Debate on Proudhon and property:
THE WHEREABOUTS OF COMMUNIST LOGIC.
To the Editor of Liberty.
Failing a superfluity of copy, I send you a line or two in conclusion upon L. S. B.’s extraordinary effusion in the June number, such as I have gathered the patience to pen, for I am in no mood to follow her unprofitable pastime of splitting hairs.
I defined the word “right” for the purpose of this discussion, as an individual limitation to appropriation, such limitation being set by an equality of opportunity. I furthermore held that this constituted the sole case for Anarchism, in its economic aspect. To which L. S. B. ironically rejoins: “A right to appropriation then is a limitation on appropriation”! Is there anything so inconsistent in this as L. S. B. would inferentially make out? If she happened to be the sole inhabitant of the earth, her capacity for monopolizing anything upon the earth would properly be only limited to her power to do so: she could injure no second person thereby. But given a community of persons, and the idea of right comes into existence. In order to possess a guarantee of security of their persons and possessions, they instinctively set limitations to individual action. Whatever limit they set as necessary to the end in view under certain conditions, is regarded as the “right”—the property recognition of which, the individual owes to society. This idea of course varies and enlarges with increased conceptions and activity. My doctrine of Anarchism is that it is the ultimate conception of such right, inasmuch as it is an expression of the most absolute reciprocity attainable.
Now, let us see what L. S. B.’s doctrine of Anarchism amounts to. To her, Anarchism is concomitant with “Natural Order”! Natural order is the wolf devouring the lamb! the monopolist crushing out the life of his victim! Animals of prey (man’s ancestors) who are naturally constituted that they can only exist by devouring other animals—these pursue the natural order! L. S. B. says, “Nature knows nothing of Equality.” An odd admission for a Communist make, surely.
She says that I believe “that the ethic of the future will increasingly discountenance whatever impulse to communism now exists.” Certainly I do. This belief is logically forced upon me by hard facts—not dreams—by an array of historic data which incontestably reveals that Communism has always been a synonym for barbarism; that liberty and progress have consisted in the gradual extinguishing of communism; that all primitive societies have been communistic theoretically and practically, and have been poverty-stricken and demoralized proportionately; that property (I do not here confound property with monopoly as L. S. B. does in her inability to discriminate) was the first watchword of civilization; and that the extension of civilization and liberty has been contemporaneous with the development of the recognition of the property regime. All of which warrants the deduction of those who clamor to return to Communism—to the “herd-of-cattle” conception of social life—are in contradiction with the evolution of society.
What L. S. B. is deficient in is the faculty to perceive that, in the laws of social dynamics, the Communistic principle is essentially a reaction of the monopoly principle, and has no direct relation to the property principle at all. Property, or the essential social limitation to individual appropriation, is indeed the synthesis of Monopoly and Communism.
In conclusion, every experiment in Communism under civilization has miserably failed, except in such instances where the most abject servility and self-sacrifice have obtained. Out of hundreds of experiments in America since Owen’s time—the majority of which were established under the most favorable circumstances—only those of the Shaker type have survived. John Humphrey Noyes, the history of the American experiments, and interested partisan of the Communist idea, is painfully compelled to conclude that Communism will inevitably fail where the religious idea is not the primum mobile.
Henry Seymour, “The Whereabouts of Communist Logic,” Liberty (London) 2 no. 20 (August, 1895): 157.