John Beverley Robinson:
- “Consistency,” Liberty 4 no. 25 (July 13, 1887): 8.
- “A Villain Unmasks,” Liberty 5 no. 5 (October 8, 1887): 6.
- “A Plea for Non-Resistance,” Liberty 5 no. 14 (February 11, 1888): 5.
- “Liberty and Aggression,” Liberty 6 no. 12 (February 2, 1889): 4.
- “The Abolition of Marriage,” Liberty 6 no. 18 (July 20, 1889): 6–7.
- “Architecture under Nationalism,” Liberty 7 no. 19 (January 10, 1891): 3.
- “A New Argument against Copyright,” Liberty 8 no. 2 (May 16, 1891): 5.
- “The Limits of Governmental Interference,” Liberty 8 no. 10 (August 15, 1891): 3–4.
- “A Vision of Elysium,” Liberty 8 no. 20 (October 24, 1891): 3–4.
- “Rule or Resistance, Which?” Liberty 8 no. 29 (December 26, 1891): 3.
- “The Advisability of Violence,” Liberty 8 no. 32 (January 16, 1892): 2–3.
- ”Socialistic Neighbor-Love,” Liberty 8 no. 37 (April 30, 1892): 1.
- “Solitude,” Liberty 8 no. 42 (June 14, 1892): 2.
- “Report of the Secretary of the Society for the Mitigation of the Acerbity of Impecuniosity,” Liberty 8 no. 44 (June 18, 1892): 2–3.
- “A Suggestion,” Liberty 9 no. 1 (September 3, 1892): 1.
- “When Freedom from Her Mountain Height!” Liberty 9 no. 17 (December 24, 1892): 3.
- “How Liberty May Come,” Liberty 9 no. 31 (April 1, 1893): 3.
- “What is ‘Government’?” Liberty 9 no. 47 (February 24, 1894): 2.
- “An Insult Properly Resented,” Liberty 9 no. 47 (February 24, 1894): 6.
- “What is it To Protect?” Liberty 9 no. 49 (March 24, 1894): 2.
- “A Glimpse of an Anarchistic Future,” Liberty 9 no. 51 (April 22, 1894): 2.
- “What is Freedom?” Liberty 9 no. 52 (May 5, 1894): 3.
- “The Marriage of the Future,” Liberty 10 no. 1 (May 19, 1894): 2–4.
- “Compulsory Vaccination,” Liberty 10 no. 2 (June 2, 1894): 2.
- “Is Anarchism Atheistic?” Liberty 10 no. 4 (June 30, 1894): 2–3.
- “A Scientific Seance,” Liberty 10 no. 5 (July 13, 1894): 5.
- “Anarchism and Christianity,” Liberty 10 no. 6 (July 28, 1894): 2–3.
- “Woman Suffrage and Liberty,” Liberty 10 no. 8 (August 28, 1894): 2.
- “Will Liberty Alone Bring Equality?” Liberty 10 no. 10 (September 22, 1894): 2–4.
- “Mr. Robinson Explains,” Liberty 10 no. 13 (November 3, 1894): 6.
- “A Business Government,” Liberty 10 no. 14 (November 3, 1894): 2–3.
- “The Land of the Altruists,” Liberty 11 no. 7 (August 10, 1895): 3.
- “The Conditions of Greatest Happiness,” Liberty 11 no. 21 (February 22, 1896): 6
- “Not to Be Overestimated,” Liberty 11 no. 23 (March 21, 1896): 5.
- “Liberty and Equality,” Liberty 12 no. 4 (June 27, 1896): 6.
- “Rent,” Liberty 12 no. 10 (December, 1896): 6–8.
- “Interest,” Liberty 13 no. 3 (May, 1897): 5–7.
- “Government,” Liberty 13 no. 5 (August, 1897): 6–8.
- “Ethics,” Liberty 13 no. 7 (December, 1897): 6–8.
Let no man hurl anathemas at me because I am inconsistent. As blind revolt is the ultimate right of a nation, so blind inconsistency is the ultimate right of the individual. I admit, intellectually, that two pieces of mince pie are too much. Nevertheless I eat two,—nay, if I can get them, I eat three pieces and suffer the consequences. Shall any man charge that my intellectual admission was insincere, merely because my conviction was not strong enough to counteract my gluttony? Or, if I admit the correctness of Anarchy theoretically, am I a dog because the old Archical Adam clings to me in my practice! Advocating violence, am I utterly condemnable if I commit none; or, advocating non-resistance, shall there be no forgiveness for me if I forget my principles and break somebody’s head?
Away with consistency! It is a delusion. What I really think and what I really do is of import, even though my thoughts be contradictory among themselves and be negatived again by my acts. But what I think I ought to think and what I do because I think I ought to is of no importance, no value, no consideration.
Wonderful will be the results when physiology shall have succeeded in deciphering the play of the atoms of the brain; when the first dawn of a new idea shall be discerned in the displacement of its corresponding nerve tissue; when its advance and coordination with other tissue-registered ideas shall be noted; when in time it predominates so far as to influence action; when it becomes a moving force, a religion, permeating every fibre, influencing every breath.
Until then the virtues of inconsistency will be unappreciated.
Finally, as I recognize that almost all the evil of the past and present is done by men in deference to some outside principle, against their nature, for the sake of an alleged consistency, I deem it for myself the highest duty to be inconsistent: I should be inconsistent with my principles were I not inconsistent with them.
John Beverley Robinson.
[As I know no way of answering Mr. Robinson except by showing the inconsistency of his argument either with itself or with some truth which I suppose him to admit in common with the rest of mankind, and as success in showing such inconsistency would, by Mr. Robinson’s own statement, only make him more enamored of his position, I shall not make the attempt. He will not complain of this neglect, inasmuch as, in saying that he deems it his duty to be inconsistent and that what he does because he thinks he ought to is of no importance, he admits that his attitude is not worth consideration. For myself, however, I wish to add that I always judge deliberate inconsistency by the end in view and the adequacy of such a method of attaining it. From this standpoint inconsistency between belief and conduct may sometimes be defensible. Inconsistency between beliefs held by one person at the same time can never be deliberate. Such inconsistency always springs from ignorance or inadvertence, and it can be only a kindness to point it out.—Editor Liberty.
John Beverley Robinson, “Consistency,” Liberty 4 no. 25 (July 13, 1887): 8.
A Villain Unmasks.
B. R. Tucker:
It is with fear and trembling that I have resolved to confess myself an Egoist.
I trust that my moralist friends will not forthwith cut my acquaintance, but I am afraid that they will. How have they deceived themselves in their opinion of me! They have even thought, in their ignorance, that I was a moral man, like themselves. They knew not that I was a deep-dyed scoundrel, that they were warming a viper in the light of their esteem.
Yet—I blush to confess it—I am an Egoist, and capable of all the villainies which that implies. Nothing deters me from rushing into the streets, revolver in hand, and picking off a dozen or so of the population, save the fact that I should take no pleasure in doing so.
Were it not that it would afford me no satisfaction, I should forthwith provide myself with torch and petroleum, and nightly devote myself to the work of incendiarism.
Ah, what joy! To spend the day, and every day, and all day long, in gambling-hells and cockpits, at dog-fights and “mills,” and through the brief nights to drink to utter drunkenness what time occupied not the houris such as Mahoniet never dreamed of.
Is not that joy, my moralist friend?
For you, I am sure, long for such delights; yet you have my deep sympathy, for you are deterred from seeking them by a dark and terrible vow, a secret—I know not what; but for myself,—I am free! Nothing binds me; I fear nothing. Yet, strange as it will seem to you, somehow I seem not to care for all these delightsome things. It may be melancholia, or hypochondria, or perhaps it is the liver, but for things which delight you I have no taste. Queer, isn’t it?
And, on the other hand, for the things which you dislike I have a leaning as unaccountable as is my distaste for what you would enjoy if you only could. It gives me no pain to tell the truth; on the contrary (can you imagine it?), I really prefer to. I always tell the truth from preference; except upon the rare occasions when, to avoid giving pain,—another of the things for which I have an unaccountable dislike,—I shade it a little. Sometimes, too, in a business way I am compelled to deny myself the pleasure of strict truth-telling.
Another of my strange fancies is to stand by agreements that I make. It is hard, I grant, for any one to understand how this can give pleasure; I cannot pretend to explain it myself; yet so it is. To a moralist it is doubtless totally inexplicable; yet not so inexplicable as it is to me why anybody who wants to break his agreements should refrain from doing so: in fact, I don’t believe that anybody does. I am more inclined to think that they have their reasons for wishing to do as they do. I don’t believe a man can do voluntarily what he does not want to do.
But the strangest thing of all is that, with our totally varying tastes, as it would seem, my moral friends and I lead very much the same kind of lives. I grieve that it should distress them so much to live as I live with a good deal of ease and pleasure, but I honor them for their efforts to imitate what I do solely as a matter of self-indulgence. Perhaps some day they will learn to like it too.
John Beverley Robinson.
New York, September 27, 1887.
John Beverley Robinson, “A Villain Unmasks,” Liberty 5 no. 5 (October 8, 1887): 6.
A Plea for Non-Resistance.
To the Editor of Liberty:
I must take exception to the teaching that the infliction of injury upon aggressors is compatible with the principle of equal liberty to all.
First, with an argument which is no argument, yet which has its force to those who have observed the growth of new ideas in their own minds; how there comes first a revulsion against what is, then strong sentiment in favor of the opposite, and last only, and often not then until long after, perhaps never, comes the possibility of rational justification of the sentiment.
Now, it is a matter of observation that liberty interpreted to include non-resistance meets with quick welcome in many minds that are looking for better things, while liberty interpreted to mean our own liberty to compel others is to the same minds an unintelligible formula.
And the reason of it would seem to be this,—that while the right to defence, and, if you will, to offence too, is equal to the power and the desire to defend or to offend, it has no more to do with the actions proper to man in a social state than the right of cannibalism, which undoubtedly also exists, when, having no other food, a man must feed on his companion or die himself. Saving that in this case, with the exercise of this right to eat him, a social condition with him no longer exists; it is a revulsion to a state of warfare.
Who is to judge of where the right to equal liberty is infringed? If each one is judge, why may not the pick-pocket say, “You have right to imprison me for picking your pocket, I claim that as my natural liberty and I willingly grant you the liberty of picking mine in return,—if you can. The right to pick pockets is co-extensive with the power to pick pockets, and you are committing an aggression in imprisoning me, rather than I in picking your pocket.”
There is a difference between resistance and retaliation, and between resistance and anticipatory violence. Resistance may consist in barring a door, or raising a wall against an armed attack, or on behalf of others we may resist by interposing our own person to receive the attack.
But when the attack is done and past, when the violence is over, when the murder perhaps is committed, by what right of resistance do we assume to retaliate in cold blood?
Do we assume that a man who has killed once will kill again? Such an assumption is wholly unjustifiable.
Or, if it be admitted that such an one is more likely to kill a second time, do we kill him on a possibility that lies wholly in the future?
Shall we say that he places himself outside of society, declares war upon it, and society in return makes warfare upon him and exterminate: him? Who then is to judge of all the rest of us whether we are sufficiently socialized to be permitted to exist? If each is to retaliate where he conceives himself attacked, we remain in our present state of warfare.
Furthermore, if I see one coming in a threatening attitude, with drawn revolver, shall I shoot first and kill him if I can?
Doubtless I may, and take the chances of his killing me; but, in doing so, I cease to admit that he is an associate; I join battle with him; I accept the fortune of war.
Briefly, the argument may be expressed thus: In a social state no individual can be regarded as outside the pale of society for any cause. Society must embrace all.
He that takes pleasure in aggression is either undeveloped or a reversion to a former type, or his apparent aggression is really an attempt to resist what he conceives to be an injury to himself.
In any of these cases, counter-violence is wrong, — namely, it does not accomplish its purpose.
If the aggressor thinks he is injured, the reasonable course is to explain and apologize, even though no injury was meant.
If the aggression be prompted by the mere pleasure of aggression, the delight in violence of a past type, the reasonable course is to regard the aggressor as a diseased man, on a par with a lunatic, or delirium tremens patient. Confine him, but as medical treatment. Bind him, with no personal hatred of him in the ascendant. And, in confinement, so far from torturing him, treat him as are treated, or as ought to be treated, all sick and infirm, with the best food, with the best lodging, with kindness, with care, with love.
This, I say, is rational treatment.
It seems to me that the theory you advocate can produce nothing but what we see now.
The people at large, for that purpose, if for no other, a voluntary association, hanged the Chicago men. The people believed with undoubted sincerity that they were in danger from violence on the part of the victims. They investigated the justice of their belief by means which they thought adequate. They resisted by retaliatory violence.
How can you by your principles blame them?
It seems to me, too, that the simple proposition is that to compel by violence is to govern, and that Anarchists, who protest against government, should begin by saying: We will govern nobody. We will do no violence.
If you care to print this, I ask one thing: Make no verbal criticisms. I am not a Christian, nor a teleologist, nor a moralist, and any slips of language must not be construed to mean that I am. Another thing I ask, subject to your approval. Do not refute me in the same issue. Perhaps I am wrong. If so, I wish to change my opinion. You, I assume, are as ready to change yours.
But it will take a little time for either of us.
John Beverley Robinson.
If I could see that my silence for a fortnight could help either Mr. Robinson or myself to a change of opinion, I would certainly grant his last request. But it seems to me that, if either of us is open to conviction, such would be the very course to delay the change. I change my opinion when an argument is opposed to it which I perceive to be valid and controlling. If it does not seem to me valid at first, it rarely seems otherwise after mere waiting. But if I try to answer it, I either destroy it because of its weakness or cause its strength to be made more palpable by provoking its restatement in another and clearer form. I should think the same must hold in Mr. Robinson’s case, if he is writing his mature thought; if he is not, I should advise him to let it mature first and print it afterwards. There is, no doubt, something to be said in favor of allowing intervals between statements of opposing views, but solely from the reader’s standpoint, not from that of the disputants. Such a plan encourages thought and compels the reader to frame some sort of answer for himself pending the rejoinder of the other side. But in the conduct of a journal this consideration, important as it is, is not the only one to be thought of. There are others, and they all tell in favor of the method of immediate reply. First, there is the consideration of space, one-third of which can generally be saved by avoiding the necessity of restating the opponent’s position. Second, there is the consideration of interest, which wanes when a discussion is prolonged by frequent delays. Third, there is the consideration arising out of the fact that every issue of a paper is seen by hundreds of people who never see another. It is better that such should read both sides than but one.
Mr. Robinson’s other request—that I make no verbal criticism—is also hard to comply with. How am I to avoid a verbal criticism when he makes against Anarchists a charge of inconsistency (by the way, has he changed his mind about inconsistency?) which can only be sustained by a definition of government which Anarchists reject? He says that the essence of government is compulsion by violence. If it is, then of course Anarchists, always opposing government, must always oppose violence. But Anarchists do not so define government. To them the essence of government is invasion. From the standpoint of this definition, why should Anarchists, protesting against invasion and determined not to be invaded, not use violence against it, provided at any time violence shall seem the most effective method of putting a stop to it?
But it is not the most effective method, insists Mr. Robinson in another part of his article; “it does not accomplish its purpose.” Ah! here we are on quite another ground. The claim no longer is that it is necessarily un-Anarchistic to use violence, but that other influences than violence are more potent to overcome invasion. Exactly; that is the gospel which Liberty has always preached. I have never said anything to the contrary, and Mr. Robinson’s criticism, so far as it lies in this direction, seems to me mal à propos. His article is prompted by my answers to Mr. Blodgett in No. 115. Mr. Blodgett’s questions were not as to what Anarchists would find it best to do, but as to what their Anarchistic doctrine logically binds them to do and avoid doing. I confined my attention strictly to the matter in hand, omitting extraneous matters. Mr. Robinson is not justified in drawing inferences from my omissions, especially inferences that are antagonistic to my definite assertions at other times.
Perhaps he will answer me, however, that there are certain circumstances under which I think violence advisable. Granted; but, according to his article, so does he. These circumstances, however, he distinguishes from the social state as a state of warfare. But so do I. The question comes upon what you are to do when a man makes war upon you. Ward him off, says Mr. Robinson, but do not attack him in turn to prevent a repetition of his attack. As a general policy, I agree; as a rule without exceptions, I dissent. Suppose a man tries to knock me down. I will parry his blows for a while, meanwhile trying to dissuade him from his purpose. But suppose he does not desist, and I have to take a train to reach the bedside of my dying child. I straightway knock him down and take the train. And if afterwards he repeats his attack again and again, and thereby continually takes my time away from the business of my life, I put him out of my way, in the most decent manner possible, but summarily and forever. In other words, it is folly for people who desire to live in society to put up with the invasions of the incorrigible. Which does not alter the fact that with the corrigible it is not only good policy, but in accordance with the sentiments of highly-developed human beings, to be as gentle and kind as possible.
To describe such dealing with the incorrigible as the exercise of “our liberty to compel others” denotes an utter misconception. It is simply the exercise of our liberty to keep others from compelling us.
But who is to judge where invasion begins? asks Mr. Robinson. Each for himself, and those to combine who agree, I answer. It will be perpetual war, then? Not at all; a war of short duration, at the worst. I am well aware that there is a border-land between legitimate and invasive conduct over which there must be for a time more or less trouble. But it is an ever-decreasing margin. It has been narrowing ever since the idea of equal liberty first dawned upon the mind of man, and in proportion as this idea becomes clearer and the new social conditions which it involves become real will it contract towards the geometrical conception of a line. And then the world will be at peace. Meanwhile, if the pickpocket continues his objectionable business, it will not be because of any such reasoning as Mr. Robinson puts into his mouth. He may so reason, but as a matter of fact he never does. Or, if he does, he is an exceptional pickpocket. The normal pickpocket has no idea of equal liberty. Whenever the idea dawns upon him, he will begin to feel a desire for its realization and to acquire a knowledge of what equal liberty is. Then he will see that it is exclusive of pocket-picking. And so with the people who hanged the Chicago martyrs. I have never blamed them in the usual sense of the word blame. I charge them with committing gross outrage upon the principle of equal liberty, but not with knowing what they did. When they become Anarchists, they will realize what they did, and will do so no more. To this end my comrades and I are trying to enlighten them concerning the principle of equal liberty. But we shall fail if we obscure the principle by denying or concealing the lengths to which, in case of need, it allows us to go lest people of tender sensibilities may infer that we are in favor of always going to such lengths, regardless of circumstances.
T. [Benj. R. Tucker]
John Beverley Robinson, “A Plea for Non-Resistance,” Liberty 5 no. 14 (February 11, 1888): 5.
Liberty and Aggression.
My dear Mr. Tucker:
Liberty has done me a great service in carrying me from the metaphysical speculations in which I was formerly interested into a vein of practical thought which is more than a mere overflow of humanitarianism; which is as closely logical and strictly scientific as any other practical investigation. In spite of certain small criticisms which it would be petty to dwell upon, it is the most advanced and most intellectual paper that I have seen. I esteem it most highly.
The particular matter upon which we have exchanged letters—the question of non-resistance—is still in my mind, but it is hard for me to find time to write anything for publication. Perhaps it is even premature.
Of course I see very clearly that economically Anarchism is complete without including any question as to force or no-force at all: but the importance of preaching one or the other as a means of obtaining or perpetuating Anarchy has not diminished in my mind.
People invariably feel, if they do not ask: “How are you going to accomplish it?” And I think the question is valid.
In every definition of liberty, or of aggression, there is a reference to a certain limit beyond which liberty becomes aggression. How this limit is certainly determinable I have never seen any one attempt to show. As a matter of fact, the history of liberty has been a record of the continual widening of this limit. Once there was a time when religious heterodoxy was regarded as an aggression, not vainly I think you will admit when you remember how much our actions are influenced by our predisposing theories. When it was commonly thought, even by transgressors themselves, that nothing but the acceptance of certain dogmas prevented all men from becoming transgressors, it was not unreasonable to “resist the beginnings.” So now when multitudes of good people regard the maintenance of the State as essential to the preservation of security, it is no wonder that they should easily be inflamed against those who openly antagonize the State. Formerly to think heterodoxy was regarded as an aggression. Afterwards thought was freed, but speech was limited. To speak of the forbidden thing was then an aggression, and still is to some extent.
What is the line? Where is the limit? Thought and speech can both be absolutely free. Thinking or talking cannot really hurt anybody.
But when we come to actions, where are we to stop?
That this line which separates liberty from aggression should be drawn, seems to me essential to the working of the Anarchistic principle in actual practice. As an illustration, you and Egoist in the last issue of Liberty consider each the other an aggressor in a certain case.
Is not government really a bungling attempt, but perhaps the best we could do up to this time, to settle the question, roughly and arbitrarily, between parties who each regarded themselves as within their right and the other as the aggressor.
So it would appear to me. Even the land laws and other laws which seem primary are, I think, only secondary. I am not profoundly versed in the history of law, but I am inclined to think that statutes and the generalizations of common law have sprung from the collocation of many individual decisions, each decision being the best that could he arrived at under the circumstances of the time.
If this is at all a fair description of what is,—that is, if law is a rough attempt to draw the line between liberty and aggression, and not a conscious deliberate fraud committed by the privileged upon the oppressed (and I think the notion of the State being “a conspiracy” is as empty as the parallel notion of some of our secularist friends that the Church is a conspiracy of priests),—if the State is the result of attempts to determine the limit of liberty, no theory that dispenses with the State is complete unless it otherwise defines that limit.
The essence of aggression, the reason that it is forbidden, is that it causes pain. Pain, even when caused by, or a concomitant of, properly limited liberty, is in itself a wrong,—an antagonist of personal or social progress. If aggression were uniformly pleasant, it would be regarded as commendable.
So that if in the exercise of my liberty I give pain to anybody, in so far as I give pain I am committing an aggression. If I bathe naked before one who is shocked by such exhibition, doubtless his prudery is unjustifiable: that, however, does not alter the fact that I have deliberately injured him,—I have committed an aggression.
In trying to logically define this limit, I have cast about in various directions. At one time it seemed that individual liberty included a right to all non-action. That is, that people have a right to say to any one: “You are injuring us by your proceedings; you must stop”; but that they have no right to say: “It is essential to our happiness that you should do this or that.”
I am not sure that this is not a correct idea, but the statement lacks precision, and I have not so far been able to attenuate it.
The best thought that I have yet had is that what is called “non-resistance” is the true guide. A better word would be “non-retaliation,” yet even that is not quite right.
At the bottom there is a feeling that no one attacks another nowadays for fun. If a man attacks me, I immediately conclude that I have injured him, or that he thinks that I have injured him. If I could “paralyze him by a glance” or otherwise “resist” him without injuring him, I should hardly call it resistance. Usually, however, there are but two courses open. One a timely apology: the other a counter attack. If I adopt the latter and disable him or kill him, the question of who first aggressed is undetermined. I have assumed an aristocratic attitude of impeccability; sociality does not exist.
As for those who take pleasure in aggression, it is an evanescent type. They are hospital subjects, reversions to an ancestral type, certainly not responsible individuals.
Briefly, the question of what constitutes aggression can be settled only by compact between individuals. In order to arrive at an understanding and form the compact, the opinion of the one that thinks he is encroached upon must be final if it cannot be removed by argument,—that is, by changing his convictions.
If any action is persisted in which any one conceives to be an aggression upon him, it virtually is an aggression; and the friend of liberty is compelled to recognize it as such and to recede, rather than to inflict injury in continuing his course.
I trust that you will seize my idea. I do not regard this as final, but I think some clearly logical demarcation essential.
John Beverley Robinson.
67 Liberty Street, New York, January 26, 1880.
While I should like to see the line between liberty and aggression drawn with scientific exactness, I cannot admit that such rigor of definition is essential to the realization of Anarchism. If, in spite of the lack of such a definition, the history of liberty has been, as Mr. Robinson truly says, “a record of the continual widening of this limit,” there is no reason why this widening process should not go on until Anarchy becomes a fact. It is perfectly thinkable that, after the last inch of debatable ground shall have been adjudged to one side or the other, it may still be found impossible to scientifically formulate the rule by which this decision and its predecessors were arrived at.
The chief influence in narrowing the strip of debatable land is not so much the increasing exactness of the knowledge of what constitutes aggression as the growing conception that aggression is an evil to be avoided and that liberty is the condition of progress. The moment one abandons the idea that he was born to discover what is right and enforce it upon the rest of the world, he begins to feel an increasing disposition to let others alone and to refrain even from retaliation or resistance except in those emergencies which immediately and imperatively require it. This remains true even if aggression be defined in the extremely broad sense of the infliction of pain; for the individual who traces the connection between liberty and the general welfare will be pained by few things so much as by the consciousness that his neighbors are curtailing their liberties out of consideration for his feelings, and such a man will never say to his neighbors, “Thus far and no farther,” until they commit acts of direct and indubitable interference and trespass. The man who feels more pained at seeing his neighbor bathe naked than he would at the knowledge that he refrained from doing so in spite of his preference is invariably the man who believes in aggression and government as the basis of society and has not learned the lesson that “liberty is the mother of order.”
This lesson, then, rather than an exact definition of aggression, is the essential condition of the development of Anarchism. Liberty has steadily taught this lesson, but has never professed an ability to define aggression, except in a very general way. We must trust to experience and the conclusions therefrom for the settlement of all doubtful cases.
As for States and Churches, I think there is more foundation than Mr. Robinson sees for the claim that they are conspiracies. Not that I fail to realize as fully as he that there are many good men in both whose intent is not at all to oppress or aggress. Doubtless there are many good and earnest priests whose sole aim is to teach religious truth as they see it and elevate human life, but has not Dr. McGlynn conclusively shown that the real power of control in the Church is always vested in an unscrupulous machine? That the State originated in aggression Herbert Spencer has proved. If it now pretends to exist for purposes of defence, it is because the advance of sociology has made such a pretence necessary to its preservation. Mistaking this pretence for reality, many good men enlist in the work of the State. But the fact remains that the State exists mainly to do the will of capital and secure it all the privileges it demands, and I cannot see that the combinations of capitalists who employ lobbyists to buy legislators deserve any milder title than “conspirators,” or that the term “conspiracy” inaccurately expresses the nature of their machine, the State.
John Beverley Robinson, “Liberty and Aggression,” Liberty 6 no. 12 (February 2, 1889): 4.
The Abolition of Marriage.
[A lecture read before the Manhattan Liberal Club.]
Not to keep you, for a moment even, in suspense, I will tell you plainly at the outset that I am about to advocate the abolition of marriage.
Bear with me a moment now while I explain myself. No doubt there are some here whose immediate impulse is to go away rather than to give even a hearing to such atrocious sentiments. I beg that all such will accept my assurances that I am as well disposed toward mankind as they are; that, if the state of affairs which I shall indicate is at all filled with the turmoil and wretchedness with which they suppose it to be filled, they have only to show that it is so and I will gladly relinquish my opinions and adopt theirs.
The topic I know is a delicate one. It is one upon which even radicals are apt to be conservative. About it there still hangs the “touch-me-not” atmosphere that originates in its theological associations. To tell the truth, the respect for marriage has its root in the remaining shreds of theology that still hang about us. It is a respect for a formula, a reverence for a ceremony.
It is based upon the idea that right and wrong are to be tested by some different criterion than the mere power to minister to human happiness. It is one of the superstitions of the ago. Like all superstitions it consists in a renunciation of our happiness from fear of a fanciful danger.
I desire to do what I may to aid in freeing ourselves from all superstitions, that the golden age may come, as many see it coming,— the golden age when we shall fear no terrors of the night; when the happiness of man shall be the only worthy object of man’s desire; deferring only to the mighty Must-Be of nature, under which limitation the search for happiness becomes the search for the everlasting Right.
Among the emancipated from the bonds of intolerance—and to these only I am now talking: the mere fact of your presence means that you will tolerate other views than your own—among these the attitude of apprehension in approaching this subject is due to two causes:
First, the general proposition, in which most of us acquiesce, that, as times change, the various institutions which, taken together, constitute the times, must themselves change —this theoretically admitted statement is not so practically realized as to give a feeling of approval in advance to every proposed change, simply because it is a change.
A priori, existence is a series of changes. Fixity means death. The old view of the stability of things is discredited. Therefore, when a change is spoken of, the only question for scientific minds is whether the particular change anticipated is in the direction of development, or whether it is retrogressive. If no definite direction of change is prophesied, to the general statement, in a particular case, that some change or other must take place, the scientific mind must give its support.
All that I say is that some change in the marriage institution is impending. What the future in the progress of humanity toward perfection shall bring in place of it, not I, not anybody, can tell. “The joys that are there mortal eye hath not seen.”
The second cause of misapprehension is the very common misunderstanding of the word “marriage.”
What is marriage?
Is it the happy association of a man and a woman, suited to each other in body and in mind, in tastes and in sentiments, by harmony or by contrast, rejoicing each in the mere presence of the other, moved each by the more sound of the voice of the other; with children, to whom they rather acknowledge themselves under obligations, for the softening and expanding influence of childhood (in babyhood, charming toys, the bringers of hope in childhood, in maturity companions) than assert harsh authority upon the ground of obligations conferred upon them,—is this marriage?
By no means. This is not marriage. This is love. marriage is necessary for such sweet involvements.
Marriage is not the happy and voluntary living together of men and women.
Marriage is a club. Now I have got you; if you try to get away, I will club you. That is what marriage is. And any one can see its endearing influence.
Marriage is the privilege conferred by law, which is in the end I force, by which one person holds the person or the property of another against their will.
Theoretically each partner by marriage is endowed with claims upon both the person and property of the other. In practice usually it is the person of the wife that the man is after, and the property of the husband that the woman is after. When they get married, the woman exchanges her right to dispose of her body as she pleases for the substantial benefit of cash, either as support or otherwise. (By otherwise I mean, for instance, alimony.)
Now let me impress upon you in the strongest possible way (I say this because I am convinced that in spite of my best efforts many will leave this hall denouncing me, under the impression that I am urging all married people at once to separate and desert their children, though I urge nothing of the sort) let me impress upon you that, when I denounce marriage, I have no objection to anybody living happily together. I only say that the possession of a club in the family is not conducive to happiness.
If my wife wants to leave me, the only possible right that I have to retain her is the right of love. I absolutely deny that I have any right to shoot her or to shoot the man that she prefers to me, or to imprison her or in any way coerce her.
More than that: I really should not care to coerce her. The companionship of one we love is worthless when it is forced. Who would think of inviting a friend to go a-fishing, and threaten him with imprisonment if he should change his mind? Would the fishing excursion be much fun if one went under compulsion?
The result of the abolition of compulsion in marriage would soon be that only happy unions could exist. If a man were cruel (and many men are cruel without throwing dishes at their wives), the woman could simply leave him without asking permission of anybody.
It is not possible, if people ever loved each other, that they would leave each other lightly. The flavor of friendship grows with age like wine. And if marriage now is not based on friendship, under liberty it could not be based upon anything else. Now a girl usually catches a man by his passion, and there could be no more uncertain and fleeting foundation for a permanent union. When a marriage is happy now-a-days it is because friendship has grown after marriage.
But if a woman had no power to compel her husband to support her, she would be very sure first that his love for her was a deep affection. The rapidly growing equality of the sexes will make intimate friendship more and more possible. In the future the marriage of hearts will come first rather than afterwards, or not at all, as now.
Already these results are partly seen. Few women will marry a man now, unless their chances have been very rare, who is notably unlikely to be a good husband. Few men care to go on with the affair, if they happen to discover that the affection of their sweetheart is chiefly affection for being taken out of their mother’s jurisdiction. And after they are married, if differences occur, the finest natures revolt from a recourse to divorce proceedings.
Already in so far as the natural law of human association controls marriages are well regulated. The natural law is that responsibility for one’s actions is the proper check and balance to freedom in action. Take away the false artificial substitute, and perfect freedom will accompany entire responsibility.
Now we virtually say to the man: “It is entirely unnecessary to treat your wife well; as long as you pay for her support you can be as much of a devil as you please.”
And to the woman we say: “You need not exercise any care in choosing a husband, and, after you have caught him, you need not take the trouble to be pleasant. Once catch him, we will see that you keep him.”
Two objections are on the lips of every one who hears such propositions for the first time.
What would become of the children?
What would become of the family?
As to the children, in the first place, “unwelcome children” would not exist. That burden under which so many women now groan, of child-bearing at the behest of their master, under the penalty of loss of support, would be removed.
The risk, the pain, the care of children would be assumed by the woman voluntarily. No man could coerce her. The very fact that she could not demand anything from the man by force, that she would have to depend upon his honorable engagement to aid her in supporting herself and the child, that any moment by chance she might be thrown upon her own resources for her living and for her child’s living, would be the most powerful motive to restrain the bearing of children beyond the dictates of the desire for children and the power to support them. And, as all of you know who have children, where there is no difficulty about their support, the instinctive love of children comes uppermost, so that it would not be a question of who could produce children most thoughtlessly and hate the burden afterwards, as it now is; it would be prudent reproduction, loving desire, and devotion afterwards, such as is granted to what is longed for before it is obtained.
As for the family, is it anything to be cared for and cherished? Does indeed anything like what is called a family now exist?
The proper conception of a family is of the omnipotent and semi-divine man as a head, with a subordinate set of slaves called wife and children. Once indeed the man was by law the proprietor of both wife and children, and very naturally the other slaves that he owned were also a part of his “familia.”
Later, in feudal times, his proprietorship was more limited, but still asserted as Petruchio asserts it: “You are my house, my horse, my ox, my ass, my anything.”
In marriage, as in all things, governments organized and carried on necessarily by the strongest, ostensibly in protection of the weakest, have actually been used to secure the strongest in privileges which without their association in government they could not have obtained, and to subordinate the weaker, as, if they could have maintained their liberty, they would not have been subordinated.
Marriage was not instituted to maintain the rights of the wife and children, it was instituted and is still upheld to maintain the privileges of the man.
Now can it be said that the type of family based on masculine ownership still exists? Certainly, if still some semblance of it survives, it is but a semblance. Only where the equality of man and woman is practically admitted, do we find anything of the idyllic life which we regard now as the ideal family. Children afraid to speak without permission; wife suppliant with eyes downcast; man a stern terror; such is not now our ideal of family life.
Not long ago it was the ideal.
And with all our improvement of ideals is it not true that the broadening and refining influences are formed mostly not in, but outside of what family we have left? Is it not by the clash of outside minds that the intellect advances, by the stimulus of outside scenes that the heart rejoices, by the association with the outside world as an equal among equals that the broad conception of the solidarity of humanity gains power, such as it could not have gained in the narrow groove of domesticity? Away with the family. It is a delusion. All that we attribute to it of good is not inherent. It is an old rag of medievalism and supernaturalism for which we have no use. In the future quite possibly the family will be regarded as having been the hot-bed of ignorance, intolerance, pride, domination, cruelty, and of all that is hostile to sociality. Something like that Stephen Pearl Andrews somewhere remarks.
In speaking of the objections to the abolition of marriage I have incidentally implied certain advantages.
It is commonly felt that all who urge the abolition of marriage particularly wish to be free themselves to lead a reckless life sexually. In my opinion it is chiefly those who are happily married who have reason to desire the abolition of marriage. I say this because anybody who wants to lead a loose life can easily do so. They must be a little careful, cultivate their powers of deceit and hypocrisy, and loudly condemn anybody who suggests that marriage is not all it is supposed to be.
While for those who love, the fact of possessing any power of coercion continually comes up as a little drop of bitterness. She only married me to get taken care of. He only married me from passion. Such feelings at moments arise. Without marriage they could not arise. Each would know that, however love might seem to be lacking, it could but exist; doubt would be impossible; for, with the departure of love (and by love I do not mean merely sexual desire) association would not be maintained.
Love is desire for the happiness of another. Love asks nothing for itself but the sight of the happiness of the beloved one. If more is granted, if love is returned, it is the nest heaven we have to hope for.
But true love ceases not even when unrequited. They who love stick to those that they love until their love is repelled, until they are wanted to go.
So that where true love exists on either side and is only permitted by the other separation could not occur.
To use the word love to denote passion only is to limit it to a desire which is selfish chiefly. Yet even passion normally leads to a profound regard and tenderness toward its object, which has led some to regard it as the proper beginning of a deeper affection.
If I were to speak merely of the abolition of marriage as a desirable thing only, it need have little weight with anybody. What I really feel, and what I really urge, and what must have weight with everybody, is that the abolition of marriage (not the happy living together, but the ceremony, the legalization) is really inevitable. I speak of the desirability only to calm the feelings of those who quite naturally are pained by too great novelty of conceptions.
It is the necessity of things only that has real weight. It is the necessity of some new sexual arrangement that I assert.
Notice how many women are being forced to depend upon themselves for support. For each woman thus forced to support herself the wages of men are in proportion reduced.
The tendency is toward an equalization of men’s and women’s wages, making it more and more difficult for a man to support a woman, and for a woman to find a man who can support her. As a matter of fact that this last is so is notorious. When men and women shall be equal financially, is it probable that marriage will survive? With no need on the part of the woman for support, will she give any man power to control her? Will she vow lifelong obedience to any man? Would it be especially virtuous that she should vow life-long obedience to any man?
If she should under such circumstances desire a child, which of us would say that the desire is a wrong desire? The time was when the sexual relation was looked upon as intrinsically criminal; even in wedlock it was only tolerated. Stuprum conjugale, the conjugal crime, that is what the Fathers of the Church called it.
But now, if any of the women who are supporting themselves should desire to have a child, we would not look upon the desire as otherwise than pure, elevating, lovely. It will not be long before we shall all of us see the absurdity of demanding that she should place her body for life in the power of any man. We shall see the absurdity of the feeling that any ceremony can add sanctity to the holiness of nature. We shall see the absurdity of the prejudice that a pledge of temporary association and aid for mutual pleasure in begetting and rearing children is necessarily morally abominable, while a permanent pledge to the same effect is necessarily laudable.
We shall see too that one person’s taste does not constitute a rule for all men. That, if I admire monogamy, it is no reason why 1 should abhor those who prefer polygamy or polyandry. We shall see that good faith and honor and up rightness are quite as possible where men exercise no compulsion upon each other in sexual matters as where they do; that, in fact, as for the absolute slave faith and honor are impossible, so it is only for the entirely free that perfect faith and perfect honor and perfect virtue are possible.
Let no one suppose that I am telling anybody to leave his present partner. I am not. What I am trying to do is to make my best effort to cultivate an already existing sentiment that irregular sexual relations are not the terrible thing they were once thought.
That a noble and happy life under illicit sexual relations is more to be admired than the cat and dog affair that marriage often is now.
That constancy, and honor, and kindness, and good faith are just as possible and just as admirable when found between people living together without marriage as with.
That in fact only by throwing the full responsibility for the production of children upon the parents is it possible to restrain their reckless increase and insure their proper care.
I am trying to pave the way in public sentiment for a change in practice which must come. A change which is being brought about before our eyes and which will be accomplished like all progressive change, not by lobbying at Albany for new laws but by spontaneous social action in spite of law.
Of what the fulness of that time shall bring no one can tell surely.
Only we, to whom it has come that we have some foregleam of the brightness of the future, we know that it will not be unhappier than the present.
John Beverley Robinson.
John Beverley Robinson, “The Abolition of Marriage,” Liberty 6 no. 18 (July 20, 1889): 6–7.
Architecture Under Nationalism.
Architecture Under Nationalism. By J. Pickering Putnam. Boston. The Nationalist Educational Association. 1890.
Originally published in serial shape, by the “American Architect,” this work is now republished as above, as a pamphlet.
In it the author recites the degradation of art at the present time, and describes the characteristics of architecture, and of fine art in general, at the periods of highest development in the past; asserting that such another period, but excelling all that has gone before, would occur under the Nationalistic system.
Such a method of unsupported prophecy makes it necessary to regard this book as a rhapsody rather than as an economic treatise. It has apparently never occurred to the author to ask himself whether these delightful results could really follow the system which he seems to have in mind: it is doubtful whether he has thought of the possibility of the governmental method being even questioned.
In fact, in the very first words of his book, — in his definition of Nationalism, — he ignores methods altogether, and defines it, not as a means of reaching an end, but as the end to be reached. “Nationalism may be defined as the substitution of universal cooperation and education for industrial and social warfare.”
That the results anticipated would not result from governmental action ought to be clear to Mr. Putnam, more than to most people; for he himself is a sufferer by governmental repression, and the profession to which he belongs suffers in turn by losing the advantages which Mr. Putnam offers to them, but which government forbids them to accept.
To explain: Mr. Putnam has invented a very clever sewer-gas trap, which is free from the objectionable points of the usual trap.
Some years ago there was a wail from “sanitarians.” The system of plumbing then in vogue was questioned; its defects were pointed out clearly and intelligently, and better methods were devised. People read the sanitarians’ books, saw that they were reasonable, and forthwith began to have their plumbing overhauled. Then steps in government, through its Boards of Health in the various cities, and lays down a series of stringent rules, in conformity with the best knowledge of the time, according to which all plumbing must be done. Since then Mr. Putnam has invented his trap, which is widely used wherever boards of health are unknown, while in the larger cities architects cannot use it because the influence of powerful “master-plumbers’” associations is sufficient to cause the existing, and vastly more expensive, method to be retained, just as for many years the influence of the “bluestone men” made it illegal to use anything but bluestone for coping in New York City.
Why should Mr. Putnam suppose that government boards of the future would antagonize a strong voting interest for the sake of recommending the “best” appliances any more than it does now?
Let Mr. Putnam look a little further, and he will find that none of the future happiness which he depicts, and which we desire as earnestly as he, can possibly come from the paternalism that seems to him so much a matter of course.
We might go further and point out that the periods of highest development of architecture, to which Mr. Putnam alludes, — the Greek period and the twelfth-to-fourteenth-century Gothic period, — were periods not so much of “national” development as of the declaration and defence of liberty.
Liberty is the life of art, as of all other things; paternalism and slavery are its destruction.
As another scrap of evidence of the tendencies of thought, however, Mr. Putnam’s book is most interesting. The evils of the present he feels and deplores; the possibility of better things he sincerely welcomes. He may be taken as a fair type of Nationalist: indignant against present wrong, ardent for future right; ignorant of economic causes, knowing only rough and ready “State cobbling”; yet, when many are filled with the strong desire for better things, the first step is taken. Between desire and action reflection must take place, in thinking animals. The period of desire seems to have come in the hearts of many; when the reflection comes, if there be time for reflection, then will be the sudden growth of Anarchism, which we now see in Nationalism.
John Beverley Robinson.
67 Liberty Street, New York, December 24, 1890.
John Beverley Robinson, “Architecture under Nationalism,” Liberty 7 no. 19 (January 10, 1891): 3.
A New Argument against Copyright.
To the Editor of Liberty:
What is an idea? Is it made of wood, or iron, or stone? Possibly of paper? Is it animate or inanimate? Animal, vegetable, or mineral?
Do you see what I am trying to get at? An idea is nothing objective. It is neither produced nor discovered; neither a product of industry, nor unclaimed land, nor a fera naturæ.
Ambiguously as the word has been used, both by metaphysicians and in common talk, every shade of meaning given to it has been but a variation upon one fundamental sense; that an idea is, after some fashion, an intellectual process.
That is to say, the idea is not any part of the product; it is a part of the producer, or, if you will, a part of the labor of producing.
Ideas are not—cannot be—produced. They grow. Given heredity, education, circumstances, and the rest of the environment, and that the man’s ideas will be so and so, whether he builds, or talks, or writes, is determined.
Moreover, there is no reason why we should confine the word idea to a mental process so striking in size or quality as to seem to us out of the common. Every act springs from some corresponding idea.
The copyist expresses ideas as truly as does the author. Ideas of arrangement, ideas of appropriate text, script, or engrossing hand; all the ideas which mark the grades of excellence in copyists.
Each one, having used as much thought as the work in hand requires, be it steam-engine-construction or philosophy-writing, has also used a complementary amount of physical exertion; and as a result of his labor he possesses his engine or his manuscript.
Either one he may now destroy, or conceal, or sell.
If he sells, the value is determined for the purchaser largely by the amount of advantageous novelty contained, or, as we metaphorically call it, by the idea embodied in it. But the idea is not any more the thing sold in the case of a book than it is in the case of a horse-shoe.
In either case the man who has the best ideas produces the best work, and every labor product, in that sense, embodies the ideas of the producer, just as it embodies his physical exertion.
The idea is the intellectual exertion made in producing, and, as such, is a part of the body of the producer. The working of the mind cannot be sold; only the material of nature, transformed by labor, whether mental or physical, can be dealt in commercially.
Consequently the ideas, the mental processes, like the physical processes, of each one are his own to use as he pleases. If he uses them to labor, the product of his labor is still his.
It is vain to talk of protecting property in ideas as far as he in whom the ideas originate is concerned. He holds his ideas by the same title he holds his body, wherever chattel slavery is not admitted.
The only legitimate use of ideas is to produce something desirable and therefore exchangeable, be it song, speech, plough, or book. After the product has been exchanged, the producer has nothing more to do with it.
What is really sought by patent and copyright laws is indicated in the very word copyright. Not to protect ideas, but to confer the privilege of copying a material product.
It is not in the interest of the poor devils, the author and inventor, but in that of the capitalist and publisher, that they are enacted.
They seek to erect another species of legal property, necessarily and avowedly involving monopoly, ostensibly in the interest of the producer, really in that of the investor and exploiter.
As for the compensation of authors, why should they not be able to get as good compensation for the out-and-out sale of their labor as anybody else can? When liberty to labor exists, there is no doubt that they will be able.
Nor need the publishers fear liberty.
It is only the excessive pressure of the present slavery that makes it worth anybody’s while to shove worthless, copyrighted books, as a venture, upon an overstocked market.
When we can all of us freely satisfy our desires for books, it will be quite as much as publishers can do to keep up with the demand for new authors, without troubling themselves to run competitors out of the trade.
John Beverley Robinson.
67 Liberty St., New York, April 23, 1891.
John Beverley Robinson, “A New Argument against Copyright,” Liberty 8 no. 2 (May 16, 1891): 5.
The Limits of Governmental Interference
Before I can express any opinion upon the limits of governmental interference, I must explain to you my views upon what constitutes a government.
In doing so I shall place before you, to the best of my ability, what is commonly called the Anarchistic view.
It has been objected that each one who calls himself an Anarchist holds a different opinion from the next one who calls himself by the same name; and that consequently the name of Anarchism conveys no definite meanings. The assertion that there are wide differences among Anarchists is true: the inference that there is no coherent group of opinions corresponding to the name is, I think, mistaken.
At this time there are a dozen different sets of people who are thinking about the pressing questions of the day,—the Socialists, the George men, the Ethical Culturists, the Christian Socialists, the Anarchists,—and each of these there are sub-divisions. Take any branch you may, and you will scarcely find two members of it of entirely the same opinion. It is as true of any one of them as it is true of the Anarchists.
Indeed, in such a time of fervent though, when the most marked intellectual feature of the day is the almost universal anticipation impeding change, what could we expect among those who think at all but striking divergences of opinion? How could we expect that among Anarchists most of all there would not be strongly declared individual differences, being as they are undoubtedly the most advanced, whether they are the most correct in their conclusions or not?
Would not anything approaching unanimity mean fixity and death?
But it may be roughly said that, whatever their internal differences, all Anarchists think that progress and the attainment of economic comfort is possible without and relinquishment of liberty, while most other schools are of the opinion that meat is more than life and that prosperity must be purchased at the cost of some liberty.
No time need be spent upon theological questions. Theology has retired from the battle. It would be as becoming for a man to kick his grandmother as to revile theology nowadays. By sheer inertia the Churches still exist, as the train runs on with speed scarcely perceptibly slackened, after the locomotive is detached; but their warmth has cooled, the infernal fires that force them on are drawn, and all men can see that they are now but dead ashes.
What is the meaning of this retirement of theology? Few suspect the importance of its bearing upon practical affairs. It means more than the mere exchanging church going for Coney Island going on Sundays. It means more even than the final removal from man’s life of a mass of hopes and dears that have seemed to many the most important part of life. Beyond all that, it means that a new way of looking at things must arise, to influence each most trivial action, and throw a new and different glory upon life.
Those who regret the fallings of the leaves, but have not yet learned to look forward to their coming again, despair as they see the breaking-up of the old beliefs. We are left without moral standard, they explain.
How can men, left “without hope” in the world, find any rule of action by which they can regulate their conduct?
Their complaint is just. We are indeed left without a moral standard. To take its place there has developed the egoistic philosophy, the outcome of the utilitarian doctrine, and bearing much the same relation to it that Anarchism bears to Democracy.
“Do what you think is most to your interest” is the Egoistic principle.
Antagonistic as such a phrase sounds to the codes of the past, impossible as it seems that what we have been accustomed to call “lofty” or “noble” actions can spring from such a source, it will be found upon consideration that, so far from forbidding a high ideal of conduct a high ideal is possible upon no other basis.
To the Christian the notion that it can be directly profitable to be honest is a very painful nothing. His notion is that the directly profitable and pleasant course is the dishonest one; and that nobody would submit to the distasteful requirement of honest except with the reward hereafter in view in consideration of his self-denial in abstaining from dishonesty.
So with all other virtues and vices. The vices are esteemed by the ascetic code that is evanescent to be essentially pleasant; the virtues essentially painful. There is nothing for it, according to that code, but for us to bear with the discomforts attaching to a virtuous life. Lest a worse thing befall us in a hypothetical future existence.
The scientific view, on the other hand, is that virtue is virtue only because it is productive of happiness; and that vice is vice because it is productive of unhappiness. At the bottom moreover each one is unable to determine what is for the advantage or happiness of another; while each one knows, better than anybody else, what is for his own happiness. Therefor at the bottom each action must be judged by the individual, as to whether it is conductive to his own happiness, not as to whether it will make somebody else happy.
And this applies in its fullest force even to those actions commonly called altruistic, which give pleasure to the doer indirectly, although directly they may give pain to the doer and pleasure to somebody else.
A king action preformed without any sense of gratification to the doer, loses its character as a king action. If the other who is benefited even suspects that his benefactor is loath to do him the king act, his appreciation of it gives place to reluctance, or even to resentment.
Benevolence is hypocrisy, when prompted by any feeling but personal delight in benevolence.
Such, most briefly and inadequately sketched, is Egoism. Does it surprise you that I should that I should connect such wifely separated matters as the immediate economic distress, and such wide-drawn ethical formulas? That I should deserve social progress from the elimination of the hell-fire theory? Just this connection I wish to accentuate. Just so intimately, in fact, are our every-day actions based upon our underneath philosophy.
“Do what seems to your advantage,” says Egoism, “in fact, you cannot do otherwise.”
Why then exhort people to do what they cannot help doing? Simply for this reason,—that, although each always does what seems to him most to his advantage, there may be a wife variation in the accuracy of his estimate of what is most to his advantage.
It is to the development of the intellect as a guide to conduct that Science exhorts, not as in the past to an emotion subjection to cut-and-dried moral formulas.
Test your actions, not by formulas, but test both formulas and actions continually as you test other things, by observing whether they fulfill their purpose, whether they accord with other facts, whether they are just and true.
But, when once you are sure that a give course of action will conduce to your happiness, follow it.
If you are sure that you enjoy quarrelling and tumult among those about you, by all means bull and rage and tyrannize until, no matter how much pain other may suffer you yourself have achieved happiness for far.
If, on the other hand, you enjoy a peaceful life, notice particularly that your bullying and so on directly diminishes your happiness. Perhaps you will find that you stir up a tumult, not because you like a tumult, but because you are urged by some old-fashioned talk of duty.
“It is for a man to be master in his own house.” “Little children must do as they are told” “it is proper for servants to remember their station.” These are the superstitious formulas which we sacrifice our happiness. Science intervenes and says: “In giving precedence in a formula you commit an error of judgment. Let the formula go. If you want peace and quiet, do what is directly necessary to procure peace and quiet, and do not sacrifice your happiness to a superstition.”
There are no such things as right and wrong; there are very certainly such things as good judgment and bad judgment. A man cannot be wicked, he may be foolish. “Forsake the foolish and live.” “Wisdom is the principal thing; therefore get wisdom: and with all thy getting get understanding.”
Applying this principle to affairs political, Anarchists observe to main facts. First: That, for the procurement of happiness, freedom of action for each individual is indispensable.
So various are the tastes of men that each must be happy, if at all, in his own way. To be in a position to obtain happiness men must be independent, and men must be free.
Secondly, they observe that in all past times a large part of men’s activities have been unnecessary; having been directed, not toward gratifying their desires, but toward logically carrying out certain inaccurate inferences as to the sequences of phenomena which we commonly all superstitions.
Thus men, in all ages, have heavily taxed themselves, owing to a mistaken estimate of ability of certain men to predict, and by means of prayers and incantations to control the future. So too, men still tax themselves heavily out of deference to a superstitious reverence for a creature of the imagination called the State—sometimes called our country,—and they do things detrimental to their welfare for what they call the honor of the country, lofty patriotism, and so forth.
Often, too, men sacrifice their happiness in the interest of what they call “morality,” as all periods humane and kindly men have suffered their impulses to be quenched by an insane deference for the established bloodthirsty methods, from the Roman cross to the American gallows, justifying what they know is barbarous by the name of morality.
Seeing all this, Anarchists say: We will no longer acquiesce this. As soon as possible entirely, and now to the extent of our abilities, we will do only what gives us happiness.
We demand the fullest liberty possible to exercise our faculties, and we are willing to concede the same liberty to others. We may object if anybody enjoys his Sunday by making such a racket as to disturb us; but we object, distinctly, because we do not like to be disturbed, not because it is Sunday. On any other day the same disturbance we would object to as much.
This view of it urges that for the attainment of happiness all must have entire liberty to do anything; but that where there liberties extinguishes the other. I have the right to aggress, but, if the society of men gives me more pleasure than Ishmael’s life, I will abstain from aggression. That it is advisable that each should exercise all liberties, save such as limit the exercise of the liberties of others, is called the law of equal liberty, and is a simply formulated statement of the necessary relations of individuals in a perfect society, as derived from mechanical and biological data.
Nor need anybody stagger over the question of what constitutes aggression, although it is a frequent staggering point for the inquirer.
In the nature of things what constitutes aggression is a variable quantity. Each one must estimate whether it is not easier for him to put up with a given action on the part of another, rather than take the trouble to suppress it by force. The other must judge whether it is for his interest to abstain upon request, or to court forcible encounter. Upon the degree in which force and fighting are pleasurable occupations at any given stage of development, will depend on the solution.
Although Anarchism maintains the right of each individual to compel action upon the part of others by any means be may choose, it announces that as a matter of policy it is not advisable for anyone to compel any action from others, except in restrain of aggression up their part. This may still seem too vague, but Anarchism goes a step farther.
In suppressing attacks, it says, we will do what we can ourselves, and we will invite others to aid us; we, however, pledge ourselves not to compel anybody to help us suppress an action of which he does not desire the suppression. This would appear to us aggression on our part—and we will not indulge in it.
Here we touch bottom
The essence of government is that is permits no secession.
Men may long for the abolition of political abuses of the present; — they are compelled to support them. Men may regard war as murder; they pay each his quota to support it.
Men may regard churches as deleterious in their influence and immoral in their teachings,—by the exemption of churches from taxation we are all assessed to support them.
And so on. The intelligent, the progressive must retire until they can find a majority to agree with them.
Therefor it is that Anarchists abjure and denounce the system of compulsory taxation, which is the essence of government.
In denying compulsory taxation we deny government in any proper sense of the word.
A protective association, protection only those who wish to pay for protection, and refraining from territorial dominion, is not a government.
It its nature a government compels adhesion, forces financial support, where it is not yielded willingly, and is essentially, not a protective, but an aggressive association.
With a voluntary defensive association the Anarchists has no quarrel as for the compulsory association, he looks forward to its speedy death, from natural causes.
So that we can at last answer the question to the limits of governmental interference, by answering that when men are influenced by their reason rather than by their superstitions they will not permit and interference at all with their actions by the organized system of aggression called government.
Observer, now, how directly the abolition of the governmental monster will conduce out happiness.
In the next place the currency will be free permitting men to exchange their products to the best advantage.
These two freedoms alone mean much. They mean the end of rent and interest, the two most potent agents in the process which we see going on, the transferring of wealth from the pocket of the worker to that of the idler.
They mean the end of commercial profits and dividends of all kings, which are but other forms of rent and interest.
Further than this, Anarchism means the cessation of all taxes save such as free people judge to be for their advantage to play,—the total cessation of the present practice of bonding towns, not so much for the benefit of improvements as to afford another investment for those who are seeking more opportunities to profit without labor.
Anarchism means too, no indirect taxation, no secret filching of what the authorities far not grasp openly, no robber import-duties, no spying Comstock and Sunday laws, no suppression, repression and perpetual compression of our energies.
Inequalities, truly; but such only as are inborn. Artificial inequalities no longer.
With such freedom to associate freely, with the burdens of compulsory association removed, Anarchists thing that human society will evolve toward a more perfect and complete happiness, economics, physical, and intellectual than any Fourier or Bellamy can predict, added to the priceless joys of liberty.
John Beverly Robinson, “The Limits of Governmental Interference,” Liberty 8 no. 10 (August 15, 1891): 3-4.
A Vision of Elysium.
Once, in a far-away country, times were hard, and the people knew not what to do to make things boom as they formerly had been in the habit of booming. The people could form no idea of why times were so hard. Being destitute, most of them, of ideas upon any subject, as well as of the necessaries of life, they could not be expected to have any ideas as to the cause of the hard times.
Still less could they be expected to heed pedants who talked in learned and unintelligible words about “remota causa tollitur effectus.”
But the people observed and saw that the only way to get rich was by hard work; and that the surest thing in the way of hard work was a Government job. Let us be patriotic and statesmanlike, and, whereas all who have Government jobs are lucky, let us arrange enough Government jobs to go around. Let us vote—noble privilege—that we may free ourselves from the bonds of capital and enjoy, under liberty, each our Government job.
Now there were 36,544,788 people, and of these 13,122,362 were adults and 23,422,426 were children.
Up to that time there had been Government jobs for only 6.632,110, both men and women, as follows:
Viziers, Envoys Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary, Privy Councillors. Etc.,
Legislators of the General Upper House,
Legislators of the General Lower House,
Pages, Ushers, Gentlemen in Waiting, Etc.,
Soldiers, Navy, Engineer Corps, Etc.,
Panjandrums of Twenty-One Provinces,
Provincial Viziers, Etc.,
Provincial Legislators, both houses,
Heads of Bureaus,
Employees of Bureaus (inspection, supervision, administration, etc.),
Provincial Customs Services,
Lords of Great Cities,
Employees of Great Cities (to epitomize) police, fire, courts, etc.,
All other towns, villages, etc., offices,
So it will appear that there were 6,490,252 adults who needed jobs, less some 1,226,113 ladies who needed not a job, because, being ladies, they devoted themselves to the occupations of ladies, viz., labors of superintendence chiefly, and not to servile labor.
That left 5,274,137 people who needed jobs.
Being practical people and not given over to wild and impracticable theories, they set about it with a will.
Banners waved, barrels blazed, dogs barked, and the people cheered as they voted for the creation of the following offices:
Clerks, Conductors, Surveyors, Etc.,
Superintendent of Trade,
Inspector of clothing on the person to prevent the wearing of dirty or infected apparel,
Employees, Inspectors of books, writings, etc., with power of suppressing publications to prevent the spread of immorality,
Priests, Ministers, Etc.,
Instructors in Housekeeping,
Supervisors of the Amusements of the Young,
Censors in General,
And, being a light hearted and optimistic people, they rejoiced and danced and sang at their easy solution of their troubles; and they hoisted s checker-board flag of red and white squares; and they knelt down and prayed to it, and said: “Great is the Flag of the Land of the Wise and the Free.”
John Beverley Robinson.
John Beverley Robinson, “A Vision of Elysium,” Liberty 8 no. 20 (October 24, 1891): 3–4.
Rule or Resistance, Which?
To the Editor of Liberty:
Do you think that it is accurate to say, as Liberty has said recently, that Anarchism contemplates the use of police, jails, and other forms of force? Is it not rather that Anarchism contemplates that those who wish these means of protection shall pay for them themselves; while those who prefer other means shall only pay for what they want? (1)
Indeed, the whole teaching that it is expedient to use force against the invader, which, as you know, I have always had doubts about, seems to me to fall when egoism is adopted as the basis of our thought. To describe a man as an invader seems a reminiscence of the doctrine of natural depravity. It fails to recognize that all desires stand upon a par, morally, and that it is for us to find the most convenient way of gratifying as much of everybody’s desires as possible. To say that a certain formula proposed by us to this end is “justice,” and that all who do not conform to it,—all who are “unjust,”—will be suppressed by us by violence, is precisely parallel to the course of those who say that their formula for the regulation of conduct is the measure of righteousness, and that they will suppress the “unrighteous” by violence. (2)
As I absorb the egoistic sentiment, it begins to appear that the fundamental demand is not liberty, but the cessation of violence in the obtaining of gratification for desires.
By the cessation of violence we shall obtain liberty, but liberty is the end rather than the means. (3)
“We demand liberty,” say we Anarchists. “Yes, but we see no reason why we should forego our desire to control you, by your own canons, if you are egoists,” replies the majority. “Truly,” we answer, “but we point out to you that it is for your advantage to give us liberty.” “At present we are satisfied of the contrary; we are satisfied that you wish to upset institutions that we wish to preserve,” say they. “We do, indeed,” we reply, “but we will not invade you, we will not prevent you from doing anything you wish, provided it does not tend to deter us from uninvasive activities.” “We think,” concludes the majority, “that in attempting to destroy what we wish to preserve you are invading us”; and how are we to establish the contrary except by laying down a practicable definition of invasion—one by which it can be demonstrated that using unoccupied but claimed land, for instance, is not invasive. (4)
No, it seems to me that no definition of invasion can be made; that it is a variable quantity, like liberty itself.
When you said, some time ago, that liberty was not a natural right, but a social contract, I think you covered the case. If, however, liberty is a matter of contract, is not invasion, which is the limit of liberty, also a matter of contract? (5)
What Anarchism really means is the demand for the rule of contract, rather than for the rule of violence.
“As egoists, we Anarchists point out to you, the majority, that the pleasure of mankind in fighting for the sake of fighting is rapidly declining from disuse. We point out further that from any other point of view fighting is not to the interest of anybody; that desires can be gratified and the harmonization of clashing interests attained much more pleasurably without fighting.” “That is true,” the majority replies, for, though the majority really enjoys fighting for the fun of it, it has got to a point where it will not admit that it does, and to a point where it clearly perceives the costliness of the amusement.
“We propose then,” the Anarchists continue, “not to settle differences by violence, but to reach the best agreement that we can without violence. We propose this with the more confidence that you will accept it, because you yourselves are beginning to admit that the condition of existence for men is not the former ascetic suppression, but the gratification of desires. We therefore propose that you shall at once cease to repress by violence conduct which is not against your interests and which you now suppress only on account of a surviving belief that you are called upon to suppress it for the interest of the doors. Following that, we shall make other demands for the cessation of violence.”
But, of course, in proposing contract instead of violence, it follows that we abjure violence as a principle; we become what I think it is fair to call non-resistants. That is to say that, although we do not guarantee our actions should our fellows refuse to accept our proposal of the system of contract, we do not for a moment suppose that such possible reversions to violence are a part of the new system of contract. (6)
We must hold, as Egoists, that the gratification of the desires of “criminals” is no more subject to “moral” condemnation than our own actions, though from our point of view it may be regrettable; and that by just as much as we permit ourselves to use violence to repress it, by just so much we fortify the continuation of the present reign of violence, and postpone the coming of the reign of contract. Therefore it is that I call myself a non-resistant and regard non-resistance as the necessary implication for an egoist who prefers contract to violence.
When I say non-resistance, I must explain that, so to speak, I do not mean non-resistance,—that is to say, I mean resistance by every means except counter-violence.
The editorials that have recently appeared in Liberty signed by Mr. Yarros have had to me a strongly moralistic flavor, as indeed it is inevitable they should have, from his avowed views; I think Pentecost’s views more in conformity with egoism. By the way, I should be glad if Mr. Yarros could explain the moralistic position more clearly in Liberty; or if you and he could have a discussion of the merits of the matter.
John Beverley Robinson.
67 Liberty Street, New York, December 10, 1891.
(1) I think it accurate to say that Anarchism contemplates anything and everything that does not contradict Anarchism. The writer whom Liberty criticised had virtually made it appear that police and jails do contradict Anarchism. Liberty simply denies this, and in that sense contemplates police and jails. Of course it does not contemplate the compulsory support of such institutions by non-invasive persons.
(2) When I describe a man as an invader, I cast no reflection upon him; I simply state a fact. Nor do I assert for a moment the moral inferiority of the invader’s desire. I only declare the impossibility of simultaneously gratifying the invader’s desire to invade and my desire to be let alone. That these desires are morally equal I cheerfully admit, but they cannot be equally realized. Since one must be subordinated to the other, I naturally prefer the subordination of the invader’s, and am ready to cooperate with non-invasive persons to achieve that result. I am not wedded to the term “justice,” nor have I any objection to it. If Mr. Robinson doesn’t like it, let us say “equal liberty” instead. Does he maintain that the use of force to secure equal liberty is precisely parallel to the use of force to destroy equal liberty? If so, I can only hope, for the sake of those who live in the houses which he builds, that his appreciation of an angle is keener in architecture than it is in sociology.
(3) If the invader, instead of chaining me to a post, barricades the highway, do I any the less lose my liberty of locomotion? Yet he has ceased to be violent. We obtain liberty, not by the cessation of violence, but by the recognition, either voluntary or enforced, of equality of liberty.
(4) We are to establish the contrary by persistent inculcation of the doctrine of equality of liberty, whereby finally the majority will be made to see in regard to existing forms of invasion what they have already been made to see in regard to its obsolete forms,—namely, that they are not seeking equality of liberty at all, but simply the subjection of all others to themselves. Our sense of what constitutes invasion has been acquired by experience. Additional experience is continually sharpening that sense. Though we still draw the line by rule of thumb, we are drawing it more clearly every day. It would be an advantage if we could frame a clear-cut generalization whereby to accelerate our progress. But though we have it not, we still progress.
(5) Suppose it is; what then? Must I consent to be trampled upon simply because no contract has been made?
(6) So the position of the non-resistant is that, when nobody attacks him, he wont resist. “We are all Socialists now,” said some Englishman not long ago. Clearly we are all non-resistants now, according to Mr. Robinson. I know of no one who proposes to resist when he isn’t attacked, of no one who proposes to enforce a contract which nobody desires to violate. I tell Mr. Robinson, as I have told Mr. Pentecost, that the believers in equal liberty ask nothing better than that all men should voluntarily act in accordance with the principle. But it is a melancholy fact that many men are not willing so to act. So far as our relations with such men are concerned, it is not a matter of contract, but of force. Shall we consent to be ruled, or shall we refuse to be ruled? If we consent, are we Anarchists? If we refuse, are we Archists? The whole question lies there, and Mr. Robinson fails to meet it.
John Beverley Robinson, “Rule or Resistance, Which?” Liberty 8 no. 29 (December 26, 1891): 3.
The Advisability of Violence.
To the Editor of Liberty:
When you preach passive resistance, is it not precisely the same thing as what is commonly called non-resistance?
When William Penn (or was it Fox?) refused to take off his hat for the king it was certainly passive resistance; but as he made no attempt to punch the king’s head, it is accounted as quite compatible with the Friends’ non-resistance tenets. (1)
I do not think that any practical difference exists between passive resistance and non-resistance. Yet you urge that in emergency violence must be resorted to. Why? In what emergency? If violence is as a matter of principle advisable in certain cases why not in other cases? Why not embrace the advocacy of violence of the Communists throughout? (2)
Intelligible enough as a political measure, Anarchism halts as a system of philosophy as long as it includes violence at all. To people who think government exists to suppress robbery it is sufficient to point out that government exists by robbery; and to enlarge upon the advantages that might be expected to follow the establishment of freedom of membership in political societies. (3)
But all this involves no question as to what constitutes invasion. It is simply stated that each shall take such measures as he prefers to protect himself, and that each shall determine for himself what protection is.
If however we go farther, and lay down a formula, however defensible the formula may be; and say that we will by violence enforce that formula, whether it be the formula of equal liberty or any other formula, I must maintain that the action is precisely parallel to the course of everybody in the past and present who have compelled others to regulate their conduct in accordance with other formulas, alleged to be moral, and held to be as irrefragable as you now hold the formula of equal liberty to be. (4)
“Do not pick people’s pockets to make them pay for protection they don’t want
is good enough as far as it goes.
It may perhaps be well to go no further.
But if we have to go further and ask, What is protection? or, What is invasion? the complement of protection, the only reply you can give is that invasion is infringing upon equal liberty.
Until some method is devised by which we can tell whether a given act does infringe upon equal liberty the definition is vain. (5)
For instance, in a state of liberty Mr. Yarros prints a book. You copy it. He organizes a society for the suppression of pirates and imprisons you. Your friends organize and a battle ensues.
You will doubtless say that you would not advocate violence under such circumstances to either side. I again ask, Why not? (6)
Investigate your own principles and you will find that the recognition of equal liberty rests upon the recognition of contract as supplanting violence. Although we may think it wise among cannibals to become cannibals ourselves; although when forced to it we may degrade ourselves to use violence; let us at least recognize that the state of affairs when every one shall do as he pleases can only occur when all lay aside violence and appeal only to reason. Let us at least recognize that it is for us to totally abjure violence as a principle of action; and if we at any time deem ourselves compelled to do violence let us admit that we do it under protest and not from principle. (7)
John Beverley Robinson.
(1) The chief difference between passive resistance and non-resistance is this: passive resistance is regarded by its champions as a mere policy, while non-resistance is viewed by those who favor it as a principle or universal rule. Believers in passive resistance consider it as generally more effective than active resistance, but think that there are certain cases in which the opposite is true; believers in non-resistance consider either that it is immoral to actively resist or else that it is always unwise to do so.
(2) Because violence, like every other policy, is advisable when it will accomplish the desired end and inadvisable when it will not.
(3) Anarchism is philosophical, but it is not a system of philosophy. It is simply the fundamental principle in the science of political and social life. The believers in government are not as easily to be satisfied as Mr. Robinson thinks; and it is well that they are not. The considerations upon which he relies may convince them that government does not exist to suppress robbery, but will not convince them that abolition of the State will obviate the necessity of dealing violently with the other and more ordinary kinds of government, of which common robbery is one. For, even though they be led to admit that the disappearance of the robber State must eventually induce the disappearance of all other robbers, they will remember that effects, however certain, are not always immediate, and that, pending the consummation, there are often serious difficulties that must be confronted.
(4) If Mr. Robinson still maintains that doing violence to those who let us alone is precisely parallel to doing violence to those who assault us, I can only modestly hint once more that I have a better eye for an angle than he has. (6)
Not so, by any means. As long as nearly all people are agreed in their identification of the great majority of actions as harmonious with or counter to equal liberty, and as long as an increasing number of people are extending this agreement in identification over a still larger field of conduct, the definition of invasion as the infringement of equal liberty, far from being vain, will remain an important factor in political progress.
(6) Because we see no imperative and overwhelming necessity for an immediate settlement of the question of copyright, and because we think that the verdict of reason is preferable to the verdict of violence in all doubtful cases where we can afford to wait.
(7) It seems that there are cases in which, according to Mr. Robinson, we may resort to violence. It is now my turn to ask, Why? If he favors violence in one case, why not in all? I can see why, but not from his standpoint. For my part, I don’t care a straw whether, when Mr. Robinson sees fit to use violence, he acts under protest or from principle. The main question is: Does he think it wise under some circumstances to use violence, or is he so much of a practical Archist that he would not save his child from otherwise inevitable murder by splitting open the murderer’s head?
John Beverley Robinson, “The Advisability of Violence,” Liberty 8 no. 32 (January 16, 1892): 2–3.
To the Editor of Liberty:
Does it not seem as if, after all, the demands of egoistic Anarchists might be more altruistic than those of Socialists who condemn Anarchism as unaltruistic? For instance, it is by the growth of altruistic feeling that it is repugnant to many people to rob by violence; to some it is repugnant to rob, even by business methods,
Now, if I go still further, and refrain, through repugnance to such deeds, from compelling my neighbor to pay for what he does not want, am I not really more altruistic than my very altruistic friend who knows what his neighbor wants better than his neighbor himself knows, and who will make his neighbor pay, will-he, nill-he, for what he doesn’t want?
Can anything be more unaltruistic than compulsory taxation?
Unless, like the dear God, who damns people because he loves them so, they rob people because they love them so.
John Beverley Robinson.
John Beverley Robinson, “Socialistic Neighbor-Love,” Liberty 8 no. 37 (April 30, 1892): 1.
A traveller in the wild places in Africa found himself left alone in the midst of a people who spared his life only because they were amused by what were to them his peculiarities; and because, being many against one, they had no fear of him.
They were a savage tribe indeed. It was the custom, he found, among them for the head men to every day traverse the country, taking from each of the common people whatever to the head men seemed desirable.
From one a basket of plantains would be demanded; from another his domesticated buffalo; from a third might be required his hut and all that he had. Strange to say, those who were thus robbed did not regard themselves as treated unjustly.
They resigned whatever was demanded with every sign of acquiescence and deference for the head man who carried it off.
Even when the sacrifice was great and inward reluctance was felt, external complaisance was inculcated by the medicine men and was regarded as very praiseworthy. Those who were robbed of all afterwards wandered about destitute, despised, strange to say, rather than pitied by their former comrades; and deeming themselves most fortunate if they were not thrown into the cave of snakes to perish.
In other respects, too, the gross savagery of the people was shown. In order to stir them up to one of their marauding excursions it was only necessary to go among them and announce that the totem of their tribe had been insulted. This totem was a rough pole with a bunch of red and white rags at the top and was regarded by the people as sacred. Each one kept a miniature model of the totem in his hut, alongside of the model of the divinity and sharing religious honors with it.
To touch roughly or even to look askance at the totem meant instant death.
At the slightest pretence even that a neighboring tribe had insulted this totem, the people would rush forth like an angry nest of hornets and massacre indiscriminately with the deadly weapons which they spent much of their time in trying to improve. To destroy and give pain to others seemed to be to them a pleasure.
The traveller, distressed by so much misery where there might be happiness, talked to the most intelligent among them persuasively. “Why should you devote every seventh day to cutting and burning yourselves and your children? Surely you might find some pleasanter mode of worship, if you must worship.”
And the man replied: “The loving father Bobo, and the great son Luni, and the immaculate mother Gummi, have commanded us to do so, and we are afraid not to. Moreover, beware how you talk so blasphemously; if I were not a very liberal man, you would certainly have your tongue cut out.”
“At least,” answered the traveller, “would you not be happier if you should stop killing your neighbors so much If you would devote the energy and thought which you now devote to destroying, to improving your houses, increasing your crops, and enlarging your herds, I should think you would be better off. What is this totem that you are forever fighting about a bunch of rags!”
“Take care,” said the savage, “though I am liberal, you must not insult the totem even to me. I pardon you this time, but be warned and keep your mouth shut about our glorious totem. Not fight for the totem? What miserable pusillanimity! What lack of patriotism! Not fight? How can you ask such nonsensical questions? Fighting will always be. You must change men’s natures if you want fighting to stop. And men’s natures cannot be changed.”
With that he brought two or three more liberal savages like himself to hear what further paradoxes this queer creature would emit.
Striving to find a topic that would arouse neither their religious nor their patriotic emotions, the traveller continued:
“Permit me to suggest at least that for the head men to take from the others the greater part of their possessions is unfair to the others, and, after all, unprofitable to the head men, for they have enough already, and only waste what they have thus stolen in luxuries which they would be far happier without.”
Thereupon there was a howl from all. “This is a dangerous fellow,” said the old savage, who knew the sacred books by heart, and settled all disputes by reference to them, “he attacks the rights of property.”
“Such things cannot be changed without a bloody revolution,” said the medicine man; “surely you, who object to blood, would not counsel violence.”
“I do not see the necessity for it,” said the traveller; “they are few, the people are many; all the people need do is to refuse to give their property to the robbers.”
“Revolutionary! cut-throat! atheist!” they all screamed. “You would take people’s little savings from them, would you? You want to burn our huts and kill our cattle and bring desolation upon us, do you?”
“That is not exactly what I meant to suggest,” the traveller replied, “but, if you cannot understand what seems to me a simple enough proposition, I rather think I shall do well not to press it, until your powers of comprehension develop. There is one thing, though, that I would call your attention to that can hardly jar upon any of your superstitions; I refer to the treatment of your wives. You would find them much more efficient workers and agreeable companions, they would be less likely too to have deformed and helpless children, if you would club them more mercifully, let us say so as not to maim them. It would really require no self-denial; it might even give you pleasure to stop short of breaking their arms and gashing their flesh.”
The medicine man stepped solemnly forward. “You are attacking the holiest of our institutions,” he said. “Our society is built upon the right of a man to club his wife and children. It is an arrangement which has the divine sanction of the holy Luni. The family with us is sacred. You are alone, therefore we spare your life. You may walk among us, but you must not talk in this way, for, if such ideas grow, they must be suppressed. Hereafter be silent at your peril.”
The traveller perceived that they were savages, that it was no use appealing to thought where there was no thought. He perceived that they lived by a set of inwrought traditions and customs, and had no power to even try to improve things.
So he lived alone, though surrounded by savages. He grieved because he was alone. At last one day he ate a poisonous root and died, that he might escape from an intolerable life among savages.
Who will give me of hemlock on mandragora by which I may remove myself from the savages among whom I dwell?
John Beverley Robinson.
John Beverley Robinson, “Solitude,” Liberty 8 no. 42 (June 14, 1892): 2.
Report of the Secretary of the Society for the Mitigation of the Acerbity of Impecuniosity, for the year ending May 31, 1892.
During the past year it has been the effort of the Society to extend its usefulness into hitherto untried fields.
Going beyond the sale of old clothes at low, but not unremunerative, prices, the Society has undertaken to educate to some extent the tastes of our less fortunate brothers and sisters.
Two principles the Society has laid down for its guidance: — the first, that nothing, however trifling, is to be given gratis. Free gifts are demoralizing to the recipient, and have but one result, the destruction of individual energy, enterprise, and independence, and the erection of a class of habitual paupers. The second principle is that it is the taste of the common people that is to be educated.
Even upon a small income, — and that of our dear, but unfortunate, friends ranges down to as low as three dollars a day; often indeed lower, — but, even upon a pittance, a person of cultivated tastes can subsist in luxury, where the ordinary uneducated taste would starve.
In three directions the Society has tried to educate the tastes of the masses:
- Food and Drink.
- Personal Habits.
As to clothing, little is to be said, as that has been the especial field of the Society’s work hitherto. Old clothes, contributed by the generous hands of friends, are sold at very small prices, in accordance with principle No. 1. The mere acquaintance with clothing of fine material and careful make will, we are confident, educate our poor brothers to save their small means until they can purchase better clothes in the first in-stance: a business suit at $60, it is well known, is more economical than two at half the price.
The experience with fine shoes too, even though half-worn, will no doubt induce our friends to forsake the coarse and degrading “brogans” which they now seem to prefer.
In the matter of drink, we have tried to introduce the elegant and inexpensive drink, so popular among the French, eau sucrée. It is composed of a glass of water with one or more lumps of sugar, flavored with a drop or two of orange-flower essence. The Society sells orange-flower essence at 15 cents a bottle, which is 5 cents less than the market price. A profit of 1 1/2 cents per bottle still remains. The Society has sold during the past year two (2) dozen such bottles.
The Society has on its books the names of several habitual drinkers of eau sucrée who are out of work. The attention of manufacturers and others is called to these good people, as their abstinence from the usual alcoholic drinks enables them to work for from 20 to 25 per cent. cheaper than others.
In the matter of food, the Society has procured a portable kitchen with a charcoal fire, which is carried about by some poor beneficiaries of the Society, who are, we trust temporarily, out of a job. These persons carry the apparatus to the room of some tenement house where the demonstration is to be held, and young ladies from the cooking school attached to the Church of the Poor Carpenter show to others, in a spirit of Christian endeavor, what they themselves have just learned. Such demonstrations cannot but be of benefit to the poor in educating their taste, and at the same time they give an opportunity to the young ladies of our church to complete their skill by actual practice. The dishes are sold for the benefit of the Society at the store of the Woman’s Work Sale Association. The chief difficulty in the way has been the total lack of spices, olive oil, citron, Worcestershire sauce, truffles, and such things, which, though trifling in themselves, are essential to delicate cookery, but which are usually lacking in the dwellings of the poor. Another difficulty is that, after the dishes are completed, those for whose instructions they have been made, and who are invariably permitted to taste them, seem to find difficulty in perceiving any superiority in their favor over that of the coarse stews to which they are accustomed. This extraordinary lack of discriminatory power in the gustatory organs has been investigated by a noble and excellent physician, who has long been one of our stanchest upholders. In his opinion, it is due to the foul air in the lodgings of the poor, and he has found a compound which will entirely restore the normal powers of taste. His remedy is sold at $1.00 a bottle, or 6 for $5.00.
As to personal habits, effort has been made to popularize the use of tooth brushes. Keenly aware of the smallness of means which prevents our friends from purchasing tooth brushes, we have arranged to rent them at a rental of one cent per use. After each use the brushes are thoroughly cleaned and disinfected with bichloride of mercury. At present the Society is the owner of twenty-five tooth brushes which are used by one hundred and fifteen of the poor. During the coming year the Society proposes to rent manicure sets upon the same plan.
Old clothes distributed, 716 pieces — $325.
Meals prepared — 54 — $42.
Orange flower water,— bottles 24 — $36
Tooth brushes loaned,— 115 persons 200 times — $330.
Receipts from sales, etc. $697.36
Donations from various sources $2,115.72
Secretary’s salary $1500.
Treasurer’s salary $1500.
Office and other expenses 800.
A. Skinner, Treasurer.
We trust that the dear Lord will inspire some faithful heart to come forward to make up this small deficit. In such emergencies, under His will, such relief has not been lacking in the past, and we trust that it will not be lacking now. Let each Christian think for a moment whether it is not his part to contribute a trifle to aid an association which aims at winning for all who contribute to it, in the great day, the sweet words from His Divine lips: “Come, ye blessed, for I was ill and in prison and ye came unto me, nude and ye clothed me.”
U. B. BLODE, Secretary.
Pour copie conforme,
John Beverley Robinson.
John Beverley Robinson, “Report of the Secretary of the Society for the Mitigation of the Acerbity of Impecuniosity,” Liberty 8 no. 44 (June 18, 1892): 2–3.
My dear Mr. Tucker:
For a long time it has seemed to me a thing much to be desired that some one should write a book clearly setting forth the body of ideas which most of us have had to piece together for ourselves from various sources. Proudhon is very heavy reading, especially for a beginner; Andrews and Greene and the rest are admirable for the details after the general idea is grasped, but I know of nothing that places the principles of Anarchism intelligibly before the unconverted.
Seeing that most of us have gained our knowledge in great part from the columns of Liberty, it has occurred to me that it might be practicable to compile a coherent work from, let us say, your editorials, from the beginning, perhaps with the articles which drew them forth. Such a compilation might be expected to exert even more influence than the original articles have already exerted, inasmuch as they would present the matter in a more accessible shape than scattered through the pages of a periodical; besides, the times are riper now for such thoughts than when they were first published.
Very truly yours,
John Beverley Robinson.
[The foregoing letter is a sample of a number received during the past year. It makes a suggestion which I have long wished to carry out. But how? Such a compilation of matter would make a large book, very expensive to issue. The burden of the cost is more than I can carry. I believe that the book would sell well and would do much good. But financially it would be an experiment. If Comrade Robinson or any one else can devise a plan whereby the expense can be met, I shall gladly undertake the work.—Editor Liberty.]
John Beverley Robinson, “A Suggestion,” Liberty 9 no. 1 (September 3, 1892): 1.
When Freedom on Her Mountain Height!
As I sat in my office thinking that it was about time to leave, entered two well-dressed gentlemen. With easy confidence they sat down unasked, and the elder and bluffer of the two began in a hearty voice: “We have called to inform you, sir, that you need a new hat; and that we are about to purchase one for you; the cost of the hat will be five dollars, and our commission will be three dollars. Eight dollars, if you please.”
I looked at him with astonishment.
“What do you mean? What business have you to criticise my hat? I admit that it is shabby, but what business is it of yours? Moreover, what do you mean by demanding money in that fashion? Leave my office at once.”
“Gently, my friend,” replied the younger, of a sour, pious temperament, “let me explain. ‘We are the Messieurs Government, —my companion Mr. D. Government, myself Mr. R. Government. It is our duty to see that everybody does what is for the public benefit. Now, it is manifestly very unpleasant to have to encounter so many people with shabby hats like yours; it is degrading, too, to the wearers,—deprives them of self-respect. Briefly, you are required to get a new hat, through us. Put up the cash at once, or we will make you.”
“Robbers!” I shouted. “Help! Help!”
They rushed upon me with drawn revolvers.
“Treasonable wretch!” they cried, as they tied me to a chair and proceeded to go through my pockets. “Impious rebel! It is your duty to do what we require. Folly, to talk of us as if we were robbers. Don’t you understand? You really need a new hat, and you have voluntarily commissioned us to go around the corner and buy one for you.”
“What do you mean by voluntarily?” I cried; “nothing of the sort. I need a new hat, I admit, but I prefer not to spend my money for that purpose just now. Besides, if I were going to buy one, I would buy it myself, and not pay you such an extortionate charge for nothing. Yet you have the impertinence to say that I voluntarily commissioned you.”
“You certainly did commission my friend Democrat here, last November. Don’t you remember? We let you choose which of us should do it, and you chose him. So you are perfectly free in the matter.”
“Free! Do you call that free? As a matter of fact, I never did vote for either of you, and, if I had voted, you could hardly call me free, for you both carry revolvers, and you both announce your design to plunder me. To choose which shall rob me is hardly freedom.”
“Yes, we do work in partnership,” said Mr. D. Government. “Have to, you know. One works, the other lays off. But the one that lays off has to make his keep until his turn comes. But drop your talking, and pay up.”
In the face of heavy odds, I paid, and they departed with my eight dollars.
I never saw the new hat.
John Beverley Robinson.
John Beverley Robinson, “When Freedom on Her Mountain Height!” Liberty 9 no. 17 (December 24, 1892): 3.
How Liberty May Come.
Forecasts are dangerous; yet let us for once consider a little the trend of circumstances. Is it true that everything points to an intensification of authority as the next step of progress,—even a temporary intensification, as a by-path to liberty beyond? So I have sometimes myself thought that it would be; yet a more careful consideration has led me to an opposite conclusion.
The most noticeable characteristic of the present transitional period is the great variety of “reforms” that are agitated,—so great that anything like unanimity in active work has been impossible, scarcely even cooperation toward a common end by two factions.
On the other hand, observe the rally in the reactionary forces.
The churches have not been for many years so jubilant. The Catholic church grows beyond all knowledge. The closely allied Episcopal church tends steadily Romeward, in spite of a minority of liberal tendencies. The ruck of Protestant bodies, without any ground of authority, ignoring dogma and worshipping a vague idea of virtue, are bent more violently than the avowedly authoritarian churches upon forcing us all to do “right.” Every Methodist conventicle in the land—and the land is peppered black with them—backs our old friend Wanamaker in his aspirations for sanctity, backs Comstock in his holy activities. Through them we have our coins defaced with a religious inscription. They are never willing to let the religious question rest. They are the last to permit liberty, even liberty of thought or of conscience. Through them we shall shortly have some vile figment of their idolatrous fancy recognized in the Constitution. Through them we are enslaved by unnumbered Sunday laws, Parkhurst laws, recommending stoning the adulterous woman as the proper thing, and all the rest of it. Many even who are out of the churches, never go, believe none of their talk, yet weakly and blindly contribute money to support them, encourage their wives to go, like “she-cattle,” to be religious, because they say: “Oh, well, after all, the churches do a great deal of good,” not perceiving that the good they do is but an alleviation of the misery which they are the main cause of.
Yet a change is impending.
The reaction is possible because the radical movement is not united. Always, as far as I can recall, before this, the liberal movement of each period has united for some one advance; that accomplished, the liberals, most of them, have opposed themselves to further advances.
But within the churches, and in sympathy with them for awhile though outside of them, is a vast multitude of liberal tendencies and traditions, even though hazy in their ideas.
The revivification of the churches, and associated reactions, will have this result: they will force a remarshalling of the liberal and reactionary hosts. Again it will be authority against do-as-you-please. The authoritarian proclivities of ecclesiasticism will become recognized; by the road of Unitarianism many of the more liberal bodies will disband; others Rome will absorb, by that time probably a State church, in fact if not in name, by virtue of school subsidies and the like. In every way the old struggle for liberty against authority seems likely to revive.
And for what can all reformers of whatever persuasion then fight but for liberty? With a State owning, let us say, the railroads, and refusing to employ any who have not had a common-school course, in common schools where allegiance to the church will be informally infused, as allegiance to the flag and Bible is now, even avowed authoritarians, Nationalists, and Communists will arise in protest and recalcitrancy.
United opinion means renewed tyranny when that opinion gains the upperhand: differences in opinion mean ultimate uniting to defend differences of opinion and the outcoming differences of actions. The real lover of liberty is not inclined, as the profane suppose, to demand liberty for himself to tyrannize over others.
The real lover of liberty dwells little upon the restraints from which he suffers; what inspires him is the desire for liberty for others, which he would be the last to infringe.
In such a defence of liberty, all will be forced to stand together. The unintelligent will have to understand, the vacillating will have to make up his mind, all, in defence of their own liberty, will have to unite against the renewed encroachments of authority.
Never regret that radicals cannot unite upon a programme of action; in their differences lies the hope of liberty, in their union to defend their differences the probable accomplishment of it.
John Beverley Robinson.
John Beverley Robinson, “How Liberty May Come,” Liberty 9 no. 31 (April 1, 1893): 3.
What is “Government”?
Curious the shrinking is that comes to the mind for an entirely new idea. No government — do away with government—dispense with government? What can the fellows mean? They must be unbalanced. It is impossible, such a notion. Why — why—why, what should we all do then without government? Give over everything to plunder, everybody to be murdered? What folly to talk of no government, indeed!
Gently, my friend, calm yourself and consider a little. What is government in reality? Protection, of course, you say. Protection to our lives and goods and liberties — protection to — One moment! there is no need of rhetoric: we will call it protection. Government, then, is protection; how does it protect? Why, by maintaining an army and navy and police and courts and so on, — there is no need of cataloguing.
But suppose that somebody — somebody of advanced ideas probably—thinks some of these mistaken, – superfluous? Suppose, for instance, that one of the most humane minds whom you, as a lover of virtue, must admire, — suppose such a one thinks the vast expenditure on a navy, for instance, an entire mistake, a condescension to antiquated brutal methods for an enlightened nation that in other aspects is the patron of international arbitration, a slung-shot in the pocket of a nineteenth-century gentleman; or suppose that another whose mind tends toward the perfecting of justice — another instance of virtue for you to admire—objects to the constitution of courts and police methods as injustice full-grown, prefers — either of these objectors— to dispense with protection rather than to receive what he thinks is at best inadequate and at worst retrograde and repellent to refined minds, — what will you do? Don’t you see that to force another to pay for such protection as you, with your majority behind you, choose to give, is not protection at all, is quite the opposite of protection, is attack, – nothing less.
So that government in its best sense, in the sense in which only the freest minds of the past and of the day have permitted government at all, as self-protection, — in this best sense government is invasion, government is the enslavement of the forwardest minds to the backwardest.
But government as it exists is far more than a minimum of coercion for mutual protection. As it exists, it is an engine which the majority uses to compel the rest to do what the majority calls “right.” Half the time, yes, nine-tenths of the time, the majority is but a blind fool in the hands of a few who play upon the “moral sense” of the community, the “patriotism” of the masses, the “religious fervor” of the crowd, and the other sentiments which obscure the sight and bind the hands of men, for their own distinctly perceived pocket-profit.
In this sense, the supporters of government are of the same moral status as a band of White Caps, bent upon beating and burning, not for any benefit to themselves, but to enforce a moral ideal.
The very first instinct of a free mind is to let people alone. In ordinary social intercourse this rule is imperative. To offer advice to others upon how they shall bring up their children, or how they shall conduct themselves; to suggest, for instance, that it would be more agreeable if they would deal the cards without wetting the thumb, – is not tolerated.
It is only where the mind is enslaved by religious and moral frenzy, by custom of the past, by prejudice of the present, — in brief, by fear, — that people are willing either to “govern” or to submit to being governed.
Let others do as they will so long as they interfere not with my doing as I will; should our desires conflict, I will yield as far as possible, will refuse to yield only where a rational agreement with mutual respect of each for the liberty of the other is refused by the other side.
John Beverley Robinson.
John Beverley Robinson, “What is ‘Government’?” Liberty 9 no. 47 (February 24, 1894): 2.
AN INSULT PROPERLY RESENTED.
To the Editor of Liberty:
A few days ago I received a letter through the post-office upon which was stamped the following:
Official Notice.—The person receiving this letter is warned against swindlers, who falsely pretend to deal in counterfeit money. If this letter relates to that subject, hand it to Postmaster, who will forward to P. O. Dept, Div. of Correspondence, Washington, D.C.
Thereupon I wrote to the Post Office Department the following letter:
P. O. Dep’t, Washington, D. C.
A day or two ago I received a letter bearing a rubber stamp warning against swindlers and surmising that the enclosed letter might be from such persons. Permit me to say that I regard such interference with my correspondents as impertinent to me and insulting to my friends, and to beg that you will direct your employees to refrain from indulging in any guesses or expressing any suspicions about what comes to me.
It is your part merely to deliver without comment: the next thing you will be opening my letters, if indeed you do not sometimes now. I am quite able to take care of myself, and shall be obliged if you will abstain from officious proffers of protection in the future.
John Beverley Robinson.
New York, Jan. 31, 1894.
John Beverley Robinson, “An Insult Properly Resented,” Liberty 9 no. 47 (February 24, 1894): 6.
What is It to Protect?
In talking with people who admit that the only proper function of government is protection, nothing is more common than to meet with propositions for the most tyrannical measures upon the plea that “we must protect ourselves.”
Thus the laws which compel some people to pay for schools, whose methods of teaching and matter taught they disapprove of so much that they would never pay for them willingly, are enacted upon the plea that we must protect ourselves against the crimes which the unlettered, it is alleged, are apt to indulge in. The various religious laws, Sunday laws, and the like will, it is urged, protect us from the rising flood of infidelity that threatens to engulf our land; and even the excise laws are supported and prohibition laws are urged upon the same ground: We must protect ourselves and our children from danger.
Now, to all this there must be some limit. Are we to protect ourselves from anything that is disagreeable to us? Is that the idea? If so, it is no wonder that we spend our time in legislative struggles, — having, happily, almost passed the age of triggers and rapiers for such squabbles, — for, as the tastes of all men differ, what is agreeable to one will be disagreeable to another, and these two will try to extinguish each other, although on totally different grounds, and this state of affairs will-extend through society in general.
Precisely because of the inconvenience and loss which this state of warfare, which formerly actually prevailed, entailed, was it abolished, or rather outgrown; and it is to do away with the remaining measure of loss and inconvenience that Anarchism, by its theories, and still more the inevitable march of events, urges that the same limit to legislative clubbing shall be laid down in the minds of the legislators as has already been outlined with tolerable clearness in the minds of the warriors.
Not a fight nowadays, from a gutter “scrap” to a Franco-Prussian war, in which both sides do not half apologize on the ground that they were only defending themselves.
To fight, avowedly to steal, or for the extension of the true faith, or for “glory” pure and simple, is not in repute just now. Ml! ﬂ many of them, as fond of fighting, just for the fun of it, as all of them once were, but they have learned that it doesn’t pay; and in Ill age where things must “pay,” fighting is doomed, — it wastes too much.
When men see that the same limit must be eventually put to law-making, —that it must be confined to defence, — law-making at random, for plunder (pensions, for instance) or for the glory of god (subsidizing churches, for instance), will be discredited.
Undoubtedly plenty of things will exist which plenty of people won’t like, but not nearly so many as exist at present, because, in trying each to rid himself of his pet aversion, we all aid in bolstering up the power which maintains Rent, Interest, and Profit, which are much more than disagreeable merely, — are indeed deadly.
We shall all have to learn to let each other alone, to give to all liberty to do anything, except, — note especially, not except what we don’t like, — but except what interferes with our own liberty, and even that we must relinquish at times when to exercise it would interfere with somebody else’s.
That is to say, anybody can do anything, but where their doings interfere with each other they must come to some compromise.
Just what in each case it is impossible to say in advance, although the progress of knowledge may enable us some day to determine.
But just as in meeting on a narrow, path either will step off to let the other pass, if indeed both do not, out of courtesy, because the end to be attained by walking about their business is more easily attained by stepping off and walking on than by-stopping to fight about it, so, the principle of as much liberty as possible once recognized, minor difficulties will solve themselves.
In that day the drunkard will get drunk, though his unfortunate wife will be able to leave him if she wants to; the total abstainer will totally abstain; but neither will waste his efforts trying to down the other in a wrestle, and both will gain from the absence of taxes and politicians as well as of that economic stress which makes drunkards and perhaps total abstainers too.
John Beverley Robinson.
John Beverley Robinson, “What is it To Protect?” Liberty 9 no. 49 (March 24, 1894): 2.
A Glimpse of an Anarchistic Future.
“Hold on! Wait a minute! Dave! Dave Tilford! David! I want to speak to you.”
“Well, Lathrop, what’s the matter now?”
“Let me catch my breath, I am quite winded running after you. I wanted to speak to you about that new pig-pen that you’ve got, down there by the fence. At first I didn’t notice it particularly, but now it’s getting kind of strong. You see, the southwest breeze carries it right through my windows, for the distance isn’t much with my house setting so close to our line, as the old man built it. Couldn’t you manage to put the pig-pen somewhere else, I’d lend a hand myself, and so would Jarvis, to move it, if you’re willing it should be moved.”
“Supposing I’m not willing it should be moved? Seems to me, Lathrop, you’re asking too much. Haven’t I a right to build my pig-pen where I please? I’ve occupied that land now fifteen years next fall, and farmed every foot of it, and nobody’s a better right to build pig-pens there. I’m sorry it annoys you, but there’s no other place I can spare for it. Seems to me you’ll have to stand it. Get used to it in time, you know; hey?”
“I don’t know about that, David. I didn’t think you’d take a friendly request in that way. It’s pretty bad. I don’t quite see that I can stand it. Come in now and try it yourself?”
“Can’t just now, Lathrop. Anyway, I don’t see what’s to be done. I’m not going to move it, that’s sure.”
“There’s no use in my getting mad about it, Tilford, but without getting mad at all, I don’t think you’ve any right to put that thing under a neighbor’s nose.”
“Right or no right, there it stays; that’s one sure thing.”
“Right or no right? Not if I know it. I shall ask protection from our association, if you claim it as a matter of justice. I might concede it as a courtesy, but as a claim I will not.”
“All right, Lathrop, go ahead and ask.”
“Well, if you don’t mind, we’ll walk down to Tom Paterson’s together and get his opinion. He’s been arbitrator to the association for so long that we all know him to be fair-minded.”
“To Paterson’s? Why, he’s your partner’s cousin, Lathrop! I don’t see how you can want me to go by what he says.”
“What difference does that make? You know as well as I do that he’s fair.”
“Well, I suppose I must admit that. He’s square enough, no doubt. I’d like to hear what he thinks about it, anyway.”
“Good morning, Tom! Here‘s Tilford and I come to submit a case to you, if you’ve time to hear it.”
“Good morning, Joe! Good morning, Tilford! Yes, I’ve plenty of time; go ahead and tell me what the trouble is; I’ll do my best for you. You speak first, Tilford.”
“You know, Paterson, I built a pig-pen not long ago, down in the corner where the line between Lathrop and me is. His house does stand pretty near, and now he says I’ve got to move my pig-pen, because the smell comes in at his windows. How is it?”
“State your view of it, Joe.”
“Tilford has stated it about right. I’m satisfied with the way he puts it.”
“Well, I can tell you, Joe, without stopping to think, how the association voted last time a case of that sort came before them. It was a case between Guthrie and Lowell, over in Bellport, —perhaps you don’t know them. Storekeepers they are, at Bellport Centre, and Guthrie complained that Lowell stored Guano where it spoiled his trade. The Association in that case voted that, although raising a stench might be considered an aggression in some supposable case, especially if malicious, yet it was too delicate a question for them to undertake to interfere in. There are so many instances where a bad smell is unavoidable; and it would involve such complicated questions. Better leave it, they thought, to the courtesy of neighbors. So, Joe, I’m afraid you’ll have to put up with the pig-pen.”
“Well, Tom, I suppose I shall; I shouldn’t for a moment think that friend Tilford was putting it there in malice. How is the macadamizing of the South road coming on? I will send the balance of my subscription just as soon as I sell the rest of the sprouts. It’s a good thing, I’m sure, although I didn’t think so at first, did I, Tilford?”
“What, Lathrop! Have you subscribed to the South Road improvement? I thought you refused.”
“I did refuse at first, partly because I wasn’t sure that it was money well spent, partly because I was short about that time. You know, I had a long pull with rheumatism last year, and Jarvis can’t do quite as well when I’m not around.”
“No, I didn’t know you’d been laid up, Joe. I thought you refused to subscribe because the road did me more good than it did you. So now you have subscribed, have you?”
“Yes, I put up all I could spare, Dave, and I wish I could spare more, for I’m sure it’s a good thing for all of us.”
“Well, Joe, I’m glad to hear you say that; and I don’t think much of myself either in the matter. I’ll move the pig-pen tomorrow. I don’t really think I put it there for revenge because you wouldn’t subscribe to the road, but if I hadn’t been grumpy about your not subscribing, I probably shouldn’t have put it there. Anyway, I’ll take it away at once. I thought you were the hog, but it seems I am. Yes, I’ll move the pig-pen today. What I ought to do by rights, is to go and live in it.”
John Beverley Robinson.
John Beverley Robinson, “A Glimpse of an Anarchistic Future,” Liberty 9 no. 51 (April 22, 1894): 2.
What is Freedom?
“Do you think liberty is good for everybody?” said a thoughtful woman to me; “take the many instances of unbridled power, the Roman emperors, for example; surely they had freedom; was it well that they should?”
So people question before the complete notion of liberty fills their minds. The burglar, is he not free? The wife-beater, is he not free?
But how about the other people? we ask in reply. When the Roman emperors ruled, they may have been free, but how about the people whom they ruled, were they free? So the burglar may be free, but those whom he robs surely are coerced. And the wife-beater, he too may be free to beat his wife, by virtue of his physical strength, but is she free?
Try to realize as soon as you can that freedom means freedom for all. Not freedom for one to club another, while the other is only free to be clubbed, but freedom for both to lead their lives in peace, without either clubbing the other.
But, you may object, it is not possible for one person, nor for everybody, for that matter, to do as he pleases without interfering with anybody. Suppose two want to do the same thing, how are they to settle it? Suppose I want to build my house on a certain corner lot and another man wants to build his on the same lot, how can we both be free to do as we please?
The reply is simply this: If people once admit the principle that freedom for all is advisable, the cases where the exercise of opposite freedoms clash will easily be settled. The question of the corner lot common sense would settle as the question of the choice of seats at a free show is settled, by priority of occupancy, and so with most of those conundrums which those propound to whom freedom is presented as a solution of pressing problems.
People are all free to walk the streets, but that does not mean freedom to walk into each other.
The trouble is that, when we leave this principle of freedom of action for all except where the actions clash, and take up the other, — that liberty is not enough, that somebody must coerce somebody else, there is no limit to the coercion process. It extends itself immediately from cases where actions do clash to cases where the action which it is supposed to suppress not only clashes with nobody else’s action, but even to cases where the actions are agreeable to and approved by all concerned. Sunday laws, forbidding people to buy on one day of the week what they buy freely on others, are clearly tyranny. If the act of buying does not restrict anybody else’s freedom on six days of the week, it is manifestly absurd to suppose that it can on the seventh. Sunday laws are enacted, not in protection of the liberty of those who support them, but in order that they may to that extent force their way of thinking and acting upon others at the expense of the liberty of the latter. They want, and almost all of our legislators want, to force a certain line of action upon everybody, because it is approved by religion, or conventionality, or prejudice. The principle is logically carried out by the bands of masked ruffians of whom we read every little while in the papers, who go at midnight and whip or burn a man or woman who may be exemplary in his or her dealings with others, and whose actions clash with the actions of no one else. It is not a question of clashing here, it is a question of making everybody do what we happen to think right. As a matter of fact, these White-caps are usually the most respectable men in the community, the pillars of Church and State.
There was a time when freedom was for one man, to whom all were willing slaves, deferring to his tyranny from a superstitious veneration for his position, as in the time of the Roman emperors. Of this spirit much remains in the deference still shown to the ruling powers, whether in monarchies or democracies. In such times, and toward such a spirit of crawling submission, rebellion by any means was the only remedy to urge upon men’s minds.
But a different state of affairs is coming and has partly come. The many have the power and are learning to use it. It is no longer necessary to urge the many to assert their liberty against the few. Rather it is for us to urge that liberty means letting others be free as well as exercising our own freedom.
For that is what liberty does mean to one who knows what it is. He who is free will have no desire to make others act according to his own code; he will scarcely even advise or suggest to others what they ought to do.
Upon the opposite spirit, the slave’s spirit that we inherit from the past, to force others to do our way, rests the present power of government, by which those who think they govern are themselves enslaved and plundered.
Truly, the majority has the power, but the blind use of that power will always recoil upon the users, by supporting the system of economic slavery which now grinds alike governors and governed.
The majority must learn, what we are trying to teach them, that it is safe and proper to use their power only to protect liberty. And that precludes compulsory taxation.
John Beverley Robinson.
John Beverley Robinson, “What is Freedom?” Liberty 9 no. 52 (May 5, 1894): 3.
The Marriage of the Future.
From the dim dawn when the primitive man captured his wives with his lasso and held them in subjection with his club, the essence of marriage has been the subordination in some sort of the woman to the man. Such is still its essence.
There are indeed promises on both sides to love and honor each the other, which are very pretty words, but nothing more. Nothing more can they be, because love and honor are dependent upon many things, least of all upon the will of the one who is to love and honor.
They depend, first of all, upon the love-worthiness and honor-worthiness of the object of the sentiments. If the loved one does not continue lovable, it is vain to expect the love of the lover to survive. If respect is forfeited by the one, the meet hernia effort of will on the part of the other cannot restore it.
Then again, both love and respect depend upon the standard in the mind. With the attainment of new ideals, with the presence of more perfect embodiments of those ideals, both love and respect for what was formerly loved and respected may vanish as cloud-streaks fade and new cirrhus ﬂecks are born in the blue. To promise to love, even tomorrow, let alone to eternity, is a demoralizing absurdity.
Beyond all these fantastic promisings there is another promise required of the woman, which, whether voiced or ignored, is enforced by legislation, and by the mother of legislators, Mrs. Grundy. It is the promise to obey. Slight as may be the subordination of the woman, compared with the ferocious suppression which was her fate in the past, there is still a very real subordination. In the future that we are learning to look for with joyful anticipation, even this remnant of subordination will be done away with, it is even being done away with under our very eyes: and marriage will become the union of those who are both equal and both free.
Apart from the general progress toward freedom in all things, which is the key to the history of the past, the light in advance upon what is to come, there are many indications of the growth of the idea of freedom in matters matrimonial.
Many a girl persuades her lover to have the word “obey” omitted from the ceremony; and many another substitutes, under her breath, “today” or “repay,” to avoid promising, as she supposes, what her instinct revolts against.
There is talk, too, in magazine articles and such, in the sentimental phrases of the day, about “true” marriages, hints that no marriage is a “true” marriage where love has died, and so on; mawkish and inconclusive for the most part, but bubbles that indicate the fermentation of thought.
More definite is the trend of legislation. As silly little boys cease their squabbles for gingerbread when their inexorable mamma demands a pail of water, so our legislators suspend voting away surpluses in the presence of a general demand for definite measures. Their latest performance hereabouts has been what seems to be the enactment of a statute permitting the wife to make a contract with the husband, an enactment quite revolutionary in its implications. The courts follow the legislators’ lead. The celebrated Jackson case recently in England, in which the right of the husband to detain his wife was denied, made all the conservative organs howl that marriage was abolished, while in this country, or at least in the State of New York, the legal position of the wife is in many respects stronger than that of the husband.
Still more to the point is the increasing practice of divorce. Bewailed by the pulpits and by the puritanical in the pews, but welcomed by the clearer-sighted as the cool breeze of dawn, people are beginning to refuse to be unhappy together at the behest of a tradition. South Dakota, the Gretna Green, in an inverse sense, of the United States, whither hating hearts flee to be separated, is doing more than she knows in the furthering of civilization. Better still is the approval which is granted to divorce, and the countenance to the divorced, by other people. The time was when a divorced woman could no more secure recognition than Phryne herself. Today even bishops’ daughters are divorced in the midst of murmurs of applause.
But no half-way tinkering of legislatures with divorce bills, suffrage bills, and the like, will avail. In the stress of circumstances, which is the underlying cause of social evolution, and which whirls us on at seventy-five miles an hour, so fast that we hardly perceive the landmarks we are leaving behind, nothing will avail us but an ultimate and logical solution. In the case of marriage this will only be found when both parties are as free to cease such relations as they now are to enter into them, and are free both to enter and to withdraw with the permission of nobody, at the will of each, as people now choose whether they will travel alone or in company.
To many, — to most, I might say to all, so few are the exceptions, — the advocacy of such a state of affairs will bring a vague shrinking, an empty feeling of desolation, like looking over a thousand feet high precipice.
Such is the natural and reasonable attitude of the mind towards a very new idea, of which the results are not yet perceived. It is only after the real meaning and bearing of the proposition are thought out that repugnance can give place to toleration and approval. In time it may come to pass that the very novelty of an idea as to social organization may recommend it, as now the novelty of an invention in physical science is paraded as its best advertisement.
The trouble is that people think of the future as like the present, with liberty added. They picture to themselves an illimitable number of ill-assorted and half-hating couples, using their liberty for as many secret and discreditable outside affairs as possible.
They forget that the only promise worth having is a promise which is fulfilled voluntarily. Under freedom there would be as many permanent and exclusive unions as now, but they would all be happy unions, because voluntary; the unhappy ones would cease to exist by virtue of their very unhappiness.
But whereas now those of mankind who are not by nature capable of permanency and exclusiveness in their affections are driven to the illicit and disreputable, they would, under freedom, be only held to such temporary arrangements as suited their convenience, and would be treated with all honor, provided they fairly carried out their agreements. In these, as in all things, the real virtues are trustworthiness, kindness, and good sense; where these exist there is no need for us to condemn mere unconventionality.
There is one period in life towards which most people look back with pleasure, and upon which all the world looks as the height of idyllic bliss, — the period of betrothal. It is happy because it is free. There is indeed a promise, but it is a promise which fault on either side may cause to be broken. Even the lapse of love on either side not only permits, but with all honorable people demands, a withdrawal. Suppose now that marriage were on the same footing as betrothal. Caution would demand that each of those who wished a permanent union should most carefully know in advance the character and tastes of the other. Taking each the full responsibility of his or her choice, the investigation would be far closer and more exacting than it now is; the resulting unions far more stable. But even then, should the affections of either subside, honor would demand no concealment of it, and no attempt to hold the other to an agreement which is, and must be, based on affection to be successful.
Now, the end of betrothal is the end of life. To be married is to be dead. Why? Simply because marriage removes all necessity from both husband and wife of making themselves agreeable.
Did each know that the only chance of holding the spouse was in holding his or her love by deserving it, to be married would not by any means he to be dead. It would be to be very much alive, with the most vivid and delightful life of continually exercised affection. The zest of companionship and acquaintance with the opposite sex, which is the joy of youth, would not, as now, be removed from the married. Life would continue, zest would remain; jealousy would find its only refuge in a continual courtship; the revolver as a means of procuring marital happiness would go the way of the primitive savage’s war club. Marriage would become a perennial betrothal.
Age, you say? Does not age delight in its own age? Is not sixteen insipid, whether in man or woman, to thirty-six? Is not sixty congenial to sixty? Do the years that we have trod the hills together count for nothing in endearing me and my Joe to each other?
Freedom again is demanded by the developing tastes of both men and women. In rude minds companionship, in the sense of sympathy in tastes, does not exist. A companion, to the more or less barbarous people of the past, was but one who would share the labor and procure physical gratification. Little did it matter to the mediaeval burgher, or to the hard-featured Puritan of colonial days, what the tastes or preferences of his wife might be. He had an iron code of what all such chattels should be, and it was his pleasure to force her to conform to that code. If she objected, he would have her damned hereafter, in addition to being an outcast here.
The time has come when some people exist to whom the word companion means more than that. Such a wife they would regard as a companion in life no more than they would regard a dog dragged by his collar as a companion in a walk. To them companionship means intellectual companionship, and such companionship cannot exist unless it is free.
What pleasure can a man of education and cultivation take in forcing himself upon his wife when he knows that he is odious to her? Grieve as he may over the loss of her love, if he is intelligent he will perceive the futility of resenting it. He must acquiesce: he cannot, without doing violence to his own feelings, wish the continuance of relations which are repugnant to her. Should he perceive that she has an attachment for another, what will be his course? If he really loves her, with a love worthy of the name, rather than a mere sensual desire, blinded by religious and brutalized by social superstition, he will be the last to stand in the way. It will be still as if they were but engaged lovers, where the reluctant confession of a new attachment may bring grief to the one who loses, but no loss of esteem on his part for the one who makes the confession. Loss of esteem! On the contrary, to civilized minds such a confession would bring but a distressed admission of its inevitability, that is to say, of its justice, with a pleasant sense of confidence deserved and frankness and truthfulness won.
Marriage, in such an atmosphere of trust and love, is heaven indeed. Even now, to a great extent, such an attitude is practicable. To those who doubt its being conducive to happiness I would advise a trial of its merits.
The usual matrimonial life, with its perpetual small tyrannies, odious doublefacedness, and vulgar bickerings, is inexpressibly distasteful to those who have grown up to the new ideal. “Didn’t I tell you not to deal with that grocer any more? I don’t see why you can’t do as I tell you.” “Don’t speak to that man again. Remember, I forbid you.” “No, I don’t wish my wife to have anything to do with that Chautauqua affair; I don’t approve of women going outside their homes.” So continually runs the masculine domination over the woman whom popular tradition regards as his property. “Do you own a wife?” a big daily newspaper asks, quite as a matter of course. To the man himself it is sufficiently brutalizing, while by the woman it is home with a repressed rage and hardly suppressed spirit of revolt, that nothing but the fear of other people’s opinion prevents from breaking out openly. Some day her rebellion will be accounted a virtue.
Meanwhile we have cooked bills rendered to the husband, with an allowance of pocket money deftly added, which is handed to the wife in cash by the dealer; underhand searching for letters and opening of each other’s letters; then comes alienation, relaxation for the husband anywhere out of the house, and for the wife, monotony, ennui, and vapidity at home, the whole floating in a menstruum of degradation and desperation.
There is one objection to all such suggestions as I have been making which leaps to the lips of those who hear it for the first time. How about the children? Whose will be the children in case of separation? Will it not be a man’s pleasure to have a family of children by one wife, and then desert her for the next, and so on? There is no such trouble to be apprehended. The reckless raising of families of helpless children is a peculiar feature of the present system. Where the full liberty to have children or not is accorded to the woman, you may be very sure that she will not take the risk of having them, unless the promise of the father to support them can be relied upon, or unless she is able to support them herself. Such objections are trivial, when we, every day, with the approval of all good Christians, take from families their bread-winners to satisfy the unsatisfied mouths of prison or penitentiary, recking nothing of the fate of the children. It is the present system, which gives over a woman bound hand and foot, depriving her, the immediately responsible one, of all say as to how large the family shall be, and placing her and her children at the mercy of the passions of her divinely authorized master and lord.
Nor is any more danger to be feared as far as children are concerned in cases of separation. Like all other affairs between rational beings, such things are best settled by mutual agreement. As we see it now, children have the least to fear. Both parties usually want all the children in divorce suits now, and it is over the possession of the children that the miserable strife culminates.
It is not wise to hesitate, in the face of a principle, at every conceivable problem that we can place beforehand as to its exact working. Better, rather, make sure of the general principle, confident that the difficulties will vanish as we approach, that paths will appear through thickets, that passes will open up beyond headlands, that what seem to be wild beasts in the way will turn out to be but stumps and rocks. Keep we our eye upon the sun.
Another objection, scarcely as valid, is usually advanced. The family? Will not the family, foundation, bulwark, keystone, pole-star, of our institutions, suffer, — nay, perish? It is chiefly a form of words, this family, that is the topic of so much oratory.
There are many varieties of families; which particular variety is it that appears to you so delightful and adorable? Is it nine dirty children with a drunken father and a worn-out mother in a tenement house? Or is it the agricolous variety, where the whole family, mother, growing daughters, and all, do the hardest field work, with the latest baby in a clothes-basket in the shade of a tree? No; the family you really are thinking of is the family with a practising piano for week-days and a moaning melodeon for Sabbaths, the family whose members parade in sanctimonious cleanliness to church, all but the father, who stays at home and smokes, and growls all the afternoon because the dinner has been burned. This is virtue. This is joy.
The word “family,” if it means anything, means a group, consisting of mother and children, which is subordinate to and represented by the father. Nothing else. The system of the dominion of one over others is all that the family represents. The only characteristics that are inseparable from the family are such as are generally condemned by cultivated tastes, and more or less avoided by all in proportion to their developments, — arbitrary command, violence in place of reason appealed to as the method of control, homage demanded on the score of age only, or of age and ancestral relationship, apart from deserts; these are the essential characteristics of the family as an institution; these few care to perpetuate.
What people really mean by the family, when they bewail attacks upon it, is the proximity of those who are endeared to each other by habit. This affection so far overrides the official drawbacks of family life as to seem to be all that there is of the family. Such family life, for those who wished it, would be not only possible, but its pleasures would be indefinitely intensified. The mere fact that it would be maintained only because it was pleasurable, would ensure the absence of unpleasant features, at least of their predominance.
As for the inheritance of property, there need be no difficulty. Simply assume that men only existed, as, for legal purposes, women would cease to exist as women. Assume further that children were things, under the hands of the parent, only as long as to be so was their choice. It resolves itself merely into interpreting transactions between intelligent beings.
Such practical propositions, revolutionary though they seem, are nothing more than the clear statement of the logical outcome of the revolution that is occurring, that to a great extent has occurred, in common opinion. Yes, my dear sir, or my dear madam, who take it upon yourself to be shocked, without knowing clearly why you are shocked. The subversive words of the writer are but the outcome of your own unconscious desertion of the principles of the past, and now see whither you have been blown!
I speak of the radical change in what are called religious views, but which are really utterly at variance with the old-time tenets, wholly incompatible with the old creeds and contradictory of them.
There was a time when natural desires were held to be blameworthy, because they were natural desires: when pleasure of any kind was to be abhorred, merely because it was pleasure.
Grief, despair, repentance, these were the only emotions for those who would please God. It was the day of asceticism, when to mortify the flesh and to make everything as unpleasant for the poor flesh as possible was the correct thing.
We have changed all that. Even the religious part of us has changed in that respect. Whereas formerly it was the will of God that men should make themselves miserable to placate him, now we have gone back to the brave old Greek notion, that wine and meat and health and long life are the gifts of the gods.
We no longer regard women as the fathers in their denunciations regarded them, — as born a little extra wicked just because they happened to be born women. We never think of looking at our friends among women as very terrible creatures, whose sole care it should be to weep and pray, to counteract their innate viciousness and foulness. We no longer regard marriage as a crime that God wink at, as the fathers used to regard it.
We are rapidly approaching the point when we shall not regard it as necessary to our eternal welfare to throw Hetty Sorrel either into the street at first or into jail afterwards. Even now, only the most abandoned Christians would even try to stifle their hearts’ desire to take her and her baby to their arms. Placing matrimony in this way on the footing of an institution which is for man’s happiness, which is to be criticised if it seems open to criticism, and modified or abolished if so seems good to us, we are in an entirely different position from those who regarded it with superstitious veneration as commanded by God, and all the more probably commanded by him the less it redounded to man’s happiness.
Finally, we reach the most powerful cause of change in the economic developments of the time. At the bottom, in the past, woman’s subordination was really due to her physical weakness. Still the most unpleasant part of marriage —the financial dependence of the woman—is due to the fact that she is not yet entirely self-supporting. But women are rapidly becoming independent financially. The inventions of machinery and processes of modern days have to a great extent removed, and will to-a greater extent remove, the physical inferiority of women. With doing they will be able to do more. The irresponsibility and other mental drawbacks with which women are undoubtedly now handicapped, will breed out: and that women have nothing to fear as to their intrinsic capacity for vying with men intellectually, a great army of women, who have even surpassed the men against whom they have been pitted, will attest.
What does this money-freedom of women mean, as far as the future of marriage as an institution is concerned? Simply this: that, as it grows more difficult for men to support women, and easier for women to support themselves, the odium against non-marriage will diminish and disappear.
Then there will be removed the chief obstacle to freedom in marriage, the condemnation of the woman by the women.
Women will then do as many women, — like George Eliot, the noble, — have done, — they will do as they please.
Lay aside black prejudice: summon calmness and common sense. What harm if they should?
Consider the case of a woman earning a good living, as so many do, amply able to support herself and a child. Is not the inborn desire of a woman for a child a beautiful and laudable thing? Is this wonderful instinct, breaking out in the tiny girl with her dolly, to be denied?
Is not a mother and child the very ideal of pure motherhood? Is she to be particularly commended if she should forsake her lucrative position, make herself financially dependent, her earnings the property of another, and herself the mother, not of one child which she wanted, but of a dozen more which she did not want?
Common sense forbid!
But whether you wish it or not, whether you approve of it or not, soon, even sooner than it would appear possible, ça ira, that will come.
John Beverley Robinson.
John Beverley Robinson, “The Marriage of the Future,” Liberty 10 no. 1 (May 19, 1894): 2–4.
The Board of Health of Brooklyn has been disporting itself of late with an unusually virulent outbreak of smallpox. While for a century or so smallpox has been on the wane, it has not become quite extinct, like the plague and other epidemics of times past. On the contrary, a few cases are always occurring in all large cities of the world; sporadic cases they are called, half a dozen or so monthly in a city of a million are quite a matter of course. But when the Brooklyn doctors found the number of cases almost doubling each month, running up to a hundred or more, they were naturally scared.
Strenuous measures were at once taken by the board of health. Detachments of doctors and policemen were sent through all the houses of the poor and everybody was “urged” to be vaccinated. The climax was reached when some stout heart, having some surviving reminiscence of the meaning of personal liberty, refused to admit the vaccinating corps to his rooms, in the face of their threats and warnings. Thereupon the board, having really no power of compulsory vaccination, but bent all the same upon compulsion, declared the rooms infected and quarantined the occupants, refusing to allow food to be brought to them until they should consent to be vaccinated.
The matter was brought before the courts, and, much to the surprise of those who, like myself, had entire confidence in the tyrannical instincts of the American people, a decision has recently been given — “handed down” is the proper boot-licking phrase, I believe — by Judge Gaynor, to the effect that the board of health had no legal right to use such measures to compel people to be vaccinated.
In this decision all who understand what liberty means must acquiesce. Admitting, for the sake of argument, — for I am not prepared to admit it finally, — that certain cases of contagious disease we must remove by force, it is plain that such methods of self-defence must be exercised only in cases of the gravest nature. Certainly, where a fellow being has no contagious disease, we are hardly justified in giving him one in order to protect ourselves and himself, incidentally, from another. Such a course is even more tyrannical than it would be to impose a compulsory course of treatment after he had the disease, for it contemplates nothing less than a compulsory course of treatment for a well man.
Even if the prophylactic power of vaccination were complete, it would be unreasonable for everybody to keep up the practice after small-pox had become extinct; as unreasonable as it would be at this day to inoculate every child against the black death. But when its prophylactic power is not held to be complete, even by its defenders, the amount of real protection afforded by it must always remain open to question.
Without taking any position upon the merits of the question, there are at least plausible reasons to be adduced in derogation of its alleged virtue. Why, for instance, are we not favored with some report as to the number of cases found among those who had already been vaccinated? Why, when the whole tendency of medical knowledge is to discredit the methods of the past, should especial reverence be demanded for so antiquated a process as vaccination? Why, when the evidence in other virulent epidemics tends to show that the medical treatment has been the cause of their destructiveness in the past, and that when medical treatment ceases, they become tractable and relatively innocuous, as in the case of yellow fever, in which it seems the percentage of mortality has diminished to a fraction of what it used to be, now that the ancient treatment is abolished, why should not the experiment at least be tried of dispensing with treatment in other kinds of epidemics?
Why, finally, should we be prepossessed with a method which has gained its present vogue, not by intelligent test of its merits, but by legal compulsion and professional stress? For a doctor would no more risk being called in question for letting a patient go unvaccinated than an architect would risk letting a steeple go without a lightning-rod.
But whatever be the answers to such questions, which complete investigation might give, it is evident that in the end one who is socially free must choose his own doctor and his own treatment; just as one who is religiously free must choose his own priest and his own church. The contrary opinion ends in the establishment of a compulsory State medical practice to the detriment of scientific advance in medicine, and of a compulsory State church to the detriment of scientific advance in ethics.
A medical process does not gain respect for itself in the minds of the intelligent, by forcing the ignorant and helpless to submit to it under the terrorism of bluecoats and brass buttons.
John Beverley Robinson.
John Beverley Robinson, “Compulsory Vaccination,” Liberty 10 no. 2 (June 2, 1894): 2.
Is Anarchism Atheistic?
Are Anarchists necessarily Atheists? Is the tendency of Anarchism toward Atheism? By no means, to the first; to the second, unquestionably.
Probably if the tenets of an earlier day were in vogue, it would not be possible to answer even the first question in the negative. There was a time when the question of Atheist or not Atheist was very definitely determinable. The god of those days had his hierophants, admitted by the people universally to be trustworthy, who could tell you all about god, and with much plausibility describe the indescribable. But we are done with that sort of thing; the more intelligent of us, at any rate, have no notion of accepting any theories that do not recommend themselves to our minds. Though we may not have given up trying to measure the infinite, we at least deem ourselves as competent to do so as any presbyter, bishop, or deacon. We are our own hierophants now.
Therefore, when we come to the new ideas of various kinds that are cropping up on every side, we are not disturbed by them very much; not so much as our grandfathers would have been. They, poor fellows, had to search their sibylline books with dread, lest they might encounter some intractable quotation which would compel them to keep on burning heretics, after they had exhausted all the fun of the amusement and indeed revolted at it, lest they should be burned themselves.
We, lucky birds that we are, need take no such trouble. Let a theory but recommend itself to us, and we make no bones about accepting it. We manufacture a god to suit ourselves, and let the sibylline oracles take care of themselves.
Are we prohibitionists? God doesn’t drink whiskey. Do we object to card-playing? God prefers checkers. So that, if by any chance we conclude that liberty is a desirable thing, not having forsaken our theopœic fancies, we have no difficulty in constructing a god who is fond of liberty, too, and we embrace that admirable thing, Anarchism, without having anything to do wish the abomination Atheism.
But, after all, what does that kind of a god amount to? Can there be a theism worthy of the name that does not posit a personality as its god? Can a mere power that makes for righteousness for long take the place of a good old-fashioned tin-thunder and red-fire god? Such a god is indeed but a sickly specimen compared with the stalwart bully of yore: a mere Punchinello, head and hands animated by the deft fingers of the manipulator.
In fact, at this day theology is evanescent; nothing remains but a certain ethical sentiment. It is no matter what you believe; only be good. That is the religious attitude nowadays. Religion has abdicated as a teacher of facts, but still asserts competence to teach morals.
When we ask of religion, not, as formerly, “What is truth?” but only, “What is right?” we hear a veritable roar of confident assertion in reply. You ought—you ought—you ought—to do this, that, and the other, with the usual hardy loquacity of the unscientific mind. It is upon this idea that some people are competent to tell others what they “ought” to do, that government as well as the current religion is based.
Whatever may have been his preference before, to be taught in this style how to order his life after he has learned to understand liberty, is not palatable to an Anarchistic convert; he has no stomach for it.
Liberty is based upon the idea of letting people alone,—letting them be as “bad” as they please, provided their “badness” does not take the form of interfering with your “goodness,” if you will have it so. But finally the idea of liberty tends to obscure the other ideas of “goodness” and “badness” entirely. The essence of all “badness” is seen to be this perpetual interference with people who merely want to follow out their natural inclinations; as they used to make the restless child-life warp itself to the dead horror of Sabbath afternoons; as they used to frighten children for being afraid by putting them in dark closets, and cultivate their minds with red seams on their tender hands.
So the penalties of god and man in the past,—yes, and in the present,—for blasphemy, for sedition, for Sabbath-breaking, are seen to have been,—yes, again, to be,—penalties for virtues, and the other penalties of god and man for the most part distorted from their proper function into nothing more than an appeal to superstition to keep the victim prostrate.
All this the spirit of Anarchism supersedes. Man the judge of the morals, not the morals of man. Even the moralist variety of Anarchists would, I fancy, assert, not less strenuously than the egoist variety, that each must be a judge of his moral code for himself, that none is competent to force his opinion on another.
When our convert has reached this point, what good to him is the vanishing shadow of a god? Something of the sort he has all along cherished to which to refer his hazy moral notions; a Mr. Jorkins to back him up in his misty and usually tyrannical notions of reform.
But with liberty, what need of the apotheosis of vice called religion? what need of even the faint reminiscent adumbration of a god?
With liberty there comes freedom from fear, freedom from vicious desires, freedom from the cruel and bloody virtues and religions of the past. On the rainbow that hangs over the path to liberty is inscribed, “Neither Master, nor God!”
John Beverley Robinson.
John Beverley Robinson, “Is Anarchism Atheistic?” Liberty 10 no. 4 (June 30, 1894): 2–3.
A Scientific Seance.
“Ladies and gentlemen,” said the lecturer, “we will now hold a scientific seance. The superstitious methods of the earlier days of spiritism are gone. We no longer use a cabinet, nor a dark room, nor even dimmed lights, nor the mellowing influence of hushed songs. Spiritism has become a science, an exact science, and now ranks with astronomy and mathematics as a part of the indisputable and formulated acquirements of the human mind.
“I sit here, you will observe, in a chair,—an ordinary chair. There is no concealed machinery of any kind, no curtains, no trap doors, nothing of the sort.
“I am now in a trance. When I am in a trance there is no physical difference observable in me. I breathe as usual, my pulse is not accelerated or retarded. The pupils do not fail to respond to the usual stimuli.
“The evidence that I am in a trance is that I am totally unconscious of what is now going on. If you should stick a pin into me up to the head I should feel no pain. I might indeed cry out, might perhaps strike out; but these manifestations of apparent pain would really be quite unconscious on my part. It would be but the unconscious reaction, reflex action, as science calls it, of the husk which we name the body.
“I am now in a trance. My voice, you will observe, does not change. In the earlier days of spiritism the spirits thought it best that the control should influence to some extent the voice of the meejum. It was done with the view of arousing interest in what was then a new discovery. But now that spiritism has become a science, scientific methods are required in preference to the former, more dramatic, manifestations.
“As I remarked, I am in a trance, and am inspired by the soul of my control, Ebenezer Whittlesey, formerly pastor of the church at Wigansford, Connecticut.
“My own soul meanwhile is in China, and is inspiring the body of a Chinese meejum and giving him information as to what is occurring here in New York.
“The fact that my soul has left my body cannot be determined by physical tests. The soul is without weight. If you should weigh me now and again when the soul has reentered the body, there would be no difference in weight. That is how the existence of the soul is proved scientifically, for if there were any difference in weight there could not be any soul, for the soul is imponderable.
“In every detail of spiritism a similar scientific accuracy has been reached. There are also, as most of you know, several other esoteric parts of the complete human nature: the astral body and other imponderables, the existence of which is demonstrated in the same way. My astral body at present is exploring the vast galleries left in the cooling lava in the interior of the earth as it solidified from its molten condition.”
“How wonderful!” gasped the audience.
“But, as I remarked, I am in a trance,—repent, my brethren, and flee from the wrath to come. All you wives who have disobeyed the divine command: ‘Wives, obey your husbands,’ unless you repent, and humble yourselves before the righteous wrath of the great Judge, will surely burn forever in the lake of fire and melted brimstone. which shall lave and lap your tortured limbs, ever kept alive and conscious by His mercy and for His glory. I trust none of you will take offence at any remarks that I may make while under the influence of my control, whose ideas are possibly absurdly antiquated. My astral body is now returning and is bringing with it a spirit from the ‘autres vast’ which, like all other parts of the universe, are inhabited by such beings.
“They are coming in the bodies of two commercial travellers on a New Haven express, which is just pulling into the Grand Central. Ah! I am, I fancy, controlled for the moment by the spirit of the locomotive: whoo-oo-oo-oo!!! I thought so. You are, of course, aware that what used to be called lifeless matter has been shown by science to be instinct with life. In fact, science demonstrates that all objects have souls. ‘ You will observe that, although I am totally unconscious of my actions during a momentary trance such as has just occurred, I am often informed after the trance is over by the other esoteric parts of me what my actions have been during the trance. In fact, that is the way that the existence of the trance state is scientifically demonstrated. I now feel the disturbance of the magnetic aura that surrounds the bodies of each of us,—a red aura my own is, and, when in my trance state, I can see the colors of the auras of all of you, scarlet and blue and purple and eau de Nil,—ah! yes, my aura is much agitated, it is the astral body returning with its spirit guest.
“Friends and fellow citizens! I feel very tired with my excursion to the centre of the earth, and my body here will feel equally tired when it recovers from the trance in which it now is. I regret to interrupt such interesting proceedings, especially as I have brought a modern-minded friend with me, the spirit of Tyndall, in fact, who has confirmed, and would like to assure you that he has confirmed, his statements that the distressing apprehension of being engulfed in the molten centre of the earth, the lake of fire, as they call it, is without foundation.
“However, this interesting communication must be postponed until some other evening, as my body, as I hinted a moment ago, when it is no longer supported by the control of other spirits and of myself, its astral companion, will find itself quite fagged out.
“Good evening, gentlemen and ladies. There will be no materialization this evening. My controls decline to materialize. Sometimes they do, you know, and in that case I become all sorts of people, without changing my appearance or voice, of course, but the change is none the less real, —as real, in fact, as the change in the substance of the sacramental bread, which we now understand to be a scientific fact. But not this evening. Some other evening. Good evening.”
* * *
How much did we take in, Juliet?
John Beverley Robinson.
John Beverley Robinson, “A Scientific Seance,” Liberty 10 no. 5 (July 13, 1894): 5.
Anarchism and Christianity.
In determining the relations between Anarchism and Christianity and questioning as to their antagonism or compatibility, we must first make it clear what we mean by Christianity.
Nowadays Christianity may mean almost anything. Plenty of Christians, who call themselves such, and are admitted to be such by almost all other varieties of Christians, do not hesitate to deny the divinity of Christ. Some there are who call themselves Christians while denying even his human existence, regarding the alleged historical character as an abstraction merely. With this kind of Christianity, of course, anything is compatible.
The real Christianity, though, is a different matter: it is a religion, and it is the religion which Mr. Byington, in his recent excellent article, confesses he knows nothing about,—the Catholic religion. This is at least the most conspicuous representative of the Christian religion in Europe and the Americas. Now, the basis of this religion, as of all other religions, is authority.
The victims, or devotees, or upholders, or whatever you prefer to call them, of any religion must begin by admitting the superiority of certain persons and yielding obedience to them. Christianity, as a religion, must be opposed to Atheism, the denial of all religion, and not merely to other varieties of religion.
The question is, whether Anarchism is compatible with religion at large or not, for, in denying its compatibility with Christianity as a religion, its compatibility with all religion is denied.
The essential point in the Catholic Church is the admission by the believer that certain men, by an alleged historical chain of physical contact with their predecessors in office, have the power to do much damage to the layman who violates their commands. As in all other religions, it is a supernatural power which is feared: in fact, religion may be accurately defined as fear of the supernatural.
The first effective rally from this fear, and defiance of this authority, was the Protestant Reformation. Judge for yourself; think for yourself: these were its precepts.
True enough, it had no sooner said so than it took it all back and vowed it never meant anything of the sort; but the stopper was out, and the smoke has ever since been ascending from the bottle, and while we talk it is beginning to assume a giant’s shape,—the shape of Humanity, never to be compressed into the bottle again.
Ever since Luther pulled the cork, the denial of authority has continued and extended. The only really living authority, the only power which men fear, not knowing its worthlessness, is an alleged morality which the State is supposed to support. This last authority is now denied by Anarchism, which is the natural culmination of Protestantism and of Democracy, the political spouse of Protestantism.
All that Mr. Byington says of Protestant Christianity’s compatibility with Anarchism may be perfectly true, because Protestantism itself is the negation of religious authority. To show this is, therefore, rather to fortify my opinion that Anarchism tended toward Atheism than to oppose it.
Protestant Christianity itself is on the highroad to Atheism, for, by its own criteria, if a man, by his private judgment, find the Bible incredible, he is not to be expected to accept it. Protestant Christianity is a changing thing; it represents always the spirit of the age; and the spirit of the age, Mr. Byington no doubt is right in saying, is in its fundamental feelings favorable to Anarchism, without knowing that it is so.
The moral maxims that are set forth by Mr. Byington in another article, “A Lesson on Civil Government,” are no doubt supposed by him to be essentially Christian. “It is wrong to kill a man, or to shut him up,” and so on, “if he does no such thing to you.”
The axiomatic Christian moral precept is to do the will of God, and of his representative, the king or the president, as the case may be; to kill those whom these bid us kill, to rob those whom they bid us rob; that is the essence of Christianity. Not right to hurt a man who does not hurt you! Pure heterodoxy in the old-fashioned Christian’s eyes. Not ten minutes ago a pillar of the Church was telling me that if he had his way, I, whom he condescends to favor with his personal esteem, as he explained, should nevertheless be imprisoned for life, or until I should retract my “horrible” opinions. The Golden Rule? I questioned. Faugh! pooh! pish! the Golden Rule, forsooth, quoth he, and I knew he was a genuine Christian.
Mr. Byington is in a transition stage from the frank brutality of real Christianity, by the natural ascent of modern humanitarianism which calls itself Christianity, but is not.
John Beverley Robinson.
John Beverley Robinson, “Anarchism and Christianity,” Liberty 10 no. 6 (July 28, 1894): 2–3.
Woman Suffrage and Liberty.
To the Editor of Liberty:
“Y’s” argument against woman suffrage, on the ground that women, being more tyrannical than men, will still further restrict our liberties when they obtain the ballot, seems to me to be in the wrong direction. Women possibly may be more tyrannical than men, but if they are, it would seem to be correlated with the separation and subordination of women, which has retarded their development compared with that of men.
By mingling with people at large, at the ballot box and otherwise, men learn toleration; so, by mingling with men as companions at the ballot box, as well as in all the walks of life, women gain comradeship with men, which means equality, which means liberty. Of course, for the ballot itself I care nothing, but that women should care to do at all what men do, on the ground of their common humanity and as equal individualities, that is wherein woman suffrage tends liberty-ward.
Besides, I am not so sure that women are naturally more tyrannical than men. Two things tend to make them artificially so: one the cant that is current among men about “woman’s influence,” holding them up as creatures altogether too bright and good to do anything but be bullied; the other, the excessive censoriousness of women toward each other upon the question of chastity. Both of these will go when men and women are comrades; the men will learn that women do not enjoy having to pose as etherial stage fairies any more than men would, and the women will mind their own business as men do with regard to each other’s private affairs.
But surely the ballot, as well as the bicycle, tends toward liberty.
John Beverley Robinson.
Mr. Robinson is not sure that women are naturally more tyrannical than men: Would he refuse them the ballot if he were sure? He does not directly indicate what his position would be, but the argument he brings forward would logically compel him to second woman’s demand for suffrage even if he felt absolutely certain that woman suffrage would entail a reversion to intolerable political slavery. It seems to me that this logical reductio ad absurdum ought to open his eyes to the unsoundness of his argument. It is doubtless true that “by mingling with men at the ballot box, women gain comradeship with men,” and this is a desirable result, both in itself and on account of its bearing on the struggle for freedom, but the question is whether the result will not have to be purchased at too dear a price, — whether the loss will not more than offset the gain. You propose to give women the ballot because indirectly and gradually their political experience and association with men will liberalize them and make them a progressive force in politics: but if the direct and immediate result of their “enfranchisement” will be a crushing blow to progress and liberalism, it is obviously foolish to invite certain disaster for the sake of remote and uncertain benefits. The question whether women really are more tyrannical than men, is thus seen to be very important. All à priori considerations lead to the conclusion that women’s faith in the efficacy of coercive legislation and regulation is far more blind and absolute than that of men. Spencer has attempted to demonstrate, on biological and psychological grounds, that women naturally are and must always be extremely conservative, but it is not necessary to seek support in disputed theories. Woman’s “separation and subordination” have certainly made her narrow, illiberal, and short-sighted. Her “excessive censoriousness upon the question of chastity” is simply one of the special manifestations of her illiberality and conservatism. Those who maintain that women are not more tyrannical than men will find it very difficult to explain why women should be dissatisfied with conditions which have in no way hampered or retarded their development, and to indicate to what factors the progressive liberalization of both men and women has been due. If the restrictions to which women have been subjected have not caused bad moral effects, there is no evil in the restrictions, and women have no grievance.
But let us admit for the sake of the argument that women are not more tyrannical than men; certainly no one will claim that they are less tyrannical. On what ground, then, can Mr. Robinson, whose efforts are directed toward “disfranchising” men, — toward abolishing majority rule (the only political system under which the ballot has significance and vitality), favor the extension of the suffrage to women? The ballot is inconsistent with equal freedom, and therefore Mr. Robinson would deprive men of it. Now he proposes to give it to women in the hope that it will prove a liberalizing and civilizing agent in their hands. Manifestly these two positions are inconsistent. If the ballot will liberalize women, it will continue to liberalize men, and there is no propriety in attempting to take it away from them. If, on the other hand, it is productive of more evil than good in the hands of men, it will have the same tendency in the hands of women.
It is important that women should “mingle with men as companions,” but the ballot-booth is not the only place creating an opportunity for such mingling; in all “the other walks of life” mingling is not only possible, but wholly advantageous. The objections I have raised are not against mingling, but against mingling at the ballot-box. The difference between the bicycle, the office, the school, the parlor, on the one hand, and the ballot-box on the other, is just this: all the former indirectly tend toward political liberty without in any way neutralizing or offsetting or overbalancing that tendency, while the ballot tends toward coercion and tyranny strongly and directly, and but slightly and indirectly in the opposite direction.
John Beverley Robinson, “Woman Suffrage and Liberty,” Liberty 10 no. 8 (August 28, 1894): 2.
Will Liberty alone Bring Equality?
It is only about fifteen years since the word Socialism first began to be familiarly heard here in America. Before that it was known as a distant theory of certain impractical Germans, of no immediate interest, scarcely more than a new hypothesis of the origin of star-dust.
Since then Socialism has become quite acclimated. With the word at least we are familiar; it no longer excites fear and hatred; on the contrary, it is quite safe and almost respectable to call one’s-self a Socialist.
Even more astonishing has been the rapid growth of Anarchism, both the name and the thing. Without a founder, for it has half a dozen founders; without a leader, for each is his own leader, the Anarchistic idea, the denial of all authority, has within a short time, — ten years at the most, — grown from a thing unheard of to the most conspicuous and most progressive movement in this Nineteenth-century world of changes, progress, and movements.
By Anarchism I mean, of course, Anarchism of all varieties, including the broad ranks of Anarchistic Communism, and not merely the small group of plumb-liners, which is indeed the only school that can clearly explain what constitutes liberty, but by no means the only one that is filled with the sentiment of liberty and the desire for it.
Why is it that Communistic Anarchism grows space while Philosophical Anarchism buds so slowly? The reason, it seems to me, at least one reason, is this: that Philosophical Anarchism lays too little stress on the object of liberty, — equality.
Will liberty bring equality? How will liberty bring equality? These are the questions to which Philosophical Anarchism must make clear answers: for without equality, as well as liberty, we feel there can be no fraternity.
It is to achieve this very condition of equality that Communistic Anarchism has thought it necessary to take up with Communism. Let those who believe that liberty is the sufficient solution of all economic problems show that equality will result from liberty, — show it distinctly and unmistakably in language that may be “comprehended of the people,”—and it will not lack for recruits from the very ranks of Communism.
That Proudhon at least regarded equality as correlated with liberty is evident in his writings. “‘Men, equal in the dignity of their persons and equal before the law, should be equal in their conditions.’ Such is the thesis which I maintained. . . . .” So writes he in his “Letter to M. Blanqui,” and throughout those of his books which I have read runs the same strain, —equality, always equality; liberty as a means to equality, but equality as the end.
Why should I give you more than my day’s work will produce of corn in exchange for less than your day’s work will produce of beans? That is the commercial principle which Proudhon promulgates; liberty he inculcates because, according to him, it will lead to this equitable exchange of day’s work’s worth for day’s work’s worth.
But that such a state of affairs will supervene is not evident at first glance. On the contrary, quite the opposite would seem to be evident. Although, with the abolition of rent and interest, the present arrangement by which the idler receives the product of the worker would cease, and inequality in its most marked and offensive form would disappear, would there not always remain a much higher reward for some who, by preeminent talent or by advantage of preoccupied opportunity, would be able to demand and secure it?
Such is the question which is raised in a little pamphlet, “The Impossibility of Anarchism,” by Bernard Shaw, which I have but recently read, although it was published long ago.
It is impossible, is the gist of his argument, that free exchange of products can lead to equality, because by a more favorable situation one man may, with equal labor, produce twice as much as his neighbor who is compelled to put up with a less favorable situation. That is to say, it is on the question of economic rent that Mr. Shaw shies. Strange to say, neither he nor any of the other critics of economic rent that I know of pay much attention to the differences in personal talent and skill which ought also, it would seem, to command corresponding differences in reward. An interesting case I heard of recently of a man who, by a mere bent or fancy which peculiarly adapted him to such work (as one man can rhyme verses almost without thought, while another, perhaps cleverer, cannot in a week hammer out a quatrain) was able to command a wage of ten thousand dollars a year; not much, perhaps, for a leading divine, or doctor, or singer, but for a simple handworker extraordinary. He was a carver of original type, from which the matrices are made for new fonts.
Clearly special taste is required to make such an occupation remunerative. To sit day after day, designing and cutting alphabets with a minute accuracy compared with which a hair’s breadth would be coarseness, is not a job that many men would find attractive, nor that many men could do at all. Surely such a man, even under freedom, would get higher wages than the ordinary.
I do not think so. I have myself a strong conviction that liberty alone would bring equality: that both the rent of ability and the rent of opportunity — the economic rent — would by liberty alone be equally distributed. That Proudhon thought so, he everywhere unmistakably asserts. Liberty, equality, society, justice, all these are synonymous in his position.
Let it be remembered, in the first place, that it is exceedingly difficult, in a lower stage of social development, to picture the precise working of the next higher phase of development. What man in feudal times, who might have been able to foresee the mechanical and commercial progress of today, could have also predicted that, for a time at least, misery and not happiness would come of it; that with the power to produce more in a day than a man then could in a year, men would not be allowed to produce at all, and would pine and starve for want?
Or who could have predicted the fungus-growth of cities and the depopulation of the country, so marked a phenomenon, from a book acquaintance only with the principles of capitalism?
As matters are now, there is no such thing as exchange of services. The only human beings that exist economically, under the present system, are the monopolists, the proprietors, the owners of opportunities. All other men are merely cattle, their labor is bought and sold by the proprietors as any other animal’s labor is bought and sold. There is nothing like even an inequitable exchange of labor for labor, let alone an equitable.
That almost all labor receives much less than its product is well known; it is reasonable then, at first blush, to think it probable that the rewards paid by the proprietors to those whose special skill is indispensable to them, will often exceed their natural product.
Besides this I have not been able to convince myself that excessive wages are often got even by genius under the present system. For the most part I find, upon digging for it, a substratum of monopoly, — a little nest egg of stocks, or bonds or mortgages, on which genius securely builds.
Picture for a moment the society of the future. Monopoly gone, there remains a number of individuals producing what is wanted in such proportion as it is wanted. Any disturbance of the proportion causes a change in the proportional value of some products; yet, although daily and even momentarily fluctuating, the proportion produced of each product tends to a normal level and the value to a normal point.
Men increasing continually in skill, there is continually a surplus of products, which permits some to withdraw from prevailing pursuits and seek out new ones to gratify the new desires which also continually are developed. Thus at a certain point the farmers and herdsmen of an early stage find it to their advantage to use their surplus product to hire a poet, a hard, piper, or minnesinger, just as sailors find it to their actual material, economic advantage to set apart one of their number to sing to them, — the shanty man, as he is called.
But there is no reason why they should pay their singer a better living than they themselves enjoy. Should they do so competitors will arise who will be satisfied with equal wages. No sooner does an Edison appear than a Tesla eclipses him.
When all opportunities are open there will be a chance for everybody who chooses to make ordinary wages; that is to say, his equal share of the general normal product. Besides this, when all opportunities are open, it will be impossible for anybody to make very much in excess of the wage level, for the same reason that, opportunities being open, even genius will feel a competition that it does not now feel, for everybody knows that at present genius must have enough commercial instinct to make terms with monopoly, or it will have no chance at all of being recognized.
Then, as for opportunities, will not the genius of one, you may ask, monopolize some opportunity? No; and for this reason, that even in producing geniuses,-nature produces variety. Tesla outshines Edison, but in a different sphere; the opportunity of one is not the opportunity of the other.
But, laying aside geniuses, take ordinary economic transactions; such, for instance, as Mr. Shaw speaks of. A coal mine, producing first quality of coal, of easy access; another, poorer coal with far more difficulty in extraction. How can the workers in these obtain equal products? Will not half the work upon the best coal bring twice the amount of other products in exchange?
Undoubtedly it will, and for that reason wages will be equal in both mines.
Consider. At the present time all sorts of mines are worked; to make a mine workable it is only necessary under capitalism that the owner should relax his demands, that labor should receive a minimum. Anything that is left, if it will pay current interest, or even offer the hope of paying current interest, will authorize the capitalist to work the mine. It is characteristic of monopoly that it forces labor to exert itself on inferior opportunities, while holding the best opportunities out of use. But under liberty such would not be the case. The best coal, the easiest of access, would be used up first, as, long as—note this well — as long as there was enough to be obtained to supply the proportion required by society.
If, on the contrary, the vein were very small, sufficient, we will say, for only one man to work there, society would have to resort to more abundant, even if poorer, coal, which would be required in the same proportion as the better quality and would command the same price as that would have commanded if the supply had been greater.
As it is, the scarce and good coal will take its place among luxuries and will be used, like all other luxuries, by all the members of society, in small quantities and for special purposes.
I dwell particularly upon the comparative scarcity and abundance, for, if the supply of the better and the worse be at first larger than is required by social needs, the worse will not be worked at all until the better is partly used up. Whether the scarcity be caused by thus using it up or by original rarity in nature, the result will be as I have said.
Putting it in figures, purely arbitrary and impossible, but useful for illustration, let us say that society for general purposes requires 400,000 pounds of ordinary coal daily. To obtain this, one thousand producers extract each 400 pounds. There is also, we will suppose, a small vein of very excellent coal, from which one man extracts 500 pounds daily. [In the next article, Robinson corrects an error in these figures.—LL.]
In a state of freedom, 500 pounds of this will exchange for 4,000 pounds of the former, or, comparing both with metal, either will exchange for say 10 pounds of lead or 1 ounce of gold. The value in commodities of one is eight times that of the other. Yet the producer of the costly coal receives only a day’s-work’s worth of wages, the same as the other.
But after all we must admit that, although a general equality will establish itself, many lesser and a few greater inequalities, both of ability and of opportunity, will remain. Does this mean inequality forever established? Not at all; it means equality endowed with wings.
If all farmers had each exactly the same amount and kind of capacity, and all had farms of exactly the same size, with the same proportion of woodland, meadow, and ploughed land, rained upon and shined upon equally, we might indeed establish equality among them, but it would be a stationary equality, — the equality of the ants or of the bees.
Variety of ability joined to variety of opportunity means substantial equality and continual progress.
There will always be some looking for better opportunities, trying to avail themselves better of existing opportunities. For each who succeeds there will be at first some excess of product, which, by cheapening all products, will tend to diffuse its benefit among all the members of the community.
As it is always to the advantage of each to use the best opportunities in the’ best way, production will organize itself as no governmental agency could organize it: that is what economic rent means. As each one will do by choice what he can do best, each will be fitted spontaneously with the work that is to him a pleasure, better than any authority could fit him with it.
John Beverley Robinson.
John Beverley Robinson, “Will Liberty Alone Bring Equality?” Liberty 10 no. 10 (September 22, 1894): 2–4.
Progress and Woman Suffrage.
To the Editor of Liberty:
“Y” urges in reply to my letter that woman suffrage is inadvisable because women are more tyrannical than men: that is the basis of his argument. Incidentally he pleads that, even if women are not more tyrannical than men, it is still inadvisable that they should be permitted to vote, because, voting being a bad thing, the fewer the people that do it the better off we are.
Making no direct rejoinder, let me present another point of view. The tendency of the world today is toward democracy. In such countries as Germany and Russia the most advanced radicals can ask for hardly anything further than constitutionalism and democracy. Because the ballot is an accompaniment of democracy, can it be that “Y” will urge that democracy is not to be accepted as an advance upon monarchy? Surely he will not! Even if the men to be enfranchised were less developed than the ruling classes, less liberal and less intelligent, would that be any reason for regarding their enfranchisement as reactionary? The Russian moujiks may very probably be more tyrannical, more superstitious, than the ruling classes in Russia, and the moujiks are certainly a vast majority, yet I hardly think that “Y” would regard the establishment of democracy in Russia, even with the accompaniment of the voting moujiks, as otherwise than a step forward in social development.
So the enfranchisement of women is a step forward in democracy. As fast as the discriminations against women disappear the differences between them and men will also disappear: women, with the same environment as men, are very much more like men than they are commonly supposed to be.
In the end we should still have nothing better than a democracy, but it would be a much better democracy.
The voting would be much the same, and the proportion of votes against liberty much the same, but a large class of the people who were formerly regarded as incompetents, — fit only to deck themselves with ribbons and do housework, — would be admitted as equal individuals. As great an advance, yes, a greater advance, than the step from qualified to universal male suffrage.
In another way woman suffrage would be directly toward liberty: the dominion of the man over the woman, one of the most odious forms of authority, would be much weakened, and the path would be cleared for its abolition. Many a man who now regards it as his divinely taught duty to sneer at women in general, would have to modify his views when he found the despised woman standing by his side to vote as equals under his own revered government. The matter of course assumption by the man of his superiority of judgment at home, with the accompanying assumption of his right to dictate in everything, could hardly be maintained with public admission of political equality. The domestic strand of authority would have to give way.
As for women themselves, they would learn by the political corruption that would at once appear among them that they are not incontaminable darlings. Forced, as they would be, to stand side by side with notoriously unchaste women and to admit their political equality, for, once started, woman suffrage must, by all analogy of the past, soon extend to all women, they would learn not to regard unchastity as an insuperable obstacle to association with a woman, any more than it is with a man.
Even now a good deal of the tyranny of man is caused by the “home and mother” sentimentality.
“I shouldn’t mind it myself, but the women-folk ought not to see,” etc., is often the tone. The tyranny of women would mitigate with their increasing need of freedom for themselves, and although at first they might be ecclesiastically controlled, their enfranchisement would be a severe blow at the very existence of the churches.
If “Y” still doubts, let him ask why all the force of conservatism is at this moment being used to prevent woman suffrage. Is there a church anywhere that advocates it?
Surely with such a recommendation libertarians need not fight very hard against woman suffrage.
John Beverley Robinson.
Mr. Robinson‘s new line of defence is scarcely more successful than the one he has abandoned. Because political progress has followed a certain course, because “it has been so in the past,” he assumes that “it must be so in the future.” But there is plenty of evidence that in the future progress will follow a very different course. Thus the ordinary newspaper-reading and spread-eagle American is sure that in a republic there must be more liberty than in a monarchy; but the real libertarian knows that there is more personal liberty in England than in the United States. The form of government no longer serves as a correct indicator of the degree of liberty enjoyed by the citizen. If Mr. Robinson were an English “subject,” he would decline to work with the agitators for a republican form of government “on general principles,” because a republic is, historically speaking, an advance upon monarchy. He would say, and wisely say, that he would favor anything, no matter by what name it goes, that would increase his personal liberty. In Russia, the libertarian would accept democracy because free speech and free discussion would come with it, not because he prefers to be governed by a large number of little tyrants. Were the Czar to promise a larger measure of personal liberty than could be hoped for from a Russian parliament, the libertarian would certainly prefer the rule of the Czar. The form is nothing, the substance is everything. The truth that popular government and liberty are not synonymous terms is one of the recent discoveries, hence it is not surprising that in the past men were not influenced by it.
The enfranchisement of women, like the enfranchisement of the moujiks, would be a step forward in democracy, as Mr. Robinson says. But is the libertarian, the Anarchist, interested in the triumph of democracy? Not at all. His aim is different from that of democracy, and his methods are therefore different. Purer democracy does not imply greater freedom, hence the indifference of the Anarchists to it. There may be more tyranny under pure and ideal democracy, which doubtless involves woman suffrage and the Referendum, than under crude and imperfect democracy, and the man who cares, not for democracy, but for freedom, cab feel no concern in the struggle for pure democracy.
The other considerations urged by Mr. Robinson are totally out of date. All that he says about the effect of woman suffrage upon the political and social condition of women would apply if men based their opposition to woman suffrage on the old and abandoned belief in ‘the natural inferiority of women. But as a matter of fact, as everybody who has followed the discussion of the subject knows, the two arguments most generally employed by anti-suffragists are that women do not really want the ballot, and that politics being essentially unclean and degrading, it is better for women to abjure it and exert their influence as citizens in better, purer, and higher ways.
Now, such objections to woman suffrage do not indicate that men despise or sneer at women, but, on the contrary, that they respect them. Indeed, the grounds now advanced against woman suffrage, instead of being reactionary, are symptomatic of a healthy, though still largely unconscious, attitude towards politics and governmentalism. They point to a growing distrust of force and the symbol of force, to loss of faith in “popular government” as a palladium of liberty. As to the “dominion of the man over the woman,” it is largely a thing of the past, and what survives of it is due to causes which woman suffrage will do nothing to remove and much to perpetuate. Economic freedom would solve the problem of the subjection of woman, and economic freedom is precisely what woman suffrage threatens to postpone indefinitely. No, no, the cause of woman demands, not woman suffrage, but the elimination of the “suffrage” (majority government) from important relations of life.
Finally, Mr. Robinson argues that woman suffrage must be a benefit, since the force of conservatism is used to check its advance. The conservatives are also opposed to communism; must he therefore embrace it? Besides, Mr. Robinson states as a fact that which is not a fact. The churches and the conservative societies are becoming more and more friendly to woman suffrage. It is the liberals and worldly men that are seen in the front ranks of the opposition. Mr. Robinson’s remarks describe the situation as it was a decade ago, not as it is today. He writes like one who has just returned from Altruria.
John Beverley Robinson, “Progress and Woman Suffrage,” Liberty 10 no. 11 (October 6, 1894): 2.
Mr. Robinson Explains.
To the Editor of Liberty:
It is no wonder that Mr. Byington is puzzled by the incongruities in the figures in my article, “Will Liberty Alone Bring Equality?” By the grace of the devil, — not the typographical, but the theological devil, — an act of faith which should procure indulgence for me at least at Oberlin, — the figures are totally muddled. It should be said that 100 producers extract each 4,000 pounds of inferior coal, while one man extracts 500 pounds of the best coal. The better coal, being harder to get, — eight times harder, — brings eight times as much, yet one man’s product of 4,000 pounds exchanges for the other’s of 500 pounds; that is, each gets day’s wages.
It is impossible for the better coal to be easier of extraction, as proposed by Mr. Shaw, under liberty.
As long as the better coal is easier to get in sufficient abundance, the poorer will not be mined at all. When the poorer coal must be resorted to, the better becomes a luxury for other uses, — grate fires and such, — and does not compete with the steam coal at all.
John Beverley Robinson.
John Beverley Robinson, “Mr. Robinson Explains,” Liberty 10 no. 13 (November 3, 1894): 6.
A Business Government.
[This paper was written for one of the prominent American reviews, and rejected as too theoretical. Its appearance in the editorial columns of Liberty should be accompanied by the statement that the writer uses the word government in its loose and popular sense, instead of observing the rigidly scientific definition given to the term by the editor. Of course, if judged by the definition referred to, — “coercion of the non-invasive individual,”— the “business government” here foreshadowed would not be a government at all, but a simple business enterprise.]
The purification of government is the topic of the hour. The revelations of the senatorial committee, not yet complete, have aroused interest in a problem which has hitherto been slighted. The interest has not been quite a fervent interest; indeed, the comparative apathy of the public has been roundly denounced by some publications.
We are all at heart corrupt, they say, or such evidence as has been brought forward would cause such a wave of popular indignation as would sweep forever, — and a good deal more of such rhetoric. The truth is that the evidence merely corroborates what had before been a settled conviction of most people. Everybody knew that New York politics was corrupt, but nobody had facts to back the opinion. So still everybody knows that precisely similar corruption prevails in every large city of the United States, — yes, of the world, — and to a less extent in smaller places.
Everybody knows that the State and national governments as well as the European monarchies are similarly corrupt, although by different methods from police methods.
But until now the New York city government could snap its fingers in the face of aspersors, with the demand, “Prove it. Support your charges; or you only convict yourself of malignancy and lying.”
And until now the evidence to support the charges was not attainable.
So now everybody knows that laws are made against Chinese; yet the Chinese continue to come. Everybody knows that occasional flashes reveal a state of affairs in the customs department approaching that in the New York city police department. Everybody knows the boasts that rich men have made of their power to purchase legislation.
Everybody guesses very well what exists beneath, but there is as yet no means of establishing what is well known to men of the world, — what none but sentimentalists would deny.
Even the managers of the present inquiry, if we may accept provisionally printed statements, have no hope of permanent reform. They expect that similar purifications will be periodically required under the administration of any party, —a sort of moral house-cleaning.
It would seem that no long argument should be needed to convince people that there must be something fundamentally out of gear in a mechanism which breaks down as soon as it starts, so to speak.
There is one thing that may console us: badly off as we are, there are others in a worse way. Although governmental corruption is universal, there are degrees of it. In China it is said to be colossal; in Turkey and Russia, with their semi-civilized autocracies, there is well-nigh as much as in China. The European governments are by no means so bad, although more corrupt than the United States; while England, which, although a monarchy in name, is in spirit and institutions freer than any democracy, probably suffers less from corruption than any other existing government.
The more intense the form of government, the more closely it tries to direct and control the acts of its subjects, the more certainly is corruption developed: the more closely circumscribed the functions of government, the more carefully repelled its encroachments, the more easily is purity preserved.
It is full time that such matters were investigated with a cool head. We are too apt to let our emotions rule us in such matters; to burst forth in denunciation of what could not be otherwise, and to resort to ill-considered and ineffective remedies before we have even tried to discover the causes.
And it would seem probable, too, from all analogy, that some new principle of government must soon be propounded and, after due thought, accepted. The material progress of the world has in our day — in the past brief seventy or eighty years — culminated. Methods of manufacture, of commerce, of travel, are as far from those of the past as the methods of the Martians may be from these.
Just now a well-known politician is reported to have made a tour through New York State, speaking in ten different places in a day. We jump on the train at New York, dine, go to bed, breakfast, and before another dinner are a thousand miles away in Chicago or New Orleans.
What a fairy tale for our grandfathers that would have been! So with our Arabian Nights telegraphs and telephones and electric lights, which our dull minds call humdrum and matter-of-course, not knowing a romantic age when we live in it. Add to this an industrial development which suffers only from its over-efficiency, — which produces so much that we have not enough. So at least say they who talk of over-production as an ill.
But our political arrangements are of the past; not mediaeval, it is true, but of the time of queues and knee-breeches; nearer in spirit, if not in years, to mediaevalism than to modern times.
New suggestions, it would seem, in matters political ought to be as acceptable as in matters mechanical: an age which regards flying machines as a near probability should have its nerves fortified against the shock of novelty in merely intellectual propositions.
Yet the principle that I am about to set forth, while new to most of us, is really far from novel. It has been discussed by thinkers more or less for ages, and would before now have been taken up by the people had the times been ripe for it.
Morality! morality! is now the cry. Honesty and probity and all that sort of thing the purists say that the people demand “in trumpet tones.”
How can you expect, messieurs reformers, that all the virtues can spring from a poisoned soil? that honesty can come from a system that is founded on dishonesty?
“Dishonesty?” you ask with a start; “what do you mean? We do not know what you are talking about. We propose to elect honest men, and then things will be done honestly, will they not? System, forsooth! What is the man talking about?”
I assert that not only the New York city government, but that that of the United States and of England, and France, and Russia, and all other countries, is based upon open dishonesty, — more than dishonesty, theft, — more than theft, robbery by violence. What do you call an institution that gets the whole of its income by taking it by force? An honest institution? Hardly.
The principle of supporting governments by taxation, of making people pay for things against their will, is at bottom a principle of warfare, of robbery; and everything that stands upon it is inevitably permeated with dishonesty. The principle of the future will be that of voluntary payment for protection as much as for cigars.
This is the principle which I do not announce, — for it has been before announced, — but which I press upon the attention of the world.
Before you slam the book shut, listen.
I am not proposing immediate action.
I am not asking you to vote for anybody or anything. I ask for the acquiescence of the mind only. Very possibly some of the objections which you can urge more quickly than I can reply may be paramount. Very certainly no immediate change of method can be expected or even desired. All that can be asked is a quiet mental acquiescence in a proposition on the face of it inexpugnable, and a thoughtful consideration of its eventual practicability.
At the worst it is but an attempt at a political flying-machine; and sneers, even for flying-machines, are out of order in an age all new.
But we need not take this worst view of it, for, after all, it is not so absurd to think that, if we want to be honest, it is well to start by being honest, and not to pick a man’s pocket in the first place, and then hug ourselves for our virtue in rendering him a strict account of the oatmeal and sugar we have bought for him, and the small commission we have kept for our own support. Better, more virtuous, indisputably, to refrain from picking his pocket in the first place.
“But it would be impracticable,” you say. “All that you say may be true in the abstract about taxes being dishonest; but, after all, it is mere Sunday-school talk, impossible quixotism; things are not done in that way in the world of facts. We talk honesty, but we don’t really mean it. Business has nothing to do with the golden rule. It was a business-government, you remember, that you were going to talk about.”
It is because it is a business-government that is demanded in a business-age that fundamental honesty, the first requirement of business, is necessary. I say that honesty is the first requirement of business, not as a sentimental phrase, or with any blindness to the pervasive dishonesty that actually exists in business. Knowing all of this very well, I still say that honesty is the foundation of business; the principle of honesty, of giving in return for what others are willing to give, and of giving equal value for equal value, is what makes business possible; and that dishonesty, widespread as it is, is an evanescent aberration, a survival of the military methods of the age which we are leaving behind us.
In the future — not so very far in the future either-—government will be reduced to a minimum; and what government there is will get its pay as other enterprises do, by deserving it and earning it, not by taking it.
How is it possible that government, as it is today, should be otherwise than corrupt? Conceive, if you please, a business concern conducted as government is conducted. Or conceive government as it is, turned into a business concern. Suppose, for example, all the other functions of government abolished, and the function of life-insurance assumed instead.
In the first place, all existing life-insurance concerns would be prohibited and abolished, so that no standard of competition would remain by which we could judge of the quality of the insurance offered to us by government.
We should all have to take it, whether we liked it or not, as Squeers’s pupils took the sulphur and molasses; in fact, we should be regarded as “disloyal” if we even entertained an opinion that the governmental insurance was not the best possible.
Our premiums would be taken, if not paid, by the summary proceeding of selling our property and appropriating the amount demanded. There would be a vast crowd of insurance officials elected every year, with absolute power, when once they were elected, to fix the amount of premiums to be taken and to determine the mode of their expenditure. Under these circumstances the Great American Insurance Company would become very much what the Great American Republic is now.
The officials, knowing that their tenure of office and emolument depended more upon getting votes than upon doing their work, would inevitably make getting votes their business, as would those who had formerly had their places and wanted to get them again. Two parties, the Ins and the Outs, would alternate in running the concern, and both would be compelled for the preservation of their life to run it more for their own benefit than for the economical insurance of other people. Each would have to put up a part of his emoluments to pay for the operation of getting votes, and, as long as there were plenty of men out of work and hard up, votes could be bought and would be bought by subscription, of the Ins to keep their places, of the Outs to get them.
Doubtless this would be wrong, but it would be inevitable.
The amount of premiums to be collected would be as great as the officials dared to make it; the insurance would be as inefficient as they dared to make it. Being without the commercial check of bargaining, the customer not being able to refuse to buy, nothing but the fear of popular revulsion, throwing them out of their places, would restrain the exactions of the officials. All sorts of plausible pretexts for establishing new places and increasing the payroll and the premium fund would be invented.
Lavish expenditure upon buildings and other plant would be encouraged and admired by the insured as evidence of the greatness of the Great American Insurance Company. When the danger point in the amount of premiums demanded was approached, recourse would be had to bonds, thus skilfully making the running expenditure seem trifling, when really it was enormously increased; even deficiency bonds to meet the running expenses would be issued.
It is easy to see that a business carried on in this way would at once degenerate into a nest of corruption, as governments everywhere tend to degenerate.
The only remedy will be found to be placing the governments on a business footing, — giving their members the commercial privilege of refusing to buy the wares offered at their pleasure.
It must be remembered that, after all, governments are but machines for accomplishing certain purposes.
Three kinds of things governments, for the most part, at present assume to do: first, protecting the lives, possessions, and liberties of their adherents; secondly, carrying on certain undertakings which, it is said, voluntary associations could not do; thirdly, making people be good.
The last is not admitted as a legitimate function of government nowadays by thinkers and writers; nevertheless in the popular mind and in practice it is one of its recognized occupations.
Life will be pleasanter, though, for everybody when governments finally relinquish trying to make people be good, as they must eventually. Such attempts are the Sunday laws, the liquor prohibition laws, and all such, which a tyrannically-minded majority enacts. There is no more sense in Sunday laws than there would be in Saturday laws if our Jewish compatriots happened to be in the majority. They, however, are far more tolerant than to enact such laws, although what they might become if demoralized by the possession of power cannot be foretold.
The attempt to make people be good is formally antagonized in the Declaration of Independence, where it asserts the pursuit of happiness as something to be protected by the government. Now to pursue happiness means to do as you please, whether what you please appears virtuous to the majority or not, provided only that you do not restrain them from their pursuit of happiness.
Some day men will get tired of bounding each other for different notions of happiness; persecution will teach tolerance; the prize-fighter will enjoy as much bloody eye and broken nose as gives him pleasure, and none will be distressed if they are not obliged to pay to witness the amusement.
Take out the third heading, the inculcation and enforcement of virtue as a necessary occupation of government.
Along with this abolish the whole business of industrial undertakings by governments. Lloyds would do the work of the Lighthouse Board far better and cheaper. Street-cleaning, even now, must be done by a private cleaner, employed by an association of house-holders, if it is to be done at all, except in the main thoroughfares, which the officials of the Great American Governing Company do not venture to neglect. Street-building and paving would be better done in the same way.
Even railroad-building, which, if anything, might be guessed to be probably better done by government, is admittedly better done by private initiative.
I cannot further particularize, but it is evident à priori that where the purchaser may decline to pay he is likely to get better service in public works. Take away public works as a necessary function of government.
Finally, protection, the only remaining function of government, if it is to be called protection at all, must be done with the consent of the protected; otherwise, it ceases to be protection and becomes attack.
As men lose their superstitious respect for governmental institutions, a respect which is a survival of the respect for the monarch personally, and which is naturally still strong, having existed during the ages of development from the primitive savage state, they will learn that they can do better for themselves various things which they now concede to governments, they will restrict the functions of government to protection only, and even this will be performed by voluntary payments.
Such a change implies, of course, many other changes in the spontaneous adjustments of society. What these changes will be in substance has been elaborately worked out by other writers, whose conclusions may not at this time be set forth. It is sufficient to say that for those who care to pursue the subject it can be shown that they are in the direction of greater freedom and consideration for the individual, and the completer fulfilment of democratic ideals, in opposition to the tyrannical and all-engulfing State with which State Socialism threatens us.
John Beverley Robinson.
John Beverley Robinson, “A Business Government,” Liberty 10 no. 14 (November 3, 1894): 2–3.
The Land of the Altruists.
If you start from the South Pole and sail due north, you will come to a wonderful country inhabited by the people called Altruists.
They are called so because they prefer other people’s happiness to their own.
They are a very industrious, hard-working, uncomplaining people, forever toiling from daylight to dark, making all kinds of useful and luxurious things; yet so unwilling are they to enjoy the fruits of their labor, so anxious for somebody else to be happy at their expense, that they have made this very ingenious and complete arrangement to secure that result.
They have ordained that everybody who has produced a thousand dollars’ worth of goods shall receive from the rest of the community sixty dollars a year; he who has made or obtained in any way ten thousand dollars‘ worth shall receive six hundred dollars a year; and so on in proportion.
Now, it is easily seen that, as the people to whom these stipends are paid are at liberty to go on working and making enough to live on, they are able to lay by the amounts paid to them by the community. After awhile these amounts become so large that they need not work at all, for all the rest of the Altruist community are pledged to support them, their children, grandchildren, and greatgrandchildren, not only till death, but forever.
Such sweet and unselfish dispositions have these Altruists.
There are getting to be a good many now of these people who are supported by the Altruists.
Two or three million at a guess in every twenty or thirty million families do not work, but are paid because they have so much already. They are getting very bossy, too, these stipendiaries of the workers, and begin to hold themselves very loftily, and despise the unselfish workers as dirty, ignorant, low creatures, unmindful of the fact that it is only because the workers are Altruists that they enjoy providing luxuries for others rather than for themselves.
It is getting to be rather hard scratching, too, for the workers, Altruists though they be, who enjoy hunger and suffering; for to the objects of their care, the supported class, they have given, not only all the houses and furniture, and all but a little of the butter and meat and bread, but the very land itself, so that now, when the Altruist workers want to work still harder and to cultivate more land to support the rapidly-growing numbers of the Aristocrats, they find themselves forbidden by these very Aristocrats to use the land which they have given them.
Clearly a catastrophe must occur. Although the Altruists enjoy starving as long as they have the pleasure of seeing the Aristocrats, as they call those whom they support, have plenty, there is a physical limit to the process of starvation, and, when the Altruists begin to diminish in numbers, the Aristocrats must also dwindle.
What the outcome will be no man can prophesy,—a relapse into slavery at least, which the Altruists would no doubt enjoy even more than their present arrangements; but there is a chance that their natures may change; they may become Egoists, and no longer take pleasure in giving to those who give nothing in return. Then there will be no Aristocrats, and everybody who is not an Altruist will have a much better time.
John Beverley Robinson.
John Beverley Robinson, “The Land of the Altruists,” Liberty 11 no. 7 (August 10, 1895): 3.
The Conditions of Greatest Happiness.
Mr. Bolton Hall says that he “could not show. . . that it is more important, or better, or more moral that two persons should have a certain amount of happiness rather than have the less developed one killed and the other have three times as much happiness.”
This, I think, is precisely what Anarchism does we tend to show, and without any appeal to sympathy.
The idea that inequality of happiness is preferable is based upon the aristocratic feeling mingled with religious principle that some men are “more developed” than others, and that it is the function of the more developed (which is the scientific term for the righteous) to kill off the undeveloped,—that is to say, the wicked, in ancient phrase.
And they have been at it, lo! now these many years,—Briton against Ashantee; Catholic against heretic; Christian against Jew, Turk, and Infidel; Pagan against Christian,—-so far back that the memory of man runneth not to the contrary, each trying to kill off “the undeveloped.”
At last Anarchism has come forward, saying: My dear fellows, this is an astonishing waste of energy, and, if you are so awfully developed as you think yourselves to be, can hardly be conducive to your happiness, either to that of the killer or killed.
You will find, if you think it over, that it is vain to talk of your being more developed than each other, or to settle it by trying to kill each other. The only kind of development you settle in that way is development of fighting capacity, valuable enough in its way, but not at all comprising all possible development, as I think you will be the first to admit.
Now, if you do admit it, you, the superior classes, the more developed you know,—that is to say, both of you,—will be more apt to attain three times as much happiness each, if you stop trying to emulate the Kilkenny cats, and devote yourselves each to achieving as much development as possible in the way that gives him most pleasure.
Surely you can see that, if you arrange a compact between you not to interfere with each other at all as long as each pursues his own course of developing, reserving the right of pitching in with might and main if either attempts to limit the devotion to development of the other, you have a better chance of obtaining pleasurable development for both than in any other way.
All this, I repeat, providing that killing is not the most pleasurable conceivable development for you.
But, before you enter upon this, you must take to heart that such a compact would include for each the clear right tosell his vote or his body, providing the other was as free to refrain from selling. You may also take to heart the fact that such a compact would take away from the few the power that they now have to live on the earnings of the many, and would make it unnecessary for the many to sell either their votes or their persons.
John Beverley Robinson.
John Beverley Robinson, “The Condition of Greatest Happiness,” Liberty 11 no. 21 (February 22, 1896): 6.
Not to Be Overestimated.
You have not in the least overestimated Basil Dahl. I do not think that he could be overestimated. The fellow talks poetry as if he really meant it, and with the dignity and solemnity of a chanting priest. Surely such should poetry be,—serious statement of matters worth talking about, with rhythm unconsciously, or apparently unconsciously, spreading itself over all.
The poem is singularly affecting in its simplicity. I force myself to speak of it in a dry, critical way, for, if I should say all that I think, it would be such unmeasured and enthusiastic approval as is better thought than written.
John Beverley Robinson.
John Beverley Robinson, “Not to Be Overestimated,” Liberty 11 no. 23 (March 21, 1896): 5.
Mr. Tandy’s “Voluntary Socialism.”
It seems incredible to one who sits as I am sitting that there should be a “social question” agitating the minds of men not three degrees away on the surface of the globe.
I am sitting in a hunting-cabin close to the shore of an Adirondack lake. My right hand is roasted by a big wood-fire in a stone-chimney; my left is chilled by the damp air from the open door. It is necessary that the door should stay open; for the fireplace smokes, and, if the door were shut, the room would be uninhabitable; as it is, it makes the eyes smart so that writing is difficult.
We have just had a visit from a neighbor, the only neighbor within two miles, a typical Uncle Sam with hollow cheeks, aquiline nose, and goatee beard. He came to greet our arrival,—for we had known him in the past years,—and to tell us how his twenty-year-old son had just got a job at twenty dollars a month and board, “and a pile o’ money that is, yes, a pile o’ money.” As he sat “visiting,” mingling his very deliberate remarks with strangely incongruous bursts of rural laughter, his daughter, about seventeen, strolled diffidently in, she too to welcome us. “She had “hired out” in a town twenty miles away, was at home for a day or two only, and would go again, for months at a time, to her kitchen.
But what has all this to do with Mr. Tandy’s book?
This,—that it brings home to my mind most forcibly the general sentiment that I felt after reading it.
It is a difficult matter to criticise such a book. In general, it is a good—a very good—solution of the problem. The problem is this: to present a few large, new, broad ideas, constituting an organic group, to an audience which, if it grasp them at all, is sure to resort to questionings of the most minute details.
The danger is that the perspective will be lost,— that, in the attempt to bring out the small objects in the distance, the larger grouping of the foreground will be obscured.
If the book had been intended for a tract to awaken thought chiefly, it is to be feared that such would have been the effect; but, as it is probably addressed to those who are already awake and have, perhaps, already formed other opinions, and who therefore will read with a critical, not a docile, mind, the elaboration of the background was doubtless unavoidable.
The subjects of land, money, currency, special privileges, government, egoism, and the allied topics familiar to the readers of Liberty are taken up, one by one, and are treated in a very clear and satisfactory way, the only general fault that I could find being, as I have said, that the sense of the proportionate importance of the topics is not quite as well preserved as might he wished.
Nevertheless the book is an admirable one for bringing the idea of freedom to the unconverted mind.
The important question of a money-standard Mr. Tandy—very wisely, I think—avoids, urging that only under freedom can the best standard be determined by experiment. Theoretically, no doubt, all measures of value continually fluctuate, as do all measures of other things; the main difference is that in measures of length, for instance, the conditions are so simple that we can easily prescribe them, and say that a certain brass rod, at a certain temperature, and with certain barometrical and electrical conditions, shall be a yard; while, in measures of value, the conditions of production, invention, demand, distribution, and so on, are so various, so complicated, that we cannot prescribe just the state of affairs under which any given commodity shall be taken as a measure. Yet withal such a combination of values as shall more closely approach an unvarying value would be as truly material as the combined brass and iron rods with which the most perfect pendulums are constructed.
But this is aside: the main point which I should like to see worked up a little more in the next edition is the very important fact, in connection with evolution and the survival of the fittest, that with the beginning of society, properly so called, the intense competition of individual with individual, permitting the survival of but one perfect type, ceases; and the possibility begins of several different types surviving and prospering better than could a single type alone; so that the strong man will then be better off for the weak man and the weak for the strong, the clever for the stupid and the stupid for the clever. This, indeed, is what society means. As long as all the beasts of a community do the same thing, we call it a herd, not a society; but, when some ants are fighters, some workers, and some have still other functions, we recognize the true society.
So with primitive man. While all are hunters or fishers, the social development is least. When the lame man becomes an arrow-maker, society takes a step in development.
The highest society is that in which there is the greatest number of functions, requiring the greatest variety of types of man to fulfil them, and the least possible sacrifice of life for lack of a suitable function.
That is one reason why the military rule of the past is felt to be incompatible with the further differentiation of an industrial development. In such a society, moreover, difference of capacity and corresponding difference of function imply, not greatly varying, but substantially equal rewards to labor. Upon this Proudhon dwells, and to satisfy this instinct the Communist-Anarchists insist upon putting equality before liberty; not seeing, as the men of 1793 saw, that equality follows liberty.
And this brings me back to where I started with the old backwoods farmer and his daughter. Equality follows liberty, and fraternity follows equality.
Here, where the oppressions that deny liberty are least felt, men are substantially equal. The “hiring-out” girl may not be relegated to the kitchen, and expected to stand while her employer lectures her. She, too, is a man and brother; she will come in and expect a chair to be offered, and a grasp of the hand and a warm word. You may hire her services, but not her subserviency. Her brother, at twenty dollars a month, though he esteems it “a pile o’ money,” is not to be clad in rows of brass buttons, or expected to make a dash at his hat with his forefinger every time he speaks to you. He would starve first.
And here the houses stand unlocked, but no depredators trespass. An unoccupied house may be used by a belated traveller, but everything is safe in his hand.
People talk of the impossibility of such an Arcadian state for hundreds of years, forgetting that through the greater part of the country it exists now.
So strongly does the desire for fraternity appeal to the hearts of men that it seems to me most important, however clearly and coldly we preach liberty, that we should never forget that, after all, it is but a means to an end, and that it is to gratify our desires for fraternity and equality that we desire liberty.
John Beverley Robinson.
John Beverley Robinson, “Mr. Tandy’s ‘Voluntary Socialism,’” Liberty 12 no. 3 (June 13, 1896): 6.
Liberty and Equality.
My dear Tucker:
How you do jump on a fellow! What I meant to say was that as perfect a society as possible, with the material comforts and immaterial joys that accompany it, summed up in the word fraternity, was ultimately what I wanted.
I tried to point out that anything like a perfect social condition implied substantially equal advantages to all of its members, and practically complete social equality,—that is to say, that the man who for any reason had less of material wealth would not therefore be either despised or dominated by him who had more. Material equality may not be absolutely attainable; social equality is absolutely.
Now, this approximately perfect society naturally includes liberty. Even the Communists will face you down that they, too, want liberty. And I have no doubt that they do. So that liberty is both a means and also an end,—the only means and a great part of the end.
What I am after is society. The Communists say, and I say, that society cannot be without equality. But they say that free competition cannot bring equality; while I urge that it can, yes, must, and, when they understand that this is possible, none will be quicker than they to ask for liberty only.
John Beverley Robinson.
John Beverley Robinson, “Liberty and Equality,” Liberty 12 no. 4 (June 27, 1896): 6.
“What is a landlord, Johnny?”
“A landlord is a man that father pays rent to, sir.”
“What does the landlord do for a living, Johnny?”
“He don’t do nawthin’, sir; he just lives on the rent that people what earns it pays him.”
“Why do they pay him, Johnny?”
“‘Cause he wouldn’t let them work on his land, if they didn’t, sir.”
Rent is money paid for the privilege of going to work.
In common talk rent means many things. We speak of the rent of a house as well as of the rent of land; of the rent of the furniture in the house, of the water-rents, and the rent of a post-office box.
But in economic discussion, for convenience and clearness, the word rent means only what is paid for the use of land. In this sense rent is one of the most easily perceived forms of usury, or use-money; for rent is paid, not for any transitory or consumable qualities of fertility or otherwise, which may be restored to it by labor, but for the location merely as a location, valuable in proportion to its nearness to a market, to the contiguity of a water course, or to some other advantages, not conferred upon it by labor or removed by use. So that, after the tenant has finished using it and returned it to the landlord, nothing has been received by the tenant, in return for the rent that he has paid, but permission to use the land; nor has the landlord given anything in return for the rent he has received; he has simply compelled the tenant to divide up, by force, supported by the ignorance and prejudice of the tenant himself.
Picture the position of a community in which the land is unowned. Imagine, if you will, the Pitcairn islanders upon their first landing, or the Swiss family of the story. They dig clams out of the sandy beach, or knock oysters on the rocks; they pick the fruit that happens to grow wild, and dig edible roots. The clams and oysters and the rest are their natural wages, —the whole product of their labor in obtaining them. Presently, these being diminished, they plant and gather crops; they cut trees and build houses; and still the whole product of their labor is their reward.
Suppose now the land to be owned. The island, we may imagine, is claimed by England. Some day a solitary Englishman is cast ashore from a wreck. “This is my island,” he explains; “I was just coming to occupy it, when I was shipwrecked. Behold my documents, constituting me lawful owner! Leave the island at once.”
“But,” they reply, “we shall have to walk into the sea.”
“What does that matter to me?” replies the owner; “go and drown. It is my land, and you must leave it; but, if you want to stay, you may on this condition: you must divide with me all you produce; you must give me a quarter of every bushel of oysters you gather, and a quarter of every crop you make.”
“Why should we divide with you?” they reply. “Lend a hand and help us, and we will give you your share cheerfully; but, as for maintaining you in idleness, that we will not do.”
“But I have bought this land,” urges the claimant; “I have paid good money to the English government for it.”
If the islanders are blinded by the popular respect for existing institutions, they will deferentially admit his claim, and pay him tribute for permitting them to live, but, if they are guided by common sense, they will reply: “No man and no body of men can justly confer upon you the power to drive people from land which they are using to work for their living. There is room enough for you; go to work yourself, or go without. We are many, you are one; you can’t fool us into working to pay you rent for you to live on in idleness.”
Rent and interest are the slices which mistaken laws, supported by a mistaken sense of justice, permit to be clipped from the earnings of workers by those who, as far as they are rent and interest takers, do no productive labor.
Rent is paid by the worker to the idler for the privilege of going to work; interest, we may note incidentally,—although this is not the place to enlarge upon it,—is paid to other idlers by the workers for the privilege of exchanging the products of their labor. Landlord and money-lender, as such, are idlers, although they may have occupations in which they are producers along with the rest.
The whole aim of economic social reform is to secure to the producer the entire product of his labor, and to make it impossible for anybody to forcibly take from a producer any part of his earnings.
Once conceived as an engine by which idleness makes industry tributary, the destructive effects of rent are seen at every turn.
Go through any of our great cities, and examine the houses where the workers live. You will find them piled story upon story, side by side, so closely that the very air which intervenes is foul with their exhalations; you will find floors carpetless, beds without covering, cupboards without food, all stripped to satisfy the monthly demand for them to divide up their earnings with the landlord. I do not speak now of extremities, when sickness or hard times cuts off the supply and there is nothing left to pawn; when the deviltry of the law flings the victims upon the sidewalk, and calls it justice. I speak only in cool blood of the ordinary condition of the workers, when so large a proportion of their earnings must be handed over to the landlord that their life is reduced to the barest existence. In contrast, note the superabundsnce of the rich, the continual round of costly pleasuring which they enjoy. Houses filled with trash upon which thousands have been spent in the merest wantonness. Ormolu cabinets littered with little wagons and houses and toothpicks of gold and jewels, neither beautiful or useful,—simply an avenue for squandering. Decorations that do not decorate; retinues of servants for ostentation, not aid; breakfasts and luncheons and dinner-parties, where the excellence of the food barely counteracts the vapidity of the feeders.
People talk of abolishing the tenement-house. All the wealth and display and fashion, together with all the real refinement and scholarship of the day, rest upon the tenement-houses, and is supported by them.
“Go to work,” roughly says the man in the thousand-dollar sealskin overcoat, as some poor wretch asks altos. He does not know himself the extent of his cruelty. He has been brought up to think that anybody can go to work that wants to. Soon the poor devil will learn that the reason why he can’t go to work is that the opportunities to work are held out of his reach by Sealskin, and his like, and he, in turn, will say to them: “Go to work!”
Observe, too, the desolation of the rural places by rent. Why don’t people occupy the land that is vacant? is the frequent question. There are deserted farms everywhere, it is alleged, pining for cultivators. Investigate it for yourself, and you will find it is not true. Everywhere the tenant may have gone, but the landlord holds on. His price is always a little higher than he can get. Even if he should offer the use of the land for nothing, the tenant would know very well that the improvements which he would have to make would shortly belong to the landlord.
People crowd into the cities, not because they prefer the normal city to the normal country, but because, in the first place, poor as it is, the living that the city offers is better than that which can be earned in the country; in the second place, because the city with its false excitements renders the condition of the enslaved tolerable, which would be intolerable in the loneliness of the country, depopulated by landlordism.
For the most part, throughout the farming-country the landlord takes the form of the holder of the mortgage, who becomes virtually the owner of the farm, and who collects his six, seven, or eight per cent. of what is really rent, until the steady drain, or some untoward accident of a bad season, makes him the owner of the land at a third of its value. Everywhere we find the whole population of the country eagerly handing over a fifth part of their income in return for the landlord’s gracious permission to work.
Enormous as is the amount thus taken as rent from the product of the workers, it is little as compared with the vastly greater amount which might be produced, and which would be produced, were it not for the prohibition to produce which the power of demanding rent as a condition of labor constitutes. What this amount would be it is impossible to calculate, but some notion can be formed from a consideration of the vast numbers of people who are unable to obtain employment even in good times, while in dull times, as at present, the army of the unemployed is estimated at a million in the United States alone,— throughout the world, where modern industrial conditions prevail, perhaps ten million.
This unproductiveness of landlordism is, too, the reply to those who point out, correctly enough, that the riches of the rich, if divided up equally, would not suffice to appreciably improve the condition of the poor. It is not a division that justice demands; it is the free opportunity to go to work to produce what shall suffice.
Nor is it any reply to say that there is still plenty of cheap land to be had; because it is not only cheap—that is to say, undesirable—land that is held out of use, but also the most valuable and most desirable opportunities. I have in my mind a water-power in a populous State, which at any moment could be sold for five, ten, or even twenty thousand dollars, or could be leased at a corresponding rental. But such prices by no means suit the owners; they are holding it until they can get fifty, or perhaps a hundred, thousand; but the damage they do to the community is not measured by the paltry thousands that they will eventually obtain for removing their embargo, but by the many more thousands in value that would be continually produced were the water-power free to any who would go to work and use it.
In just such a way is the whole country held out of use, the more desirable parts at a high price, the less desirable at a lower price, but each at a higher price than can be immediately obtained. Such a proceeding results in just the same way that a diminution in the size of the continent would act; it makes it appear crowded, when it is really sparsely filled.
We have here in these United States a piece of land some twenty seven hundred miles wide and perhaps twelve hundred north and south. It contains two thousand million acres of land. Some of this may be accounted uninhabitable,—desert and so on,—but deserts even now produce mineral wealth, and what they could do with the full power of modern inventions nobody can guess. Still, making every allowance, take two thirds as available land,—say, thirteen hundred thousand acres, or about twenty acres apiece for each man, woman, and baby in the country. Such an area of land would support with ease three hundred million of population, or four times what it now has, and, with improved methods, twice that again; yet with our few—sixty or seventy millions—there is no land; it is all held out of use, while the people starve for need of it.
It is easy to see how this state of affairs has grown upon us. That each one should retain possession of the spot where he had planted his crop seemed incontestably just; that he should also possess against all others the spot where he had built his shelter seemed as indispensable. Such possession is still admitted as an essential condition of progress. Communal control was, indeed, the first, but in the course of development separate individual control became necessary. The better judgment of some individuals as to methods and times of planting, cultivating, and harvesting; the comparison of varying opinions, two heads being better than one proverbially; the advantage of the division of thought as well as of the division of hand-work,—all became available only when individual possession became established.
From the mere possession while in use easily grew the possession from season to season; reasonably enough, too, for the benefit of manuring and tillage extends beyond the moment.
Nor did it seem fair if the occupant were called away, upon one of the frequent wars of the time, or if he were attacked by a long sickness, or by any cause deterred for a good while from working his claim, that his right of possession should lapse.
Ultimately it ended in what we see now,—possession for the purpose of use changed into proprietorship, which is the right to hold out of use: the legal privilege, not only not to use, but to prevent others from using.
Suppose for a moment that the legal power which the lords of the land have were exercised by them as it might be. Suppose the landlords should say to the tenants throughout the country: “Go; we no longer will allow you to occupy our land for any price. Get up; go; leave it!” Out upon the highways forthwith would crowd a vast, homeless herd,—men and women and little children and babies in arms with no place to exist, for the whole earth would be forbidden in them. From the crowded cities out into the country roads they would swarm; from the suburban hamlets into the farm-roads. Neither food or shelter could they obtain without the consent of the owners of the land. And the intelligent newspapers would express surprise that there were so many more “sturdy beggars” than there used to be, and would advise the town authorities to feed them bread and butter with strychnine on it, as one newspaper actually did advise.
For such a state of affairs is what partly exists now. Not all landlords, but some landlords, have said to their tenants: “Go!” And they have had to go.
These are the wretches that we call tramps, and say will not work. It is a charge that no man should dare to make against another, when there is for him who cannot pay no place where he can work without somebody’s permission. Not work! He cannot even abstain from work as a Diogenes, or Simon Stylites, or Thoreau, might prefer to. The landlords own even the highways, and, if the disinherited walk there in numbers too great to suit the lords’ tastes, they will order out their Gatling guns and disperse the rioters, as they call them.
Now, this state of affairs cannot last. This power of life and death which rests with the land holders must be limited. In some way it must be brought about that the land—the face of the globe—the place where we all must work for our living—shall be free for us to work upon. It must be reasserted that the land is no more a possible object of mercantile traffic than the bodies of men. As human slavery, once legal and respectable, is at last discredited, so the indirect ownership of men which ownership of the land gives will also be discredited.
It is vain to hope for any improvement through legislation; indeed, it is through legislation, and the superstitious deference paid to legislation, that the trouble has arisen. Remedies have been proposed through law-making, but they would either fail entirely to accomplish the object in view, or they would accomplish it in a clumsy and roundabout fashion, and with indirect evils involved that would more than counterbalance possible benefits.
For instance, it has been proposed to put all taxation on the land, making it unprofitable to hold land without using it, and enabling the government to handle the immense income derived from what would virtually be the rent of all the land for the benefit of the people. There are many objections to this,—more or less obscure to those who have not given thought to economic discussion,—which may be found in controversial literature; only one consideration need we take into account here. If the amount taken by the landlords justly belongs to the producers, why allow the landlords to take it at all? Why trust to the roundabout method of letting the landlord rob the tenant that the politicians may rob the landlords, only to hand the proceeds back to the tenants again?
Further, if it were proposed to hand the amount back to the tenants again, it might not be so bad, but everybody who knows anything knows how much chance there is of a politician handing anything back to anybody. So that really the most that anybody expects from such an arrangement is that the politicians would spend it for the benefit of “the dear people,”— for libraries and baths and soup-kitchens.
Even if this measure of success were accomplished, it would fail to do justice to those who do not want either libraries, or baths, or soup kitchens, to those who have their own ideas as to ‘how to use their earnings,—ideas not gratifiable by any of the benevolent provisions intended to gratify them.
If indeed, the amount of the product taken for the use of land is unjustly taken, the only reasonable remedy is to discover the cause which makes such injustice possible, and, as all science teaches, to remove the cause.
This cause, we have seen, lies in the permanency of the title to land, according to present arrangements. It is just that a man should hold the land that he is using, as long as he wants to use it, with all allowances for temporary absence; but it is unjust that he should be enabled to hold it, when he does not want to use or occupy it.
In the general recognition of this cause of rent is the only possibility of the abolition of rent. The details as to what constitutes use and occupancy of land will vary according to the locality, and as experience may dictate; the principle at the bottom we should recognize without waiting to solve every problem that m may encounter, confident that, when once established in our minds, it will prove a means by which practical problems may be solved, one by one, as they occur.
Land tenure, upon such a principle, would protect ill improvements, all labor bestowed upon the land while the occupant wanted to use it; it would, on the other hand, throw open all unused land for anybody to go to work upon that wanted to.
Land speculation would come to an end. The land as an instrument of production, not as an article of merchandise, free to all to use, where not already occupied, would be broad enough and fertile enough to give home and food to a score for every one that now lives upon it.
This view of land-occupancy will appeal most strongly to the country dweller; to the townsman a slightly different point of view will make it clearer.
When a man no longer wishes to use his land, what does he do? Rents it, of course. Rented land, then, is land which the owner is not using or occupying; the amount that he takes as rent is taken by violence from those who work for it; in justice the landlord has no claim to it. For his house, indeed, he may claim whatever deterioration it may suffer by use, but for house and land together nothing more may he justly claim.
Consequently why not arrange a rent-strike? It is not easy to find scabs to fill the place of tenants who simply refuse to pay, Landlords hesitate about ejection by wholesale. Moreover, if the idea spread; if ten thousand or twenty thousand at the same moment should simply refuse to pay,—where could the landlords find a remedy? How could deputy sheriffs in sufficient number be found to serve notices, or policemen to arrest, or courts to try, or prisons to hold, such a number.
They would hardly dare to assassinate such strikers separately, and it would not be possible to shoot them down in mass with machine-guns.
All that the workers in cities have to do, when once the idea that rent is unjust is generally accepted, is simply to refuse to pay rent; all that the workers in country have to do, when once the idea that to hold unused land is unjust is generally accepted, is to go to work wherever they find unused land. Landlordism then will vanish, as the morning mist dissolves,—with out violence, without legislative trickery, as gently and naturally as the tree blossoms and the sun rises.
In that day a new humanity will inhabit the earth. The faces of men hardened and distorted by slavery will glow in the beauty of freedom; the hearts of men seared by oppression will be oppressed no longer by fear of want.
Poverty and crime and misery will end, and prosperity and hope and joy be established forever.
John Beverley Robinson.
John Beverley Robinson, “Rent,” Liberty 12 no. 10 (December, 1896): 6–8.
Interest is what is paid for the use of money. Undoubtedly interest is paid for the use of other things than money, as when a house or a piano is rented; but other things command a price for the use of them only because restrictions upon the issue and loan of money make it impossible, except by paying a price for its use, to borrow money with which these other things might be bought.
So it is that the question of interest hangs upon the money question; and whoever would understand how it is that a large part of the products of labor is taken from the producers by those who do not labor must have some idea of money and finance.
Money and finance! Oh, horrible! exclaims the reader; I never could understand anything about finance!
Nevertheless, it is a matter of life and death. We are in misery now, because we don’t understand finance; we shall be destroyed, unless we set about understanding it. The people that grasps clear ideas on the money question will be the people best adapted to its environment, and will survive; should no people We prove capable, as a people, of grasping clear ideas on the question, there can be no doubt that the whole of the nineteenth-century civilization, such as it is, will perish.
For we are past the stage where it was possible for individual adaptation to secure the survival of the individual in the midst of a hostile society. We are so far developed socially that the new conceptions required for further social advance must be received by a part of all the social. members large enough to determine the opinion of the whole, before they can have any influence in improving the material prosperity of the social whole. Otherwise the individual of highly-developed ideas will be crushed by the pressure of a more barbarous society, which he alone is unable to enlighten.
Moreover, we have reached a point in social development where the social assimilation of correct ideas about money is imperative. The astonishing state of affairs with which we now find ourselves unexpectedly confronted in these last days of the century is wholly a problem of distribution. Things enough, in all conscience, we have, and we have unlimited power of making more things,—enough for everybody to have plenty; but, strange to say, for some hitherto unperceived cause, the people who want to go to work to make things cannot, and the people who want things cannot get them, and everything is in an economic muddle.
As I said, it is a problem of more skilfully dividing up what we have produced, or what we can produce,—a problem of distribution; and a problem of distribution is a money problem. because money, after all, is but a tool to accomplish distribution.
In trying to get light on this paramount question, begin by discarding everything that is usually read or said about it.
On general principles, when we are looking for a solution of a social problem, we must expect to reach conclusions quite opposed to the usual opinions on the subject; otherwise it would be no problem. We must expect to have to attack, not what is commonly regarded as objectionable, but what is commonly regarded as entirely proper and normal.
Therefore, begin by disbelieving all the usual talk, and all that is printed in newspapers and the regular run of books upon money. A good deal of what they say is true, but it is so mixed with what is false that, until you have your fundamental ideas straightened out, by which to discriminate for yourself, you will be as much misled by what is true as by what is false.
As for incomprehensibility, don’t for a moment imagine that these money and finance questions are as complicated as the people who write about them make them out to be. For the most part, these writers do not in the least understand the matters they write about, and they inevitably jumble the mere accidents of the practical workings with the essential principles of the theory.
In the concrete money is complicated enough; in the abstract it is simplicity itself. Let me try to give you some clear idea of the simple bottom principle.
In the first place they will tell you, with a profound air of wisdom, that the only really real money is gold and silver. Money-metals they call them, in their supercilious, round-eyed superiority, as if there could be any inward unweighable virtue in gold and silver, rather than in any other metal, or even than in any other substance, which must forever make them the only possible money! That is the first falsity that you will have to deny to yourself in your own mind, irrespective of my denial of it here.
For in these matters each must think for himself. Believe nothing on the authority of others. Weigh and understand and decide for yourself.
True enough it is that gold and silver have been much used for money, have in their time served a good purpose; but it is also true that these gold and silver coins are but a sort of merchandise themselves and to exchange other merchandise for them is, after all, nothing but a kind of barter.
Besides this, it is long since gold and silver were the only money. For many years new paper documents of various kinds have been used as money,—-have been paid out and received for goods and services in final settlement. So that gold and silver are evidently not the only money. Paper promises, we see with our eyes, are just as good as gold and silver themselves as a machine for exchanging the real things, the bread and meat and clothes and houses, which are what we really want. Better, in fact, because, if we could use paper documents only, we might use the gold and silver coins and bricks for far better purposes than jingling them in pockets and passing them from hand to hand, from purse to till and from till to parse, until they are worn to dust again. Sheer waste, that is, of good gold and silver, useful as they might be in their incorrodibility above tin and copper for sauce-pans, fly-screens, and many other purposes.
If paper will do, why not, in common sense, use paper?
Yet here our wiseacres will step forward, put on their spectacles, and solemnly announce that, as long as there is gold and silver to pay OK the paper promises with, the paper promises are all right, but—and so on.
True enough, in a sense, too, this is, and once upon a time it was thought necessary for the man who paid out paper promises to have an equal amount of coin-money in his strong-boxes to redeem his paper promises. But now there is not enough coin in the world to redeem more than a small part of the paper promises that are used every day.
The truth is that, as the exchanges of the world increased, and the time came when there was not enough gold and silver to effect these exchanges, so that people had to resort to paper promises, with gold and silver as security, the exchanges of the world increased so vastly that now there is not enough gold and silver in the world even for security for the paper promises that are required as a machine to exchange things.
Consequently the paper money of to day, in spite of the demonstrations of the wiseacres, is not secure. There is three or four or eight or ten times as much paper as there is coin which the paper promises to pay, so that the time must come, and does come every little while, when there is more coin wanted than can be had for redeeming the promises, and one of the financial crises, or panics, ensues,—one of these panics that are becoming so ominously frequent and fatal.
Still, up to panic point, we see for ourselves that paper promises serve sufficiently well. Were it not that they promise to do what it is well known to be impossible to do, they might serve even better. But, notwithstanding this drawback, paper it is now-a-days, and paper of some sort apparently it must be.
Let us drop, then, this word money, along with the old conception of gold as the only money. What we want to do is to trade, to exchange, by the easiest means. Paper so far is the easiest means. Call it no longer money; call it currency, simply for convenience of nomenclature. Paper currency we know is possible; it seems to be inevitable; as a fact, it is almost the only currency used.
Consider now the fact that a certain quantity of this paper or other currency is needed to carry on the horse trades and innumerable other trades in these wide-spread United States, in this wider-spread globe surface. As things are at present, what currency we have is restricted in quantity in two ways. The first of these restrictions is the surviving belief that gold or silver is the only possible commodity that can redeem paper currency. Although it is absurd to suppose that a currency is safe when there is enough gold and silver to redeem a part of the currency, yet the superstition survives that a certain proportion must be maintained, and that, although we may require normally thrice as much paper as gold, yet it would not be “safe” to have more than twice as much.
The second restriction is the method by which alone more currency can be obtained when it is needed.
Think of currency, all the time, as simply paper documents, destitute of value in themselves, but necessary to keep the running accounts straight between men. Statisticians will point out that by far the greater part of the business of the world is done by checks and drafts and such commercial devices, and will urge that currency is really a trivial matter, almost a superfluity.
Anybody who has passed through the financial crisis of the year 1893 will know how essential this matter of currency is. During the height of the panic no currency could be obtained. The consequence was that business almost stopped.
Other devices were used as far as possible, especially credit; people kept on buying groceries and the necessaries of life; what few factories kept at work had to put off the payment of wages for week after week. In every way people tried to get along without currency. Nevertheless it was only demonstrated how indispensable currency is. Checks and mercantile paper are really founded upon currency, being all of them promises to pay currency; credit does well enough for a while, in the expectation of currency to settle balances, but neither commercial paper or credit can take the place of the organized credit that we call currency.
This currency, these documents that pass from hand to hand, without endorsement and in final settlement, must be had, and must be had every year in greater quantities as the trade of the world grows.
Now, in order to get these instruments of exchange, what do we do? Manufacture them or buy them? By no means. We have to borrow them, borrow them from the banks. We do not realize it, most of us plain people, because we so seldom come in contact with banks and banking devices. Most of us do our work and get our wages at the end of the week, pay our grocer’s and butcher’s bills, and think little of where the bills come from or go to. Where they go is plain enough; the butcher or the grocer deposits them in some banks; but where they come from is not so plain.
Where does the bank get them?
The bank gets them from a set of politicians at Washington, who are in the service of the banks and bankers.
They have these bills printed, and lend them to the banks at a charge of one per cent, which is called a tax, but is the same as one per cent. interest.
The banks lend them for as high a rate of interest as they can get, and, the scarcer currency is, the more they can get for it.
Remember, too, that the banks do not lend without taking security from the borrower. He who would borrow from a bank must either deposit with the bank some tangible security, or he must give his personal note for it, which is the same as pledging his stock, whatever it may be. The bank leads him no wealth, because he must have wealth himself to pledge, to the amount he wishes to borrow. All the bank does is lend its name to certify to his solvency. And, for this insurance of his credit, so to speak, the bank can make him pay at least six per cent., leading the bills that it receives for one per cent. for six, or even more, in proportion to the stress, up to one or two per cent, not yearly, but monthly, on a certain class of loans.
By the necessity that people are under of depositing their currency with a bank in order to do business, and by the equal necessity they are under of borrowing from the bank at times, the banks are enabled to tax us all, on every transaction, six per cent. and upwards.
Nor is the payment of this forced tax the greatest wrong. Indeed, we might pay all they demand, and still be happy, were it not for a far greater ill that is involved. This ill is the intolerable restriction on the amount of work that can be done, on the amount of employment that can be obtained, on the amount of wealth and comfort that can be produced,—a restriction that is caused by the arbitrary limitation of the currency-supply.
We see at the present moment thousands, yes, hundreds of thousands, of men throughout the country anxious to go to work to produce each the things that the others want to buy. They are longing, all of them, to exchange the products of their labor. The coalminers dying because they are not allowed to dig coal to warm the shoemakers, and going without shoes which the shoemakers may make, but are forbidden to exchange with the coalminers. And so it is throughout the industrial world; one cannot produce, because another cannot produce. Yet the bankers will tell you—and probably it is true—that there is a vast hoard or currency which they would be only too glad to lend. Yes, no doubt, but at rates of interest higher than anybody can pay for it; or, if at lower rates, than under conditions regarding time of repayment that make it useless to borrow. On loans for a definite period not less than five per cent—for the most part six—will satisfy their demand. In other kinds of business, when they cannot make a sale, they know the price is too high, and put it down. The banks do not put the price down, and will not. Why? Because the banks have a monopoly.
How is that? you ask. Cannot anybody start a bank? Yes, in a way; in another way, decidedly not. In the first place, there are laws which absolutely forbid the issue of any more bank currency, except by the deposit, not of any good security, but of government bonds which practically cannot be had.
In the second place, there is about as much paper currency already in existence as the gold and silver in existence will warrant, and, as long as gold and silver are the only legal security for currency, there cannot be much more currency.
But why not, you will ask, leave other things for security, beside gold and silver, if there is not enough of these?
Here is precisely the trouble. There is a United States law heavily taxing any such issue of currency, and there are separate State laws making it a criminal offence to issue or pass any other currency than that authorized by the government.
So that the monopoly of the banks, although not a formal monopoly, is maintained by so many legal restrictions that it is just as close a monopoly really as if it were formally so constituted.
Were it not so, in crises like the present business concerns of high standing would pay off their employees in small due-tickets, which the employees in turn could pay to the coal-dealers and batters, who would receive them on the credit of the standing of the issuing concern. Shortly institutions would spring up of even wider connections, to make a business of handling such wage-tickets, issuing their own in place of them, and a currency system would grow up, undefended by law, dependent on its merits for its existence, and furnishing a method of exchange without any interest charge at all.
This is what is meant by free banking. The old State banks were not free at all, but subject to as many restrictions as banks now are, with the same result of making their services expensive and inefficient, or even detrimental.
Really free currency means, in the first place, no legal-tender laws.
Why? Because a really sound currency people will receive on its merits. Only an unsound currency needs a legal-tender law to compel people to take it. Our present currency needs it because it is necessarily unsound; there is supposed to be enough gold to redeem it, but everybody knows that there is not; consequently it requires law to compel people to receive it. Take away the law, and the fact that a currency commands confidence is assurance of the sufficiency of its security.
Really free currency means, in the second place, no legal requirement of any particular kind of wealth to redeem it,—not gold or silver or anything else,—leaving that to the judgment of those who are to receive it, but who cannot be compelled to receive it, in the absence of compulsory legal tender laws, if they do not like the security.
Really free currency means, in the third, fourth, fifth, and nth places, the removal of all other taxes, inspections, certifications, and restrictions of every kind.
In the absence of such restrictions, imagine the rapid growth of wealth, and the equity in its distribution, that would result. Thus, for a supposition, a group of men would pledge their possessions, houses, workshops, goods, and chattels to a sufficient amount.
They would print notes of certain small amounts,— one dollar, two dollars, and so on,—and scrip of even smaller denominations. A farmer needs to stock his farm. Now he must mortgage it for six, eight, ten per cent. Then he would go to the free bank and pledge his farm, and receive the use of its notes, a handful of them, to the amount of half the value of his farm, for which he would pay not six, or four, or even two per cent. Three-quarters of one or one per cent. would be all he would have to pay.
Why. Because there would be other free banks competing with this bank, so that the price of currency would shortly come down to the more cost of running the bank, paying the clerks, and printing the notes.
Although starting as local concerns, and at first commanding only local confidence, it would be but a short time before a system of currency would be developed that would extend over the world, as even now bankers’ letters of credit are international, while most government notes are only national.
Enough. If you have not yet caught the idea, keep thinking about it, and you will eventually seize it.
In doing away with interest for the use of money, we do away, at one blow, with interest of all kinds, whether called interest, or under the name of house-rent, dividends, or share of profits; the trifling amount that would be paid for the use of currency would not, properly speaking, be interest at all, but wages, paid for their labor to the people who made it their business to provide currency.
All that is produced, it must be borne in mind, naturally belongs to the producer. It is only by the artificial legal restrictions that we have permitted to exist that a large part of the product is taken from the producer and handed to the idler in the forms of rent and interest.
By abolishing these we permit the producer to retain his whole product, to the advantage of all concerned; for every one knows, and no one better than the idlers themselves, that man’s greatest happiness is in congenial and productive labor.
But a far greater advantage will accompany the abolition of interest. Not only does interest now take a large slice of the proceeds without giving any equivalent, but it actually prevents people from producing anything like what they could produce otherwise.
To go to work at all, land is essential; to work to any advantage, exchange is essential. No machinery ever invented has the wealth-producing power of division of labor and exchange of products.
Yet we have so arranged it that, before anybody can go to work, he must pay a tax to somebody who owns the land, and, before anybody can trade, he must pay a tax to somebody who owns the tools of exchange.
Remove these bonds, and the volume of production would more than suffice for all human wants.
In doing away with interest, the cause of inequality in material circumstances will be done away with; the frightful scene of overfed luxury and of helpless destitution that now shocks us will disappear.
For ages the dream of mankind has been equality; for ages the achievement of equality has eluded our efforts.
Even now men’s minds are filled with devices which are expected to at least bring equality nearer,—devices such as the taxation of inheritances and the taxation of large incomes; all bungling attempts to remedy by legislation the ills which are the outcome of previous legislation.
The only real remedy for inequality is the discovery of the cause of inequality, and the removal of the cause if that be possible.
Up to now the prevailing opinion has been that inequality of fortune is caused by inequality of ability. You are poor, sneer the well-to-do, because you are not as capable as we are. It is because we do more that we have more.
Nor is such an opinion without plausibility. There unquestionably is so great a difference in the abilities of men, as well as difference in their wealth, that it seems not unreasonable, at first blush, to connect the one with the other.
But, when we learn that the boast of the well-to-do is without foundation, another view prevails.
When we learn that the only work that is work at all, economically speaking, is productive work, and that the well-to-do are well-to-do in proportion as they do less productive work, and depend more upon other people’s earnings; when we find that they have, as it is called, an independent income, which, clever or stupid, industrious or lazy, honorable or scoundrel, they continue to receive, we begin to doubt the correctness of the opinion which so loudly announces that, men have only what they merit.
Yet even when we have reached this point of questioning the validity of interest, we are still at a loss. It seems so reasonable, it is undoubtedly so just, that one should receive for lending what another is willing to pay that we are quite baffled in our inquiries. The old-fashioned indignation against the money-lender seems so misplaced, for we perceive quite clearly that the money-lender is doing only what the borrower is anxious that he should do.
Still another contradiction comes when we reflect that this interest, which seems so natural, is, from another point of view, quite absurd and impossible.
We all know the astonishing stories of the accumulating power of compound interest,—how a dollar, set to grow in the year one, would now outvalue several worlds,—end we can figure for ourselves that these statements are substantially true. When we consider, moreover, that a good deal of all interest is compound interest, because many people who receive interest do not spend it all, but invest some of it to draw more interest, we see that it is impossible; that at a certain point the rate of increase is greater than the whole product of the globe could pay.
It is only when we begin to understand that the borrower does not really pay freely,—that he is compelled by a monopoly, backed by rides, to pay what he must,—that we begin to see the cause of inequality, and to understand the remedy.
Imagine, then, a society in which equality prevails. Does it seem absurd to fancy a hod-carrier as learned and as polished as a physician, or a stevedore as a companion of a college professor? It does seem a mere fantastic flight of fancy; it is really the goal toward which society is tending.
For there is nothing intrinsically degrading in the work of a hod-carrier. There is no reason why the college student, who has delighted in rowing and has been a fair student besides, should not choose hod-carrying as a congenial athletic occupation, and continue a cultivated and well-bred man. The excessive amount of labor which now bends the backs and breaks the hearts of the hand-workers is quite unnecessary; the free society of the future will need but three or four hours of so exhausting toil.
Besides this, with substantial equality of reward will come equal power to secure the advantages of education and leisure. The hod-carrier will have money and leisure enough for self-cultivation, enough for his son’s and daughters’ college-going and European travel, and all the refinements that anybody else has.
Then, too, will vanish the odious “social distinctions” that now sicken. He’s only this, and she’s only that, quite unfit to associate with our superfine selves, whom somebody else in turn sniffs at, will all come to an end; and in mere arithmetical and financial truth and justice will be laid a foundation for the brotherhood of man which sentiment alone can never establish.
John Beverley Robinson.
John Beverley Robinson, “Interest,” Liberty 13 no. 3 (May, 1897): 5–7.
To the “impractical theorist” comes a smile of amusement when he hears himself denounced as a sentimental visionary by that other man, the patient, submissive drudge-horse who calls himself with pride a practical man. Well knows the visionary that there is none so much the slave of emotion and sentiment as this same practical drudge; indeed, the whole work of visionaries for these many centuries has been the knocking of unprofitable sentiments out of drudges’ heads: convincing them that their strenuous struggles on behalf of their superstitions might better be exerted on behalf of their own and their children’s welfare of body and brain.
Most people, in fact, continually live in an ideal atmosphere. The less thoughtful each man, the more out of contact with realities, from the Italian laborer who knows nothing of bacteria, but has a wholesome dread of the evil eye, to the more developed, but still unscientifically-minded, public-school teacher, who has a good notion of the causes of disease, but nevertheless scorns not the aid of a sprinkle of holy water.
We are all brought up, not to question and to understand, but to accept and respect; in consequence, we are moved to most of our actions, not by things, but by vaguely-attenuated phrases, which may have expressed thoughts in the minds of those who invented them, but to us are mere sounds.
Such a superstition is the popular conception of government.
When the revolting colonists established these United States, they did what they could to separate us from the hero-worship of the past. They denied the robes, the maces, the buckles and feathers, as well as the titles of superiority and inferiority, to all functionaries; making them to the eye of the practical drudge, as well as to the mind of the philosopher, plain whiskey’drinking and tobacco chewing bipeds, like ourselves. They succeeded tolerably well in what they attempted; although it is not many years since the supreme court resumed some of the ancient black-gowned rig, knowing well that it is the supreme boss, and knowing well, too, that for supreme bosses toggery is far more important than justice.
They did not succeed in what they did not attempt, —that is, in removing from men’s minds reverence for the intangible figment of the imagination called government.
So it subsists in our minds today, and causes us to perform the strongest and most painful struggles; making us joyfully turn over a large part of our wealth absolutely into the hands of a parcel of alleged representatives for their sole disposition and expenditure, whom, good fellows though they be, we would not entrust to choose and buy a house, or even a coat, for us; we knowing better our own taste, knowing better too whether we can afford to gratify it, than any representative. Oh! but they are government! It is the voice of a god, and not of a man!
Therefore, though we would not trust one of them to build a house for us, we will trust them all together to waste millions on a Capitol building; to spend other millions in subsidizing those who are rich—too rich—already; sugar millionaires by direct bounty; iron millionaires by indirect privilege; to fit up ﬂeets as useless as a howitzer on our front piazza would be, but good for bringing profit to politicians.
It is but a brief time,—brief in a world’s development,—some eight hundred years,—ten long lives only would comprise it,—since we started, look a fresh start at least, in this business of government making.
Chaos it was at that time. Not in any invidious sense; at the bottom not chaos at all, any more than the innumerable waves are chaos to him who could know their origin and grasp their entanglements, but to the eye chaos all the same.
Each man acknowledged the rule of him only whose rule he had to acknowledge; of him whose rule it was to the advantage of the ruled to submit to.
The vassal was loyal to the lord because the lord was of use to him, because the lord had arms and mail, leisure to practise warlike exercises, besides the natural inherited disposition of a leader, and a leader is a useful, an indispensable, thing, in warfare at least; perhaps in other things as well. The vassal found in the lord a protector, and gladly gave his services to aid his lord in their joint work of protection.
The commands of the lord, too, the vessel willingly accepted, even though he might not see their precise bearing upon the matter in hand. He would go to bed when ordered, eat or refrain from eating as required, presuming some military perfection to be the end in view. But, by and by, when the lord found too willing obedience, being, like the rest of us, human, he presumed upon it, and began ordering things not required for the common protection; grew, by degrees, insolent and overbearing; demanded for himself all the meat; left for his faithful vassals bones only. Then the spirit of the vassals was aroused, their sleeping intelligence was awakened. Why, said they, should we suffer these things?
Valuable, no question, Domino Magnifico is as ornamental headpiece, on his caracoling charger; perhaps, too, his ideas of tactics are of some value, and under his esteemed direction many a neighboring village have we plundered. There is a limit to things, however, and, when he wants to burn our houses as firewood in his great hall, and us to camp in the open, wires and babies too, under the trees only we can perhaps dispense with him, if he cannot be otherwise persuaded.
All along it has been a submission to power for the sake of some benefits; a denial and revolt when the emotions of the constituted leader, knight or parliament, too far exceeded the advantages obtained.
All along, too, it has been a military relation, in its essentials. The judicial function has been exercised, and is still exercised, not upon the principles of justice, but simply with the view of quieting squabbles between those in the ranks as best might be, and reducing them to a military submission.
All along the course of civilization has been a series of revolts against arbitrary power, still persisting in military regulation of private affairs, while the need for military regulation diminished. So the droit de jambage and the other alleged “rights” of the French seigneurs were for ages tolerated as a less evil than open revolt, until, after a while, revolt became a necessity. So other “rights” from time to time have been repudiated by those who suffered by them. Always revolt from the constituted authorities has been needed for the advance of liberty; always the rebels have been on the side of civilization and progress.
A long way we have advanced by that road; not so far, though, but that we still retain much of the old blind military devotion to those whom we regard as our leaders. We teach our children to make gestures of respect to a flag; to maltreat those who fail in respect for a mere piece of cloth; forgetful that we are inculcating a superstition, emancipation from which that very flag was meant to symbolize.
Yet, in spite of all, we have advanced; we are to advance in the future still farther.
The system of military subordination and command was a necessary system while fighting was men’s chief occupation. He is my enemy; help me to kill him, or you are yourself my enemy and I will kill you. That is the principle. But even in military times those nations advanced the most rapidly who maintained their military unity, not by the coercion of any of their members, but by their voluntary working toward a common end.
Even when coercion was most frequent and necessary, it was deemed the fate of a slave to be coerced. Rome might scourge her tributaries; her citizens not.
As military exigencies relax, those nations advance most rapidly in which the coercion of military times is most rapidly replaced by liberty of action. Even in military times there must be liberty to some extent to produce a Themistocles; in commercial and industrial periods liberty is still more essential.
The reason is that the activities known as commercial and industrial are fur more complex and varied than the fighting occupation can be.
To fight is one thing, needing scarcely more than one bent of mind to adapt to it, one method to carry it on, one crude code of morals to organize it. To produce and to exchange products is a whole of many parts, each of which may divide into other branches, until the whole becomes as complicated an organism as a branching tree, where from one trunk grow many boughs and many hundred twigs and leaves. Only the organism of commerce is not, like a tree, fixed; it is a continually moving organism, changing itself, like the chameleon, with the color of the ground, a cephalopod, with a thousand arms, to grasp with or walk with, each with preternaturally sensitive eyes, ears, taste, and smell. For such an organism a various choice is needed among the men who are to make it up. One type will not do; many types it must be. And for the attainment of this infinite variety of material for the infinitely inwrought mazes of a developed human society one thing above all must exist,— liberty.
Force all men into one mould by an inexorable military code, and a developed society is impossible.
This is why liberty and progress have gone together; this is why at this moment social development languishes. We need still less fighting gear than we have; of no profit to heart or pocket we now esteem the fighting trade. Yet a great remnant of fighter’s superstitions, of fighter’s methods, of fighter’s morals, still binds us down.
For our perfect social development we must have still more liberty.
Ask any casual man what the use is of government, and he will glibly recite, as if he knew all about it, that government is for protection. Press him closely, and you will find underneath his words his real feelings,—that government is to make people do right. As to just what right may be, he is a little cloudy. It depends much upon whether he is a Democrat, or a Republican, or a Catholic, or a Baptist, or perchance a Mugwump, what his notion may be of what is right. One thing he is cloudily certain of—that what the government wants is right. His talk about protection is mere book-talk, rehearsing the thoughts of colonial revolters; his real feelings are the inherited submission to military regulation, which instinctively he regards as the supreme “right.”
Though nobody will own up to it, yet our real feeling is that whatever is “voted” is “right.”
Accordingly we have all sorts of intolerably tyrannical measures procured by some people to suit their notions of “right.” As an instance, it was proposed to have a law passed that nobody should any more explore the Arctic countries, on the ground that it was not “right” for them to risk their precious lives!
Do we not need men still of adventurous spirit, whose restless energy moves them to risk their lives in struggling with the mysteries of the icebergs, rather than in useless battling with brother men?
In a world where new avenues to perfect life are to be discovered, as well as old ones to be well used, do we not need all degrees of venturesomeness, from the foolhardy to the cautiously timid? Has not each his place and function?
It is no part of the business of a government to make men do “right,” because nobody knows, beyond a few rough and approximative formulas, the very rudiments of what constitutes “right.”
The only business that remains for a government, after the business of stupid wars with other governments is over, as it soon must be, is to see that the men who support it do not make war on each other. This is its only conceivable function—to protect.
What, then, is protection? For it is possible to excuse the most tyrannical actions under the plea that they are protection. Aye, we will protect you even from yourself; we will forbid you to wear black hats, because they might produce sunstroke; or to eat pie, because you are very sure to spoil your digestion; or to smoke tobacco, because it injures your nerves; or opium, for the same reason; or to drink wine, because somebody else might see your example and over drink: observe how cleverly we “protect” you and ourselves and him at one blow!
Is this sort of thing reasonably called protection?
Would it be protection for Catholics if everybody, Protestants and all, were compelled to go to mass? Or for Protestants if everybody. Catholics and all, were forbidden to?
Clearly it is not possible to protect either in doing “right,” because their notions of right are antipodal. All that can be protected is the liberty of each to do what seems to him “right,”—that is to say, to do as he chooses.
The work is simple enough, as long as what each chooses to do does not oppose what somebody else wants to do; when it does so oppose, then comes the rub; not a frequent rub, however, hardly occurring at all when men give up the notion that they are to be protected in forcing their tastes on each other, and confine themselves to protecting themselves and others in the indulgence each of his own tastes.
What business have we, for example, who wish to go to church on Sundry to forbid other men who prefer to go to the bar-room from going whither it pleases them? As long as we may go whither we will, we must, in all consistency, grant them the liberty of going whither they will. How else can we with a clear conscience defend our own liberty?
Majority, say you? The minority shall yield to the majority? Is it the voice of the majority of the people that is the voice of a god? Then let there be a law passed forthwith that all shall drink strong drink, for surely the drinkers are the vast majority. Oh, but you will say, the majority must prevail only when it wants what is right. Don’t you think, my friend, that you are somewhat muddled in your argument? Possibly a drink might brighten your intellect.
Protection is not this: it is the protection of liberty—do as-you-please liberty; do as you please as much as possible; walk where you will in the world, only don’t run into anybody.
It is by mistaken notions of what constitutes protection, of what constitutes liberty, that men everywhere let governments forbid—that men everywhere humbly cringe to such forbidding, would annihilate those who might resist—such clear liberties as the liberty to go to work wherever on the green face of earth others are not working; the liberty to give and receive in exchange whatever others are willing to give and take.
Is it reasonable to call that protection which is done for a person against his will? Is it reasonable to call it protection if we should forbid him whose heart is bent on exploring to explore, whether in Greenland for fear he might take cold, or in Africa for fear he might be sunburned? Protect him, forsooth, against himself and his own stupidity, poor fellow! Again I say, that is not protection; that is tyranny. Each one must take the risks of doing as he pleases. It is his own affair; if he is foolhardy and is killed, there is one fool the less; if he is foolhardy and succeeds, it is we, who would forbid him to try, that are the fools.
It is protection only when people want to be protected.
How are governments constituted now?
Do they offer their services only to people that want them? On the contrary, do they not assume that all want their services, and compel all to pay for them, by taxing them, whether or no? Can it be called protection for you to take money out of a man’s pocket to buy him a revolver, when he assures you that he doesn’t want it? Still less can it be called protection if you take his money to buy him books that he doesn’t want?
Yet this is precisely what governments everywhere do. They force the pacifically-minded few to aid in paying for the wars of the ferocious many; they compel him who regards the police as a tool for maintaining the rich in the possession of their stolen riches to pay for police hire; everywhere they behave, not as those who are doing a desired service for a willing employer, but as tyrants, by a divine right compelling slaves to do what the tyrant thinks best for them. These institutions, called governments, pretending to defend liberty, really, in their essence, are organized attacks on liberty.
Democracy, the spirit-of-do-as-you-please, no divine authority, simply human makeshift, doing the best it knows how for its own existence, has brought us so far; by the same spirit we shall go farther; until nothing is left of the king’s prerogative; nothing but the rebel’s right of self-protection, and the rebel’s respect for other men’s liberty, with which his own good sense and his value of his own liberty will inspire him.
The true view of the matter is this: that the only justifiable use of violence, especially of the organized violence which constitutes government, is for self-protection.
What, now, is self-protection? Does the plea of self-protection entitle me, if I am able, to force another to my wishes in all respects? Clearly it does not. All that it does entitle me to do is to resist his attempting to force me to fulfil his wishes. But are there not cases where the two conflict? Is it not sometimes impossible for me to do as I please without preventing my neighbor from doing as he pleases? Unquestionably there are many such cases; the solution, too, is not always easy. Sometimes one, sometimes the other, sometimes both, must forego certain actions. But, the principle once admitted, it is astonishing to find how few of the innumerable laws that are passed are admissible as necessary protective measures; it is astonishing how narrow are the limits of real interference of free actions with each other.
Once clearly admitted, the principle of compulsion for self defence only affords us a new light by which to determine the validity of legislation.
Take, for instance, the various laws forbidding all sorts of things on Sunday. Some old-fashioned blue-laws, as we call them, forbidding travel, traffic of any kind, and some even harsher, we well see the tyranny of now; yet those which we still enact are, in principle, not less so. The laws forbidding strong drink to be sold on Sunday,—how are these to be supported on grounds of self defence? We must protect our wives and mothers from husbands who would drink all their wages! We must protect our children from bad example! We must protect ourselves from the unpleasant sight of the desecration of a day which we regard as holy!
But this kind of protection is not self-protection at all. Under such pleas the Inquisition might have justified its atrocities.
Self-protection does not mean that we are to protect ourselves from everything that is disagreeable to us, or even from some things that are injurious to us. We may not elbow our way too violently through a crowd that is obstructing us, even though we are compelled by the crush to miss an important appointment, All that self-protection means is to protect our own liberty of action, and the necessary social corollary includes respect for other people’s liberty as well as our own.
True liberty means that all shall have as much liberty to exercise their faculties as possible; that all actions shall be tolerated which do not preclude another from exercising his faculties.
Judged by this standard, all existing governments will be found to rest upon an essential injustice,—the alleged right of taxation.
How can it be regarded as the defence of liberty to take money out of a man’s pocket whether he will or not? Yet upon this forcible levy of money-assessments all governments are founded; the institutions that are supposed to exist to support liberty are based upon the denial of liberty.
Face to face with this fundamental tyranny, which in principle differs very little from highway robbery, details as to the exact form of government are of slight importance. If you are to be forced to pay out of your pocket, it matters not whether a czar or a majority-vote is the tyrant. Indeed, as is often remarked, but rarely understood, a majority is capable of being far more tyrannical than an autocrat; the latter must have some regard for a powerful minority; the former, as long as the minority is subservient to belief in a majority principle, need have no respect at all for it.
Is it any surprise, when we learn upon what an indefensible base governments stand, that the practical working of government should be the thing that it is? From autocratic Russia to democratic America, from paralyzed paternalistic China to rapidly developing experimental France, everywhere the words government and dishonesty are synonymous. Russia and China are notorious, notwithstanding the power of autocracy to hush disreputable rumor. France has her Panama scandal, big of its kind, but positively trivial compared with the revelations that occur every day, here, in free America, best of governments in theory.
Politics with us has become a by-word. Nobody is supposed to have anything to do with politics, except for his private gain, by underhanded dealings. Our legislators make laws or withhold them with the view of influencing the markets. Candidates, even for judgeships, know that their contributions to party funds are the price of their election. Behind all parties, from the local village to the national organization, stand the men who put up the money. The police are—in New York city at least, as long has been believed, and recently proved by an investigating committee from a legislature of the opposite party—thoroughly corrupt. mailing the greater part of their emoluments, from patrolman to commissioner, by receiving payment from infringers of the laws for letting them alone.
Yet the people revere Government, with a big G, as an abstraction, a divine thing, and they occupy themselves in solving infinitesimal questions of possible, practical, political purification.
Practical purification of what is founded on robbery is impossible. Do away with the fundamental wrong, and purification easily follows.
The whole ferment of politics is started by compulsory taxation; with the abolition of compulsory levies politics, as we now know it, and corruption with it, will vanish.
Given a vast fund of public money, to be spent at the will of those who are able to possess themselves of it, it follows that certain people will make it their business to so possess themselves. To watch the times and manner of elections; to propagate views by campaign publications; to prepare the necessary materials, ballots, and the rest,—all this take: too much time and thought for anybody to devote himself to it in addition to his other business.
Consequently it becomes a business by itself, called politics. Its methods are neither better or worse than are necessary to achieve its ends. Those who are in it are in it simply to make a living, more or less ample. Deals and money-arrangements follow as a matter of course. If a rich man contributes largely to the campaign funds and indicates his willingness to he, say, vice-president, can voters be blamed if they vote for him? Can party leaders be blamed if they accept his money and nominate him? Can even the chiefs be blamed if they find themselves the owners of an additional house or two,—a reward for their otherwise unpaid exertions? Surely not.
Or, if a powerful company, with brothers and cousins of its stockholders, or even its stockholders themselves, in the legislature, wants favorable legislation, can it be blamed for contributing to the success of the party that will vote what it wants? Or can the members that vote what it wants do otherwise, when they know that it was the company’s money that got them their seats?
Yet this is corruption, so-called. It is not necessary to think that every member of a legislature is paid cash in hand. Often it is the interest of mere family relationship or business connections,—knowing on which side the bread is buttered, in brief phrase.
Yet all this occurs simply because we put these two really terrific powers, the power of taxation and the power of legislation unlimited by any restriction to defence of liberty, in the hands of totally irresponsible men.
But these commonly observed evils are by no means the worst that compulsory government involves. Far greater are the more obscure results which are only now beginning to be recognized as evils at all; which have been supposed, and are still generally supposed, to be benefits rather than evils.
The most injurious of these deeper results of government is the restriction of the provision of the means of exchange called currency, which restriction is the cause of the payment of interest, with the social inequity that follows. This restriction is but a reminiscence of the times when the kings governed by an admitted “divine right,” and is now practised because of a surviving conviction of the semi-supernatural character even of democratic organizations. Added to the iniquitous distribution of wealth caused by interest, the restrictions of currency are the cause of frequent disaster and perennial distress to commerce.
Only second to the restrictions upon currency in evil results is the prevalent law-supported system of land-holding. Of right land must be like air, free to all for use; which does not mean that anybody may use land which another is using, but that anybody may use land which another is not using.
Use and occupancy together are the necessary conditions for the ownership of the products of the land; when either of these ceases, just title to the land ceases also. The existing method has the effect of making a country seem crowded before it is settled, of leaving an “army of the unemployed” who cannot employ themselves, and of originating and perpetuating pauperism and slavery.
Add to these two grand errors the hardly less destructive systems of tariffs and licenses, the obstruction to invention that exists in the patent laws, and the innumerable minor tyrannies that are invented to “regulate” somebody, and the wonder is that the human race manages to live at all, in the strait-jackets of its own invention.
We have reached the hesitating point of progress. With the apparent failure of civilization before us, something must be done before further civilization is possible. The terrors of the savagery of dependence and destitution are known and deplored; but something more than a tear of pity is needed. All this is caused by government, and government as it now is must disappear before there can be much more progress.
It will disappear, not by counter-violence,—although much counter-violence, by minds whom government itself has bred to think that violence is the remedy for all things, will doubtless be used,—but by the loss of faith of the people in the government superstition.
People talk about over-legislation; all admit that we have too many laws; how many know to what extent legislation is really in excess?
Take away, first, all the law of contracts (many lawyers, under the present régime, admit its injurious effects); take away all the laws of real estate and landlord and tenant; take away all the banking and financial laws, and the laws relating to interest; take away the whole patent law, all religious laws, all of our barbarous marriage law, all law that restricts liberty instead of maintaining liberty; take away, finally, the power to force the few intelligent to join in the tyranny of the many ignorant, called taxation, and what have we left? A FREE SOCIETY.
Such a free society is possible now, just as soon as men understand its advantages. It is not necessary—not in the least necessary—that people should be “good,” “unselfish,” and so on.
All that is needed is that they should use the intelligence that they have.
It is as when a plough is offered to a coolie who has always used a bent stick to plough with. Habit makes him hesitate; he perceives the advantages of the more perfect implement, but he is accustomed to the other. So now men think that government is the best engine for defence they can devise; when they begin to learn that for every cent’s worth of defence it takes a dollar’s worth of plunder, they will consider the merits of a better defence-machine when offered. With liberty virtue becomes possible; at present it is impossible.
The precise details of the social system that will come when real freedom is established no man can foretell. A vague forecast may be permitted.
In the first place, private association will be possible on a vastly larger scale than the present corporations exhibit, and all that is now done by either corporations or public bodies will be done by them. Railroads (if wanted, and not where they are not wanted), canals. bridges, telegraphs, and telephones will be carried on by private associations. There will be one difference; shareholders will receive no emoluments, nothing but their part in the direction. Public works, too, highways, town halls, parks, will be administered in the same way, but only those that want them will contribute to them. For lighthouses and buoys ship-owners and trade associations will subscribe; and the tendency will be to form international associations of those whose interests are the same, fostering much the brotherly spirit of all men.
As for defence of liberty, there will doubtless be various associations with a voluntary membership to determine as closely as they can the limits of interference of the free action of individuals, and to defend the exercise of as much freedom as possible by every means, but by force only when absolutely necessary. And for the determination of disputed points it is probable that the old time jury of Magna Charta, not the debauched jury system of today, will be used.
Under such a system there will be no more political corruption, no more politics, no more degrading commercialism, no more wealth, no more poverty. But there will be protection of life and liberty for all, wholesome activity and generous competition for all; none without work, none without hope, independence, and interest in life, liberty established in fact, equality established substantially, fraternity as a luxury in which we may then safely indulge.
John Beverley Robinson.
John Beverley Robinson, “Government,” Liberty 13 no. 5 (August, 1897): 6–8.
“All things are lawful for me, but all things are not expedient.”—Paul.
The transitional character of the present period is especially seen in the heterogeneous teachings that constitute its moral code, and the curiously inharmonious set of accompanying actions. This discrepancy between word and deed in the domain of morals has existed, indeed, at all periods since man left the savage condition, but with an increasing complexity of civilization the discrepancy might be expected to increase as it is observed to do.
The contradiction between deeds and professions is often humorously noticed; the deacon who is clever at a horse trade, the temperance preacher who asks for a glass of gin because it looks like water, are familiar jokes. Yet in all seriousness what are the prospects of a social condition where formulas and their interpretations are so much at variance?
What are we to think of people who send their children to Sunday-schools, where they are taught that to turn the other cheek is part of the Christian character, and to week-day schools, where they are trained in military battalions to admire deliberate slaughter? Or of those who are paraded in annual procession with banners announcing them to be “Little Lambs of Jesus,” and in their childish quarrels are urged on to fisticuffs by their elders, with a warm approval of “fighting it out” as the best way of settling differences?
Or what shall we say of a clergy which preaches the religion alleged to be of love, but which was never yet known officially or as a body to protest against war; which has rather urged it on upon both sides by prayers for victory?
It is unnecessary to follow up these extraordinary discrepancies. In every part of modern life they are found. In the law, which is scarcely more than a synonym for injustice in the popular mouth; in business, which, it is publicly announced, only a fool would expect to be conducted in accordance with the teachings of the Sermon on the Mount; in the family, which is supposed to be based on affection, but which is really based on hatred suppressed only by violence,—we find everywhere a tangle of monstrous incompatibilities between preaching and practice.
With long faces and a mournful wail about the imperfections of human nature such conditions are usually met.
We, however, need not feel called upon either to approve or condemn. A scientific investigation demands criticism, not denunciation or apology.
The really important thing to note is that such discrepancies are evidence that the existing moral code is inadequate to determine conduct.
When reactionists, frightened by radical research, cry; “You are attacking our moral principles!” we very calmly reply: “Of what use are these principles that you should value them so highly?”
At the bottom of the present system of morality, if it is worthy of the name of system, is the ancient theological notion of human depravity. In the early time, when men still retained a taste for killing, the observed fact that killing each other was incompatible with the advantages to be derived from living in each others’ society was further sanctioned by the statement that killing was forbidden by a divine decree. That a taste for killing should nevertheless exist could he explained only by an assumed innate depravity.
To this assumed depravity, this inborn tendency to evils, this unholiness of the natural man, were attributed the desires for various gratifications, in which, it was observed, unrestrained indulgence was socially impossible. The heart of man was declared to be “desperately wicked.” The “natural man” and natural desires were all included in the condemnation; and it was taught that virtue consisted in denying ourselves gratification of our natural desires. Happiness, it was said, was not to be expected during life; the best that we could do was to endure the continual succession of desires presented tantalizingly to us as a training in self-denial, in the hope and confidence of another life, where a more reasonable state of things existed, and desires might be fully satisfied.
It is hardly to be wondered at that such a code should be found impracticable.
Certain desires, as we now perceive, it is absolutely essential to gratify for the preservation of life.
Certain others must be justified for its completeness.
If a starving man can steal bread, it is vain to expect him not to. If it be necessary, in order to make a living, to violate all the commandments every day, every day they must be violated, for a living must be made. And that is why every day they are violated, for a strict compliance would mean diminished vitality,—that is to say, partial or complete death.
Nor are we the first to observe this impracticability of the moral code. In mediaeval times the thoughtful men of the day perceived it, and set themselves to lay down minutely just how far moral rules were to be observed, and in what cases such rules might be relaxed or disregarded.
Casuists, they were called, and they investigated all supposable circumstances where the moral code did not hold, until casuistry came to be regarded as a specious justification of immorality. It is no wonder that it did come to be so regarded, for these doctors taught with a double tongue, saying at one moment that the moral code is divine and perfect, and at the next admitting that, after all, it is impracticable.
Contrary to the usual opinion, the very Worst condemnation of a moral code is that it should be impracticable. Usually it is held that a moral code need not be practicable; that, after all, it need only be a distant ideal, toward which we may aspire, but to attain which we need never expect.
This is why men put up so calmly with the absurd discrepancies between current theories and current practices.
These discrepancies, however, cannot be longer glossed over in this way.
The times call for a practicable code of action. Some kind of a guide the maze which we are called to traverse demands, and a guide which is admittedly impracticable is worse than none; whatever rule we adopt, it is absolutely indispensable that it be both practicable and practical.
The union between theory and conduct must be perfect; only by such a union can we escape the disgraceful differences between Sunday professions and week-day doings, which are the condemnation of all existing codes.
The foundation of the new system is the denial of the primary postulate of the old, and the assertion of the contrary.
Natural desires, held by the old system to be essentially depraved—that is to say, abnormal—are, by the new, perceived to be essentially normal. Although at times abnormal desires may exist, yet even these we have learned to regard as symptoms of disorder in the organism, rather than as spontaneous aberrations.
We have learned to regard desire as an indication of the needs of the organism, which must be to some extent gratified, under penalty of partial death.
Thus the desire for dainties in eating, once held to be reprehensible, is now seen to be a natural demand of the system for the varied diet so essential in health. The restlessness of children was once sternly repressed, while perfect stillness and studiousness, so repellent to the childish mind, were enforced. By our later light we know that restless activity points to the necessary development of the muscular system before the expanding of the mind.
So again we begin dimly to perceive that highway robberies, burglaries, forgeries, defaultings, are susceptible of a more profound explanation than mere original depravity, which our fathers, with their less critical minds, postulated for every moral delinquency. We are beginning to see that such things are done more frequently in times of business depression, when it is harder for everybody to make a living; and that the desire for sustenance which prompts them is a desire which cannot be denied without incurring death as a penalty, which men fear more than the penalty of jail.
Desire is really only the conscious link between the circumstances that constitute motives and the consequent actions.
Let but a given combination present itself to the mind, and the desire for some adaptive act of the organism inevitably arises. And the act as inevitably follows the desire, unless conflicting desires are aroused by counter circumstances.
This inevitable sequence of action upon desire it is quite out of our power to prevent. Even if by education we have learned self control, so that our actions do not follow our desires with the promptitude that would otherwise be displayed, yet this education is itself one of the circumstances that go to make up the group of circumstances that constitutes motive; and this self control is but a group of desires for other benefits, which the mind has learned to picture as more pleasurable, though more distant.
When it is seen that the feeling which we call desire is but a reflex of the perception of certain circumstances, and that the action which the preponderating desire points to invariably succeeds the desire, it becomes evident that it is vain to expect to modify men’s actions by modifying their desires, without first changing the circumstances which produce the desires.
Exhortations to self-denial, appeals for a change of our corrupt nature, denunciations of vice in the abstract, and laudation of virtue pure and simple,—these must be brought home by setting up some other circumstance, such as the hope of a hypothetical Jerusalem the Golden, before they can produce the desired effect. As this hope, long deferred, gradually yields to scepticism, the homilies lose their force, and the preaching has no effect upon conduct.
When widespread corruption is discovered, as recently by the investigating committee of the New York State senate, it is vain to raise the cry of indignation: “You ought!—you ought! gentlemen of the city government, you ought to be better! Why are you not square and honest and beyond contamination? You are bad! bad! bad men! Do not deny it, but hereafter be, we implore you, truly virtuous!”
Of what use is such expostulation?
With the same circumstances every other man would do just the same things. What, you say, are there no honest men left; is it true that every man has his price?
By no means. But it is true that, when you have brought together the circumstances that make a man incorruptible,—inheritance, education. surroundings,—you have made a man who is quite unsuited to achieve a place on the police force. He hasn’t the qualities to get it, and, if he got it, he wouldn’t want that kind of a place.
As long as politics and police forces exist, based, as they are, upon violence, so long only men who take pleasure in violence can be persuaded to have much to do with either of them.
So, again, people often deplore the hardness and avarice of the rich, when riches can be best acquired by those who are hard and avaricious. A hard and avaricious nature is one of the chief qualifications required to get wealth; it is one of the facts of the environment that is well suited to make money. How impossible, then, is it that he who has made money by virtue of his native hardness and avarice should be expected to display quite contrary qualities in the spending of it! If we want to be surrounded by people who are liberal and gentle, we cannot obtain such by exhorting those to be liberal and gentle whom the state of society requires to be parsimonious and cruel. While things are as they are, people must tend to be parsimonious and cruel, simply because the liberal and gentle are killed off. But, when a state of society is devised in which a man may make a better living by being liberal and gentle, we shall have such people about us, and not before.
It is vain to urge anybody to be truthful, or honest, or energetic, or reposeful, or buoyant, or dignified, if the facts be against it,—if ancestry makes him boorish, and schooling makes him a liar, and ill luck turns his vivacity into gloom.
What he must be, he must be; he is the creature of the whole past, a dry leaf blown by the wind. Can he do nothing, then? Far from it. Though he cannot change himself, he too may change some of the circumstances that have made him what he is. Most of all, he may, by contemplation, learn whether his comprehension of the circumstances is as good as it might be.
Very likely he will find in his mind some fatal misapprehension, some untenable superstition, some in-defensible deference to worn-out conventionalities, that he may remove by the mere recognition. But without changing in some way the circumstances that call forth the actions no man can change either his own actions or those of others.
We have spoken so far of actions in general, with no reference to ethical distinctions in the quality of actions as right or wrong. If you were to ask one of a generation ago, or one still preserving the traditions and modes of thought of a generation ago,—and there are yet many such,—if you were to ask such a one what the difference is between right and wrong,— what ultimately determines actions as right and what as wrong—there would be no hesitation about his reply. Right, he would say, is that which God wills: wrong is that which is contrary to God’s commands.
Entirely apart from any benefit to door or sufferer, he would insist, obedience-blind obedience—to God is the only moral rule.
Although this is still the position of the majority of mere number, it is not worth serious contest. The minority of intelligence has quite relinquished it. More than this, the great mass of the people has been unconsciously influenced by the same circumstances that have consciously convinced the more thoughtful; so that most of those who think that they hold to the old theological moral standard really are adherents of more modern ideas.
This more modern standard is the recognition that right and wrong are but phrases indicating what is beneficial and what is deleterious. The battle fought over this question years ago and never decided by clash of controversy the passage of time has settled. “I am not doing anything wrong” and “I am not doing anything that hurts anybody” today are synonyms.
When it comes to the practical determination of what acts are to he done and what to be avoided several criterions are proposed. The “categorical ought” of a certain school would be admirable, were it only intelligible. These say that there is, in the mind of each, a primitive, simple, unanalyzable perceptive instinct of what is “right.” The trouble is that for each individual there is a different “ought.” For one brought up in the old school of the dinlling time there is nothing for it, in case of an insult, but to fight. Fight he ought, so thinks he, and to fight he is driven by as imperious a dictum of his pugnacious conscience as that which impels the Quaker to abstain from fighting as the worst of evils. The devout Catholic finds relief to his conscience in confession and purchased masses; to the equally devout Protestant confession and masses seem worse than what they are expected to remedy. The “oughts” in these cases are contradictory.
The hod-carrier thinks that it is his “duty” to beat his wife and children; to the village storekeeper such a moral standard seems reprehensible.
Hardly two men agree upon what “ought” to be done throughout; how then can anybody’s conviction of what “ought” to be done he a standard for anybody else?
A more frequently expressed formula is the familiar “greatest good of the greatest number.” This, while more intelligible as a principle than the instinctive “ought “ theory. is less available as a practical guide.
He who is convinced that he must do what his instinct tells him is right has a chart that is at least clear enough. If many have rocks marked where there are harbors, and deep water where there are shoals, to go by it may mean destruction.
Still, such as it is, it is decipherable, and a man may do as he “ought” and try to compel everybody else to do as they “ought” all his days, and never know why he and they find doing as they “ought” so disagreeable and unprofitable an occupation.
On the other hand, if we start with the proposition that we are to act for the “greatest good of the greatest number,” we are brought up by questions.
Shall I, in these hard times, make strictly true representations and miss several large sales? If I do, I may fall entirely, my family suffer for generations, my creditors receive only twenty cents on a dollar. If I do not, my customer may after all be perfectly “rate of the defect that I have in mind, and glad to get the bargain notwithstanding; or the defect for him may make the purchase useless, the loss may involve him in other losses to I know not what extent, his family and creditors,—and so on, in an endless, impenetrable series of consequences on both sides.
Or, if it be a public matter, how is one nearer to a solution by talking of the greatest good of the greatest number? Shall there be, let us say, a protective tariff, or a tariff for revenue, or no tariff? Who is capable of laying aside the natural prejudice in favor of his own interests, and judging of what is for the greatest good of the greatest number?
Who can tell, even with the study of years, how many alone will be affected by such measures on either side; or, if the exact number he determinable, the intensity of the aggregate of happiness or unhappiness involved?
As the former criterion was too narrow, so this is too broad, to be of service.
But beyond this lies another question.
Granting for a moment that it is conceivable that we might determine the greatest good, we must first determine what is good. This, simple enough to one who thinks that good consists in obedience to a code of supernaturally-imposed commands, becomes extremely complicated to one who holds that “goodness” corresponds with benefit received and given.
Take such a matter as the prohibition by law of the sale or use of alcoholic liquors.
Is it beneficial, or otherwise, that such a law be enacted? We have, on the one hand, the certainty that the excessive use of alcohol is physically injurious, and that habitual drunkards are apt to be unhappy themselves and to make others unhappy. On the other hand, it is also certain that much pleasure and no appreciable detriment is caused by the moderate use of alcohol. Beyond this there is the consideration that heavy drinkers may be adopting the heat treatment to kill themselves off; and the counter consideration that the capacity to stand hard drinking seems to characterize conquering races, and that we stand no chance with the drinkers, unless we learn to drink too.
Or, in less warmly contested matters, what is the measure of goodness?
Is it good for a wife to leave a worthless husband, and do the best she can to support her children; or is it good for her to stay with him, and let her own life and her children’s he blasted?
Is it “good” to undersell, and perhaps ruin, a competitor in business; or is it “good” to let him undersell us, and be ruined ourselves?
Is it “good” to insist upon unquestioning obedience in children; or is it “good” to teach them rather to guide themselves?
“The greatest good of the greatest number” is lacking as a guide to action, both because nobody can determine what really is the proportional number of those who are affected by a certain action, and because, if this could be ascertained, it could not be determined which of two courses of action is good and which is not good.
Relinquishing such general formulas as useless for guidance in the multiplicity and perplexity of the daily actions that are required of us, we must look for a rule of action as flexible as the conditions of action are variable.
We have admitted that actions are prompted by desires, and that happiness, or pleasurability, is in the adaptation of actions to gratify desires The only possible gauge of this adaptation is the opinion of the individual who experiences the desire.
Do what pleases you is the practical rule of the new ethics.
There is no doubt that the mere statement of this rule will raise upon many lips a cry of protest. What, then? it will be asked; do you really counsel a blind and bestial gratification of all desires? Do you mean to say that an unreasoning, mad rush by all, strong and weak, refined and brutal, to satisfy each his lowest, and therefore most powerful, instincts and passions, regardless of the sufferings of others, would be an advantageous state of affairs? Can you dare to set up such as an ethical ideal?
Nothing of the sort is my intention. Such a possibility exists only in the imagination, startled by a sudden, unexpected view.
Indeed, the general revulsion from such a fancied picture is sufficient indication that a mad rush for the indulgence of animal desires is not the dominant desire in most people.
But the only reason for not indulging ourselves in the gratification of the lowest desires is that it might preclude the gratification of higher desires.
The problem ceases to be a moral problem in any proper sense of the word, and becomes a purely intellectual one. How shall we most completely gratify all, or as many as possible, of our desires? Of conflicting desires, which shall we gratify, which forego? Or shall we compromise, by gratifying some a little, some to a greater degree, some entirely?
Shall a man go a fishing every Sunday, and neglect his family; or shall he abstain from ever going a fishing, until he hates the very sight of his family; or shall he sometimes go and sometimes stay?
For each one the answer will differ; but, as there are few men that have families and have no pleasure in their society, so there are few who can always go a fishing without diminishing the total amount of their gratification. Moreover, in a state of freedom, if a man finds no pleasure in taking care of his family, his family—wife and children—may find it no pleasure to stay with him, and will be quite at liberty to go.
Considered as a balancing of gratifications to be obtained, the phrase, “Do what pleases you,” although strictly correct, may not he as precise as another phrase, “Do what is for your interest.” The latter implies a due consideration of all pleasures, near and distant, and a judicious choice among them.
Of course, I do not mean to say that the rule, “Do what is for your interest,” affords us any clue as to what really is for our interest; and, in determining, each for himself, what he thinks is for his interest, many mistakes will be made; greater ultimate interests will be lost sight of, in view of nearer, though lesser, ones, or immediate pleasures will be sacrificed in hope of future advantage, which may, after all, fail us; yet, on the whole, actions will be better regulated than if conformity to a fixed standard were the rule. Suppose, for instance, that it were a religious requirement that each person should eat just so many ounces of meat, bread, vegetables, and the rest, daily. Some would easily conform; others would boldly defy the rule, and eat as much as they pleased, trusting to timely repentance; others would secrete food, and eat it on the sly, and boast at the delight of illicit enjoyment.
Perhaps some defender of the old code will say:
“After all, these moral precepts are but abstract statements of what has been found to be for the best advantage of each of us. It is because truthfulness, and honesty, and so on, are for our advantage that they are inculcated.”
Indeed, they who say so are partly right; yet they themselves never thought of taking such a position, until they were forced to it by newer views.
Their old view was that truth must be told at all costs; that it was often, or usually, to men’s advantage to lie, but that, from fear of supernatural revenge, they must abstain from lying, in accordance with supernatural command. To recommend truth-telling as advantageous would have seemed to them almost sacrilegious.
The new view has shown them the weakness of their former position, and now they seek to justify the old moral code on grounds of its utility.
They may be right, and they may be wrong. Doubtless many of the old precepts will be justified by the new standard, while others will be abrogated. It matters little; it is the principle of rational criticism that is to be established against the principle of blind deference. Ethics is to be made a matter of brains, not of heart.
This exclusion of sentiment as a criterion of criticism by no means excludes sentiments as valid motives, or the gratification of sentiments as admissible pleasures. On the contrary, the highest pleasures are the indulgence of certain sentiments, and the performance of the implied actions. Hospitality, benevolence, love, when these can be intelligently exercised without too serious disadvantage otherwise, are desires in the satisfaction of which we find our highest happiness. Nor are there any stronger or more persistent desires in human nature than these altruistic desires. The hunter will share his last mouthful with a comrade; the father will sacrifice his own life’s object to make his son’s life more complete. When circumstances render it impossible to gratify these, an un- satisfied and painful feeling ensues; as when the multitude of beggars makes it impossible to indulge ourselves in the pleasure of almsgiving,—compels us to harden and chill our hearts, and knowingly reduce ourselves to lower grade of immediately pleasurable feeling.
It is, indeed, chiefly to do away with material obstacles to the indulgence of pleasurable altruistic emotion that changes in the social mechanism are by many nowadays so earnestly studied.
If you would like to test the efficacy of this new egoistic way of looking at things, as opposed to the old notion of “duty,” try a little experiment. The next time that you are going to sit up with a sick person, or to walk home a couple of miles with somebody, in reply to their fears that they are giving you trouble say as boldly as you please: “I never do anything that is not for my own gratification; I do as I do because it gives me pleasure.”
You will find opposed to you a face filled with smiles. On the other hand, how many worthy people are there, doing all sorts of things for others, and enjoying doing it, yet making their kindness almost an offence by their continual talk that they are doing it because it is their duty.
Another great advantage of the egoistic view is the diminution and eventual abolition of censoriousness.
Take away the notion that a man does certain acts because he is depraved, because he is a “bad” man, and criticism immediately becomes milder.
Circumstances, not original sin, are seen to be at fault. He may be a man to be distrusted; he is not therefore to be denounced, or necessarily even disliked. Under egoism it becomes possible to “hate the sin and love the sinner,” while under orthodox morality there is nothing for it but to hate the sinner and love the sin. Synagogues must breed Pharisees.
Important as this ethical view is in its bearing upon individual conduct, it is even more important in its bearing upon public affairs.
As at present constituted, governments have three functions—the defence of their subjects, the execution of public works, and the enforcement of a code of morals. The last, disavowed in words, too often in fact predominates. People ought not to be allowed to do so; it isn’t right; there ought to be a law against it. That is the crude popular talk.
When it is once realized that abstract right and wrong do not exist; that each one fulfils his life only by fulfilling his desires,—there remains but one precept that might be called moral. This is it: that each, in fulfilling his desires as much as possible, should not prevent others from fulfilling their desires as much as possible. This is to say that no one should restrain the actions of others on general grounds of morality, or on any ground except on that of their unnecessarily limiting his own liberty of action.
The social problem resolves itself into the question of how to let people do as they please, not how to stop them from doing as they please.
This naturally abolishes government as a censor of morals. People can drink it little, or to excess; on Saturdays, or Sundays, or every day; go to church or to the theatre; form marriage ties with witnesses or without, for life or less; chew tobacco or gum; wear men’s clothes or women’s clothes, as best pleases them; gamble with either stocks or cards or roulette wheels; bet on insurance policies or on horses,—do anything they please, without let or hindrance.
As administrator of public works, too, government must go. As the superstitious veneration of law declines, and “law-abiding” begins to be a term of reproach, it will be seen that the taxes forced from all to pay for such public works are in themselves a denial of the individual’s liberty to dispose of his money as he pleases,—briefly theft; and government in this phase too will be superseded by voluntary contributions. Finally, what little defence liberty now has from government is obtained through the same system of taxation, and the defence of liberty itself must be handed over to volunteers.
By the new ethics—the do as you-please code—government by force must go, and voluntary co-operation and defence begin.
John Beverley Robinson.
John Beverley Robinson, “Ethics,” Liberty 13 no. 7 (December, 1897): 6–8.