believing—that the people of today are more happy without the State, but this system of society under which the people live is not Anarchy. After all that I have written to you, I know that you must be surprised at this statement, but let me explain.

Mr. De Demain says that society today is based upon Anarchistic principles, and I gave you his definition of those principles in my last letter; but I know that he must be mistaken. During two hundred years the meaning of the word Anarchy has changed. It means today peace, prosperity, liberty, and happiness; two hundred years ago it meant revolution, tyranny, crime, and misery. Would not this latter be your definition? Does not Anarchy mean to you something terrible? When you speak the word, does it not call up in your mind scenes of riot and murder?

I cannot see why the quiet, happy people that I see about me should use a word, which means to them so much, which really means all that is terrible and chaotic

Mr. De Demain says that I have a very old-fashioned idea of the meaning of Anarchy, and not only very old-fashioned but very wrong.

“If,” says he, “you wished, in your time, to get the correct definition of some medical term, would you have asked a physician, or some person who knew nothing about the science of medicine? Which, do you think, would have been most likely to have defined the term correctly for you? Is it not, to say the least, probable that an avowed Anarchist can tell you better what Anarchy means than can one who claims to know nothing about the word or the thing except that he has looked up the word in the dictionary and has heard that a king or two has been killed by the hands of Anarchists? No man is an Anarchist who does not know what Anarchy means, and I know that there never could have been a man who knew what Anarchy means who was not an Anarchist. In your time, if you ever saw a person who said he knew the meaning of Anarchy and for that very reason was not an Anarchist,—and you have probably seen many such,—you could easily have discovered how little he knew about it by asking very few questions. You say this is not Anarchy which I claim is Anarchy? And why? Simply because you find that Anarchy is not what you thought it was, because it is not what you had been told it was by those who knew nothing about it, but who claimed to know all about it. Anarchy two hundred years ago could not be fully and clearly defined because it had never been practically tested. A thing to be clearly defined must be defined by its results. In your time Anarchy had produced no results.”

“How about the murder of a king or two?” I asked.

“That was not the result of Anarchy, but merely of the struggle for Anarchy. Until a thing is, it cannot have results. It would be absurd to say that the Revolutionary war was the result of American independence; it was merely the result of the struggle for that independence. The founders of the American republic were men who could look into the future, and they knew full well what such a republic as they strove for meant, but the people, even those who fought for it, did not know. They had faith, but faith is blind. What was the definition of that republic given by people of the old world? That it was an impossible theory, a pretty theory perhaps, but one which practical demonstration would prove to be a curse for the people who lived under it. So with Anarchy. Those who struggled for it two hundred years ago could look ahead to this time and see what Anarchy meant. They could define it, partially. They could not follow out all its blessings in detail, but they could say that blessings would result, and some of those blessings they could name. We today can define it fully. It is defined right before your eyes. You have a clearer definition of it every day as you see more of its effects. There are hundreds of things that you have not yet seen, little things they may be, but nevertheless they go to make up a grand sum total of happiness. Anarchy has made the world—a world necessarily of sin and misery, it used to be considered—fairer than was heaven painted to the dreams of the Christians of the olden time.”

Mr. De Demain’s arguments may be good, and it may be only my woman’s persistency that still leads me to say that I cannot believe that what is called Anarchy today is what was meant when the word Anarchy was spoken two hundred years ago.


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