Category Archives: Philosophical Foundations of Liberty

Ruminations on Natural Law

I was reading some posts on the Internet involving natural law and natural rights.
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I think “Natural Law” is that which is outside the authority or ability of any man to alter, create, or promulgate since it is beyond human intervention. It is law that provides for people to exist on this planet in an individual capacity; to have access to all that nature provides by way of food, resources…etc. Natural law can be interpreted to say that every man is an individual with no subservience or obligation to another. It can be interpreted to say that I have a right to eat, drink, and move my body without interference from another. I have a right to have a mate and have a family without interference from another, and to defend that which is mine.
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Whatever mutual agreements may be forged after that fact between societies apply only to those societies. When those societies begin claiming dominion over tracts of land and exclude other societies not recognized from entering that land they become governments. That is not to say their claims of dominion are legitimate, it merely means there is a collective body of members willing to take up arms and use violence to “protect” that territory.
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When there is mention of a “public agreement” or “social contract” I become suspicious because the only way the public or society can collectively agree on anything in particular is to be threatened with punishment for transgressing whatever edict. They don’t necessarily “agree” or “contract” with the body promulgating the edict, there is again a collective threat of punishment by way of force by those claiming to be endowed with the authority to promulgate such edicts. Likewise, their claims of authority lack any basis in fact, and are merely de facto.
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To live under the rules of a nation or government means to sometimes violate one’s own conscience; and often times even worse, to adopt or support policies and laws that go against human nature itself. I see no justification for one to submit to such contrivances, and I disavow borders and flags while living by my own values with one caveat; to not transgress upon the like and equal rights of others. There is nothing which compels us to submit to arbitrary authority, aside from real or perceived fear of punishment or retaliation from those deeming to act on behalf of that authority.
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I do not see government as a source for making rules under which we all must live, but rather as a protector of our natural rights. Should that system, or government, fail to protect those rights and itself become a violator of rights it must be dismantled or abolished. Different societies or cultures have their own ways of dealing with the world and their circumstances. They evolve over time and should be accepting and tolerant of others who wish to join or leave that culture, but at the same time allow individuals to operate within that society under their own free-will as long as they do not violate other people’s rights.‚ There is no “one size fits all” solution through government.
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It comes down to this, each individual has the right to determine for themselves how best to live their life. Ideas evolve and are either adopted by others or left to the individual, but no collective body should prohibit any individual act based solely on that body’s inability to find value with that act. If we are allowed to first be individuals then we will naturally gravitate towards others and socialize for mutual peace and happiness. Once entities are allowed to exist with special needs or preference over the natural order we find corporations and government who exist to serve their supporters and benefactors, ofter to the detriment of the people.
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Mark McCoy
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Albert Jay Nock – Our Enemy, the State

Albert Jay Nock

Our Enemy, the State

1935

By Mr. Nock,

 

  • Jefferson,
  • On Doing the Right Thing; and other essays
  • The Theory of Education in the United States, (The Page-Barbour Lectures for 1930)
  • (Edited, with Catherine Rose Wilson) The Urquhart-Le Motteux Translation of the Works of Francis Rabelais, with introduction, critical notes and documentary illustrations
  • A Journal of These Days,
  • A Journey into Rabelais’s France,
  • Our Enemy, the State

 

 


In Memoriam
Edmund Cadwalader Evans
A sound economist, one of
the few who understand
the nature of the state


Be it or be it not true that Man is shapen in iniquity and conceived in sin, it is unquestionably true that Government is begotten of aggression, and by aggression.

Herbert Spencer, 1850.

This is the gravest danger that today threatens civilization: State intervention, the absorption of all spontaneous social effort by the State; that is to say, of spontaneous historical action, which in the long-run sustains, nourishes and impels human destinies.

Jose Ortega y Gasset, 1922.

It [the State] has taken on a vast mass of new duties and responsibilities; it has spread out its powers until they penetrate to every act of the citizen, however secret; it has begun to throw around its operations the high dignity and impeccability of a State religion; its agents become a separate and superior caste, with authority to bind and loose, and their thumbs in every pot. But it still remains, as it was in the beginning, the common enemy of all well-disposed, industrious and decent men.

Henry L. Mencken, 1926.


PREFACE TO SECOND EDITION

When OUR ENEMY THE STATE appeared in 1935, its literary merit rather than its philosophic content attracted attention to it. The times were not ripe for an acceptance of its predictions, still less for the argument on which these predictions were based. Faith in traditional frontier individualism had not yet been shaken by the course of events. Against this faith the argument that the same economic forces which in all times and in all nations drive toward the ascendancy of political power at the expense of social power were in operation here made little headway. That is, the feeling that “it cannot happen here” was too difficult a hurdle for the book to overcome.

By the time the first edition had run out, the development of public affairs gave the argument of the book ample testimony. In less than a decade it was evident to many Americans that their country is not immune from the philosophy which had captured European thinking. The times were proving Mr. Nock’s thesis, and by irresistable word-of-mouth advertising a demand for the book began to manifest itself just when it was no longer available. And the plates had been put to war purposes.

In 1943 he had a second edition in mind. I talked with him several times about it, urging him to elaborate on the economic ideas, since these, it seemed to me, were inadequately developed for the reader with a limited knowledge of political economy. He agreed that this ought to be done, but in a separate book, or in a second part of his book, and suggested that I try my hand at it. Nothing came of the matter because of the war. He died on August 19, 1945.

This volume is an exact duplication of the first edition. He intended to make some slight changes, principally, as he told me, in the substitution of current illustrations for those which might carry less weight with the younger reader. As for the sequel stressing economics, this will have to be done. At any rate, OUR ENEMY THE STATE needs no support.

Frank Chodorov
New York City, May 28th, 1946


 

CHAPTER 1
If we look beneath the surface of our public affairs, we can discern one fundamental fact, namely: a great redistribution of power between society and the State. This is the fact that interests the student of civilization. He has only a secondary or derived interest in matters like price-fixing, wage-fixing, inflation, political banking, “agricultural adjustment,” and similar items of State policy that fill the pages of newspapers and the mouths of publicists and politicians. All these can be run up under one head. They have an immediate and temporary importance, and for this reason they monopolize public attention, but they all come to the same thing; which is, an increase of State power and a corresponding decrease of social power.It is unfortunately none too well understood that, just as the State has no money of its own, so it has no power of its own. All the power it has is what society gives it, plus what it confiscates from time to time on one pretext or another; there is no other source from which State power can be drawn. Therefore every assumption of State power, whether by gift or seizure, leaves society with so much less power; there is never, nor can be, any strengthening of State power without a corresponding and roughly equivalent depletion of social power.

Moreover, it follows that with any exercise of State power, not only the exercise of social power in the same direction, but the disposition to exercise it in that direction, tends to dwindle. Mayor Gaynor astonished the whole of New York when he pointed out to a correspondent who had been complaining about the inefficiency of the police, that any citizen has the right to arrest a malefactor and bring him before a magistrate. “The law of England and of this country,” he wrote, “has been very careful to confer no more right in that respect upon policemen and constables than it confers on every citizen.” State exercise of that right through a police force had gone on so steadily that not only were citizens indisposed to exercise it, but probably not one in ten thousand knew he had it.

Heretofore in this country sudden crises of misfortune have been met by a mobilization of social power. In fact (except for certain institutional enterprises like the home for the aged, the lunatic-asylum, city-hospital and county-poorhouse) destitution, unemployment, “depression” and similar ills, have been no concern of the State, but have been relieved by the application of social power. Under Mr. Roosevelt, however, the State assumed this function, publicly announcing the doctrine, brand-new in our history, that the State owes its citizens a living. Students of politics, of course, saw in this merely an astute proposal for a prodigious enhancement of State power; merely what, as long ago as 1794, James Madison called “the old trick of turning every contingency into a resource for accumulating force in the government”; and the passage of time has proved that they were right. The effect of this upon the balance between State power and social power is clear, and also its effect of a general indoctrination with the idea that an exercise of social power upon such matters is no longer called for.

It is largely in this way that the progressive conversion of social power into State power becomes acceptable and gets itself accepted. (1) When the Johnstown flood occurred, social power was immediately mobilized and applied with intelligence and vigour. Its abundance, measured by money alone, was so great that when everything was finally put in order, something like a million dollars remained. If such a catastrophe happened now, not only is social power perhaps too depleted for the like exercise, but the general instinct would be to let the State see to it. Not only has social power atrophied to that extent, but the disposition to exercise it in that particular direction has atrophied with it. If the State has made such matters its business, and has confiscated the social power necessary to deal with them, why, let it deal with them. We can get some kind of rough measure of this general atrophy by our own disposition when approached by a beggar. Two years ago we might have been moved to give him something; today we are moved to refer him to the State’s relief-agency. The State has said to society, You are either not exercising enough power to meet the emergency, or are exercising it in what I think is an incompetent way, so I shall confiscate your power, and exercise it to suit myself. Hence when a beggar asks us for a quarter, our instinct is to say that the State has already confiscated our quarter for his benefit, and he should go to the State about it.

Every positive intervention that the State makes upon industry and commerce has a similar effect. When the State intervenes to fix wages or prices, or to prescribe the conditions of competition, it virtually tells the enterpriser that he is not exercising social power in the right way, and therefore it proposes to confiscate his power and exercise it according to the State’s own judgment of what is best. Hence the enterpriser’s instinct is to let the State look after the consequences. As a simple illustration of this, a manufacturer of a highly specialized type of textiles was saying to me the other day that he had kept his mill going at a loss for five years because he did not want to turn his workpeople on the street in such hard times, but now that the State had stepped in to tell him how he must run his business, the State might jolly well take the responsibility.

The process of converting social power into State power may perhaps be seen at its simplest in cases where the State’s intervention is directly competitive. The accumulation of State power in various countries has been so accelerated and diversified within the last twenty years that we now see the State functioning as telegraphist, telephonist, match-pedlar, radio-operator, cannon-founder, railway-builder and owner, railway-operator, wholesale and retail tobacconist, shipbuilder and owner, chief chemist, harbour-maker and dockbuilder, housebuilder, chief educator, newspaper-proprietor, food-purveyor, dealer in insurance, and so on through a long list. (2) It is obvious that private forms of these enterprises must tend to dwindle in proportion as the energy of the State’s encroachments on them increases, for the competition of social power with State power is always disadvantaged, since the State can arrange the terms of competition to suit itself, even to the point of outlawing any exercise of social power whatever in the premises; in other words, giving itself a monopoly. Instances of this expedient are common; the one we are probably best acquainted with is the State’s monopoly of letter-carrying. Social power is estopped by sheer fiat from application to this form of enterprise, notwithstanding it could carry it on far cheaper, and, in this country at least, far better. The advantages of this monopoly in promoting the State’s interests are peculiar. No other, probably, could secure so large and well-distributed a volume of patronage, under the guise of a public service in constant use by so large a number of people; it plants a lieutenant of the State at every country-crossroad. It is by no means a pure coincidence that an administration’s chief almoner and whip-at-large is so regularly appointed Postmaster-general.

Thus the State “turns every contingency into a resource” for accumulating power in itself, always at the expense of social power; and with this it develops a habit of acquiescence in the people. New generations appear, each temperamentally adjusted – or as I believe our American glossary now has it, “conditioned” – to new increments of State power, and they tend to take the process of continuous accumulation as quite in order. All the State’s institutional voices unite in confirming this tendency; they unite in exhibiting the progressive conversion of social power into State power as something not only quite in order, but even as wholesome and necessary for the public good.

 

II

 

In the United States at the present time, the principal indexes of the increase of State power are three in number. First, the point to which the centralization of State authority has been carried. Practically all the sovereign rights and powers of the smaller political units – all of them that are significant enough to be worth absorbing – have been absorbed by the federal unit; nor is this all. State power has not only been thus concentrated at Washington, but it has been so far concentrated into the hands of the Executive that the existing regime is a regime of personal government. It is nominally republican, but actually monocratic; a curious anomaly, but highly characteristic of a people little gifted with intellectual integrity. Personal government is not exercised here in the same ways as in Italy, Russia or Germany, for there is as yet no State interest to be served by so doing, but rather the contrary; while in those countries there is. But personal government is always personal government; the mode of its exercise is a matter of immediate political expediency, and is determined entirely by circumstances.

This regime was established by a coup d’etat of a new and unusual kind, practicable only in a rich country. It was effected, not by violence, like Louis-Napoleon’s, or by terrorism, like Mussolini’s, but by purchase. It therefore presents what might be called an American variant of the coup d’tat. (3) Our national legislature was not suppressed by force of arms, like the French Assembly in 1851, but was bought out of its functions with public money; and as appeared most conspicuously in the elections of November, 1934, the consolidation of the coup d’etat was effected by the same means; the corresponding functions in the smaller units were reduced under the personal control of the Executive. (4) This is a most remarkable phenomenon; possibly nothing quite like it ever took place; and its character and implications deserve the most careful attention.

A second index is supplied by the prodigious extension of the bureaucratic principle that is now observable. This is attested prima facie by the number of new boards, bureaux and commissions set up at Washington in the last two years. They are reported as representing something like 90,000 new employs appointed outside the civil service, and the total of the federal pay-roll in Washington is reported as something over three million dollars per month. (5) This, however, is relatively a small matter. The pressure of centralization has tended powerfully to convert every official and every political aspirant in the smaller units into a venal and complaisant agent of the federal bureaucracy. This presents an interesting parallel with the state of things prevailing in the Roman Empire in the last days of the Flavian dynasty, and afterwards. The rights and practices of local self-government, which were formerly very considerable in the provinces and much more so in the municipalities, were lost by surrender rather than by suppression. The imperial bureaucracy, which up to the second century was comparatively a modest affair, grew rapidly to great size, and local politicians were quick to see the advantage of being on terms with it. They came to Rome with their hats in their hands, as governors, Congressional aspirants and such-like now go to Washington. Their eyes and thoughts were constantly fixed on Rome, because recognition and preferment lay that way; and in their incorrigible sycophancy they became, as Plutarch says, like hypochondriacs who dare not eat or take a bath without consulting their physician.

A third index is seen in the erection of poverty and mendicancy into a permanent political asset. Two years ago, many of our people were in hard straits; to some extent, no doubt, through no fault of their own, though it is now clear that in the popular view of their case, as well as in the political view, the line between the deserving poor and the undeserving poor was not distinctly drawn. Popular feeling ran high at the time, and the prevailing wretchedness was regarded with undiscriminating emotion, as evidence of some general wrong done upon its victims by society at large, rather than as the natural penalty of greed, folly or actual misdoings; which in large part it was. The State, always instinctively “turning every contingency into a resource” for accelerating the conversion of social power into State power, was quick to take advantage of this state of mind. All that was needed to organize these unfortunates into an invaluable political property was to declare the doctrine that the State owes all its citizens a living; and this was accordingly done. It immediately precipitated an enormous mass of subsidized voting-power, an enormous resource for strengthening the State at the expense of society.(6)

 

III

 

There is an impression that the enhancement of State power which has taken place since 1932 is provisional and temporary, that the corresponding depletion of social power is by way of a kind of emergency-loan, and therefore is not to be scrutinized too closely. There is every probability that this belief is devoid of foundation. No doubt our present regime will be modified in one way and another; indeed, it must be, for the process of consolidation itself requires it. But any essential change would be quite unhistorical, quite without precedent, and is therefore most unlikely; and by an essential change, I mean one that will tend to redistribute actual power between the State and society. (7) In the nature of things, there is no reason why such a change should take place, and every reason why it should not. We shall see various apparent recessions, apparent compromises, but the one thing we may be quite sure of is that none of these will tend to diminish actual State power.

For example, we shall no doubt shortly see the great pressure-group of politically-organized poverty and mendicancy subsidized indirectly instead of directly, because State interest can not long keep pace with the hand-over-head disposition of the masses to loot their own Treasury. The method of direct subsidy, or sheer cash-purchase, will therefore in all probability soon give way to the indirect method of what is called “social legislation”; that is, a multiplex system of State-managed pensions, insurances and indemnities of various kinds. This is an apparent recession, and when it occurs it will no doubt be proclaimed as an actual recession, no doubt accepted as such; but is it? Does it actually tend to diminish State power and increase social power? Obviously not, but quite the opposite. It tends to consolidate firmly this particular fraction of State power, and opens the way to getting an indefinite increment upon it by the mere continuous invention of new courses and developments of State-administered social legislation, which is an extremely simple business. One may add the observation for whatever its evidential value may be worth, that if the effect of progressive social legislation upon the sum-total of State power were unfavourable or even nil, we should hardly have found Prince de Bismarck and the British Liberal politicians of forty years ago going in for anything remotely resembling it.

When, therefore, the inquiring student of civilization has occasion to observe this or any other apparent recession upon any point of our present regime, (8) he may content himself with asking the one question, What effect has this upon the sum-total of State power? The answer he gives himself will show conclusively whether the recession is actual or apparent, and this is all he is concerned to know.

There is also an impression that if actual recessions do not come about of themselves, they may be brought about by the expedient of voting one political party out and another one in. This idea rests upon certain assumptions that experience has shown to be unsound; the first one being that the power of the ballot is what republican political theory makes it out to be, and that therefore the electorate has an effective choice in the matter. It is a matter of open and notorious fact that nothing like this is true. Our nominally republican system is actually built on an imperial model, with our professional politicians standing in the place of the pratorian guards; they meet from time to time, decide what can be “got away with,” and how, and who is to do it; and the electorate votes according to their prescriptions. Under these conditions it is easy to provide the appearance of any desired concession of State power, without the reality; our history shows innumerable instances of very easy dealing with problems in practical politics much more difficult than that. One may remark in this connexion also the notoriously baseless assumption that party-designations connote principles, and that party-pledges imply performance. Moreover, underlying these assumptions and all others that faith in “political action” contemplates, is the assumption that the interests of the State and the interests of society are, at least theoretically, identical; whereas in theory they are directly opposed, and this opposition invariably declares itself in practice to the precise extent that circumstances permit.

However, without pursuing these matters further at the moment, it is probably enough to observe here that in the nature of things the exercise of personal government, the control of a huge and growing bureaucracy, and the management of an enormous mass of subsidized voting-power, are as agreeable to one stripe of politician as they are to another. Presumably they interest a Republican or a Progressive as much as they do a Democrat, Communist, Farmer-Labourite, Socialist, or whatever a politician may, for electioneering purposes, see fit to call himself. This was demonstrated in the local campaigns of 1934 by the practical attitude of politicians who represented nominal opposition parties. It is now being further demonstrated by the derisible haste that the leaders of the official opposition are making towards what they call “reorganization” of their party. One may well be inattentive to their words; their actions, however, mean simply that the recent accretions of State power are here to stay, and that they are aware of it; and that, such being the case, they are preparing to dispose themselves most advantageously in a contest for their control and management. This is all that “reorganization” of the Republican party means, and all it is meant to mean; and this is in itself quite enough to show that any expectation of an essential change of regime through a change of party-administration is illusory. On the contrary, it is clear that whatever party-competition we shall see hereafter will be on the same terms as heretofore. It will be a competition for control and management, and it would naturally issue in still closer centralization, still further extension of the bureaucratic principle, and still larger concessions to subsidized voting-power. This course would be strictly historical, and is furthermore to be expected as lying in the nature of things, as it so obviously does.

Indeed, it is by this means that the aim of the collectivists seems likeliest to be attained in this country; this aim being the complete extinction of social power through absorption by the State. Their fundamental doctrine was formulated and invested with a quasi-religious sanction by the idealist philosophers of the last century; and among peoples who have accepted it in terms as well as in fact, it is expressed in formulas almost identical with theirs. Thus, for example, when Hitler says that “the State dominates the nation because it alone represents it,” he is only putting into loose popular language the formula of Hegel, that “the State is the general substance, whereof individuals are but accidents.” Or, again, when Mussolini says, “Everything for the State; nothing outside the State; nothing against the State,” he is merely vulgarizing the doctrine of Fichte, that “the State is the superior power, ultimate and beyond appeal, absolutely independent.”

It may be in place to remark here the essential identity of the various extant forms of collectivism. The superficial distinctions of Fascism, Bolshevism, Hitlerism, are the concern of journalists and publicists; the serious student (9) sees in them only the one root-idea of a complete conversion of social power into State power. When Hitler and Mussolini invoke a kind of debased and hoodwinking mysticism to aid their acceleration of this process, the student at once recognizes his old friend, the formula of Hegel, that “the State incarnates the Divine Idea upon earth,” and he is not hoodwinked. The journalist and the impressionable traveller may make what they will of “the new religion of Bolshevism”; the student contents himself with remarking clearly the exact nature of the process which this inculcation is designed to sanction.

 

IV

 

This process – the conversion of social power into State power – has not been carried as far here as it has elsewhere; as it has in Russia, Italy or Germany, for example. Two things, however, are to be observed. First, that it has gone a long way, at a rate of progress which has of late been greatly accelerated. What has chiefly differentiated its progress here from its progress in other countries is its unspectacular character. Mr. Jefferson wrote in 1823 that there was no danger he dreaded so much as “the consolidation [i.e., centralization] of our government by the noiseless and therefore unalarming instrumentality of the Supreme Court.” These words characterize every advance that we have made in State aggrandizement. Each one has been noiseless and therefore unalarming, especially to a people notoriously preoccupied, inattentive and incurious. Even the coup d’etat of 1932 was noiseless and unalarming. In Russia, Italy, Germany, the coup d’etat was violent and spectacular; it had to be; but here it was neither. Under cover of a nationwide, State-managed mobilization of inane buffoonery and aimless commotion, it took place in so unspectacular a way that its true nature escaped notice, and even now is not generally understood. The method of consolidating the ensuing regime, moreover, was also noiseless and unalarming; it was merely the prosaic and unspectacular “higgling of the market,” to which a long and uniform political experience had accustomed us. A visitor from a poorer and thriftier country might have regarded Mr. Farley’s activities in the local campaigns of 1934 as striking or even spectacular, but they made no such impression on us. They seemed so familiar, so much the regular thing, that one heard little comment on them. Moreover, political habit led us to attribute whatever unfavourable comment we did hear, to interest; either partisan or monetary interest, or both. We put it down as the jaundiced judgment of persons with axes to grind; and naturally the regime did all it could to encourage this view.

The second thing to be observed is that certain formulas, certain arrangements of words, stand as an obstacle in the way of our perceiving how far the conversion of social power into State power has actually gone. The force of phrase and name distorts the identification of our own actual acceptances and acquiescences. We are accustomed to the rehearsal of certain poetic litanies, and provided their cadence be kept entire, we are indifferent to their correspondence with truth and fact. When Hegel’s doctrine of the State, for example, is restated in terms by Hitler and Mussolini, it is distinctly offensive to us, and we congratulate ourselves on our freedom from the “yoke of a dictator’s tyranny.” No American politician would dream of breaking in on our routine of litanies with anything of the kind. We may imagine, for example, the shock to popular sentiment that would ensue upon Mr. Roosevelt’s declaring publicly that “the State embraces everything, and nothing has value outside the State. The State creates right.” Yet an American politician, as long as he does not formulate that doctrine in set terms, may go further with it in a practical way than Mussolini has gone, and without trouble or question. Suppose Mr. Roosevelt should defend his regime by publicly reasserting Hegel’s dictum that “the State alone possesses rights, because it is the strongest.” One can hardly imagine that our public would get that down without a great deal of retching. Yet how far, really, is that doctrine alien to our public’s actual acquiescences? Surely not far.

The point is that in respect of the relation between the theory and the actual practice of public affairs, the American is the most un-philosophical of beings. The rationalization of conduct in general is most repugnant to him; he prefers to emotionalize it. He is indifferent to the theory of things, so long as he may rehearse his formulas; and so long as he can listen to the patter of his litanies, no practical inconsistency disturbs him – indeed, he gives no evidence of even recognizing it as an inconsistency.

The ablest and most acute observer among the many who came from Europe to look us over in the early part of the last century was the one who is for some reason the most neglected, notwithstanding that in our present circumstances, especially, he is worth more to us than all the de Tocquevilles, Bryces, Trollopes and Chateaubriands put together. This was the noted St.-Simonien and political economist, Michel Chevalier. Professor Chinard, in his admirable biographical study of John Adams, has called attention to Chevalier’s observation that the American people have “the morale of an army on the march.” The more one thinks of this, the more clearly one sees how little there is in what our publicists are fond of calling “the American psychology” that it does not exactly account for; and it exactly accounts for the trait that we are considering.

An army on the march has no philosophy; it views itself as a creature of the moment. It does not rationalize conduct except in terms of an immediate end. As Tennyson observed, there is a pretty strict official understanding against its doing so; “theirs not to reason why.” Emotionalizing conduct is another matter, and the more of it the better; it is encouraged by a whole elaborate paraphernalia of showy etiquette, flags, music, uniforms, decorations, and the careful cultivation of a very special sort of comradery. In every relation to “the reason of the thing,” however – in the ability and eagerness, as Plato puts it, “to see things as they are” – the mentality of an army on the march is merely so much delayed adolescence; it remains persistently, incorrigibly and notoriously infantile.

Past generations of Americans, as Martin Chuzzlewit left record, erected this infantilism into a distinguishing virtue, and they took great pride in it as the mark of a chosen people, destined to live forever amidst the glory of their own unparalleled achievements wie Gott in Frankreich. Mr. Jefferson Brick, General Choke and the Honourable Elijah Pogram made a first-class job of indoctrinating their countrymen with the idea that a philosophy is wholly unnecessary, and that a concern with the theory of things is effeminate and unbecoming. An envious and presumably dissolute Frenchman may say what he likes about the morale of an army on the march, but the fact remains that it has brought us where we are, and has got us what we have. Look at a continent subdued, see the spread of our industry and commerce, our railways, newspapers, finance-companies, schools, colleges, what you will! Well, if all this has been done without a philosophy, if we have grown to this unrivalled greatness without any attention to the theory of things, does it not show that philosophy and the theory of things are all moonshine, and not worth a practical people’s consideration? The morale of an army on the march is good enough for us, and we are proud of it.

The present generation does not speak in quite this tone of robust certitude. It seems, if anything, rather less openly contemptuous of philosophy; one even sees some signs of a suspicion that in our present circumstances the theory of things might be worth looking into, and it is especially towards the theory of sovereignty and rulership that this new attitude of hospitality appears to be developing. The condition of public affairs in all countries, notably in our own, has done more than bring under review the mere current practice of politics, the character and quality of representative politicians, and the relative merits of this-or-that form or mode of government. It has served to suggest attention to the one institution whereof all these forms or modes are but the several, and, from the theoretical point of view, indifferent, manifestations. It suggests that finality does not lie with consideration of species, but of genus; it does not lie with consideration of the characteristic marks that differentiate the republican State, monocratic State, constitutional, collectivist, totalitarian, Hitlerian, Bolshevist, what you will. It lies with consideration of the State itself.

 

V

 

There appears to be a curious difficulty about exercising reflective thought upon the actual nature of an institution into which one was born and one’s ancestors were born. One accepts it as one does the atmosphere; one’s practical adjustments to it are made by a kind of reflex. One seldom thinks about the air until one notices some change, favourable or unfavourable, and then one’s thought about it is special; one thinks about purer air, lighter air, heavier air, not about air. So it is with certain human institutions. We know that they exist, that they affect us in various ways, but we do not ask how they came to exist, or what their original intention was, or what primary function it is that they are actually fulfilling; and when they affect us so unfavourably that we rebel against them, we contemplate substituting nothing beyond some modification or variant of the same institution. Thus colonial America, oppressed by the monarchical State, brings in the republican State; Germany gives up the republican State for the Hitlerian State; Russia exchanges the monocratic State for the collectivist State; Italy exchanges the constitutionalist State for the “totalitarian” State.

It is interesting to observe that in the year 1935 the average individual’s incurious attitude towards the phenomenon of the State is precisely what his attitude was towards the phenomenon of the Church in the year, say, 1500. The State was then a very weak institution; the Church was very strong. The individual was born into the Church, as his ancestors had been for generations, in precisely the formal, documented fashion in which he is now born into the State. He was taxed for the Church’s support, as he now is for the State’s support. He was supposed to accept the official theory and doctrine of the Church, to conform to its discipline, and in a general way to do as it told him; again, precisely the sanctions that the State now lays upon him. If he were reluctant or recalcitrant, the Church made a satisfactory amount of trouble for him, as the State now does. Notwithstanding all this, it does not appear to have occurred to the Church-citizen of that day, any more than it occurs to the State-citizen of the present, to ask what sort of institution it was that claimed his allegiance. There it was; he accepted its own account of itself, took it as it stood, and at its own valuation. Even when he revolted, fifty years later, he merely exchanged one form or mode of the Church for another, the Roman for the Calvinist, Lutheran, Zuinglian, or what not; again, quite as the modern State-citizen exchanges one mode of the State for another. He did not examine the institution itself, nor does the State-citizen today.

My purpose in writing is to raise the question whether the enormous depletion of social power which we are witnessing everywhere does not suggest the importance of knowing more than we do about the essential nature of the institution that is so rapidly absorbing this volume of power. (10) One of my friends said to me lately that if the public-utility corporations did not mend their ways, the State would take over their business and operate it. He spoke with a curiously reverent air of finality. Just so, I thought, might a Church-citizen, at the end of the fifteenth century, have spoken of some impending intervention of the Church; and I wondered then whether he had any better-informed and closer-reasoned theory of the State than his prototype had of the Church. Frankly, I am sure he had not. His pseudo-conception was merely an unreasoned acceptance of the State on its own terms and at its own valuation; and in this acceptance he showed himself no more intelligent, and no less, than the whole mass of State-citizenry at large.

It appears to me that with the depletion of social power going on at the rate it is, the State-citizen should look very closely into the essential nature of the institution that is bringing it about. He should ask himself whether he has a theory of the State, and if so, whether he can assure himself that history supports it. He will not find this a matter that can be settled offhand; it needs a good deal of investigation, and a stiff exercise of reflective thought. He should ask, in the first place, how the State originated, and why; it must have come about somehow, and for some purpose. This seems an extremely easy question to answer, but he will not find it so. Then he should ask what it is that history exhibits continuously as the State’s primary function. Then, whether he finds that ” the State” and “government” are strictly synonymous terms; he uses them as such, but are they? Are there any invariable characteristic marks that differentiate the institution of government from the institution of the State? Then finally he should decide whether, by the testimony of history, the State is to be regarded as, in essence, a social or an anti-social institution?

It is pretty clear now that if the Church-citizen of 1500 had put his mind on questions as fundamental as these, his civilization might have had a much easier and pleasanter course to run; and the State-citizen of today may profit by his experience.

 

Footnotes to Chapter 1

1 The result of a questionnaire published in July, 1935, showed 76.8 per cent of the replies favourable to the idea that it is the State’s duty to see that every person who wants a job shall have one; 20.1 per cent were against it, and 3.1 per cent were undecided.(Back to text)

2 In this country, the State is at present manufacturing furniture, grinding flour, producing fertilizer, building houses; selling farm-products, dairy-products, textiles, canned goods, and electrical apparatus; operating employment-agencies and home-loan offices; financing exports and imports; financing agriculture. It also controls the issuance of securities, communications by wire and radio, discount rates, oil-production, power-production, commercial competition, the production and sale of alcohol, and the use of inland waterways and railways.(Back to text)

 

3 There is a sort of precedent for it in Roman history, if the story be true in all its details that the army sold the emperorship to Didius Julianus for something like five million dollars. Money has often been used to grease the wheels of a coup d’etat, but straight over-the-counter purchase is unknown, I think, except in these two instances. (Back to text)

 

4 On the day I write this, the newspapers say that the President is about to order a stoppage on the flow of federal relief-funds into Louisiana, for the purpose of bringing Senator Long to terms. I have seen no comment, however, on the propriety of this kind of procedure.(Back to text)

 

5 A friend in the theatrical business tells me that from the box-office point of view, Washington is now the best theatre-town, concert-town and general-amusement town in the United States, far better than New York.(Back to text)

 

6 The feature of the approaching campaign of 1936 which will most interest the student of civilization will be the use of the four-billion-dollar relief-fund that has been placed at the President’s disposal – the extent, that is, to which it will be distributed on a patronage-basis. (Back to text)

 

7 It must always be kept in mind that there is a tidal-motion as well as a wave-motion in these matters, and that the wave-motion is of little importance, relatively. For instance, the Supreme Court’s invalidation of the National Recovery Act counts for nothing in determining the actual status of personal government. The real question is not how much less the sum of personal government is now than it was before that decision, but how much greater it is normally now than it was in 1932, and in years preceding.(Back to text)

 

8 As, for example, the spectacular voiding of the National Recovery Act.(Back to text)

 

9 This book is a sort of syllabus or precis of some lectures to students of American history and politics – mostly graduate students – and it therefore presupposes some little acquaintance with those subjects. The few references I have given, however, will put any reader in the way of documenting and amplifying it satisfactorily.(Back to text)

 

10 An inadequate and partial idea of what this volume amounts to, may be got from the fact that the American State’s income from taxation is now about one third of the nation’s total income! This takes into account all forms of taxation, direct and indirect, local and federal.(Back to text)

CHAPTER 2
As far back as one can follow the run of civilization, it presents two fundamentally different types of political organization. This difference is not one of degree, but of kind. It does not do to take the one type as merely marking a lower order of civilization and the other a higher; they are commonly so taken, but erroneously. Still less does it do to classify both as species of the same genus – to classify both under the generic name of “government,” though this also, until very lately, has always been done, and has always led to confusion and misunderstanding.A good example of this error and its effects is supplied by Thomas Paine. At the outset of his pamphlet called Common Sense, Paine draws a distinction between society and government. While society in any state is a blessing, he says, “government, even in its best state, is but a necessary evil; in its worst state, an intolerable one.” In another place, he speaks of government as “a mode rendered necessary by the inability of moral virtue to govern the world.” He proceeds then to show how and why government comes into being. Its origin is in the common understanding and common agreement of society; and “the design and end of government,” he says, is “freedom and security.” Teleologically, government implements the common desire of society, first, for freedom, and second, for security. Beyond this it does not go; it contemplates no positive intervention upon the individual, but only a negative intervention. It would seem that in Paine’s view the code of government should be that of the legendary king Pausole, who prescribed but two laws for his subjects, the first being, Hurt no man, and the second, Then do as you please; and that the whole business of government should be the purely negative one of seeing that this code is carried out.

So far, Paine is sound as he is simple. He goes on, however, to attack the British political organization in terms that are logically inconclusive. There should be no complaint of this, for he was writing as a pamphleteer, a special pleader with an ad captandum argument to make, and as everyone knows, he did it most successfully. Nevertheless, the point remains that when he talks about the British system he is talking about a type of political organization essentially different from the type that he has just been describing; different in origin, in intention, in primary function, in the order of interest that it reflects. It did not originate in the common understanding and agreement of society; it originated in conquest and confiscation. (1) Its intention, far from contemplating “freedom and security,” contemplated nothing of the kind. It contemplated primarily the continuous economic exploitation of one class by another, and it concerned itself with only so much freedom and security as was consistent with this primary intention; and this was, in fact, very little. Its primary function or exercise was not by way of Paine’s purely negative interventions upon the individual, but by way of innumerable and most onerous positive interventions, all of which were for the purpose of maintaining the stratification of society into an owning and exploiting class, and a propertyless dependent class. The order of interest that it reflected was not social, but purely antisocial; and those who administered it, judged by the common standard of ethics, or even the common standard of law as applied to private persons, were indistinguishable from a professional-criminal class.

Clearly, then, we have two distinct types of political organization to take into account; and clearly, too, when their origins are considered, it is impossible to make out that the one is a mere perversion of the other. Therefore, when we include both types under a general term like government, we get into logical difficulties; difficulties of which most writers on the subject have been more or less vaguely aware, but which, until within the last half-century, none of them has tried to resolve. Mr. Jefferson, for example, remarked that the hunting tribes of Indians, with which he had a good deal to do in his early days, had a highly organized and admirable social order, but were “without government.” Commenting on this, he wrote Madison that “it is a problem not clear in my mind that [this] condition is not the best,” but he suspected that it was “inconsistent with any great degree of population.” Schoolcraft observes that the Chippewas, though living in a highly-organized social order, had no “regular” government. Herbert Spencer, speaking of the Bechuanas, Araucanians and Koranna Hottentots, says they have no “definite” government; while Parkman, in his introduction to The Conspiracy of Pontiac, reports the same phenomenon, and is frankly puzzled by its apparent anomalies.

Paine’s theory of government agrees exactly with the theory set forth by Mr. Jefferson in the Declaration of Independence. The doctrine of natural rights, which is explicit in the Declaration, is implicit in Common Sense; (2) and Paine’s view of the “design and end of government” is precisely the Declaration’s view, that “to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men”; and further, Paine’s view of the origin of government is that it “derives its just powers from the consent of the governed.” Now, if we apply Paine’s formulas or the Declaration’s formulas, it is abundantly clear that the Virginian Indians had government; Mr. Jefferson’s own observations show that they had it. Their political organization, simple as it was, answered its purpose. Their code-apparatus sufficed for assuring freedom and security to the individual, and for dealing with such trespasses as in that state of society the individual might encounter – fraud, theft, assault, adultery, murder. The same is as clearly true of the various peoples cited by Parkman, Schoolcraft and Spencer. Assuredly, if the language of the Declaration amounts to anything, all these peoples had government; and all these reporters make it appear as a government quite competent to its purpose.

Therefore when Mr. Jefferson says his Indians were “without government,” he must be taken to mean that they did not have a type of government like the one he knew; and when Schoolcraft and Spencer speak of “regular” and “definite” government, their qualifying words must be taken in the same way. This type of government, nevertheless, has always existed and still exists, answering perfectly to Paine’s formulas and the Declaration’s formulas; though it is a type which we also, most of us, have seldom had the chance to observe. It may not be put down as the mark of an inferior race, for institutional simplicity is in itself by no means a mark of backwardness or inferiority; and it has been sufficiently shown that in certain essential respects the peoples who have this type of government are, by comparison, in a position to say a good deal for themselves on the score of a civilized character. Mr. Jefferson’s own testimony on this point is worth notice, and so is Parkman’s. This type, however, even though documented by the Declaration, is fundamentally so different from the type that has always prevailed in history, and is still prevailing in the world at the moment, that for the sake of clearness the two types should be set apart by name, as they are by nature. They are so different in theory that drawing a sharp distinction between them is now probably the most important duty that civilization owes to its own safety. Hence it is by no means either an arbitrary or academic proceeding to give the one type the name of government, and to call the second type simply the State.

 

II

 

Aristotle, confusing the idea of the State with the idea of government, thought the State originated out of the natural grouping of the family. Other Greek philosophers, labouring under the same confusion, somewhat anticipated Rousseau in finding its origin in the social nature and disposition of the individual; while an opposing school, which held that the individual is naturally anti-social, more or less anticipated Hobbes by finding it in an enforced compromise among the anti-social tendencies of individuals. Another view, implicit in the doctrine of Adam Smith, is that the State originated in the association of certain individuals who showed a marked superiority in the economic virtues of diligence, prudence and thrift. The idealist philosophers, variously applying Kant’s transcendentalism to the problem, came to still different conclusions; and one or two other views, rather less plausible, perhaps, than any of the foregoing, have been advanced.

The root-trouble with all these views is not precisely that they are conjectural, but that they are based on incompetent observation. They miss the invariable characteristic marks that the subject presents; as, for example, until quite lately, all views of the origin of malaria missed the invariable ministrations of the mosquito, or as opinions about the bubonic-plague missed the invariable mark of the rat-parasite. It is only within the last half-century that the historical method has been applied to the problem of the State. (3) This method runs back the phenomenon of the State to its first appearance in documented history, observing its invariable characteristic marks, and drawing inferences as indicated. There are so many clear intimations of this method in earlier writers – one finds them as far back as Strabo – that one wonders why its systematic application was so long deferred; but in all such cases, as with malaria and typhus, when the characteristic mark is once determined, it is so obvious that one always wonders why it was so long unnoticed. Perhaps in the case of the State, the best one can say is that the cooperation of the Zeitgeist was necessary, and that it could be had no sooner.

The positive testimony of history is that the State invariably had its origin in conquest and confiscation. No primitive State known to history originated in any other manner. (4) On the negative side, it has been proved beyond peradventure that no primitive State could possibly have had any other origin.(5) Moreover, the sole invariable characteristic of the State is the economic exploitation of one class by another. In this sense, every State known to history is a class-State. Oppenheimer defines the State, in respect of its origin, as an institution “forced on a defeated group by a conquering group, with a view only to systematizing the domination of the conquered by the conquerors, and safeguarding itself against insurrection from within and attack from without. This domination had no other final purpose than the economic exploitation of the conquered group by the victorious group.”

An American statesman, John Jay, accomplished the respectable feat of compressing the whole doctrine of conquest into a single sentence. “Nations in general,” he said, “will go to war whenever there is a prospect of getting something by it.” Any considerable economic accumulation, or any considerable body of natural resources, is an incentive to conquest. The primitive technique was that of raiding the coveted possessions, appropriating them entire, and either exterminating the possessors, or dispersing them beyond convenient reach. Very early, however, it was seen to be in general more profitable to reduce the possessors to dependence, and use them as labour-motors; and the primitive technique was accordingly modified. Under special circumstances, where this exploitation was either impracticable or unprofitable, the primitive technique is even now occasionally revived, as by the Spaniards in South America, or by ourselves against the Indians. But these circumstances are exceptional; the modified technique has been in use almost from the beginning, and everywhere its first appearance marks the origin of the State. Citing Ranke’s observations on the technique of the raiding herdsmen, the Hyksos, who established their State in Egypt about B.C. 2000, Gumplowicz remarks that Ranke’s words very well sum up the political history of mankind.

Indeed, the modified technique never varies. “Everywhere we see a militant group of fierce men forcing the frontier of some more peaceable people, settling down upon them and establishing the State, with themselves as an aristocracy. In Mesopotamia, irruption succeeds irruption, State succeeds State, Babylonians, Amoritans, Assyrians, Arabs, Medes, Persians, Macedonians, Parthians, Mongols, Seldshuks, Tatars, Turks; in the Nile valley, Hyksos, Nubians, Persians, Greeks, Romans, Arabs, Turks; in Greece, the Doric States are specific examples; in Italy, Romans, Ostrogoths, Lombards, Franks, Germans; in Spain, Carthaginians, Visigoths, Arabs; in Gaul, Romans, Franks, Burgundians, Normans; in Britain, Saxons, Normans.” Everywhere we find the political organization proceeding from the same origin, and presenting the same mark of intention, namely: the economic exploitation of a defeated group by a conquering group.

Everywhere, that is, with but the one significant exception. Wherever economic exploitation has been for any reason either impracticable or unprofitable, the State has never come into existence; government has existed, but the State, never. The American hunting tribes, for example, whose organization so puzzled our observers, never formed a State, for there is no way to reduce a hunter to economic dependence and make him hunt for you. (6) Conquest and confiscation were no doubt practicable, but no economic gain would be got by it, for confiscation would give the aggressors but little beyond what they already had; the most that could come of it would be the satisfaction of some sort of feud. For like reasons primitive peasants never formed a State. The economic accumulations of their neighbours were too slight and too perishable to be interesting; (7) and especially with the abundance of free land about, the enslavement of their neighbours would be impracticable, if only for the police-problems involved. (8)

It may now be easily seen how great the difference is between the institution of government, as understood by Paine and the Declaration of Independence, and the institution of the State. Government may quite conceivably have originated as Paine thought it did, or Aristotle, or Hobbes, or Rousseau; whereas the State not only never did originate in any of those ways, but never could have done so. The nature and intention of government, as adduced by Parkman, Schoolcraft and Spencer, are social. Based on the idea of natural rights, government secures those rights to the individual by strictly negative intervention, making justice costless and easy of access; and beyond that it does not go. The State, on the other hand, both in its genesis and by its primary intention, is purely anti-social. It is not based on the idea of natural rights, but on the idea that the individual has no rights except those that the State may provisionally grant him. It has always made justice costly and difficult of access, and has invariably held itself above justice and common morality whenever it could advantage itself by so doing. (9) So far from encouraging a wholesome development of social power, it has invariably, as Madison said, turned every contingency into a resource for depleting social power and enhancing State power. (10) As Dr. Sigmund Freud has observed, it can not even be said that the State has ever shown any disposition to suppress crime, but only to safeguard its own monopoly of crime. In Russia and Germany, for example, we have lately seen the State moving with great alacrity against infringement of its monopoly by private persons, while at the same time exercising that monopoly with unconscionable ruthlessness. Taking the State wherever found, striking into its history at any point, one sees no way to differentiate the activities of its founders, administrators and beneficiaries from those of a professional-criminal class.

 

III

 

Such are the antecedents of the institution which is everywhere now so busily converting social power by wholesale into State power. (11) The recognition of them goes a long way towards resolving most, if not all, of the apparent anomalies which the conduct of the modern State exhibits. It is of great help, for example, in accounting for the open and notorious fact that the State always moves slowly and grudgingly towards any purpose that accrues to society’s advantage, but moves rapidly and with alacrity towards one that accrues to its own advantage; nor does it ever move towards social purposes on its own initiative, but only under heavy pressure, while its motion towards anti-social purposes is self-sprung.

Englishmen of the last century remarked this fact with justifiable anxiety, as they watched the rapid depletion of social power by the British State. One of them was Herbert Spencer, who published a series of essays which were subsequently put together in a volume called The Man versus the State. With our public affairs in the shape they are, it is rather remarkable that no American publicist has improved the chance to reproduce these essays verbatim, merely substituting illustrations drawn from American history for those which Spencer draws from English history. If this were properly done, it would make one of the most pertinent and useful works that could be produced at this time. (12)

These essays are devoted to examining the several aspects of the contemporary growth of State power in England. In the essay called Over-legislation, Spencer remarks the fact so notoriously common in our experience, (13) that when State power is applied to social purposes, its action is invariably “slow, stupid, extravagant, unadaptive, corrupt and obstructive.” He devotes several paragraphs to each count, assembling a complete array of proof. When he ends, discussion ends; there is simply nothing to be said. He shows further that the State does not even fulfill efficiently what he calls its “unquestionable duties” to society; it does not efficiently adjudge and defend the individual’s elemental rights. This being so – and with us this too is a matter of notoriously common experience – Spencer sees no reason to expect that State power will be more efficiently applied to secondary social purposes. “Had we, in short, proved its efficiency as judge and defender, instead of having found it treacherous, cruel, and anxiously to be shunned, there would be some encouragement to hope other benefits at its hands.”

Yet, he remarks, it is just this monstrously extravagant hope that society is continually indulging; and indulging in the face of daily evidence that it is illusory. He points to the anomaly which we have all noticed as so regularly presented by newspapers. Take up one, says Spencer, and you will probably find a leading editorial “exposing the corruption, negligence or mismanagement of some State department. Cast your eye down the next column, and it is not unlikely that you will read proposals for an extension of State supervision. (14) . . . Thus while every day chronicles a failure, there every day reappears the belief that it needs but an Act of Parliament and a staff of officers to effect any end desired. (15) Nowhere is the perennial faith of mankind better seen.”

It is unnecessary to say that the reasons which Spencer gives for the anti-social behaviour of the State are abundantly valid, but we may now see how powerfully they are reinforced by the findings of the historical method; a method which had not been applied when Spencer wrote. These findings being what they are, it is manifest that the conduct which Spencer complains of is strictly historical. When the town-dwelling merchants of the eighteenth century displaced the landholding nobility in control of the State’s mechanism, they did not change the State’s character; they merely adapted its mechanism to their own special interests, and strengthened it immeasurably. (16) The merchant-State remained an anti-social institution, a pure class-State, like the State of the nobility; its intention and function remained unchanged, save for the adaptations necessary to suit the new order of interests that it was thenceforth to serve. Therefore in its flagrant disservice of social purposes, for which Spencer arraigns it, the State was acting strictly in character.

Spencer does not discuss what he calls “the perennial faith of mankind” in State action, but contents himself with elaborating the sententious observation of Guizot, that “a belief in the sovereign power of political machinery” is nothing less than “a gross delusion.” This faith is chiefly an effect of the immense prestige which the State has diligently built up for itself in the century or more since the doctrine of jure divino rulership gave way. We need not consider the various instruments that the State employs in building up its prestige; most of them are well known, and their uses well understood. There is one, however, which is in a sense peculiar to the republican State. Republicanism permits the individual to persuade himself that the State is his creation, that State action is his action, that when it expresses itself it expresses him, and when it is glorified he is glorified. The republican State encourages this persuasion with all its power, aware that it is the most efficient instrument for enhancing its own prestige. Lincoln’s phrase, “of the people, by the people, for the people” was probably the most effective single stroke of propaganda ever made in behalf of republican State prestige.

Thus the individual’s sense of his own importance inclines him strongly to resent the suggestion that the State is by nature anti-social. He looks on its failures and misfeasances with somewhat the eye of a parent, giving it the benefit of a special code of ethics. Moreover, he has always the expectation that the State will learn by its mistakes, and do better. Granting that its technique with social purposes is blundering, wasteful and vicious – even admitting, with the public official whom Spencer cites, that wherever the State is, there is villainy – he sees no reason why, with an increase of experience and responsibility, the State should not improve.

Something like this appears to be the basic assumption of collectivism. Let but the State confiscate all social power, and its interests will become identical with those of society. Granting that the State is of anti-social origin, and that it has borne a uniformly anti-social character throughout its history, let it but extinguish social power completely, and its character will change; it will merge with society, and thereby become society’s efficient and disinterested organ. The historic State, in short, will disappear, and government only will remain. It is an attractive idea; the hope of its being somehow translated into practice is what, only so few years ago, made “the Russian experiment” so irresistibly fascinating to generous spirits who felt themselves hopelessly State-ridden. A closer examination of the State’s activities, however, will show that this idea, attractive though it be, goes to pieces against the iron law of fundamental economics, that man tends always to satisfy his needs and desires with the least possible exertion. Let us see how this is so.

 

IV

 

There are two methods, or means, and only two, whereby man’s needs and desires can be satisfied. One is the production and exchange of wealth; this is the economic means. (17) The other is the uncompensated appropriation of wealth produced by others; this is the political means. The primitive exercise of the political means was, as we have seen, by conquest, confiscation, expropriation, and the introduction of a slave-economy. The conqueror parcelled out the conquered territory among beneficiaries, who thenceforth satisfied their needs and desires by exploiting the labour of the enslaved inhabitants. (18) The feudal State, and the merchant-State, wherever found, merely took over and developed successively the heritage of character, intention and apparatus of exploitation which the primitive State transmitted to them; they are in essence merely higher integrations of the primitive State.

The State, then, whether primitive, feudal or merchant, is the organization of the political means. Now, since man tends always to satisfy his needs and desires with the least possible exertion, he will employ the political means whenever he can – exclusively, if possible; otherwise, in association with the economic means. He will, at the present time, that is, have recourse to the State’s modern apparatus of exploitation; the apparatus of tariffs, concessions, rent-monopoly, and the like. It is a matter of the commonest observation that this is his first instinct. So long, therefore, as the organization of the political means is available – so long as the highly-centralized bureaucratic State stands as primarily a distributor of economic advantage, an arbiter of exploitation, so long will that instinct effectively declare itself. A proletarian State would merely, like the merchant-State, shift the incidence of exploitation, and there is no historic ground for the presumption that a collectivist State would be in any essential respect unlike its predecessors; (19) as we are beginning to see, “the Russian experiment” has amounted to the erection of a highly-centralized bureaucratic State upon the ruins of another, leaving the entire apparatus of exploitation intact and ready for use. Hence, in view of the law of fundamental economics just cited, the expectation that collectivism will appreciably alter the essential character of the State appears illusory.

Thus the findings arrived at by the historical method amply support the immense body of practical considerations brought forward by Spencer against the State’s inroads upon social power. When Spencer concludes that “in State-organizations, corruption is unavoidable,” the historical method abundantly shows cause why, in the nature of things, this should be expected – vilescit origine tali. When Freud comments on the shocking disparity between State-ethics and private ethics – and his observations on this point are most profound and searching – the historical method at once supplies the best of reasons why that disparity should be looked for. (20) When Ortega y Gasset says that “Statism is the higher form taken by violence and direct action, when these are set up as standards,” the historical method enables us to perceive at once that his definition is precisely that which one would make a priori.

The historical method, moreover, establishes the important fact that, as in the case of tabetic or parasitic diseases, the depletion of social power by the State can not be checked after a certain point of progress is passed. History does not show an instance where, once beyond this point, this depletion has not ended in complete and permanent collapse. In some cases, disintegration is slow and painful. Death set its mark on Rome at the end of the second century, but she dragged out a pitiable existence for some time after the Antonines. Athens, on the other hand, collapsed quickly. Some authorities think that Europe is dangerously near that point, if not already past it; but contemporary conjecture is probably without much value. That point may have been reached in America, and it may not; again, certainty is unattainable – plausible arguments may be made either way. Of two things, however, we may be certain: the first is, that the rate of America’s approach to that point is being prodigiously accelerated; and the second is, that there is no evidence of any disposition to retard it, or any intelligent apprehension of the danger which that acceleration betokens.

 


Footnotes to Chapter 2
1 Paine was of course well aware of this. He says, “A French bastard, landing with an armed banditti, and establishing himself king of England against the consent of the natives, is in plain terms a very paltry rascally original.” He does not press the point, however, nor in view of his purpose should he be expected to do so.(Back to text)

2 In Rights of Man, Paine is as explicit about this doctrine as the Declaration is; and in several places throughout his pamphlets, he asserts that all civil rights are founded on natural rights, and proceed from them.(Back to text)

 

3 By Gumplowicz, professor at Graz, and after him, by Oppenheimer, professor of politics at Frankfort. I have followed them throughout this section. The findings of these Galileos are so damaging to the prestige that the State has everywhere built up for itself that professional authority in general has been very circumspect about approaching them, naturally preferring to give them a wide berth; but in the long-run, this is a small matter. Honourable and distinguished exceptions appear in Vierkandt, Wilhelm Wundt, and the revered patriarch of German economic studies, Adolf Wagner. (Back to text)

 

4 An excellent example of primitive practice, effected by modern technique, is furnished by the new State of Manchoukuo, and another bids fair to be furnished in consequence of the Italian State’s operations in Ethiopia.(Back to text)

 

5 The mathematics of this demonstration are extremely interesting. A resume of them is given in Oppenheimer’s treatise Der Staat, ch. I, and they are worked out in full in his Theorie der Reinen und Politischen Oekonomie.(Back to text)

 

6 Except, of course, by preemption of the land under the State-system of tenure, but for occupational reasons this would not be worth a hunting tribe’s attempting. Bicknell, the historian of Rhode Island, suggests that the troubles over Indian treaties arose from the fact that the Indians did not understand the State-system of land-tenure, never having had anything like it; their understanding was that the whites were admitted only to the same communal use of land that they themselves enjoyed. It is interesting to remark that the settled fishing tribes of the Northwest formed a State. Their occupation made economic exploitation both practicable and profitable, and they resorted to conquest and confiscation to introduce it.(Back to text)

 

7 It is strange that so little attention has been paid to the singular immunity enjoyed by certain small and poor peoples amidst great collisions of State interest. Throughout the late war, for example, Switzerland, which has nothing worth stealing, was never raided or disturbed.(Back to text)

 

8 Marx’s chapter on colonization is interesting in this connexion, especially for his observation that economic exploitation is impracticable until expropriation from the land has taken place. Here he is in full agreement with the whole line of fundamental economists, from Turgot, Franklin and John Taylor down to Theodor Hertzka and Henry George. Marx, however, apparently did not see that his observation left him with something of a problem on his hands, for he does little more with it than record the fact.(Back to text)

 

9 John Bright said he had known the British Parliament to do some good things, but never knew it to do a good thing merely because it was a good thing. (Back to text)

 

10 Reflections, 1.(Back to text)

 

11 In this country the condition of several socially-valuable industries seems at the moment to be a pretty fair index of this process. The State’s positive interventions have so far depleted social power that by all accounts these particular applications of it are on the verge of being no longer practicable. In Italy, the State now absorbs fifty per cent of the total national income. Italy appears to be rehearsing her ancient history in something more than a sentimental fashion, for by the end of the second century social power had been so largely transmuted into State power that nobody could do any business at all. There was not enough social power left to pay the State’s bills.(Back to text)

 

12 It seems a most discreditable thing that this century has not seen produced in America an intellectually respectable presentation of the complete case against the State’s progressive confiscations of social power; a presentation, that is, which bears the mark of having sound history and a sound philosophy behind it. Mere interested touting of “rugged individualism” and agonized fustian about the constitution are so specious, so frankly unscrupulous, that they have become contemptible. Consequently collectivism has easily had all the best of it, intellectually, and the results are now apparent. Collectivism has even succceded in foisting its glossary of arbitrary definitions upon us; we all speak of our economic system, for instance, as “capitalist,” when there has never been a system, nor can one be imagined, that is not capitalist. By contrast, when British collectivism undertook to deal, say with Lecky, Bagehot, Professor Huxley and Herbert Spencer, it got full change for its money. Whatever steps Britain has taken towards collectivism, or may take, it at least has had all the chance in the world to know precisely where it was going, which we have not had. (Back to text)

 

13 Yesterday I passed over a short stretch of new road built by State power, applied through one of the grotesque alphabetical tentacles of our bureaucracy. It cost $87,348.56. Social power, represented by a contractor’s figure in competitive bidding, would have built it for $38,668.20, a difference, roughly, of one hundred per cent!(Back to text)

 

14 All the newspaper-comments that I have read concerning the recent marine disasters that befell the Ward Line have, without exception, led up to just such proposals!(Back to text)

 

15 Our recent experiences with prohibition might be thought to have suggested this belief as fatuous, but apparently they have not done so. (Back to text)

 

16 This point is well discussed by the Spanish philosopher Ortega y Gasset, The Revolt of the Masses, ch. XIII (English translation), in which he does not scruple to say that the State’s rapid depletion of social power is “the greatest danger that today threatens civilization.” He also gives a good idea of what may be expected when a third, economically-composite, class in turn takes over the mechanism of the State, as the merchant class took it over from the nobility. Surely no better forecast could be made of what is taking place in this country at the moment, than this: “The mass-man does in fact believe that he is the State, and he will tend more and more to set its machinery working, on whatsoever pretext, to crush beneath it any creative minority which disturbs it – disturbs it in any order of things; in politics, in ideas, in industry.”(Back to text)

 

l7 Oppenheimer, Der Staat, ch. I. Services are also, of course, a subject of economic exchange. (Back to text)

 

18 In America, where the native huntsmen were not exploitable, the beneficiaries – the Virginia Company, Massachusetts Company, Dutch West India Company, the Calverts, etc. – followed the traditional method of importing exploitable human material, under bond, from England and Europe, and also established the chattel-slave economy by importations from Africa. The best exposition of this phase of our history is in Beard’s Rise of American Civilization, vol. 1, pp. 103-109. At a later period, enormous masses of exploitable material imported themselves by immigration; Valentine’sManual for 1859 says that in the period 1847-1858, 2,486,463 immigrants passed through the port of New York. This competition tended to depress the slave-economy in the industrial sections of the country, and to supplant it with a wage-economy. It is noteworthy that public sentiment in those regions did not regard the slave-economy as objectionable until it could no longer be profitably maintained. (Back to text)

 

19 Supposing, for example, that Mr. Norman Thomas and a solid collectivist Congress, with a solid collectivist Supreme Court, should presently fall heir to our enormously powerful apparatus of exploitation, it needs no great stretch of imagination to forecast the upshot.(Back to text)

 

2O In April, 1933, the American State issued half a billion dollars’ worth of bonds of small denominations, to attract investment by poor persons. It promised to pay these, principal and interest, in gold of the then-existing value. Within three months the State repudiated that promise. Such an action by an individual would, as Freud says, dishonour him forever, and mark him as no better than a knave. Done by an association of individuals, it would put them in the category of a professional-criminal class. (Back to text)

 

CHAPTER 3
In considering the State’s development in America, it is important to keep in mind the fact that America’s experience of the State was longer during the colonial period than during the period of American independence; the period 1607-1776 was longer than the period 1776-1935. Moreover, the colonists came here full-grown, and had already a considerable experience of the State in England and Europe before they arrived; and for purposes of comparison, this would extend the former period by a few years, say at least fifteen. It would probably be safe to put it that the American colonists had twenty-five years’ longer experience of the State than citizens of the United States have had.Their experience, too, was not only longer, but more varied. The British State, the French, Dutch, Swedish and Spanish States, were all established here. The separatist English dissenters who landed at Plymouth had lived under the Dutch State as well as under the British State. When James I made England too uncomfortable for them to live in, they went to Holland; and many of the institutions which they subsequently set up in New England, and which were later incorporated into the general body of what we call “American institutions,” were actually Dutch, though commonly – almost invariably – we accredit them to England. They were for the most part Roman-Continental in their origin, but they were transmitted here from Holland, not from England. (1) No such institutions existed in England at that time, and hence the Plymouth colonists could not have seen them there; they could have seen them only in Holland, where they did exist.

Our colonial period coincided with the period of revolution and readjustment in England, referred to in the preceding chapter, when the British merchant-State was displacing the feudal State, consolidating its own position, and shifting the incidence of economic exploitation. These revolutionary measures gave rise to an extensive review of the general theory on which the feudal State had been operating. The earlier Stuarts governed on the theory of monarchy by divine right. The State’s economic beneficiaries were answerable only to the monarch, who was theoretically answerable only to God; he had no responsibilities to society at large, save such as he chose to incur, and these only for the duration of his pleasure. In 1607, the year of the Virginia colony’s landing at Jamestown, John Cowell, regius professor of civil law at the University of Cambridge, laid down the doctrine that the monarch “is above the law by his absolute power, and though for the better and equal course in making laws he do admit the Three Estates unto Council, yet this in divers learned men’s opinions is not of constraint, but of his own benignity, or by reason of the promise made upon oath at the time of his coronation.”

This doctrine, which was elaborated to the utmost in the extraordinary work called Patriarcha, by Sir Robert Filmer, was all well enough so long as the line of society’s stratification was clear, straight and easily drawn. The feudal State’s economic beneficiaries were virtually a close corporation, a compact body consisting of a Church hierarchy and a titled group of hereditary, large-holding landed proprietors. In respect of interests, this body was extremely homogeneous, and their interests, few in number, were simple in character and easily defined. With the monarch, the hierarchy, and a small, closely-limited nobility above the line of stratification, and an undifferentiated populace below it, this theory of sovereignty was passable; it answered the purposes of the feudal State as well as any.

But the practical outcome of this theory did not, and could not, suit the purposes of the rapidly-growing class of merchants and financiers. They wished to introduce a new economic system. Under feudalism, production had been, as a general thing, for use, with the incidence of exploitation falling largely on a peasantry. The State had by no means always kept its hands off trade, but it had never countenanced the idea that its chief reason for existence was, as we say, “to help business.” The merchants and financiers, however, had precisely this idea in mind. They saw the attractive possibilities of production for profit, with the incidence of exploitation gradually shifting to an industrial proletariat. They saw also, however, that to realize all these possibilities, they must get the State’s mechanism to working as smoothly and powerfully on the side of “business” as it had been working on the side of the monarchy, the Church, and the large-holding landed proprietors. This meant capturing control of this mechanism, and so altering and adapting it as to give themselves the same free access to the political means as was enjoyed by the displaced beneficiaries. The course by which they accomplished this is marked by the Civil War, the dethronement and execution of Charles I, the Puritan protectorate, and the revolution of 1688.

This is the actual inwardness of what is known as the Puritan movement in England. It had a quasi-religious motivation – speaking strictly, an ecclesiological motivation – but the paramount practical end towards which it tended was a repartition of access to the political means. It is a significant fact, though seldom noticed, that the only tenet with which Puritanism managed to evangelize equally the non-Christian and Christian world of English-bred civilization is its tenet of work, its doctrine that work is, by God’s express will and command, a duty; indeed almost, if not quite, the first and most important of man’s secular duties. This erection of labour into a Christian virtue per se, this investment of work with a special religious sanction, was an invention of Puritanism; it was something never heard of in England before the rise of the Puritan State. The only doctrine antedating it presented labour as the means to a purely secular end; as Cranmer’s divines put it, “that I may learn and labour truly to get mine own living.” There is no hint that God would take it amiss if one preferred to do little work and put up with a poor living, for the sake of doing something else with one’s time. Perhaps the best witness to the essential character of the Puritan movement in England and America is the thoroughness with which its doctrine of work has pervaded both literatures, all the way from Cromwell’s letters to Carlyle’s panegyric and Longfellow’s verse.

But the merchant-State of the Puritans was like any other; it followed the standard pattern. It originated in conquest and confiscation, like the feudal State which it displaced; the only difference being that its conquest was by civil war instead of foreign war. Its object was the economic exploitation of one class by another; for the exploitation of feudal serfs by a nobility, it proposed only to substitute the exploitation of a proletariat by enterprisers. Like its predecessor, the merchant-State was purely an organization of the political means, a machine for the distribution of economic advantage, but with its mechanism adapted to the requirements of a more numerous and more highly differentiated order of beneficiaries; a class, moreover, whose numbers were not limited by heredity or by the sheer arbitrary pleasure of a monarch.

The process of establishing the merchant-State, however, necessarily brought about changes in the general theory of sovereignty. The bald doctrine of Cowell and Filmer was no longer practicable; yet any new theory had to find room for some sort of divine sanction, for the habit of men’s minds does not change suddenly, and Puritanism’s alliance between religious and secular interests was extremely close. One may not quite put it that the merchant-enterprisers made use of religious fanaticism to pull their chestnuts out of the fire; the religionists had sound and good chestnuts of their own to look after. They had plenty of rabid nonsense to answer for, plenty of sour hypocrisy, plenty of vicious fanaticism; whenever we think of seventeenth-century British Puritanism, we think of Hugh Peters, of Praise-God Barebones, of Cromwell’s iconoclasts “smashing the mighty big angels in glass.” But behind all this untowardness there was in the religionists a body of sound conscience, soundly and justly outraged; and no doubt, though mixed with an intolerable deal of unscrupulous greed, there was on the part of the merchant-enterprisers a sincere persuasion that what was good for business was good for society. Taking Hampden’s conscience as representative, one would say that it operated under the limitations set by nature upon the typical sturdy Buckinghamshire squire; the mercantile conscience was likewise ill-informed, and likewise set its course with a hard, dogged, provincial stubbornness. Still, the alliance of the two bodies of conscience was not without some measure of respectability. No doubt, for example, Hampden regarded the State-controlled episcopate to some extent objectively, as unscriptural in theory, and a tool of Antichrist in practice; and no doubt, too, the mercantile conscience, with the disturbing vision of William Laud in view, might have found State-managed episcopacy objectionable on other grounds than those of special interest.

The merchant-State’s political rationale had to respond to the pressure of a growing individualism. The spirit of individualism appeared in the latter half of the sixteenth century; probably – as well as such obscure origins can be determined – as a by-product of the Continental revival of learning, or, it may be, specifically as a by-product of the Reformation in Germany. It was long, however, in gaining force enough to make itself count in shaping political theory. The feudal State could take no account of this spirit; its stark regime of status was operable only where there was no great multiplicity of diverse economic interests to be accommodated, and where the sum of social power remained practically stable. Under the British feudal State, one large-holding landed proprietor’s interest was much like another’s, and one bishop’s or clergyman’s interest was about the same in kind as another’s. The interests of the monarchy and court were not greatly diversified, and the sum of social power varied but little from time to time. Hence an economic class-solidarity was easily maintained; access upward from one class to the other was easily blocked, so easily that very few positive State-interventions were necessary to keep people, as we say, in their place; or as Cranmer’s divines put it, to keep them doing their duty in that station of life unto which it had pleased God to call them. Thus the State could accomplish its primary purpose, and still afford to remain relatively weak. It could normally, that is, enable a thorough-going economic exploitation with relatively little apparatus of legislation or of personnel. (2)

The merchant-State, on the other hand, with its ensuing regime of contract, had to meet the problem set by a rapid development of social power, and a multiplicity of economic interests. Both these tended to foster and stimulate the spirit of individualism. The management of social power made the merchant-enterpriser feel that he was quite as much somebody as anybody, and that the general order of interest which he represented – and in particular his own special fraction of that interest – was to be regarded as most respectable, which hitherto it had not been. In short, he had a full sense of himself as an individual, which on these grounds he could of course justify beyond peradventure. The aristocratic disparagement of his pursuits, and the consequent stigma of inferiority which had been so long fixed upon the “base mechanical,” exacerbated this sense, and rendered it at its best assertive, and at its worst, disposed to exaggerate the characteristic defects of his class as well as its excellences, and lump them off together in a new category of social virtues – its hardness, ruthlessness, ignorance and vulgarity at par with its commercial integrity, its shrewdness, diligence and thrift. Thus the fully-developed composite type of merchant-enterpriser-financier might be said to run all the psychological gradations between the brothers Cheeryble at one end of the scale, and Mr. Gradgrind, Sir Gorgius Midas and Mr. Bottles at the other.

This individualism fostered the formulation of certain doctrines which in one shape or another found their way into the official political philosophy of the merchant-State. Foremost among these were the two which the Declaration of Independence lays down as fundamental, the doctrine of natural rights and the doctrine of popular sovereignty. In a generation which had exchanged the authority of a pope for the authority of a book – or rather, the authority of unlimited private interpretation of a book – there was no difficulty about finding ample Scriptural sanction for both these doctrines. The interpretation of the Bible, like the judicial interpretation of a constitution, is merely a process by which, as a contemporary of Bishop Butler said, anything may be made to mean anything; and in the absence of a coercive authority, papal, conciliar or judicial, any given interpretation finds only such acceptance as may, for whatever reason, be accorded it. Thus the episode of Eden, the parable of the talents, the Apostolic injunction against being “slothful in business,” were a warrant for the Puritan doctrine of work; they brought the sanction of Scripture and the sanction of economic interest into complete agreement, uniting the religionist and the merchant-enterpriser in the bond of a common intention. Thus, again, the view of man as made in the image of God, made only a little lower than the angels, the subject of so august a transaction as the Atonement, quite corroborated the political doctrine of his endowment by his Creator with certain rights unalienable by Church or State. While the merchant-enterpriser might hold with Mr. Jefferson that the truth of this political doctrine is self-evident, its Scriptural support was yet of great value as carrying an implication of human nature’s dignity which braced his more or less diffident and self-conscious individualism; and the doctrine that so dignified him might easily be conceived of as dignifying his pursuits. Indeed, the Bible’s indorsement of the doctrine of labour and the doctrine of natural rights was really his charter for rehabilitating “trade” against the disparagement that the regime of status had put upon it, and for investing it with the most brilliant lustre of respectability.

In the same way, the doctrine of popular sovereignty could be mounted on impregnable Scriptural ground. Civil society was an association of true believers functioning for common secular purposes; and its right of self-government with respect to these purposes was God-given. If on the religious side all believers were priests, then on the secular side they were all sovereigns; the notion of an intervening jure divino monarch was as repugnant to Scripture as that of an intervening jure divino pope – witness the Israelite commonwealth upon which monarchy was visited as explicitly a punishment for sin. Civil legislation was supposed to interpret and particularize the laws of God as revealed in the Bible, and its administrators were responsible to the congregation in both its religious and secular capacities. Where the revealed law was silent, legislation was to be guided by its general spirit, as best this might be determined. These principles obviously left open a considerable area of choice; but hypothetically the range of civil liberty and the range of religious liberty had a common boundary.

This religious sanction of popular sovereignty was agreeable to the merchant-enterpriser; it fell in well with his individualism, enhancing considerably his sense of personal dignity and consequence. He could regard himself as by birthright not only a free citizen of a heavenly commonwealth, but also a free elector in an earthly commonwealth fashioned, as nearly as might be, after the heavenly pattern. The range of liberty permitted him in both qualities was satisfactory; he could summon warrant of Scripture to cover his undertakings both here and hereafter. As far as this present world’s concerns went, his doctrine of labour was Scriptural, his doctrine of master-and-servant was Scriptural – even bond-service, even chattel-service was Scriptural; his doctrine of a wage-economy, of money-lending – again the parable of the talents – both were Scriptural. What especially recommended the doctrine of popular sovereignty to him on its secular side, however, was the immense leverage it gave for ousting the regime of status to make way for the regime of contract; in a word, for displacing the feudal State and bringing in the merchant-State.

But interesting as these two doctrines were, their actual application was a matter of great difficulty. On the religious side, the doctrine of natural rights had to take account of the unorthodox. Theoretically it was easy to dispose of them. The separatists, for example, such as those who manned theMayflower, had lost their natural rights in the fall of Adam, and had never made use of the means appointed to reclaim them. This was all very well, but the logical extension of this principle into actual practice was a rather grave affair. There were a good many dissenters, all told, and they were articulate on the matter of natural rights, which made trouble; so that when all was said and done, the doctrine came out considerably compromised. Then, in respect of popular sovereignty, there were the Presbyterians. Calvinism was monocratic to the core; in fact, Presbyterianism existed side by side with episcopacy in the Church of England in the sixteenth century, and was nudged out only very gradually. (3) They were a numerous body, and in point of Scripture and history they had a great deal to say for their position. Thus the practical task of organizing a spiritual commonwealth had as hard going with the logic of popular sovereignty as it had with the logic of natural rights.

The task of secular organization was even more troublesome. A society organized in conformity to these two principles is easily conceivable – such an organization as Paine and the Declaration contemplated, for example, arising out of social agreement, and concerning itself only with the maintenance of freedom and security for the individual – but the practical task of effecting such an organization is quite another matter. On general grounds, doubtless, the Puritans would have found this impracticable; if, indeed, the times are ever to be ripe for anything of the kind, their times were certainly not. The particular round of difficulty, however, was that the merchant-enterpriser did not want that form of social organization; in fact, one can not be sure that the Puritan religionists themselves wanted it. The root-trouble was, in short, that there was no practicable way to avert a shattering collision between the logic of natural rights and popular sovereignty, and the economic law that man tends always to satisfy his needs and desires with the least possible exertion.

This law governed the merchant-enterpriser in common with the rest of mankind. He was not for an organization that should do no more than maintain freedom and security; he was for one that should redistribute access to the political means, and concern itself with freedom and security only so far as would be consistent with keeping this access open. That is to say, he was thoroughly indisposed to the idea of government; he was quite as strong for the idea of the State as the hierarchy and nobility were. He was not for any essential transformation in the State’s character, but merely for a repartition of the economic advantages that the State confers.

Thus the merchant-polity amounted to an attempt, more or less disingenuous, at reconciling matters which in their nature can not be reconciled. The ideas of natural rights and popular sovereignty were, as we have seen, highly acceptable and highly animating to all the forces allied against the feudal idea; but while these ideas might be easily reconcilable with a system of simple government, such a system would not answer the purpose. Only the State-system would do that. The problem therefore was, how to keep these ideas well in the forefront of political theory, and at the same time prevent their practical application from undermining the organization of the political means. It was a difficult problem. The best that could be done with it was by making certain structural alterations in the State, which would give it the appearance of expressing these ideas, without the reality. The most important of these structural changes was that of bringing in the so-called representative or parliamentary system, which Puritanism introduced into the modern world, and which has received a great deal of praise as an advance towards democracy. This praise, however, is exaggerated. The change was one of form only, and its bearing on democracy has been inconsiderable. (4)

 

II

 

The migration of Englishmen to America merely transferred this problem into another setting. The discussion of political theory went on vigorously, but the philosophy of natural rights and popular sovereignty came out in practice about where they had come out in England. Here again a great deal has been made of the democratic spirit and temper of the migrants, especially in the case of the separatists who landed at Plymouth, but the facts do not bear it out, except with regard to the decentralizing congregationalist principle of church order. This principle of lodging final authority in the smallest unit rather than the largest – in the local congregation rather than in a synod or general council – was democratic, and its thorough-going application in a scheme of church order would represent some actual advance towards democracy, and give some recognition to the general philosophy of natural rights and popular sovereignty. The Plymouth settlers did something with this principle, actually applying it in the matter of church order, and for this they deserve credit. (5) Applying it in the matter of civil order, however, was another affair. It is true that the Plymouth colonists probably contemplated something of the kind, and that for a time they practised a sort of primitive communism. They drew up an agreement on shipboard which may be taken at its face value as evidence of their democratic disposition, though it was not in any sense a “frame of government,” like Penn’s, or any kind of constitutional document. Those who speak of it as our first written constitution are considerably in advance of their text, for it was merely an agreement to make a constitution or “frame of government” when the settlers should have come to land and looked the situation over. One sees that it could hardly have been more than this – indeed, that the proposed constitution itself could be no more than provisional – when it is remembered that these migrants were not their own men. They did not sail on their own, nor were they headed for any unpreƒ«mpted territory on which they might establish a squatter sovereignty and set up any kind of civil order they saw fit. They were headed for Virginia, to settle in the jurisdiction of a company of English merchant-enterprisers, now growing shaky, and soon to be superseded by the royal authority, and its territory converted into a royal province. It was only by misreckonings and the accidents of navigation that, most unfortunately for the prospects of the colony, the settlers landed on the stern and rockbound coast of Plymouth.

These settlers were in most respects probably as good as the best who ever found their way to America. They were bred of what passed in England as “the lower orders,” sober, hard-working and capable, and their residence under Continental institutions in Holland had given them a fund of politico-religious ideas and habits of thought which set them considerably apart from the rest of their countrymen. There is, however, no more than an antiquarian interest in determining how far they were actually possessed by those ideas. They may have contemplated a system of complete religious and civil democracy, or they may not. They may have found their communist practices agreeable to their notion of a sound and just social order, or they may not. The point is that while apparently they might be free enough to found a church order as democratic as they chose, they were by no means free to found a civil democracy, or anything remotely resembling one, because they were in bondage to the will of an English trading-company. Even their religious freedom was permissive; the London company simply cared nothing about that. The same considerations governed their communistic practices; whether or not these practices suited their ideas, they were obliged to adopt them. Their agreement with the London merchant-enterprisers bound them, in return for transportation and outfit, to seven years’ service, during which time they should work on a system of common-land tillage, store their produce in a common warehouse, and draw their maintenance from these common stores. Thus whether or not they were communists in principle, their actual practice of communism was by prescription.

The fundamental fact to be observed in any survey of the American State’s initial development is the one whose importance was first remarked, I believe, by Mr. Beard; that the trading-company – the commercial corporation for colonization – was actually an autonomous State. “Like the State,” says Mr. Beard, “it had a constitution, a charter issued by the Crown . . . like the State, it had a territorial basis, a grant of land often greater in area than a score of European principalities . . . it could make assessments, coin money, regulate trade, dispose of corporate property, collect taxes, manage a treasury, and provide for defense. Thus” – and here is the important observation, so important that I venture to italicize it – “every essential element long afterward found in the government of the American State appeared in the chartered corporation that started English civilization in America.” Generally speaking, the system of civil order established in America was the State-system of the “mother countries” operating over a considerable body of water; the only thing that distinguished it was that the exploited and dependent class was situated at an unusual distance from the owning and exploiting class. The headquarters of the autonomous State were on one side of the Atlantic, and its subjects on the other.

This separation gave rise to administrative difficulties of one kind and another; and to obviate them – perhaps for other reasons as well – one English company, the Massachusetts Bay Company, moved over bodily in 1630, bringing their charter and most of their stock-holders with them, thus setting up an actual autonomous State in America. The thing to be observed about this is that the merchant-State was set up complete in New England long before it was set up in Old England. Most of the English immigrants to Massachusetts came over between 1630 and 1640; and in this period the English merchant-State was only at the beginning of its hardest struggles for supremacy. James I died in 1625, and his successor, Charles I, continued his absolutist regime. From 1629, the year in which the Bay Company was chartered, to 1640, when the Long Parliament was called, he ruled without a parliament, effectively suppressing what few vestiges of liberty had survived the Tudor and Jacobean tyrannies; and during these eleven years the prospects of the English merchant-State were at their lowest. (6) It still had to face the distractions of the Civil War, the retarding anomalies of the Commonwealth, the Restoration, and the recurrence of tyrannical absolutism under James II, before it succeeded in establishing itself firmly through the revolution of 1688.

On the other hand, the leaders of the Bay Colony were free from the first to establish a State-policy of their own devising, and to set up a State-structure which should express that policy without compromise. There was no competing policy to extinguish, no rival structure to refashion. Thus the merchant-State came into being in a clear field a full half-century before it attained supremacy in England. Competition of any kind, or the possibility of competition, it has never had. A point of greatest importance to remember is that the merchant-State is the only form of the State that ever existed in America. Whether under the rule of a trading-company or a provincial governor or a republican representative legislature, Americans have never known any other form of the State. In this respect the Massachusetts Bay colony is differentiated only as being the first autonomous State ever established in America, and as furnishing the most complete and convenient example for purposes of study. In principle it was not differentiated. The State in New England, Virginia, Maryland, the Jerseys, New York, Connecticut, everywhere, was purely a class-State, with control of the political means reposing in the hands of what we now style, in a general way, the “business-man.”

In the eleven years of Charles’s tyrannical absolutism, English immigrants came over to join the Bay colony, at the rate of about two thousand a year. No doubt at the outset some of the colonists had the idea of becoming agricultural specialists, as in Virginia, and of maintaining certain vestiges, or rather imitations, of semi-feudal social practice, such as were possible under that form of industry when operated by a slave-economy or a tenant-economy. This, however, proved impracticable; the climate and soil of New England were against it. A tenant-economy was precarious, for rather than work for a master, the immigrant agriculturist naturally preferred to push out into unpreempted land, and work for himself; in other words, as Turgot, Marx, Hertzka, and many others have shown, he could not be exploited until he had been expropriated from the land. The long and hard winters took the profit out of slave-labour in agriculture. The Bay colonists experimented with it, however, even attempting to enslave the Indians, which they found could not be done, for the reasons that I have already noticed. In default of this, the colonists carried out the primitive technique by resorting to extermination, their ruthless ferocity being equalled only by that of the Virginia colonists. (7) They held some slaves, and did a great deal of slave-trading; but in the main, they became at the outset a race of small freeholding farmers, shipbuilders, navigators, maritime enterprisers in fish, whales, molasses, rum, and miscellaneous cargoes; and presently, moneylenders. Their remarkable success in these pursuits is well known; it is worth mention here in order to account for many of the complications and collisions of interest subsequently ensuing upon the merchant-State’s fundamental doctrine that the primary function of government is not to maintain freedom and security, but to “help business.”

 

III

 

One examines the American merchant-State in vain for any suggestion of the philosophy of natural rights and popular sovereignty. The company-system and the provincial system made no place for it, and the one autonomous State was uncompromisingly against it. The Bay Company brought over their charter to serve as the constitution of the new colony, and under its provisions the form of the State was that of an uncommonly small and close oligarchy. The right to vote was vested only in shareholding members, or “freemen” of the corporation, on the stark State principle laid down many years later by John Jay, that “those who own the country should govern the country.” At the end of a year, the Bay colony comprised perhaps about two thousand persons; and of these, certainly not twenty, probably not more than a dozen, had anything whatever to say about its government. This small group constituted itself as a sort of directorate or council, appointing its own executive body, which consisted of a governor, a lieutenant-governor, and a half-dozen or more magistrates. These officials had no responsibility to the community at large, but only to the directorate. By the terms of the charter, the directorate was self-perpetuating. It was permitted to fill vacancies and add to its numbers as it saw fit; and in so doing it followed a policy similar to that which was subsequently recommended by Alexander Hamilton, of admitting only such well-to-do and influential persons as could be trusted to sustain a solid front against anything savouring of popular sovereignty.

Historians have very properly made a great deal of the influence of Calvinist theology in bracing the strongly anti-democratic attitude of the Bay Company. The story is readable and interesting – often amusing – yet the gist of it is so simple that it can be perceived at once. The company’s principle of action was in this respect the one that in like circumstances has for a dozen centuries invariably motivated the State. The Marxian dictum that “religion is the opiate of the people” is either an ignorant or a slovenly confusion of terms, which can not be too strongly reprehended. Religion was never that, nor will it ever be; but organized Christianity, which is by no means the same thing as religion, has been the opiate of the people ever since the beginning of the fourth century, and never has this opiate been employed for political purposes more skilfully than it was by the Massachusetts Bay oligarchy.

In the year 311 the Roman emperor Constantine issued an edict of toleration in favour of organized Christianity. He patronized the new cult heavily, giving it rich presents, and even adopted the labarum as his standard, which was a most distinguished gesture, and cost nothing; the story of the heavenly sign appearing before his crucial battle against Maxentius may quite safely be put down beside that of the apparitions seen before the battle of the Marne. He never joined the Church, however, and the tradition that he was converted to Christianity is open to great doubt. The point of all this is that circumstances had by that time made Christianity a considerable figure; it had survived contumely and persecution, and had become a social influence which Constantine saw was destined to reach far enough to make it worth courting. The Church could be made a most effective tool of the State, and only a very moderate amount of statesmanship was needed to discern the right way of bringing this about. The understanding, undoubtedly tacit, was based on a simple quid pro quo; in exchange for imperial recognition and patronage, and endowments enough to keep up to the requirements of a high official respectability, the Church should quit its disagreeable habit of criticizing the course of politics; and in particular, it should abstain from unfavourable comment on the State’s administration of the political means.

These are the unvarying terms – again I say, undoubtedly tacit, as it is seldom necessary to stipulate against biting the hand by which one is fed – of every understanding that has been struck since Constantine’s day, between organized Christianity and the State. They were the terms of the understanding struck in the Germanies and in England at the Reformation. The petty German principality had its State Church as it had its State theatre; and in England, Henry VIII set up the Church in its present status as an arm of the civil service, like the Post-office. The fundamental understanding in all cases was that the Church should not interfere with or disparage the organization of the political means; and in practice it naturally followed that the Church would go further, and quite regularly abet this organization to the best of its ability.

The merchant-State in America came to this understanding with organized Christianity. In the Bay colony the Church became in 1638 an established subsidiary of the State, (8) supported by taxation; it maintained a State creed, promulgated in 1647. In some other colonies also, as for example, in Virginia, the Church was a branch of the State service, and where it was not actually established as such, the same understanding was reached by other means, quite as satisfactory. Indeed, the merchant-State both in England and America soon became lukewarm towards the idea of an Establishment, perceiving that the same modus vivendi could be almost as easily arrived at under voluntaryism, and that the latter had the advantage of satisfying practically all modes of credal and ceremonial preference, thus releasing the State from the troublesome and profitless business of interference in disputes over matters of doctrine and Church order.

Voluntaryism pure and simple was set up in Rhode Island by Roger Williams, John Clarke, and their associates who were banished from the Bay colony almost exactly three hundred years ago, in 1636. This group of exiles is commonly regarded as having founded a society on the philosophy of natural rights and popular sovereignty in respect of both Church order and civil order, and as having launched an experiment in democracy. This, however, is an exaggeration. The leaders of the group were undoubtedly in sight of this philosophy, and as far as Church order is concerned, their practice was conformable to it. On the civil side, the most that can be said is that their practice was conformable in so far as they knew how to make it so; and one says this much only by a very considerable concession. The least that can be said, on the other hand, is that their practice was for a time greatly in advance of the practice prevailing in other colonies – so far in advance that Rhode Island was in great disrepute with its neighbours in Massachusetts and Connecticut, who diligently disseminated the tale of its evil fame throughout the land, with the customary exaggerations and embellishments. Nevertheless, through acceptance of the State system of land-tenure, the political structure of Rhode Island was a State-structure from the outset, contemplating as it did the stratification of society into an owning and exploiting class and a propertyless dependent class. Williams’s theory of the State was that of social compact arrived at among equals, but equality did not exist in Rhode Island; the actual outcome was a pure class-State.

In the spring of 1638, Williams acquired about twenty square miles of land by gift from two Indian sachems, in addition to some he had bought from them two years before. In October he formed a “proprietary” of purchasers who bought twelve-thirteenths of the Indian grant. Bicknell, in his history of Rhode Island, cites a letter written by Williams to the deputy-governor of the Bay colony, which says frankly that the plan of this proprietary contemplated the creation of two classes of citizens, one consisting of landholding heads of families, and the other, of “young men, single persons” who were a landless tenantry, and as Bicknell says, “had no voice or vote as to the officers of the community, or the laws which they were called upon to obey.” Thus the civil order in Rhode Island was essentially a pure State order, as much so as the civil order of the Bay colony, or any other in America; and in fact the landed-property franchise lasted uncommonly long in Rhode Island, existing there for some time after it had been given up in most other quarters of America. (9) By way of summing up, it is enough to say that nowhere in the American colonial civil order was there ever the trace of a democracy. The political structure was always that of the merchant-State; Americans have never known any other. Furthermore, the philosophy of natural rights and popular sovereignty was never once exhibited anywhere in American political practice during the colonial period, from the first settlement in 1607 down to the revolution of 1776.

 


Footnotes to Chapter 3
1 Among these institutions are: our system of free public education; local self-government as originally established in the township system; our method of conveying land; almost all of our system of equity; much of our criminal code; and our method of administering estates.(Back to text)

2 Throughout Europe, indeed, up to the close of the eighteenth century, the State was quite weak, even considering the relatively moderate development of social power, and the moderate amount of economic accumulation available to its predatory purposes. Social power in modern France could pay the flat annual levy of Louis XIV’s taxes without feeling it, and would like nothing better than to commute the republican State’s levy on those terms.(Back to text)

 

3 During the reign of Elizabeth the Puritan contention, led by Cartwright, was for what amounted to a theory of jure divino Presbyterianism. The Establishment at large took the position of Archbishop Whitgift and Richard Hooker that the details of church polity were indifferent, and therefore properly subject to State regulation. The High Church doctrine of jure divino episcopacy was laid down later, by Whitgift’s successor, Bancroft. Thus up to 1604 the Presbyterians were objectionable on secular grounds, and afterwards on both secular and ecclesiastical grounds. (Back to text)

4 So were the kaleidoscopic changes that took place in France after the revolution of 1789. Throughout the Directorate, the Consulship, the Restoration, the two Empires, the three Republics and the Commune, the French State kept its essential character intact; it remained always the organization of the political means. (Back to text)

 

5 In 1629 the Massachusetts Bay colony adopted the Plymouth colony’s model of congregational autonomy, but finding its principle dangerously inconsistent with the principle of the State, almost immediately nullified their action; retaining, however, the name of Congregationalism. This mode of masquerade is easily recognizable as one of the modern State’s most useful expedients for maintaining the appearance of things without the reality. The names of our two largest political parties will at once appear as a capital example. Within two years the Bay colony had set up a State church, nominally congregationalist, but actually a branch of the civil service, as in England. (Back to text)

 

6 Probably it was a forecast of this state of things, as much as the greater convenience of administration, that caused the Bay Company to move over to Massachusetts, bag and baggage, in the year following the issuance of their charter. (Back to text)

 

7 Thomas Robinson Hazard, the Rhode Island Quaker, in his delightful Jonnycake Papers, says that the Great Swamp Fight of 1675 was “instigated against the rightful owners of the soil, solely by the cussed godly Puritans of Massachusetts, and their hell- hound allies, the Presbyterians of Connecticut; whom, though charity is my specialty, I can never think of without feeling as all good Rhode Islanders should, . . . and as old Miss Hazard did when in like vein she thanked God in the Conanicut prayer-meeting that she could hold malice forty years.” The Rhode Island settlers dealt with the Indians for rights in land, and made friends with them.(Back to text)

 

8 Mr. Parrington (Main Currents in American Thought, vol. I, p. 24) cites the successive steps leading up to this, as follows: the law of 1631, restricting the franchise to Church members; of 1635, obliging all persons to attend Church services; and of 1636, which established a virtual State monopoly, by requiring consent of both Church and State authority before a new church could be set up. Roger Williams observed acutely that a State establishment of organized Christianity is “a politic invention of man to maintain the civil State.”(Back to text)

 

9 Bicknell says that the formation of Williams’s proprietary was “a landholding, land-jobbing, land-selling scheme, with no moral, social, civil, educational or religious end in view”; and his discussion of the early land-allotments on the site where the city of Providence now stands, makes it pretty clear that “the first years of Providence are consumed in a greedy scramble for land.” Bicknell is not precisely an unfriendly witness towards Williams, though his history is avowedly ex parte for the thesis that the true expounder of civil freedom in Rhode Island was not Williams, but Clarke. This contention is immaterial to the present purpose, however, for the State system of land-tenure prevailed in Clarke’s settlements on Aquidneck as it did in Williams’s settlements farther up the bay. (Back to text)

 

CHAPTER 4
After conquest and confiscation have been effected, and the State set up, its first concern is with the land. The State assumes the right of eminent domain over its territorial basis, whereby every landholder becomes in theory a tenant of the State. In its capacity as ultimate landlord, the State distributes the land among its beneficiaries on its own terms. A point to be observed in passing is that by the State-system of land-tenure each original transaction confers two distinct monopolies, entirely different in their nature, inasmuch as one concerns the right to labour-made property, and the other concerns the right to purely law-made property. The one is a monopoly of the use-value of land; and the other, a monopoly of the economic rent of land. The first gives the right to keep other persons from using the land in question, or trespassing on it, and the right to exclusive possession of values accruing from the application of labour to it; values, that is, which are produced by exercise of the economic means upon the particular property in question. Monopoly of economic rent, on the other hand, gives the exclusive right to values accruing from the desire of other persons to possess that property; values which take their rise irrespective of any exercise of the economic means on the part of the holder. (1)Economic rent arises when, for whatsoever reason, two or more persons compete for the possession of a piece of land, and it increases directly according to the number of persons competing. The whole of Manhattan Island was bought originally by a handful of Hollanders from a handful of Indians for twenty-four dollars’ worth of trinkets. The subsequent “rise in land-values,” as we call it, was brought about by the steady influx of population and the consequent high competition for portions of the island’s surface; and these ensuing values were monopolized by the holders. They grew to an enormous size, and the holders profited accordingly; the Astor, Wendel, and Trinity Church estates have always served as classical examples for study of the State-system of land-tenure.

Bearing in mind that the State is the organization of the political means – that its primary intention is to enable the economic exploitation of one class by another – we see that it has always acted on the principle already cited, that expropriation must precede exploitation. There is no other way to make the political means effective. The first postulate of fundamental economics is that man is a land-animal, deriving his subsistence wholly from the land. (2) His entire wealth is produced by the application of labour and capital to land; no form of wealth known to man can be produced in any other way. Hence, if his free access to land be shut off by legal preemption, he can apply his labour and capital only with the land-holder’s consent, and on the landholder’s terms; in other words, it is at this point, and this point only, that exploitation becomes practicable. (3) Therefore the first concern of the State must be invariably, as we find it invariably is, with its policy of land-tenure.

I state these elementary matters as briefly as I can; the reader may easily find a full exposition of them elsewhere. (4) I am here concerned only to show why the State system of land-tenure came into being, and why its maintenance is necessary to the State’s existence. If this system were broken up, obviously the reason for the State’s existence would disappear, and the State itself would disappear with it. (5) With this in mind, it is interesting to observe that although all our public policies would seem to be in process of exhaustive review, no publicist has anything to say about the State system of land-tenure. This is no doubt the best evidence of its importance. (6)

Under the feudal State there was no great amount of traffic in land. When William, for example, set up the Norman State in England after conquest and confiscation in 1066-76, his associate banditti, among whom he parcelled out the confiscated territory, did nothing to speak of in the way of developing their holdings, and did not contemplate gain from the increment of rental-values. In fact, economic rent hardly existed; their fellow-beneficiaries were not in the market to any great extent, and the dispossessed population did not represent any economic demand. The feudal regime was a regime of status, under which landed estates yielded hardly any rental-value, and only a moderate use-value, but carried an enormous insignia-value. Land was regarded more as a badge of nobility than as an active asset; its possession marked a man as belonging to the exploiting class, and the size of his holdings seems to have counted for more than the number of his exploitable dependents. (7) The encroachments of the merchant-State, however, brought about a change in these circumstances. The importance of rental-values was recognized, and speculative trading in land became general.

Hence in a study of the merchant-State as it appeared full-blown in America, it is a point of utmost consequence to remember that from the time of the first colonial settlement to the present day, America has been regarded as a practically limitless field for speculation in rental-values. (8) One may say at a safe venture that every colonial enterpriser and proprietor after Raleigh’s time understood economic rent and the conditions necessary to enhance it. The Swedish, Dutch and British trading-companies understood this; Endicott and Winthrop, of the autonomous merchant-State on the Bay, understood it; so did Penn and the Calverts; so did the Carolinian proprietors, to whom Charles II granted a lordly belt of territory south of Virginia, reaching from the Atlantic to the Pacific; and as we have seen, Roger Williams and Clarke understood it perfectly. Indeed, land-speculation may be put down as the first major industry established in colonial America. Professor Sakolski calls attention to the fact that it was flourishing in the South before the commercial importance of either negroes or tobacco was recognized. These two staples came fully into their own about 1670 – tobacco perhaps a little earlier, but not much – and before that, England and Europe had been well covered by a lively propaganda of Southern landholders, advertising for settlers. (9)

Mr. Sakolski makes it clear that very few original enterprisers in American rental-values ever got much profit out of their ventures. This is worth remarking here as enforcing the point that what gives rise to economic rent is the presence of a population engaged in a settled exercise of the economic means, or as we commonly put it, “working for a living” – or again, in technical terms, applying labour and capital to natural resources for the production of wealth. It was no doubt a very fine dignified thing for Carteret, Berkeley, and their associate nobility to be the owners of a province as large as the Carolinas, but if no population were settled there, producing wealth by exercise of the economic means, obviously not a foot of it would bear a pennyworth of rental-value, and the proprietors’ chance of exercising the political means would therefore be precisely nil. Proprietors who made the most profitable exercise of the political means have been those – or rather, speaking strictly, the heirs of those – like the Brevoorts, Wendels, Whitneys, Astors, and Goelets, who owned land in an actual or prospective urban centre, and held it as an investment rather than for speculation.

The lure of the political means in America, however, gave rise to a state of mind which may profitably be examined. Under the feudal State, living by the political means was enabled only by the accident of birth, or in some special cases by the accident of personal favour. Persons outside these categories of accident had no chance whatever to live otherwise than by the economic means. No matter how much they may have wished to exercise the political means, or how greatly they may have envied the privileged few who could exercise it, they were unable to do so; the feudal regime was strictly one of status. Under the merchant-State, on the contrary, the political means was open to anyone, irrespective of birth or position, who had the sagacity and determination necessary to get at it. In this respect, America appeared as a field of unlimited opportunity. The effect of this was to produce a race of people whose master-concern was to avail themselves of this opportunity. They had but the one spring of action, which was the determination to abandon the economic means as soon as they could, and at any sacrifice of conscience or character, and live by the political means. From the beginning, this determination has been universal, amounting to monomania. (10) We need not concern ourselves here with the effect upon the general balance of advantage produced by supplanting the feudal State by the merchant-State; we may observe only that certain virtues and integrities were bred by the regime of status, to which the regime of contract appears to be inimical, even destructive. Vestiges of them persist among peoples who have had a long experience of the regime of status, but in America, which has had no such experience, they do not appear. What the compensations for their absence may be, or whether they may be regarded as adequate, I repeat, need not concern us; we remark only the simple fact that they have not struck root in the constitution of the American character at large, and apparently can not do so.

 

II

 

It was said at the time, I believe, that the actual causes of the colonial revolution of 1776 would never be known. The causes assigned by our schoolbooks may be dismissed as trivial; the various partisan and propagandist views of that struggle and its origins may be put down as incompetent. Great evidential value may be attached to the long line of adverse commercial legislation laid down by the British State from 1651 onward, especially to that portion of it which was enacted after the merchant-State established itself firmly in England in consequence of the events of 1688. This legislation included the Navigation Acts, the Trade Acts, acts regulating the colonial currency, the act of 1752 regulating the process of levy and distress, and the procedures leading up to the establishment of the Board of Trade in 1696. (11) These directly affected the industrial and commercial interests in the colonies, though just how seriously is perhaps an open question – enough at any rate, beyond doubt, to provoke deep resentment.

Over and above these, however, if the reader will put himself back into the ruling passion of the time, he will at once appreciate the import of two matters which have for some reason escaped the attention of historians. The first of these is the attempt of the British State to limit the exercise of the political means in respect of rental-values. (12) In 1763 it forbade the colonists to take up lands lying westward of the source of any river flowing through the Atlantic seaboard. The dead-line thus established ran so as to cut off from preemption about half of Pennsylvania and half of Virginia and everything to the west thereof. This was serious. With the mania for speculation running as high as it did, with the consciousness of opportunity, real or fancied, having become so acute and so general, this ruling affected everybody. One can get some idea of its effect by imagining the state of mind of our people at large if stock-gambling had suddenly been outlawed at the beginning of the last great boom in Wall Street a few years ago.

For by this time the colonists had begun to be faintly aware of the illimitable resources of the country lying westward; they had learned just enough about them to fire their imagination and their avarice to a white heat. The seaboard had been pretty well taken up, the free-holding farmer had been pushed back farther and farther, population was coming in steadily, the maritime towns were growing. Under these conditions, “western lands” had become a centre of attraction. Rental-values depended on population, the population was bound to expand, and the one general direction in which it could expand was westward, where lay an immense and incalculably rich domain waiting for preemption. What could be more natural than that the colonists should itch to get their hands on this territory, and exploit it for themselves alone, and on their own terms, without risk of arbitrary interference by the British State? – and this of necessity meant political independence. It takes no great stress of imagination to see that anyone in those circumstances would have felt that way, and that colonial resentment against the arbitrary limitation which the edict of 1763 put upon the exercise of the political means must therefore have been great.

The actual state of land-speculation during the colonial period will give a fair idea of the probabilities in the case. Most of it was done on the company-system; a number of adventurers would unite, secure a grant of land, survey it, and then sell it off as speedily as they could. Their aim was a quick turnover; they did not, as a rule, contemplate holding the land, much less settling it – in short, their ventures were a pure gamble in rental-values. (13) Among these pre-revolutionary enterprises was the Ohio Company, formed in 1748 with a grant of half a million acres; the Loyal Company, which like the Ohio Company, was composed of Virginians; the Transylvania, the Vandalia, Scioto, Indiana, Wabash, Illinois, Susquehannah, and others whose holdings were smaller. (14) It is interesting to observe the names of persons concerned in these undertakings; one can not escape the significance of this connexion in view of their attitude towards the revolution, and their subsequent career as statesmen and patriots. For example, aside from his individual ventures, General Washington was a member of the Ohio Company, and a prime mover in organizing the Mississippi Company. He also conceived the scheme of the Potomac Company, which was designed to raise the rental-value of western holdings by affording an outlet for their produce by canal and portage to the Potomac River, and thence to the seaboard. This enterprise determined the establishment of the national capital in its present most ineligible situation, for the proposed terminus of the canal was at that point. Washington picked up some lots in the city that bears his name, but in common with other early speculators, he did not make much money out of them; they were appraised at about $20,000 when he died.

Patrick Henry was an inveterate and voracious engrosser of land lying beyond the deadline set by the British State; later he was heavily involved in the affairs of one of the notorious Yazoo companies, operating in Georgia. He seems to have been most unscrupulous. His company’s holdings in Georgia, amounting to more than ten million acres, were to be paid for in Georgia scrip, which was much depreciated. Henry bought up all these certificates that he could get his hands on, at ten cents on the dollar, and made a great profit on them by their rise in value when Hamilton put through his measure for having the central government assume the debts they represented. Undoubtedly it was this trait of unrestrained avarice which earned him the dislike of Mr. Jefferson, who said, rather contemptuously, that he was “insatiable in money.” (15)

Benjamin Franklin’s thrifty mind turned cordially to the project of the Vandalia Company, and he acted successfully as promoter for it in England in 1766. Timothy Pickering, who was Secretary of State under Washington and John Adams, went on record in 1796 that “all I am now worth was gained by speculations in land.” Silas Deane, emissary of the Continental Congress to France, was interested in the Illinois and Wabash Companies, as was Robert Morris, who managed the revolution’s finances; as was also James Wilson, who became a justice of the Supreme Court and a mighty man in post-revolutionary land-grabbing. Wolcott of Connecticut, and Stiles, president of Yale College, held stock in the Susquehannah Company; so did Peletiah Webster, Ethan Allen, and Jonathan Trumbull, the “Brother Jonathan,” whose name was long a sobriquet for the typical American, and is still sometimes so used. James Duane, the first mayor of New York City, carried on some quite considerable speculative undertakings; and however indisposed one may feel towards entertaining the fact, so did the “Father of the Revolution” himself – Samuel Adams.

A mere common-sense view of the situation would indicate that the British State’s interference with a free exercise of the political means was at least as great an incitement to revolution as its interference, through the Navigation Acts, and the Trade Acts, with a free exercise of the economic means. In the nature of things it would be a greater incitement, both because it affected a more numerous class of persons, and because speculation in land-values represented much easier money. Allied with this is the second matter which seems to me deserving of notice, and which has never been properly reckoned with, as far as I know, in studies of the period.

It would seem the most natural thing in the world for the colonists to perceive that independence would not only give freer access to this one mode of the political means, but that it would also open access to other modes which the colonial status made unavailable. The merchant-State existed in the royal provinces complete in structure, but not in function; it did not give access to all the modes of economic exploitation. The advantages of a State which should be wholly autonomous in this respect must have been clear to the colonists, and must have moved them strongly towards the project of establishing one.

Again it is purely a common-sense view of the circumstances that leads to this conclusion. The merchant-State in England had emerged triumphant from conflict, and the colonists had plenty of chance to see what it could do in the way of distributing the various means of economic exploitation, and its methods of doing it. For instance, certain English concerns were in the carrying trade between England and America, for which other English concerns built ships. Americans could compete in both these lines of business. If they did so, the carrying-charges would be regulated by the terms of this competition; if not, they would be regulated by monopoly, or, in our historic phrase, they could be set as high as the traffic would bear. English carriers and shipbuilders made common cause, approached the State and asked it to intervene, which it did by forbidding the colonists to ship goods on any but English-built and English-operated ships. Since freight-charges are a factor in prices, the effect of this intervention was to enable British shipowners to pocket the difference between monopoly-rates and competitive rates; to enable them, that is, to exploit the consumer by employing the political means. (16) Similar interventions were made at the instance of cutlers, nailmakers, hatters, steelmakers, etc.

These interventions took the form of simple prohibition. Another mode of intervention appeared in the customs-duties laid by the British State on foreign sugar and molasses. (17) We all now know pretty well, probably, that the primary reason for a tariff is that it enables the exploitation of the domestic consumer by a process indistinguishable from sheer robbery. (18) All the reasons regularly assigned are debatable; this one is not, hence propagandists and lobbyists never mention it. The colonists were well aware of this reason, and the best evidence that they were aware of it is that long before the Union was established, the merchant-enterprisers and industrialists were ready and waiting to set upon the new-formed administration with an organized demand for a tariff.

It is clear that while in the nature of things the British State’s interventions upon the economic means would stir up great resentment among the interests directly concerned, they would have another effect fully as significant, if not more so, in causing those interests to look favourably on the idea of political independence. They could hardly have helped seeing the positive as well as the negative advantage that would accrue from setting up a State of their own, which they might bend to their own purposes. It takes no great amount of imagination to reconstruct the vision that appeared before them of a merchant-State clothed with full powers of intervention and discrimination, a State which should first and last “help business,” and which should be administered either by mere agents or by persons easily manageable, if not by persons of actual interests like to their own. It is hardly presumable that the colonists generally were not intelligent enough to see this vision, or that they were not resolute enough to risk the chance of realizing it when the time could be made ripe; as it was, the time was ripened almost before it was ready. (19) We can discern a distinct line of common purpose uniting the interests of the merchant-enterpriser with those of the actual or potential speculator in rental-values – uniting the Hancocks, Gores, Otises, with the Henrys, Lees, Wolcotts, Trumbulls – and leading directly towards the goal of political independence.

The main conclusion, however, towards which these observations tend, is that one general frame of mind existed among the colonists with reference to the nature and primary function of the State. This frame of mind was not peculiar to them; they shared it with the beneficiaries of the merchant-State in England, and with those of the feudal State as far back as the State’s history can be traced. Voltaire, surveying the dƒ©bris of the feudal State, said that in essence the State is “a device for taking money out of one set of pockets and putting it into another.” The beneficiaries of the feudal State had precisely this view, and they bequeathed it unchanged and unmodified to the actual and potential beneficiaries of the merchant-State. The colonists regarded the State as primarily an instrument whereby one might help oneself and hurt others; that is to say, first and foremost they regarded it as the organization of the political means. No other view of the State was ever held in colonial America. Romance and poetry were brought to bear on the subject in the customary way; glamorous myths about it were propagated with the customary intent; but when all came to all, nowhere in colonial America were actual practical relations with the State ever determined by any other view than this. (20)

 

III

 

The charter of the American revolution was the Declaration of Independence, which took its stand on the double thesis of “unalienable” natural rights and popular sovereignty. We have seen that these doctrines were theoretically, or as politicians say, “in principle,” congenial to the spirit of the English merchant-enterpriser, and we may see that in the nature of things they would be even more agreeable to the spirit of all classes in American society. A thin and scattered population with a whole wide world before it, with a vast territory full of rich resources which anyone might take a hand at preempting and exploiting, would be strongly on the side of natural rights, as the colonists were from the beginning; and political independence would confirm it in that position. These circumstances would stiffen the American merchant-enterpriser, agrarian, forestaller and industrialist alike in a jealous, uncompromising, and assertive economic individualism.

So also with the sister doctrine of popular sovereignty. The colonists had been through a long and vexatious experience of State interventions which limited their use of both the political and economic means. They had also been given plenty of opportunity to see how these interventions had been managed, and how the interested English economic groups which did the managing had profited at their expense. Hence there was no place in their minds for any political theory that disallowed the right of individual self-expression in politics. As their situation tended to make them natural-born economic individualists, so also it tended to make them natural-born republicans.

Thus the preamble of the Declaration hit the mark of a cordial unanimity. Its two leading doctrines could easily be interpreted as justifying an unlimited economic pseudo-individualism on the part of the State’s beneficiaries, and a judiciously managed exercise of political self-expression by the electorate. Whether or not this were a more free-and-easy interpretation than a strict construction of the doctrines will bear, no doubt it was in effect the interpretation quite commonly put upon them. American history abounds in instances where great principles have, in their common understanding and practical application, been narrowed down to the service of very paltry ends. The preamble, nevertheless, did reflect a general state of mind. However incompetent the understanding of its doctrines may have been, and however interested the motives which prompted that understanding, the general spirit of the people was in their favour.

There was complete unanimity also regarding the nature of the new and independent political institution which the Declaration contemplated as within “the right of the people” to set up. There was a great and memorable dissension about its form, but none about its nature. It should be in essence the mere continuator of the merchant-State already existing. There was no idea of setting up government, the purely social institution which should have no other object than, as the Declaration put it, to secure the natural rights of the individual; or as Paine put it, which should contemplate nothing beyond the maintenance of freedom and security – the institution which should make no positive interventions of any kind upon the individual, but should confine itself exclusively to such negative interventions as the maintenance of freedom and security might indicate. The idea was to perpetuate an institution of another character entirely, the State, the organization of the political means; and this was accordingly done.

There is no disparagement implied in this observation; for, all questions of motive aside, nothing else was to be expected. No one knew any other kind of political organization. The causes of American complaint were conceived of as due only to interested and culpable mal-administration, not to the essentially anti-social nature of the institution administered. Dissatisfaction was directed against administrators, not against the institution itself. Violent dislike of the form of the institution – the monarchical form – was engendered, but no distrust or suspicion of its nature. The character of the State had never been subjected to scrutiny; the cooperation of the Zeitgeist was needed for that, and it was not yet to be had. (21) One may see here a parallel with the revolutionary movements against the Church in the sixteenth century – and indeed with revolutionary movements in general. They are incited by abuses and misfeasances, more or less specific and always secondary, and are carried on with no idea beyond getting them rectified or avenged, usually by the sacrifice of conspicuous scapegoats. The philosophy of the institution that gives play to these misfeasances is never examined, and hence they recur promptly under another form or other auspices, (22) or else their place is taken by others which are in character precisely like them. Thus the notorious failure of reforming and revolutionary movements in the long-run may as a rule be found due to their incorrigible superficiality.

One mind, indeed, came within reaching distance of the fundamentals of the matter, not by employing the historical method, but by a homespun kind of reasoning, aided by a sound and sensitive instinct. The common view of Mr. Jefferson as a doctrinaire believer in the stark principle of “states’ rights” is most incompetent and misleading. He believed in states’ rights, assuredly, but he went much farther; states’ rights were only an incident in his general system of political organization. He believed that the ultimate political unit, the repository and source of political authority and initiative, should be the smallest unit; not the federal unit, state unit or county unit, but the township, or, as he called it, the “ward.” The township, and the township only, should determine the delegation of power upwards to the county, the state, and the federal units. His system of extreme decentralization is interesting and perhaps worth a moment’s examination, because if the idea of the State is ever displaced by the idea of government, it seems probable that the practical expression of this idea would come out very nearly in that form. (23) There is probably no need to say that the consideration of such a displacement involves a long look ahead, and over a field of view that is cluttered with the debris of a most discouraging number, not of nations alone, but of whole civilizations. Nevertheless it is interesting to remind ourselves that more than a hundred and fifty years ago, one American succeeded in getting below the surface of things, and that he probably to some degree anticipated the judgment of an immeasurably distant future.

In February, 1816, Mr. Jefferson wrote a letter to Joseph C. Cabell, in which he expounded the philosophy behind his system of political organization. What is it, he asks, that has “destroyed liberty and the rights of man in every government which has ever existed under the sun? The generalizing and concentrating all cares and powers into one body, no matter whether of the autocrats of Russia or France, or of the aristocrats of a Venetian senate.” The secret of freedom will be found in the individual “making himself the depository of the powers respecting himself, so far as he is competent to them, and delegating only what is beyond his competence, by a synthetical process, to higher and higher orders of functionaries, so as to trust fewer and fewer powers in proportion as the trustees become more and more oligarchical.” This idea rests on accurate observation, for we are all aware that not only the wisdom of the ordinary man, but also his interest and sentiment, have a very short radius of operation; they can not be stretched over an area of much more than township-size; and it is the acme of absurdity to suppose that any man or any body of men can arbitrarily exercise their wisdom, interest and sentiment over a state-wide or nation-wide area with any kind of success. Therefore the principle must hold that the larger the area of exercise, the fewer and more clearly defined should be the functions exercised. Moreover, “by placing under everyone what his own eye may superintend,” there is erected the surest safeguard against usurpation of function. “Where every man is a sharer in the direction of his ward-republic, or of some of the higher ones, and feels that he is a participator in the government of affairs, not merely at an election one day in the year, but every day; . . . he will let the heart be torn out of his body sooner than his power wrested from him by a Cesar or a Bonaparte.”

No such idea of popular sovereignty, however, appeared in the political organization that was set up in 1789 – far from it. In devising their structure, the American architects followed certain specifications laid down by Harington, Locke and Adam Smith, which might be regarded as a sort of official digest of politics under the merchant-State; indeed, if one wished to be perhaps a little inurbane in describing them – though not actually unjust – one might say that they are the merchant-State’s defence-mechanism. (24) Harington laid down the all-important principle that the basis of politics is economic – that power follows property. Since he was arguing against the feudal concept, he laid stress specifically upon landed property. He was of course too early to perceive the bearings of the State-system of land-tenure upon industrial exploitation, and neither he nor Locke perceived any natural distinction to be drawn between law-made property and labour-made property; nor yet did Smith perceive this clearly, though he seems to have had occasional indistinct glimpses of it. According to Harington’s theory of economic determinism, the realization of popular sovereignty is a simple matter. Since political power proceeds from land-ownership, a simple diffusion of land-ownership is all that is needed to insure a satisfactory distribution of power. (25) If everybody owns, then everybody rules. “If the people hold three parts in four of the territory,” Harington says, “it is plain there can neither be any single person nor nobility able to dispute the government with them. In this case therefore, except force be interposed, they govern themselves.”

Locke, writing a half-century later, when the revolution of 1688 was over, concerned himself more particularly with the State’s positive confiscatory interventions upon other modes of property-ownership. These had long been frequent and vexatious, and under the Stuarts they had amounted to unconscionable highwaymanry. Locke’s idea therefore was to copper-rivet such a doctrine of the sacredness of property as would forever put a stop to this sort of thing. Hence he laid it down that the first business of the State is to maintain the absolute inviolability of general property-rights; the State itself might not violate them, because in so doing it would act against its own primary function. Thus in Locke’s view, the rights of property took precedence even over those of life and liberty; and if ever it came to the pinch, the State must make its choice accordingly. (26)

Thus while the American architects assented “in principle” to the philosophy of natural rights and popular sovereignty, and found it in a general way highly congenial as a sort of voucher for their self-esteem, their practical interpretation of it left it pretty well hamstrung. They were not especially concerned with consistency; their practical interest in this philosophy stopped short at the point which we have already noted, of its presumptive justification of a ruthless economic pseudo-individualism, and an exercise of political self-expression by the general electorate which should be so managed as to be, in all essential respects, futile. In this they took precise pattern by the English Whig exponents and practitioners of this philosophy. Locke himself, whom we have seen putting the natural rights of property so high above those of life and liberty, was equally discriminating in his view of popular sovereignty. He was no believer in what he called “a numerous democracy,” and did not contemplate a political organization that should countenance anything of the kind. (27) The sort of organization he had in mind is reflected in the extraordinary constitution he devised for the royal province of Carolina, which established a basic order of politically inarticulate serfdom. Such an organization as this represented about the best, in a practical way, that the British merchant-State was ever able to do for the doctrine of popular sovereignty.

It was also about the best that the American counterpart of the British merchant-State could do. The sum of the matter is that while the philosophy of natural rights and popular sovereignty afforded a set of principles upon which all interests could unite, and practically all did unite, with the aim of securing political independence, it did not afford a satisfactory set of principles on which to found the new American State. When political independence was secured, the stark doctrine of the Declaration went into abeyance, with only a distorted simulacrum of its principles surviving. The rights of life and liberty were recognized by a mere constitutional formality left open to eviscerating interpretations, or, where these were for any reason deemed superfluous, to simple executive disregard; and all consideration of the rights attending “the pursuit of happiness” was narrowed down to a plenary acceptance of Locke’s doctrine of the preiminent rights of property, with law-made property on an equal footing with labour-made property. As for popular sovereignty, the new State had to be republican in form, for no other would suit the general temper of the people; and hence its peculiar task was to preserve the appearance of actual republicanism without the reality. To do this, it took over the apparatus which we have seen the English merchant-State adopting when confronted with a like task – the apparatus of a representative or parliamentary system. Moreover, it improved upon the British model of this apparatus by adding three auxiliary devices which time has proved most effective. These were, first, the device of the fixed term, which regulates the administration of our system by astronomical rather than political considerations – by the motion of the earth around the sun rather than by political exigency; second, the device of judicial review and interpretation, which, as we have already observed, is a process whereby anything may be made to mean anything; third, the device of requiring legislators to reside in the district they represent, which puts the highest conceivable premium upon pliancy and venality, and is therefore the best mechanism for rapidly building up an immense body of patronage. It may be perceived at once that all these devices tend of themselves to work smoothly and harmoniously towards a great centralization of State power, and that their working in this direction may be indefinitely accelerated with the utmost economy of effort.

As well as one can put a date to such an event, the surrender at Yorktown marks the sudden and complete disappearance of the Declaration’s doctrine from the political consciousness of America. Mr. Jefferson resided in Paris as minister to France from 1784 to 1789. As the time for his return to America drew near, he wrote Colonel Humphreys that he hoped soon “to possess myself anew, by conversation with my countrymen, of their spirit and ideas. I know only the Americans of the year 1784. They tell me this is to be much a stranger to those of 1789.” So indeed he found it. On arriving in New York and resuming his place in the social life of the country, he was greatly depressed by the discovery that the principles of the Declaration had gone wholly by the board. No one spoke of natural rights and popular sovereignty; it would seem actually that no one had ever heard of them. On the contrary, everyone was talking about the pressing need of a strong central coercive authority, able to check the incursions which “the democratic spirit” was likely to incite upon “the men of principle and property.” (28) Mr. Jefferson wrote despondently of the contrast of all this with the sort of thing he had been hearing in the France which he had just left “in the first year of her revolution, in the fervour of natural rights and zeal for reformation.” In the process of possessing himself anew of the spirit and ideas of his countrymen, he said, “I can not describe the wonder and mortification with which the table-conversations filled me.” Clearly, though the Declaration might have been the charter of American independence, it was in no sense the charter of the new American State.

 

 

 


Footnotes to Chapter 4
1 The economic rent of the Trinity Church estate in New York City, for instance, would be as high as it is now, even if the holders had never done a stroke of work on the property. Landowners who are holding a property “for a rise” usually leave it idle, or improve it only to the extent necessary to clear its taxes; the type of building commonly called a “taxpayer” is a familiar sight everywhere. Twenty-five years ago a member of the New York City Tax Commission told me that by careful estimate there was almost enough vacant land within the city limits to feed the population, assuming that all of it were arable and put under intensive cultivation!(Back to text)

2 As a technical term in economics, land includes all natural resources, earth, air, water, sunshine, timber and minerals in situ, etc. Failure to understand this use of the term has seriously misled some writers, notably Count Tolstoy. (Back to text)

 

3 Hence there is actually no such thing as a “labour-problem,” for no encroachment on the rights of either labour or capital can possibly take place until all natural resources within reach have been preƒ«mpted. What we call the “problem of the unemployed” is in no sense a problem, but a direct consequence of State-created monopoly. (Back to text)

 

4 For fairly obvious reasons they have no place in the conventional courses that are followed in our schools and colleges. (Back to text)

 

5 The French school of physiocrats, led by Quesnay, du Pont de Nemours, Turgot, Gournay and le Trosne – usually regarded as the founders of the science of political economy – broached the idea of destroying this system by the confiscation of economic rent; and this idea was worked out in detail some years ago in America by Henry George. None of these writers, however, seemed to be aware of the effect that their plan would produce upon the State itself. Collectivism, on the other hand, proposes immeasurably to strengthen and entrench the State by confiscation of the use-value as well as the rental-value of land, doing away with private proprietorship in either. (Back to text)

 

6 If one were not aware of the highly explosive character of this subject, it would be almost incredible that until three years ago, no one has ever presumed to write a history of land-speculation in America. In 1932, the firm of Harpers published an excellent work by Professor Sakolski, under the frivolous catch-penny title of The Great American Land Bubble. I do not believe that anyone can have a competent understanding of our history or of the character of our people, without hard study of this book. It does not pretend to be more than a preliminary approach to the subject, a sort of path-breaker for the exhaustive treatise which someone, preferably Professor Sakolski himself, should be undertaking; but for what it is, nothing could be better. I am making liberal use of it throughout this section. (Back to text)

 

7 Regard for this insignia-value or token-value of land has shown an interesting persistence. The rise of the merchant-State, supplanting the regime of status by the regime of contract, opened the way for men of all sorts and conditions to climb into the exploiting class; and the new recruits have usually shown a hankering for the old distinguishing sign of their having done so, even though the rise in rental-values has made the gratification of this desire progressively costly. (Back to text)

 

8 If our geographical development had been determined in a natural way, by the demands of use instead of the demands of speculation, our western frontier would not yet be anywhere near the Mississippi River. Rhode Island is the most thickly-populated member of the Union, yet one may drive from one end of it to the other on one of its “through” highways, and see hardly a sign of human occupancy. All discussions of “over-population” from Malthus down, are based on the premise of legal occupancy instead of actual occupancy, and are therefore utterly incompetent and worthless. Oppenheimer’s calculation, made in 1912, to which I have already referred, shows that if legal occupation were abolished, every family of five persons could possess nearly twenty acres of land, and still leave about two-thirds of the planet unoccupied. Henry George’s examination of Malthus’s theory of population is well known, or at least, easily available. It is perhaps worth mention in passing that exaggerated rental-values are responsible for the perennial troubles of the American single-crop farmer. Curiously, one finds this fact set forth in the report of a farm-survey, published by the Department of Agriculture about fifty years ago. (Back to text)

 

9 Mr. Chinard, professor in the Faculty of Literature at Johns Hopkins, has lately published a translation of a little book, hardly more than a pamphlet, written in 1686 by the Huguenot refugee Durand, giving a description of Virginia for the information of his fellow-exiles. It strikes a modern reader as being very favourable to Virginia, and one is amused to read that the landholders who had entertained Durand with an eye to business, thought he had not laid it on half thick enough, and were much disgusted. The book is delightfully interesting, and well worth owning. (Back to text)

 

10 It was the ground of Chevalier’s observation that Americans had “the morale of an army on the march,” and of his equally notable observations on the supreme rule of expediency in America. (Back to text)

 

11 For a most admirable discussion of these measures and their consequences, cf. Beard, op. cit., vol. I, pp. 191-220.(Back to text)

 

12 In principle, this had been done before; for example, some of the early royal land-grants reserved mineral-rights and timber-rights to the Crown. The Dutch State reserved the right to furs and pelts. Actually, however, these restrictions did not amount to much, and were not felt as a general grievance, for these resources had been but little explored. (Back to text)

 

13 There were a few exceptions, but not many; notably in the case of the Wadsworth properties in Western New York, which were held as an investment and leased out on a rental-basis. In one, at least, of General Washington’s operations, it appears that he also had this method in view. In 1773 he published an advertisement in a Baltimore newspaper, stating that he had secured a grant of about twenty thousand acres on the Ohio and Kanawha rivers, which he proposed to open to settlers on a rental-basis. (Back to text)

 

14 Sakolski, op. cit., ch. 1.(Back to text)

 

15 It is an odd fact that among the most eminent names of the period, almost the only ones unconnected with land-grabbing or land-jobbing, are those of the two great antagonists, Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton. Mr. Jefferson had a gentleman’s distaste for profiting by any form of the political means; he never even went so far as to patent one of his many useful inventions. Hamilton seems to have cared nothing for money. His measures made many rich, but he never sought anything from them for himself. In general, he appears to have had few scruples, yet amidst the riot of greed and rascality which he did most to promote, he walked worthily. Even his professional fees as a lawyer were absurdly small, and he remained quite poor all his life. (Back to text)

16 Raw colonial exports were processed in England, and reƒ«xported to the colonies at prices enhanced in this way, thus making the political means effective on the colonists both going and coming. (Back to text)

 

17 Beard, op. cit., vol. I, p. 195, cites the observation current in England at the time, that seventy-three members of the Parliament that imposed this tariff were interested in West Indian sugar-plantations.(Back to text)

 

18 It must be observed, however, that free trade is impracticable so long as land is kept out of free competition with industry in the labour-market. Discussions of the rival policies of free trade and protection invariably leave this limitation out of account, and are therefore nugatory. Holland and England, commonly spoken of as free-trade countries, were never really such; they had only so much freedom of trade as was consistent with their special economic requirements. American free-traders of the last century, such as Sumner and Godkin, were not really free-traders; they were never able – or willing – to entertain the crucial question why, if free trade is a good thing, the conditions of labour were no better in free-trade England than, for instance, in protectionist Germany, but were in fact worse. The answer is, of course, that England had no unpreƒ«mpted land to absorb displaced labour, or to stand in continuous competition with industry for labour. (Back to text)

19 The immense amount of labour involved in getting the revolution going, and keeping it going, is not as yet exactly a commonplace of American history, but it has begun to be pretty well understood, and the various myths about it have been exploded by the researches of disinterested historians.(Back to text)

 

20 The influence of this view upon the rise of nationalism and the maintenance of the national spirit in the modern world, now that the merchant-State has so generally superseded the feudal State, may be perceived at once. I do not think it has ever been thoroughly discussed, or that the sentiment of patriotism has ever been thoroughly examined for traces of this view, though one might suppose that such a work would be extremely useful. (Back to text)

 

21 Even now its coĦperation seems not to have got very far in English and American professional circles. The latest English exponent of the State, Professor Laski, draws the same set of elaborate distinctions between the State and officialdom that one would look for if he had been writing a hundred and fifty years ago. He appears to regard the State as essentially a social institution, though his observations on this point are by no means clear. Since his conclusions tend towards collectivism, however, the inference seems admissible. (Back to text)

 

22 As, for example, when one political party is turned out of office, and another put in. (Back to text)

 

23 In fact, the only modification of it that one can foresee as necessary is that the smallest unit should reserve the taxing-power strictly to itself. The larger units should have no power whatever of direct or indirect taxation, but should present their requirements to the townships, to be met by quota. This would tend to reduce the organizations of the larger units to skeleton form, and would operate strongly against their assuming any functions but those assigned them, which under a strictly governmental regime would be very few – for the federal unit, indeed, extremely few. It is interesting to imagine the suppression of every bureaucratic activity in Washington today that has to do with the maintenance and administration of the political means, and see how little would be left. If the State were superseded by government, probably every federal activity could be housed in the Senate Office Building – quite possibly with room to spare. (Back to text)

 

24 Harington published the Oceana in 1656. Locke’s political treatises were published in 1690. Smith’s Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations appeared in 1776. (Back to text)

 

25 This theory, with its corollary that democracy is primarily an economic rather than a political status, is extremely modern. The Physiocrats in France, and Henry George in America, modified Harington’s practical proposals by showing that the same results could be obtained by the more convenient method of a local confiscation of economic rent. (Back to text)

 

26 Locke held that in time of war it was competent for the State to conscript the lives and liberties of its subjects, but not their property. It is interesting to remark the persistence of this view in the practice of the merchant-State at the present time. In the last great collision of competing interests among merchant-States, twenty years ago, the State everywhere intervened at wholesale upon the rights of life and liberty, but was very circumspect towards the rights of property. Since the principle of absolutism was introduced into our constitution by the income-tax amendment, several attempts have been made to reduce the rights of property, in time of war, to an approximately equal footing with those of life and liberty; but so far, without success. (Back to text)

27 It is worth going through the literature of the late seventeenth and early eighteenth century to see how the words “democracy” and “democrat” appear exclusively as terms of contumely and reprehension. They served this purpose for a long time both in England and America, much as the terms “bolshevism” and “bolshevist” serve us now. They were subsequently taken over to become what Bentham called “impostor-terms,” in behalf of the existing economic and political order, as synonymous with a purely nominal republicanism. They are now used regularly in this way to describe the political system of the United States, even by persons who should know better – even, curiously, by persons like Bertrand Russell and Mr. Laski, who have little sympathy with the existing order. One sometimes wonders how our revolutionary forefathers would take it if they could hear some flatulent political thimblerigger charge them with having founded “the great and glorious democracy of the West.”(Back to text)

 

28 This curious collocation of attributes belongs to General Henry Knox, Washington’s secretary of war, and a busy speculator in land-values. He used it in a letter to Washington, on the occasion of Shays’s Rebellion in 1786, in which he made an agonized plea for a strong federal army. In the literature of the period, it is interesting to observe how regularly a moral superiority is associated with the possession of property. (Back to text)

CHAPTER 5
IT is a commonplace that the persistence of an institution is due solely to the state of mind that prevails towards it, the set of terms in which men habitually think about it. So long, and only so long, as those terms are favourable, the institution lives and maintains its power; and when for any reason men generally cease thinking in those terms, it weakens and becomes inert. At one time, a certain set of terms regarding man’s place in nature gave organized Christianity the power largely to control men’s consciences and direct their conduct; and this power has dwindled to the point of disappearance, for no other reason than that men generally stopped thinking in those terms. The persistence of our unstable and iniquitous economic system is not due to the power of accumulated capital, the force of propaganda, or to any force or combination of forces commonly alleged as its cause. It is due solely to a certain set of terms in which men think of the opportunity to work; they regard this opportunity as something to be given. Nowhere is there any other idea about it than that the opportunity to apply labour and capital to natural resources for the production of wealth is not in any sense a right, but a concession. (1) This is all that keeps our system alive. When men cease to think in those terms, the system will disappear, and not before.It seems pretty clear that changes in the terms of thought affecting an institution are but little advanced by direct means. They are brought about in obscure and circuitous ways, and assisted by trains of circumstance which before the fact would appear quite unrelated, and their erosive or solvent action is therefore quite unpredictable. A direct drive at effecting these changes comes as a rule to nothing, or more often than not turns out to be retarding. They are so largely the work of those unimpassioned and imperturbable agencies for which Prince de Bismarck had such vast respect – he called them theimponderabilia – that any effort which disregards them, or thrusts them violently aside, will in the long-run find them stepping in to abort its fruit.

Thus it is that what we are attempting to do in this rapid survey of the historical progress of certain ideas, is to trace the genesis of an attitude of mind, a set of terms in which now practically everyone thinks of the State; and then to consider the conclusions towards which this psychical phenomenon unmistakably points. Instead of recognizing the State as “the common enemy of all well-disposed, industrious and decent men,” the run of mankind, with rare exceptions, regards it not only as a final and indispensable entity, but also as, in the main, beneficent. The mass-man, ignorant of its history, regards its character and intentions as social rather than anti-social; and in that faith he is willing to put at its disposal an indefinite credit of knavery, mendacity and chicane, upon which its administrators may draw at will. Instead of looking upon the State’s progressive absorption of social power with the repugnance and resentment that he would naturally feel towards the activities of a professional-criminal organization, he tends rather to encourage and glorify it, in the belief that he is somehow identified with the State, and that therefore, in consenting to its indefinite aggrandizement, he consents to something in which he has a share – he is, pro tanto, aggrandizing himself. Professor Ortega y Gasset analyzes this state of mind extremely well. The mass-man, he says, confronting the phenomenon of the State, “sees it, admires it, knows that there it is. . . . Furthermore, the mass-man sees in the State an anonymous power, and feeling himself, like it, anonymous, he believes that the State is something of his own. Suppose that in the public life of a country some difficulty, conflict, or problem, presents itself, the mass-man will tend to demand that the State intervene immediately and undertake a solution directly with its immense and unassailable resources. . . . When the mass suffers any ill-fortune, or simply feels some strong appetite, its great temptation is that permanent sure possibility of obtaining everything, without effort, struggle, doubt, or risk, merely by touching a button and setting the mighty machine in motion.”

It is the genesis of this attitude, this state of mind, and the conclusions which inexorably follow from its predominance, that we are attempting to get at through our present survey. These conclusions may perhaps be briefly forecast here, in order that the reader who is for any reason indisposed to entertain them may take warning of them at this point, and close the book.

The unquestioning, determined, even truculent maintenance of the attitude which Professor Ortega y Gasset so admirably describes, is obviously the life and strength of the State; and obviously too, it is now so inveterate and so widespread – one may freely call it universal – that no direct effort could overcome its inveteracy or modify it, and least of all hope to enlighten it. This attitude can only be sapped and mined by uncountable generations of experience, in a course marked by recurrent calamity of a most appalling character. When once the predominance of this attitude in any given civilization has become inveterate, as so plainly it has become in the civilization of America, all that can be done is to leave it to work its own way out to its appointed end. The philosophic historian may content himself with pointing out and clearly elucidating its consequences, as Professor Ortega y Gasset has done, aware that after this there is no more that one can do. “The result of this tendency,” he says, “will be fatal. Spontaneous social action will be broken up over and over again by State intervention; no new seed will be able to fructify. (2) Society will have to live for the State, man for the governmental machine. And as after all it is only a machine, whose existence and maintenance depend on the vital supports around it, (3) the State, after sucking out the very marrow of society, will be left bloodless, a skeleton, dead with that rusty death of machinery, more gruesome than the death of a living organism. Such was the lamentable fate of ancient civilization.”

 

II

 

The revolution of 1776-1781 converted thirteen provinces, practically as they stood, into thirteen autonomous political units, completely independent, and they so continued until 1789, formally held together as a sort of league, by the Articles of Confederation. For our purposes, the point to be remarked about this eight-year period, 1781- 1789, is that administration of the political means was not centralized in the federation, but in the several units of which the federation was composed. The federal assembly, or congress, was hardly more than a deliberative body of delegates appointed by the autonomous units. It had no taxing-power, and no coercive power. It could not command funds for any enterprise common to the federation, even for war; all it could do was to apportion the sum needed, in the hope that each unit would meet its quota. There was no coercive federal authority over these matters, or over any matters; the sovereignty of each of the thirteen federated units was complete.

Thus the central body of this loose association of sovereignties had nothing to say about the distribution of the political means. This authority was vested in the several component units. Each unit had absolute jurisdiction over its territorial basis, and could partition it as it saw fit, and could maintain any system of land-tenure that it chose to establish. (4) Each unit set up its own trade-regulations. Each unit levied its own tariffs, one against another, in behalf of its own chosen beneficiaries. Each manufactured its own currency, and might manipulate it as it liked, for the benefit of such individuals or economic groups as were able to get effective access to the local legislature. Each managed its own system of bounties, concessions, subsidies, franchises, and exercised it with a view to whatever private interest its legislature might be influenced to promote. In short, the whole mechanism of the political means was non-national. The

federation was not in any sense a State; the State was not one, but thirteen. Within each unit, therefore, as soon as the war was over, there began at once a general scramble for access to the political means. It must never be forgotten that in each unit society was fluid; this access was available to anyone gifted with the peculiar sagacity and resolution necessary to get at it. Hence one economic interest after another brought pressure of influence to bear on the local legislatures, until the economic hand of every unit was against every other, and the hand of every other was against itself. The principle of “protection,” which as we have seen was already well understood, was carried to lengths precisely comparable with those to which it is carried in international commerce today, and for precisely the same primary purpose – the exploitation, or in plain terms the robbery, of the domestic consumer. Mr. Beard remarks that the legislature of New York, for example, pressed the principle which governs tariff- making to the point of levying duties on firewood brought in from Connecticut and on cabbages from New Jersey – a fairly close parallel with the octroi that one still encounters at the gates of French towns.

The primary monopoly, fundamental to all others – the monopoly of economic rent – was sought with redoubled eagerness. (5) The territorial basis of each unit now included the vast holdings confiscated from British owners, and the bar erected by the British State’s proclamation of 1763 against the appropriation of Western lands was now removed. Professor Sakolski observes drily that “the early land-lust which the colonists inherited from their European forebears was not diminished by the democratic spirit of the revolutionary fathers.” Indeed not! Land-grants were sought as assiduously from local legislatures as they had been in earlier days from the Stuart dynasty and from colonial governors, and the mania of land-jobbing ran apace with the mania of land-grabbing. (6) Among the men most actively interested in these pursuits were those whom we have already seen identified with them in pre-revolutionary days, such as the two Morrises, Knox, Pickering, James Wilson and Patrick Henry; and with their names appear those of Duer, Bingham, McKean, Willing, Greenleaf, Nicholson, Aaron Burr, Low, Macomb, Wadsworth, Remsen, Constable, Pierrepont, and others which now are less well remembered.

 

There is probably no need to follow out the rather repulsive trail of effort after other modes of the political means. What we have said about the foregoing two modes – tariffs and rental-value monopoly – is doubtless enough to illustrate satisfactorily the spirit and attitude of mind towards the State during the eight years immediately following the revolution. The whole story of insensate scuffle for State-created economic advantage is not especially animating, nor is it essential to our purposes. Such as it is, it may be read in detail elsewhere. All that interests us is to observe that during the eight years of federation, the principles of government set forth by Paine and by the Declaration continued in utter abeyance. Not only did the philosophy of natural rights and popular sovereignty (7) remain as completely out of consideration as when Mr. Jefferson first lamented its disappearance, but the idea of government as a social institution based on this philosophy was likewise unconsidered. No one thought of a political organization as instituted “to secure these rights” by processes of purely negative intervention – instituted, that is, with no other end in view than the maintenance of “freedom and security.” The history of the eight-year period of federation shows no trace whatever of any idea of political organization other than the State-idea. No one regarded this organization otherwise than as the organization of the political means, an all-powerful engine which should stand permanently ready and available for the irresistible promotion of this-or-that set of economic interests, and the irremediable disservice of others; according as whichever set, by whatever course of strategy, might succeed in obtaining command of its machinery.

 

III

 

It may be repeated that while State power was well centralized under the federation, it was not centralized in the federation, but in the federated unit. For various reasons, some of them plausible, many leading citizens, especially in the more northerly units, found this distribution of power unsatisfactory; and a considerable compact group of economic interests which stood to profit by a redistribution naturally made the most of these reasons. It is quite certain that dissatisfaction with the existing arrangement was not general, for when the redistribution took place in 1789, it was effected with great difficulty and only through a coup d’etat, organized by methods which if employed in any other field than that of politics, would be put down at once as not only daring, but unscrupulous and dishonourable.

 

The situation, in a word, was that American economic interests had fallen into two grand divisions, the special interests in each having made common cause with a view to capturing control of the political means. One division comprised the speculating, industrial-commercial and creditor interests, with their natural allies of the bar and bench, the pulpit and the press. The other comprised chiefly the farmers and artisans and the debtor class generally. From the first, these two grand divisions were colliding briskly here and there in the several units, the most serious collision occurring over the terms of the Massachusetts constitution of 1780. (8) The State in each of the thirteen units was a class-State, as every State known to history has been; and the work of man…”œuvring it in its function of enabling the economic exploitation of one class by another went steadily on.

 

General conditions under the Articles of Confederation were pretty good. The people had made a creditable recovery from the dislocations and disturbances due to the revolution, and there was a very decent prospect that Mr. Jefferson’s idea of a political organization, which should be national in foreign affairs and non-national in domestic affairs might be found continuously practicable. Some tinkering with the Articles seemed necessary – in fact, it was expected – but nothing that would transform or seriously impair the general scheme. The chief trouble was with the federation’s weakness in view of the chance of war, and in respect of debts due to foreign creditors. The Articles, however, carried provision for their own amendment, and for anything one can see, such amendment as the general scheme made necessary was quite feasible. In fact, when suggestions of revision arose, as they did almost immediately, nothing else appears to have been contemplated.

But the general scheme itself was as a whole objectionable to the interests grouped in the first grand division. The grounds of their dissatisfaction are obvious enough. When one bears in mind the vast prospect of the continent, one need use but little imagination to perceive that the national scheme was by far the more congenial to those interests, because it enabled an ever-closer centralization of control over the political means. For instance, leaving aside the advantage of having but one central tariff-making body to chaffer with, instead of twelve, any industrialist could see the great primary advantage of being able to extend his exploiting operations over a nation-wide free-trade area walled-in by a general tariff; the closer the centralization, the larger the exploitable area. Any speculator in rental-values would be quick to see the advantage of bringing this form of opportunity under unified control. (9)Any speculator in depreciated public securities would be strongly for a system that could offer him the use of the political means to bring back their face-value. (10) Any shipowner or foreign trader would be quick to see that his bread was buttered on the side of a national State which, if properly approached, might lend him the use of the political means by way of a subsidy, or would be able to back up some profitable but dubious freebooting enterprise with “diplomatic representations” or with reprisals.

The farmers and the debtor class in general, on the other hand, were not interested in these considerations, but were strongly for letting things stay, for the most part, as they stood. Preponderance in the local legislatures gave them satisfactory control of the political means, which they could and did use to the prejudice of the creditor class, and they did not care to be disturbed in their preponderance. They were agreeable to such modification of the Articles as should work out short of this, but not to setting up a national (11) replica of the British merchant-State, which they perceived was precisely what the classes grouped in the opposing grand division wished to do. These classes aimed at bringing in the British system of economics, politics and judicial control, on a nation-wide scale; and the interests grouped in the second division saw that what this would really come to was a shifting of the incidence of economic exploitation upon themselves. They had an impressive object-lesson in the immediate shift that took place in Massachusetts after the adoption of John Adams’s local constitution of 1780. They naturally did not care to see this sort of thing put into operation on a nation-wide scale, and they therefore looked with extreme disfavour upon any bait put forth for amending the Articles out of existence. When Hamilton, in 1780, objected to the Articles in the form in which they were proposed for adoption, and proposed the calling of a constitutional convention instead, they turned the cold shoulder; as they did again to Washington’s letter to the local governors three years later, in which he adverted to the need of a strong coercive central authority.

Finally, however, a constitutional convention was assembled, on the distinct understanding that it should do no more than revise the Articles in such a way, as Hamilton cleverly phrased it, as to make them “adequate to the exigencies of the nation,” and on the further understanding that all the thirteen units should assent to the amendments before they went into effect; in short, that the method of amendment provided by the Articles themselves should be followed. Neither understanding was fulfilled. The convention was made up wholly of men representing the economic interests of the first division. The great majority of them, possibly as many as four-fifths, were public creditors; one-third were land-speculators; some were money-lenders; one-fifth were industrialists, traders, shippers; and many of them were lawyers. They planned and executed a coup d’etat, simply tossing the Articles of Confederation into the waste-basket, and drafting a constitution de novo, with the audacious provision that it should go into effect when ratified by nine units instead of by all thirteen. Moreover, with like audacity, they provided that the document should not be submitted either to the Congress or to the local legislatures, but that it should go direct to a popular vote! (12)

The unscrupulous methods employed in securing ratification need not be dwelt on here. (13) We are not indeed concerned with the moral quality of any of the proceedings by which the constitution was brought into being, but only with showing their instrumentality in encouraging a definite general idea of the State and its functions, and a consequent general attitude towards the State. We therefore go on to observe that in order to secure ratification by even the nine necessary units, the document had to conform to certain very exacting and difficult requirements. The political structure which it contemplated had to be republican in form, yet capable of resisting what Gerry unctuously called “the excess of democracy,” and what Randolph termed its “turbulence and follies.” The task of the delegates was precisely analogous to that of the earlier architects who had designed the structure of the British merchant-State, with its system of economics, politics and judicial control; they had to contrive something that could pass muster as showing a good semblance of popular sovereignty, without the reality. Madison defined their task explicitly in saying that the convention’s purpose was “to secure the public good and private rights against the danger of such a faction [i.e., a democratic faction], and at the same time preserve the spirit and form of popular government.”

Under the circumstances, this was a tremendously large order; and the constitution emerged, as it was bound to do, as a compromise- document, or as Mr. Beard puts it very precisely, “a mosaic of second choices,” which really satisfied neither of the two opposing sets of interests. It was not strong and definite enough in either direction to please anybody. In particular, the interests composing the first division, led by Alexander Hamilton, saw that it was not sufficient of itself to fix them in anything like a permanent impregnable position to exploit continuously the groups composing the second division. To do this – to establish the degree of centralization requisite to their purposes – certain lines of administrative management must be laid down, which, once established, would be permanent. The further task therefore, in Madison’s phrase, was to “administration” the constitution into such absolutist modes as would secure economic supremacy, by a free use of the political means, to the groups which made up the first division.

This was accordingly done. For the first ten years of its existence the constitution remained in the hands of its makers for administration in directions most favourable to their interests. For an accurate understanding of the newly-erected system’s economic tendencies, too much stress can not be laid on the fact that for these ten critical years “the machinery of economic and political power was mainly directed by the men who had conceived and established it.” (14) Washington, who had been chairman of the convention, was elected President. Nearly half the Senate was made up of men who had been delegates, and the House of Representatives was largely made up of men who had to do with the drafting or ratifying of the constitution. Hamilton, Randolph and Knox, who were active in promoting the document, filled three of the four positions in the Cabinet; and all the federal judgeships, without a single exception, were filled by men who had a hand in the business of drafting, or of ratification, or both. Of all the legislative measures enacted to implement the new constitution, the one best calculated to ensure a rapid and steady progress in the centralization of political power was the judiciary Actof 1789. (15) This measure created a federal supreme court of six members (subsequently enlarged to nine), and a federal district court in each state, with its own complete personnel, and a complete apparatus for enforcing its decrees. The Act established federal oversight of state legislation by the familiar device of “interpretation”, whereby the Supreme Court might nullify state legislative or judicial action which for any reason it saw fit to regard as unconstitutional. One feature of the Act which for our purposes is most noteworthy is that it made the tenure of all these federal judgeships appointive, not elective, and for life; thus marking almost the farthest conceivable departure from the doctrine of popular sovereignty.

The first chief justice was John Jay, “the learned and gentle Jay,” as Beveridge calls him in his excellent biography of Marshall. A man of superb integrity, he was far above doing anything whatever in behalf of the accepted principle that est boni judicis ampliare jurisdictionem. Ellsworth, who followed him, also did nothing. The succession, however, after Jay had declined a reappointment, then fell to John Marshall, who, in addition to the control established by the judiciary Act over the state legislative and judicial authority, arbitrarily extended judicial control over both the legislative and executive branches of the federal authority; (16) thus effecting as complete and convenient a centralization of power as the various interests concerned in framing the constitution could reasonably have contemplated. (17)

We may now see from this necessarily brief survey, which anyone may amplify and particularize at his pleasure, what the circumstances were which rooted a certain definite idea of the State still deeper in the general consciousness. That idea was precisely the same in the constitutional period as that which we have seen prevailing in the two periods already examined – the colonial period, and the eight-year period following the revolution. Nowhere in the history of the constitutional period do we find the faintest suggestion of the Declaration’s doctrine of natural rights; and we find its doctrine of popular sovereignty not only continuing in abeyance, but constitutionally estopped from ever reappearing. Nowhere do we find a trace of the Declaration’s theory of government; on the contrary, we find it expressly repudiated. The new political mechanism was a faithful replica of the old disestablished British model, but so far improved and strengthened as to be incomparably more close-working and efficient, and hence presenting incomparably more attractive possibilities of capture and control. By consequence, therefore, we find more firmly implanted than ever the same general idea of the State that we have observed as prevailing hitherto – the idea of an organization of the political means, an irresponsible and all-powerful agency standing always ready to be put into use for the service of one set of economic interests as against another.

 

IV

 

Out of this idea proceeded what we know as the “party system” of political management, which has been in effect ever since. Our purposes do not require that we examine its history in close detail for evidence that it has been from the beginning a purely bipartisan system, since this is now a matter of fairly common acceptance. In his second term Mr. Jefferson discovered the tendency towards bipartisanship, (18) and was both dismayed and puzzled by it. I have elsewhere (19) remarked his curious inability to understand how the cohesive power of public plunder works straight towards political bipartisanship. In 1823, finding some who called themselves Republicans favouring the Federalist policy of centralization, he spoke of them in a rather bewildered way as “pseudo-Republicans, but real Federalists.” But most naturally any Republican who saw a chance of profiting by the political means would retain the name, and at the same time resist any tendency within the party to impair the general system which held out such a prospect. (20) In this way bipartisanship arises. Party designations become purely nominal, and the stated issues between parties become progressively trivial; and both are more and more openly kept up with no other object than to cover from scrutiny the essential identity of purpose in both parties.

Thus the party system at once became in effect an elaborate system of fetiches, which, in order to be made as impressive as possible, were chiefly moulded up around the constitution, and were put on show as “constitutional principles.” The history of the whole post-constitutional period, from 1789 to the present day, is an instructive and cynical exhibit of the fate of these fetiches when they encounter the one only actual principle of party action – the principle of keeping open the channels of access to the political means. When the fetich of “strict construction,” for example, has collided with this principle, it has invariably gone by the board, the party that maintained it simply changing sides. The anti- Federalist party took office in 1800 as the party of strict construction; yet, once in office, it played ducks and drakes with the constitution, in behalf of the special economic interests that itrepresented. (21) The Federalists were nominally for loose construction, yet they fought bitterly every one of the opposing party’s loose-constructionist measures – the embargo, the protective tariff and the national bank. They were constitutional nationalists of the deepest dye, as we have seen; yet in their centre and stronghold, New England, they held the threat of secession over the country throughout the period of what they harshly called “Mr. Madison’s war,” the War of 18l2, which was in fact a purely imperialistic adventure after annexation of Floridan and Canadian territory, in behalf of stiffening agrarian control of the political means; but when the planting interests of the South made the same threat in 1861, they became fervid nationalists again. Such exhibitions of pure fetichism, always cynical in their transparent candour, make up the history of the party system. Their reductio ad absurdum is now seen as perhaps complete – one can not see how it could go further – in the attitude of the Democratic party towards its historical principles of state sovereignty and strict construction. A fair match for this, however, is found in a speech made the other day to a group of exporting and importing interests by the mayor of New York – always known as a Republican in politics – advocating the hoary Democratic doctrine of a low tariff!

Throughout our post-constitutional period there is not on record, as far as I know, a single instance of party adherence to a fixed principle, qua principle, or to a political theory, qua theory. Indeed, the very cartoons on the subject show how widely it has come to be accepted that party- platforms, with their cant of “issues,” are so much sheer quackery, and that campaign-promises are merely another name for thimblerigging. The workaday practice of politics has been invariably opportunist, or in other words, invariably conformable to the primary function of the State; and it is largely for this reason that the State’s service exerts its most powerful attraction upon an extremely low and sharp-set type of individual. (22)

The maintenance of this system of fetiches, however, gives great enhancement to the prevailing general view of the State. In that view, the State is made to appear as somehow deeply and disinterestedly concerned with great principles of action; and hence, in addition to its prestige as a pseudo-social institution, it takes on the prestige of a kind of moral authority, thus disposing of the last vestige of the doctrine of natural rights by overspreading it heavily with the quicklime of legalism; whatever is State-sanctioned is right. This double prestige is assiduously inflated by many agencies; by a State-controlled system of education, by a State- dazzled pulpit, by a meretricious press, by a continuous kaleidoscopic display of State pomp, panoply and circumstance, and by all the innumerable devices of electioneering. These last invariably take their stand on the foundation of some imposing principle, as witness the agonized cry now going up here and there in the land, for a “return to the constitution.” All this is simply “the interested clamours and sophistry,” which means no more and no less than it meant when the constitution was not yet five years old, and Fisher Ames was observing contemptuously that of all the legislative measures and proposals which were on the carpet at the time, he scarce knew one that had not raised this same cry, “not excepting a motion for adjournment.”

In fact, such popular terms of electioneering appeal are uniformly and notoriously what Jeremy Bentham called impostor-terms, and their use invariably marks one thing and one only; it marks a state of apprehension, either fearful or expectant, as the case may be, concerning access to the political means. As we are seeing at the moment, once let this access come under threat of straitening or stoppage, the menaced interests immediately trot out the spavined, glandered hobby of “state rights” or “a return to the constitution,” and put it through its galvanic movements. Let the incidence of exploitation show the first sign of shifting, and we hear at once from one source of “interested clamours and sophistry” that “democracy” is in danger, and that the unparalleled excellences of our civilization have come about solely through a policy of “rugged individualism,” carried out under terms of “free competition”; while from another source we hear that the enormities of laissez-faire have ground the faces of the poor, and obstructed entrance into the More Abundant Life. (23)

The general upshot of all this is that we see politicians of all schools and stripes behaving with the obscene depravity of degenerate children; like the loose-footed gangs that infest the railway-yards and purlieus of gas-houses, each group tries to circumvent another with respect to the fruit accruing to acts of public mischief. In other words, we see them behaving in a strictly historical manner. Professor Laski’s elaborate moral distinction between the State and officialdom is devoid of foundation. The State is not, as he would have it, a social institution administered in an anti-social way. It is an anti-social institution, administered in the only way an anti-social institution can be administered, and by the kind of person who, in the nature of things, is best adapted to such service.

 


Footnotes to Chapter 5
1 Consider, for example, the present situation. Our natural resources, while much depleted, are still great; our population is very thin, running something like twenty or twenty-five to the square mile; and some millions of this population are at the moment “unemployed,” and likely to remain so because no one will or can “give them work.” The point is not that men generally submit to this state of things, or that they accept it as inevitable, but that they see nothing irregular or anomalous about it because of their fixed idea that work is something to be given. (Back to text)2 The present paralysis of production, for example, is due solely to State intervention, and uncertainty concerning further intervention.(Back to text)

 

3 It seems to be very imperfectly understood that the cost of State intervention must be paid out of production, this being the only source from which any payment for anything can be derived. Intervention retards production; then the resulting stringency and inconvenience enable further intervention, which in turn still further retards production; and this process goes on until, as in Rome, in the third century, production ceases entirely, and the source of payment dries up.(Back to text)

 

4 As a matter of fact, all thirteen units merely continued the system that had existed throughout the colonial period – the system which gave the beneficiary a monopoly of rental-values as well as a monopoly of use-values. No other system was ever known in America, except in the short-lived state of Deseret, under the Mormon polity.(Back to text)

 

5 For a brilliant summary of post-revolutionary land-speculation, cf. Sakolski, op. cit., ch. 11.(Back to text)

 

6 Mr. Sakolski very justly remarks that the mania for land-jobbing was stimulated by the action of the new units in offering lands by way of settlement of their public debts, which led to extensive gambling in the various issues of “land-warrants.” The list of eminent names involved in this enterprise includes Wilson C. Nicholas, who later became governor of Virginia; “Light Horse Harry” Lee, father of the great Confederate commander; General John Preston, of Smithfield; and George Taylor, brother-in-law of Chief Justice Marshall. Lee, Preston and Nicholas were prosecuted at the instance of some Connecticut speculators, for a transaction alleged as fraudulent; Lee was arrested in Boston, on the eve of embarking for the West Indies. They had deeded a tract, said to be of 300,000 acres, at ten cents an acre, but on being surveyed, the tract did not come to half that size. Frauds of this order were extremely common.(Back to text)

 

7 The new political units continued the colonial practice of restricting the suffrage to taxpayers and owners of property, and none but men of considerable wealth were eligible to public office. Thus the exercise of sovereignty was a matter of economic right, not natural right.(Back to text)

 

8 This was the uprising known as Shays’s Rebellion, which took place in 1786. The creditor division in Massachusetts had gained control of the political means, and had fortified its control by establishing a constitution which was made to bear so hardly on the agrarian and debtor division that an armed insurrection broke out six years later, led by Daniel Shays, for the purpose of annulling its onerous provisions, and transferring control of the political means to the latter group. This incident affords a striking view in miniature of the State’s nature and teleology. The rebellion had a great effect in consolidating the creditor division and giving plausibility to its contention for the establishment of a strong coercive national State. Mr. Jefferson spoke contemptuously of this contention, as “the interested clamours and sophistry of speculating, shaving and banking institutions”; and of the rebellion itself he observed to Mrs. John Adams, whose husband had most to do with drafting the Massachusetts constitution, “I like a little rebellion now and then. . . . The spirit of resistance to government is so valuable that I wish it to be always kept alive. It will often be exercised when wrong, but better so than not to be exercised at all.” Writing to another correspondent at the same time, he said earnestly, “God forbid we should ever be twenty years without such a rebellion.” Obiter dicta of this nature, scattered here and there in Mr. Jefferson’s writings, have the interest of showing how near his instinct led him towards a clear understanding of the State’s character.(Back to text)

 

9 Professor Sakolski observes that after the Articles of Confederation were supplanted by the constitution, schemes of land-speculation “multiplied with renewed and intensified energy.” Naturally so, for as he says, the new scheme of a national State got Strong support from this class of adventurers because they foresaw that rental-values “must be greatly increased by an efficient federal government.”(Back to text)

 

10 More than half the delegates to the constitutional convention of 1787 were either investors or speculators in the public funds. Probably sixty per cent of the values represented by these securities were fictitious, and were so regarded even by their holders. (Back to text)

 

11 It may be observed that at this time the word “national” was a term of obloquy, carrying somewhat the same implications that the word “fascist” carries in some quarters today. Nothing is more interesting than the history of political terms in their relation to the shifting balance of economic advantage – except, perhaps, the history of the partisan movements which they designate, viewed in the same relation.(Back to text)

 

12 The obvious reason for this, as the event showed, was that the interests grouped in the first division had the advantage of being relatively compact and easily mobilized. Those in the second division, being chiefly agrarian, were loose and sprawling, communications among them were slow, and mobilization difficult.(Back to text)

 

13 They have been noticed by several recent authorities, and are exhibited fully in Mr. Beard’s monumental Economic Interpretation of the Constitution of the United States.(Back to text)

 

14 Beard, op. cit., p. 337.(Back to text)

 

15 The principal measures bearing directly on the distribution of the political means were those drafted by Hamilton for funding and assumption, for a protective tariff, and for a national bank. These gave practically exclusive use of the political means to the classes grouped in the first grand division, the only modes left available to others being patents and copyrights. Mr. Beard discusses these measures with his invariable lucidity and thoroughness, op. cit., ch. VIII. Some observations on them which are perhaps worth reading are contained in my Jefferson, ch. V.(Back to text)

 

16 The authority of the Supreme Court was disregarded by Jackson, and overruled by Lincoln, thus converting the mode of the State temporarily from an oligarchy into an autocracy. It is interesting to observe that just such a contingency was foreseen by the framers of the constitution, in particular by Hamilton. They were apparently well aware of the ease with which, in any period of crisis, a quasi-republican mode of the State slips off into executive tyranny. Oddly enough, Mr. Jefferson at one time considered nullifying the Alien and Sedition Acts by executive action, but did not do so. Lincoln overruled the opinion of Chief Justice Taney that suspension of the habeas corpus was unconstitutional, and in consequence the mode of the State was, until 1865, a monocratic military despotism. In fact, from the date of his proclamation of blockade, Lincoln ruled unconstitutionally throughout his term. The doctrine of “reserved powers” was knaved up ex post facto as a justification of his acts, but as far as the intent of the constitution is concemed, it was obviously a pure invention. In fact, a very good case could be made out for the assertion that Lincoln’s acts resulted in a permanent radical change in the entire system of constitutional “interpretation” – that since his time “interpretations” have not been interpretations of the constitution, but merely of public policy; or, as our most acute and profound social critic put it, “th’ Supreme Court follows th’ iliction rayturns.” A strict constitutionalist might indeed say that the constitution died in 1861, and one would have to scratch one’s head pretty diligently to refute him.(Back to text)

 

17 Marshall was appointed by John Adams at the end of his Presidential term, when the interests grouped in the first division were becoming very anxious about the opposition developing against them among the exploited interests. A letter written by Oliver Wolcott to Fisher Ames gives a good idea of where the doctrine of popular sovereignty stood; his reference to military measures is particularly striking. He says, “The steady men in Congress will attempt to extend the judicial department, and I hope that their measures will be very decided. It is impossible in this country to render an army an engine of government; and there is no way to combat the state opposition but by an efficient and extended organization of judges, magistrates, and other civil officers.” Marshall’s appointment followed, and also the creation of twenty-three new federal judgeships. Marshall’s cardinal decisions were made in the cases of Marbury, of Fletcher, of McCulloch, of Dartmouth College, and of Cohens. It is perhaps not generally understood that as the result of Marshall’s efforts, the Supreme Court became not only the highest law- interpreting body, but the highest law-making body as well; the precedents established by its decisions have the force of constitutional law. Since 1800, therefore, the actual mode of the State in America is normally that of a small and irresponsible oligarchy! Mr. Jefferson, regarding Marshall quite justly as “a crafty chief judge who sophisticates the law to his mind by the turn of his own reasoning,” made in 1821 the very remarkable prophecy that “our government is now taking so steady a course as to show by what road it will pass to destruction, to wit: by consolidation first, and then corruption, its necessary consequence. The engine of consolidation will be the federal judiciary; the other two branches the corrupting and corrupted instruments.” Another prophetic comment on the effect of centralization was his remark that “when we must wait for Washington to tell us when to sow and when to reap, we shall soon want bread.” A survey of our present political circumstances makes comment on these prophecies superfluous.(Back to text)

 

18 He had observed it in the British State some years before, and spoke of it with vivacity. “The nest of office being too small for all of them to cuddle into at once, the contest is eternal which shall crowd the other out. For this purpose they are divided into two parties, the Ins and the Outs.” Why he could not see that the same thing was bound to take place in the American State as an effect of causes identical with those which brought it about in the British State, is a puzzle to students. Apparently, however, he did not see it, notwithstanding the sound instinct that made him suspect parties, and always kept him free from party alliances. As he wrote Hopkinson in 1789, “I never submitted the whole system of my opinions to the creed of any party of men whatever, in religion, in philosophy, in politics, or in anything else where I was capable of thinking for myself. Such an addiction is the last degradation of a free and moral agent. If I could not go to heaven but with a party, I would not go there at all.”(Back to text)

 

19 Jefferson, p. 274. The agrarian-artisan-debtor economic group that elected Mr. Jefferson took title as the Republican party (subsequently renamed Democratic) and the opposing group called itself by the old preconstitutional title of Federalist.(Back to text)

 

2O An example, noteworthy only because uncommonly conspicuous, is seen in the behaviour of the Democratic senators in the matter of the tariff on sugar, in Cleveland’s second administration. Ever since that incident, one of the Washington newspapers has used the name “Senator Sorghum” in its humorous paragraphs, to designate the typical venal jobholder.(Back to text)

 

21 Mr. Jefferson was the first to acknowledge that his purchase of the Louisiana territory was unconstitutional; but it added millions of acres to the sum of agrarian resource, and added an immense amount of prospective voting-strength to agrarian control of the political means, as against control by the financial and commercial interests represented by the Federalist party. Mr. Jefferson justified himself solely on the ground of public policy, an interesting anticipation of Lincoln’s self-justification in 1861, for confronting Congress and the country with a like fait accompli – this time, however, executed in behalf of financial and commercial interests as against the agrarian interest.(Back to text)

 

22 Henry George made some very keen comment upon the almost incredible degradation that he saw taking place progressively in the personnel of the State’s service. It is perhaps most conspicuous in the Presidency and the Senate, though it goes on pari passu elsewhere and throughout. As for the federal House of Representatives and the state legislative bodies, they must be seen to be believed.(Back to text)

 

23 Of all the impostor-terms in our political glossary these are perhaps the most flagrantly impudent, and their employment perhaps the most flagitious. We have already seen that nothing remotely resembling democracy has ever existed here; nor yet has anything resembling free competition, for the existence of free competition is obviously incompatible with any exercise of the political means, even the feeblest. For the same reason, no policy of rugged individualism has ever existed; the most that rugged individualism has done to distinguish itself has been by way of running to the State for some form of economic advantage. If the reader has any curiosity about this, let him look up the number of American business enterprises that have made a success unaided by the political means, or the number of fortunes accumulated without such aid. Laissez-faire has become a term of pure opprobrium; those who use it either do not know what it means, or else wilfully pervert it. As for the unparalleled excellences of our civilization, it is perhaps enough to say that the statistics of our insurance-companies now show that four-fifths of our people who have reached the age of sixty-five are supported by their relatives or by some other form of charity.(Back to text)

CHAPTER 6
Such has been the course of our experience from the beginning, and such are the terms in which its stark uniformity has led us to think of the State. This uniformity also goes far to account for the development of a peculiar moral enervation with regard to the State, exactly parallel to that which prevailed with regard to the Church in the Middle Ages. (1) The Church controlled the distribution of certain privileges and immunities, and if one approached it properly, one might get the benefit of them. It stood as something to be run to in any kind of emergency, temporal or spiritual; for the satisfaction of ambition and cupidity, as well as for the more tenuous assurances it held out against various forms of fear, doubt and sorrow. As long as this was so, the anomalies presented by its self-aggrandizement were more or less contentedly acquiesced in; and thus a chronic moral enervation, too negative to be called broadly cynical, was developed towards its interventions and exactions, and towards the vast overbuilding of its material structure. (2)A like enervation pervades our society with respect to the State, and for like reasons. It affects especially those who take the State’s pretensions at face value and regard it as a social institution whose policies of continuous intervention are wholesome and necessary; and it also affects the great majority who have no clear idea of the State, but merely accept it as something that exists, and never think about it except when some intervention bears unfavourably upon their interests. There is little need to dwell upon the amount of aid thus given to the State’s progress in self-aggrandizement, or to show in detail or by illustration the courses by which this spiritlessness promotes the State’s steady policy of intervention, exaction and overbuilding. (3)

Every intervention by the State enables another, and this in turn another, and so on indefinitely; and the State stands ever ready and eager to make them, often on its own motion, often again wangling plausibility for them through the specious suggestion of interested persons. Sometimes the matter at issue is in its nature simple, socially necessary, and devoid of any character that would bring it into the purview of politics. (4) For convenience, however, complications are erected on it; then presently someone sees that these complications are exploitable, and proceeds to exploit them; then another, and another, until the rivalries and collisions of interest thus generated issue in a more or less general disorder. When this takes place, the logical thing, obviously, is to recede, and let the disorder be settled in the slower and more troublesome way, but the only effective way, through the operation of natural laws. But in such circumstances recession is never for a moment thought of; the suggestion would be put down as sheer lunacy. Instead, the interests unfavourably affected – little aware, perhaps, how much worse the cure is than the disease, or at any rate little caring – immediately call on the State to cut in arbitrarily between cause and effect, and clear up the disorder out of hand. (5) The State then intervenes by imposing another set of complications upon the first; these in turn are found exploitable, another demand arises, another set of complications, still more intricate, is erected upon thefirst two; (6) and the same sequence is gone through again and again until the recurrent disorder becomes acute enough to open the way for a sharking political adventurer to come forward and, always alleging “necessity, the tyrant’s plea,” to organize a coup d’ tat. (7)

But more often the basic matter at issue represents an original intervention of the State, an original allotment of the political means. Each of these allotments, as we have seen, is a charter of highwaymanry, a license to appropriate the labour-products of others without compensation. Therefore it is in the nature of things that when such a license is issued, the State must follow it up with an indefinite series of interventions to systematize and “regulate” its use. The State’s endless progressive encroachments that are recorded in the history of the tariff, their impudent and disgusting particularity, and the prodigious amount of apparatus necessary to give them effect, furnish a conspicuous case in point. Another is furnished by the history of our railway-regulation. It is nowadays the fashion, even among those who ought to know better, to hold “rugged individualism” and laissez-faire responsible for the riot of stock-watering, rebates, rate-cutting, fraudulent bankruptcies, and the like, which prevailed in our railway-practice after the Civil War, but they had no more to do with it than they have with the precession of the equinoxes. The fact is that our railways, with few exceptions, did not grow up in response to any actual economic demand. They were speculative enterprises enabled by State intervention, by allotment of the political means in the form of land-grants and subsidies; and of all the evils alleged against our railway-practice, there is not one but what is directly traceable to this primary intervention. (8)

So it is with shipping. There was no valid economic demand for adventure in the carrying trade; in fact, every sound economic consideration was dead against it. It was entered upon through State intervention, instigated by shipbuilders and their allied interests; and the mess engendered by their manipulation of the political means is now the ground of demand for further and further coercive intervention. So it is with what, by an unconscionable stretch of language, goes by the name of farming. (9) There are very few troubles so far heard of as normally besetting this form of enterprise but what are directly traceable to the State’s primary intervention in establishing a system of land-tenure which gives a monopoly-right over rental-values as well as over use-values; and as long as that system is in force, one coercive intervention after another is bound to take place in support of it. (10)

 

II

 

Thus we see how ignorance and delusion concerning the nature of the State combine with extreme moral debility and myopic self-interest – what Ernest Renan so well calls la bassesse de l’homme int©ress© – to enable the steadily accelerated conversion of social power into State power that has gone on from the beginning of our political independence. It is a curious anomaly. State power has an unbroken record of inability to do anything efficiently, economically, disinterestedly or honestly; yet when the slightest dissatisfaction arises over any exercise of social power, the aid of the agent least qualified to give aid is immediately called for. Does social power mismanage banking-practice in this-or-that special instance – then let the State, which never has shown itself able to keep its own finances from sinking promptly into the slough of misfeasance, wastefulness and corruption, intervene to “supervise” or “regulate” the whole body of banking-practice, or even take it over entire. Does social power, in this-or-that case, bungle the business of railway-management – then let the State, which has bungled every business it has ever undertaken, intervene and put its hand to the business of “regulating” railway-operation. Does social power now and then send out an unseaworthy ship to disaster – then let the State, which inspected and passed the Morro Castle, be given a freer swing at controlling the routine of the shipping trade. Does social power here and there exercise a grinding monopoly over the generation and distribution of electric current – then let the State, which allots and maintains monopoly, come in and intervene with a general scheme of price-fixing which works more unforeseen hardships than it heals, or else let it go into direct competition; or, as the collectivists urge, let it take over the monopoly bodily. “Ever since society has existed,” says Herbert Spencer, “disappointment has been preaching, ‘Put not your trust in legislation’; and yet the trust in legislation seems hardly diminished.”

But it may be asked where we are to go for relief from the misuses of social power, if not to the State. What other recourse have we? Admitting that under our existing mode of political organization we have none, it must still be pointed out that this question rests on the old inveterate misapprehension of the State’s nature, presuming that the State is a social institution, whereas it is an anti-social institution; that is to say, the question rests on an absurdity. (11) It is certainly true that the business of government, in maintaining “freedom and security,” and “to secure these rights,” is to make a recourse to justice costless, easy and informal; but the State, on the contrary, is primarily concerned with injustice, and its function is to maintain a regime of injustice; hence, as we see daily, its disposition is to put justice as far as possible out of reach, and to make the effort after justice as costly and difficult as it can. One may put it in a word that while government is by its nature concerned with the administration of justice, the State is by its nature concerned with the administration of law – law, which the State itself manufactures for the service of its own primary ends. Therefore an appeal to the State, based on the ground of justice, is futile in any circumstances, (12) for whatever action the State might take in response to it would be conditioned by the State’s own paramount interest, and would hence be bound to result, as we see such action invariably resulting, in as great injustice as that which it pretends to correct, or as a rule, greater. The question thus presumes, in short, that the State may on occasion be persuaded to act out of character; and this is levity.

But passing on from this special view of the question, and regarding it in a more general way, we see that what it actually amounts to is a plea for arbitrary interference with the order of nature, an arbitrary cutting-in to avert the penalty which nature lays on any and every form of error, whether wilful or ignorant, voluntary or involuntary; and no attempt at this has ever yet failed to cost more than it came to. Any contravention of natural law, any tampering with the natural order of things, must have its consequences, and the only recourse for escaping them is such as entails worse consequences. Nature recks nothing of intentions, good or bad; the one thing she will not tolerate is disorder, and she is very particular about getting her full pay for any attempt to create disorder. She gets it sometimes by very indirect methods, often by very roundabout and unforeseen ways, but she always gets it. “Things and actions are what they are, and the consequences of them will be what they will be; why, then, should we desire to be deceived?” It would seem that our civilization is greatly given to this infantile addiction – greatly given to persuading itself that it can find some means which nature will tolerate, whereby we may eat our cake and have it; and it strongly resents the stubborn fact that there is no such means. (13)

It will be clear to anyone who takes the trouble to think the matter through, that under a regime of natural order, that is to say under government, which makes no positive interventions whatever on the individual, but only negative interventions in behalf of simple justice – not law, but justice – misuses of social power would be effectively corrected; whereas we know by interminable experience that the State’s positive interventions do not correct them. Under a regime of actual individualism, actually free competition, actual laissez-faire – a regime which, as we have seen, can not possibly coexist with the State – a serious or continuous misuse of social power would be virtually impracticable. (14)

I shall not take up space with amplifying these statements because, in the first place, this has already been thoroughly done by Spencer, in his essays entitled The Man versus the State; and, in the second place, because I wish above all things to avoid the appearance of suggesting that a regime such as these statements contemplate is practicable, or that I am ever so covertly encouraging anyone to dwell on the thought of such a regime. Perhaps, some aeons hence, if the planet remains so long habitable, the benefits accruing to conquest and confiscation may be adjudged over-costly; the State may in consequence be superseded by government, the political means suppressed, and the fetiches which give nationalism and patriotism their present execrable character may be broken down. But the remoteness and uncertainty of this prospect makes any thought of it fatuous, and any concern with it futile. Some rough measure of its remoteness may perhaps be gained by estimating the growing strength of the forces at work against it. Ignorance and error, which the State’s prestige steadily deepens, are against it; la bassesse de l’homme int©ress©, steadily pushing its purposes to greater lengths of turpitude, is against it; moral enervation, steadily proceeding to the point of complete insensitiveness, is against it. What combination of influences more powerful than this can one imagine, and what can one imagine possible to be done in the face of such a combination?

To the sum of these, which may be called spiritual influences, may be added the overweening physical strength of the State, which is ready to be called into action at once against any affront to the State’s prestige. Few realize how enormously and how rapidly in recent years the State has everywhere built up its apparatus of armies and police forces. The State has thoroughly learned the lesson laid down by Septimius Severus, on his death-bed. “Stick together,” he said to his successors, “pay the soldiers, and don’t worry about anything else.” It is now known to every intelligent person that there can be no such thing as a revolution as long as this advice is followed; in fact, there has been no revolution in the modem world since 1848 – every so-called revolution has been merely a coup coup d’©tat. (15) All talk of the possibility of a revolution in America is in part perhaps ignorant, but mostly dishonest; it is merely “the interested clamours and sophistry” of persons who have some sort of ax to grind. Even Lenin acknowledged that a revolution is impossible anywhere until the military and police forces become disaffected; and the last place to look for that, probably, is here. We have all seen demonstrations of a disarmed populace, and local riots carried on with primitive weapons, and we have also seen how they ended, as in Homestead, Chicago, and the mining districts of West Virginia, for instance. Coxey’s Army marched on Washington – and it kept off the grass.

Taking the sum of the State’s physical strength, with the force of powerful spiritual influences behind it, one asks again, what can be done against the State’s progress in self-aggrandizement? Simply nothing. So far from encouraging any hopeful contemplation of the unattainable, the student of civilized man will offer no conclusion but that nothing can be done. He can regard the course of our civilization only as he would regard the course of a man in a rowboat on the lower reaches of the Niagara – as an instance of Nature’s unconquerable intolerance of disorder, and in the end, an example of the penalty which she puts upon any attempt at interference with order. Our civilization may at the outset have taken its chances with the current of Statism either ignorantly or deliberately; it makes no difference. Nature cares nothing whatever about motive or intention; she cares only for order, and looks to see only that her repugnance to disorder shall be vindicated, and that her concern with the regular orderly sequences of things and actions shall be upheld in the outcome. Emerson, in one of his great moments of inspiration, personified cause and effect as “the chancellors of God”; and invariable experience testifies that the attempt to nullify or divert or in any wise break in upon their sequences must have its own reward.

“Such,” says Professor Ortega y Gasset, “was the lamentable fate of ancient civilization.” A dozen empires have already finished the course that ours began three centuries ago. The lion and the lizard keep the vestiges that attest their passage upon earth, vestiges of cities which in their day were as proud and powerful as ours – Tadmor, Persepolis, Luxor, Baalbek – some of them indeed forgotten for thousands of years and brought to memory again only by the excavator, like those of the Mayas, and those buried in the sands of the Gobi. The sites which now bear Narbonne and Marseilles have borne the habitat of four successive civilizations, each of them, as St. James says, even as a vapour which appeareth for a little time and then vanisheth away. The course of all these civilizations was the same. Conquest, confiscation, the erection of the State; then the sequences which we have traced in the course of our own civilization; then the shock of some irruption which the social structure was too far weakened to resist, and from which it was left too disorganized to recover; and then the end.

Our pride resents the thought that the great highways of New England will one day lie deep under layers of encroaching vegetation, as the more substantial Roman roads of Old England have lain for generations; and that only a group of heavily overgrown hillocks will be left to attract the archaeologist’s eye to the hidden dƒ©bris of our collapsed skyscrapers. Yet it is to just this, we know, that our civilization will come; and we know it because we know that there never has been, never is, and never will be, any disorder in nature – because we know that things and actions are what they are, and the consequences of them will be what they will be.

But there is no need to dwell lugubriously upon the probable circumstances of a future so far distant. What we and our more nearly immediate descendants shall see is a steady progress in collectivism running off into a military despotism of a severe type. Closer centralization; a steadily growing bureaucracy; State power and faith in State power increasing, social power and faith in social power diminishing; the State absorbing a continually larger proportion of the national income; production languishing, the State in consequence taking over one “essential industry” after another, managing them with ever-increasing corruption, inefficiency and prodigality, and finally resorting to a system of forced labour. Then at some point in this progress, a collision of State interests, at least as general and as violent as that which occurred in 1914, will result in an industrial and financial dislocation too severe for the asthenic social structure to bear; and from this the State will be left to “the rusty death of machinery,” and the casual anonymous forces of dissolution will be supreme.

 

III

 

But it may quite properly be asked, if we in common with the rest of the Western world are so far gone in Statism as to make this outcome inevitable, what is the use of a book which merely shows that it is inevitable? By its own hypothesis the book is useless. Upon the very evidence it offers, no one’s political opinions are likely to be changed by it, no one’s practical attitude towards the State will be modified by it; and if they were, according to the book’s own premises, what good could it do?

Assuredly I do not expect this book to change anyone’s political opinions, for it is not meant to do that. One or two, perhaps, here and there, may be moved to look a little into the subject-matter on their own account, and thus perhaps their opinions would undergo some slight loosening – or some constriction – but this is the very most that would happen. In general, too, I would be the first to acknowledge that no results of the kind which we agree to call practical could accrue to the credit of a book of this order, were it a hundred times as cogent as this one – no results, that is, that would in the least retard the State’s progress in self-aggrandizement and thus modify the consequences of the State’s course. There are two reasons, however, one general and one special, why the publication of such a book is admissible.

The general reason is that when in any department of thought a person has, or thinks he has, a view of the plain intelligible order of things, it is proper that he should record that view publicly, with no thought whatever of the practical consequences, or lack of consequences, likely to ensue upon his so doing. He might indeed be thought bound to do this as a matter of abstract duty; not to crusade or propagandize for his view or seek to impose it upon anyone – far from that! – not to concern himself at all with either its acceptance or its disallowance; but merely to record it. This I say, might be thought his duty to the natural truth of things, but it is at all events his right; it is admissible.

The special reason has to do with the fact that in every civilization, however generally prosaic, however addicted to the short-time point of view on human affairs, there are always certain alien spirits who, while outwardly conforming to the requirements of the civilization around them, still keep a disinterested regard for the plain intelligible law of things, irrespective of any practical end. They have an intellectual curiosity, sometimes touched with emotion, concerning the august order of nature; they are impressed by the contemplation of it, and like to know as much about it as they can, even in circumstances where its operation is ever so manifestly unfavourable to their best hopes and wishes. For these, a work like this, however in the current sense impractical, is not quite useless; and those of them it reaches will be aware that for such as themselves, and such only, it was written.

 

THE END
Footnotes to Chapter 6
1 Not long ago Professor Laski commented on the prevalence of this enervation among our young people, especially among our student-population. It has several contributing causes, but it is mainly to be accounted for, I think, by the unvarying uniformity of our experience. The State’s pretensions have been so invariably extravagant, the disparity between them and its conduct so invariably manifest, that one could hardly expect anything else. Probably the protest against our imperialism in the Pacific and the Caribbean, after the Spanish War, marked the last major effort of an impotent and moribund decency. Mr. Laski’s comparisons with student-bodies in England and Europe lose some of their force when it is remembered that the devices of a fixed term and an irresponsible executive render the American State peculiarly insensitive to protest and inaccessible to effective censure. As Mr. Jefferson said, the one resource of impeachment is “not even a scarecrow.” (Back to text)

2 As an example of this overbuilding, at the beginning of the sixteenth century one-fifth of the land of France was owned by the Church; it was held mainly by monastic establishments.(Back to text)

 

3 It may be observed, however, that mere use-and-wont interferes with our seeing how egregiously the original structure of the American State, with its system of superimposed jurisdictions and reduplicated functions, was overbuilt. At the present time, a citizen lives under half-a-dozen or more separate overlapping jurisdictions, federal, state, county, township, municipal, borough, school-district, ward, federal district. Nearly all of these have power to tax him directly or indirectly, or both, and as we all know, the only limit to the exercise of this power is what can be safely got by it; and thus we arrive at the principle rather naƒ¯vely formulated by the late senator from Utah, and sometimes spoken of ironically as “Smoot’s law of government” – the principle, as he put it, that the cost of government tends to increase from year to year, no matter which party is in power. It would be interesting to know the exact distribution of the burden of jobholders and mendicant political retainers – for it must not be forgotten that the subsidized “unemployed” are now a permanent body of patronage – among income-receiving citizens. Counting indirect taxes and voluntary contributions as well as direct taxes, it would probably be not far off the mark to say that every two citizens are carrying a third between them. (Back to text)

 

4 For example, the basic processes of exchange are necessary, non-political, and as simple as any in the world. The humblest Yankee rustic who swaps eggs for bacon in the country store, or a day’s labour for potatoes in a neighbour’s field, understands them thoroughly, and manages them competently. Their formula is: goods or services in return for goods or services. There is not, never has been, and never will be, a single transaction anywhere in the realm of “business” – no matter what its magnitude or apparent complexity – that is not directly reducible to this formula. For convenience in facilitating exchange, however, money was introduced; and money is a complication, and so are the other evidences of debt, such as cheques, drafts, notes, bills, bonds, stock-certificates, which were introduced for the same reason. These complications were found to be exploitable; and the consequent number and range of State interventions to “regulate” and “supervise” their exploitation appear to be without end. (Back to text)

 

5 It is one of the most extraordinary things in the world, that the interests which abhor and dread collectivism are the ones which have most eagerly urged on the State to take each one of the successive single steps that lead directly to collectivism. Who urged it on to form the Federal Trade Commission; to expand the Department of Commerce; to form the Interstate Commerce Commission and the Federal Farm Board; to pass the Anti-trust Acts; to build highways, dig out waterways, provide airway services, subsidize shipping? If these steps do not tend straight to collectivism, just which way do they tend? Furthermore, when the interests which encouraged the State to take them are horrified by the apparition of communism and the Red menace, just what are their protestations worth?(Back to text)

 

6 The text of the Senate’s proposed banking law, published on the first of July, 1935, almost exactly filled four pages of the Wall Street Journal! Really now – now really – can any conceivable absurdity surpass that? (Back to text)

 

7 As here in 1932, in Italy, Germany and Russia latterly, in France after the collapse of the Directory, in Rome after the death of Pertinax, and so on. (Back to text)

 

8 Ignorance has no assignable limits; yet when one hears our railway-companies cited as specimens of rugged individualism, one is put to it to say whether the speaker’s sanity should be questioned, or his integrity. Our transcontinental companies, in particular, are hardly to be called railway-companies, since transportation was purely incidental to their true business, which was that of land-jobbing and subsidy-hunting. I remember seeing the statement a few years ago – I do not vouch for it, but it can not be far off the fact – that at the time of writing, the current cash value of the political means allotted to the Northern Pacific Company would enable it to build four transcontinental lines, and in addition, to build a fleet of ships and maintain it in around-the-world service. If this sort of thing represents rugged individualism, let future lexicographers make the most of it. (Back to text)

 

9 A farmer, properly speaking, is a freeholder who directs his operations, first, towards making his family, as far as possible, an independent unit, economically self-contained. What he produces over and above this requirement he converts into a cash crop. There is a second type of agriculturist, who is not a farmer, but a manufacturer, as much so as one who makes woolen or cotton textiles or leather shoes. He raises one crop only – milk, corn, wheat, cotton, or whatever it may be – which is wholly a cash crop; and if the market for his particular commodity goes down below cost of production, he is in the same bad luck as the motor-car maker or shoemaker or pantsmaker who turns out more of his special kind of goods than the market will bear. His family is not independent; he buys everything his household uses; his children can not live on cotton or milk or corn, any more than the shoe-manufacturer’s children can live on shoes. There is still to be distinguished a third type, who carries on agriculture as a sort of taxpaying subsidiary to speculation in agricultural land-values. It is the last two classes who chiefly clamour for intervention, and they are often, indeed, in a bad way; but it is not farming that puts them there. (Back to text)

 

10 The very limit of particularity in this course of coercive intervention seems to have been reached, according to press-reports, in the state of Wisconsin. On 31 May, the report is, Governor La Follette signed a bill requiring all public eating-places to serve two-thirds of an ounce of Wisconsin-made cheese and two-thirds of an ounce of Wisconsin-made butter with every meal costing more than twenty-four cents. To match this for particularity one would pretty well have to go back to some of the British Trade Acts of the eighteenth century, and it would be hard to find an exact match, even there. If this passes muster under the “due process of law” clause – whether the eating-house pays for these supplies or passes their cost along to the consumer – one can see nothing to prevent the legislature of New York, say, from requiring each citizen to buy annually two hats made by Knox, and two suits made by Finchley. (Back to text)

 

11 Admitting that the lamb in the fable had no other recourse than the wolf, one may none the less see that its appeal to the wolf was a waste of breath. (Back to text)

 

12 This is now so well understood that no one goes to a court for justice; he goes for gain or revenge. It is interesting to observe that some philosophers of law now say that law has no relation to justice, and is not meant to have any such relation. In their view, law represents only a progressive registration of the ways in which experience leads us to believe that society can best get along. One might hesitate a long time about accepting their notion of what law is, but one must appreciate their candid affirmation of what it is not. (Back to text)

 

l3 This resentment is very remarkable. In spite of our failure with one conspicuously ambitious experiment in State intervention, I dare say there would still be great resentment against Professor Sumner’s ill-famed remark that when people talked tearfully about “the poor drunkard lying in the gutter,” it seemed never to occur to them that the gutter might be quite the right place for him to lie; or against the bishop of Peterborough’s declaration that he would rather see England free than sober. Yet both these remarks merely recognize the great truth which experience forces on our notice every day, that attempts to interfere with the natural order of things are bound, in one way or another, to turn out for the worse. (Back to text)

 

14 The horrors of England’s industrial life in the last century furnish a standing brief for addicts of positive intervention. Child-labour and woman-labour in the mills and mines; Coketown and Mr. Bounderby; starvation wages; killing hours; vile and hazardous conditions of labour; coffin ships officered by ruffians – all these are glibly charged off by reformers and publicists to a regime of rugged individualism, unrestrained competition, and laissez-faire. This is an absurdity on its face, for no such regime ever existed in England. They were due to the State’s primary intervention whereby the population of England was expropriated from the land; due to the State’s removal of the land from competition with industry for labour. Nor did the factory system and the “industrial revolution” have the least thing to do with creating those hordes of miserable beings. When the factory system came in, those hordes were already there, expropriated, and they went into the mills for whatever Mr. Gradgrind and Mr. Plugson of Undershot would give them, because they had no choice but to beg, steal or starve. Their misery and degradation did not lie at the door of individualism; they lay nowhere but at the door of the State. Adam Smith’s economics are not the economics of individualism; they are the economics of landowners and mill-owners. Our zealots of positive intervention would do well to read the history of the Enclosures Acts and the work of the Hammonds, and see what they can make of them. (Back to text)

 

15 When Sir Robert Peel proposed to organize the police force of London, Englishmen said openly that half a dozen throats cut in Whitechapel every year would be a cheap price to pay for keeping such an instrument of potential tyranny out of the State’s hands. We are all beginning to realize now that there is a great deal to be said for that view of the matter. (Back to text)

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Everyday Anarchy by Stefan Molyneux

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Introduction

It’s hard to know whether a word can ever be rehabilitated – or whether the attempt should even be made.

Words are weapons, and can be used like any tools, for good or ill. We are all aware of the clichéd uses of such terms as “terrorists” versus “freedom fighters” etc. An atheist can be called an “unbeliever”; a theist can be called “superstitious.” A man of conviction can be called an “extremist”; a man of moderation “cowardly.” A free spirit can be called a libertine or a hedonist; a cautious introvert can be labeled a stodgy prude.

Words are also weapons of judgment – primarily moral judgment. We can say that a man can be “freed” of sin if he accepts Jesus; we can also say that he can be “freed” of irrationality if he does not. A patriot will say that a soldier “serves” his country; others may take him to task for his blind obedience. Acts considered “murderous” in peacetime are hailed as “noble” in war, and so on.

Some words can never be rehabilitated – and neither should they be. Nazi, evil, incest, abuse, rape, murder – these are all words which describe the blackest impulses of the human soul, and can never be turned to a good end. Edmund may say in King Lear, “Evil, be thou my good!” but we know that he is not speaking paradoxically; he is merely saying “that which others call evil – my self-interest – is good for me.”

The word “anarchy” may be almost beyond redemption – any attempt to find goodness in it could well be utterly futile – or worse; the philosophical equivalent of the clichéd scene in hospital dramas where the surgeon blindly refuses to give up on a clearly dead patient.

Perhaps I’m engaged in just such a fool’s quest in this little book. Perhaps the word “anarchy” has been so abused throughout its long history, so thrown into the pit of incontestable human iniquity that it can never be untangled from the evils that supposedly surround it.

What images spring to mind when you hear the word “anarchy”? Surely it evokes mad riots of violence and lawlessness – a post-apocalyptic Darwinian free-for-all where the strong and evil dominate the meek and reasonable. Or perhaps you view it as a mad political agenda, a thin ideological cover for murderous desires and cravings for assassinations, where wild-eyed, mustachioed men with thick hair and thicker accents roll cartoon bombs under the ornate carriages of slowly-waving monarchs. Or perhaps you view “anarchy” as more of a philosophical specter; the haunted and angry mutterings of over-caffeinated and seemingly-eternal grad students; a nihilistic surrender to all that is seductive and evil in human nature, a hurling off the cliff of self-restraint, and a savage plunge into the mad magic of the moment, without rules, without plans, without a future…

If your teenage son were to come home to you one sunny afternoon and tell you that he had become an anarchist, you would likely feel a strong urge to check his bag for black hair dye, fresh nose rings, clumpy mascara and dirty needles. His announcement would very likely cause a certain trapdoor to open under your heart, where you may fear that it might fall forever. The heavy syllables of words like “intervention,” “medication,” “boot camp,” and “intensive therapy” would probably accompany the thudding of your quickened pulse.

All this may well be true, of course – I may be thumping the chest of a broken patient long since destined for the morgue, but certain… insights, you could say, or perhaps correlations, continue to trouble me immensely, and I cannot shake the fear that it is not anarchy that lies on the table, clinging to life – but rather, the truth.

I will take a paragraph or two to try and communicate what troubles me so much about the possible injustice of throwing the word “anarchy” into the pit of evil – if I have not convinced you by the end of the next page that something very unjust may be afoot, then I will have to continue my task of resurrection with others, because I do not for a moment imagine that I would ever convince you to call something good that is in fact evil.

And neither would I want to.

Now the actual meaning of the word “anarchy” is (from the OED):

  1. Absence of government; a state of lawlessness due to the absence or inefficiency of the supreme power; political disorder.
  2. A theoretical social state in which there is no governing person or body of persons, but each individual has absolute liberty
    (without implication of disorder).

Thus we can see that the word “anarchy” represents two central meanings: an absence of both government and social order, and an absence of government with no implication of social disorder.

Without a government…

What does that mean in practice?

Well, clearly there are two kinds of leaders in this world – those who lead by incentive, and those who lead by force. Those who lead by incentive will offer you a salary to come and work for them; those who lead by force will throw you in jail if you do not pick up a gun and fight for them.

Those who lead by incentive will try to get you to voluntarily send your children to their schools by keeping their prices reasonable, their classes stimulating, and demonstrating proven and objective success.

Those who lead by force will simply tell you that if you do not pay the property taxes to fund their schools, you will be thrown in jail.

Clearly, this is the difference between voluntarism and violence.

The word “anarchy” does not mean “no rules.” It does not mean “kill others for fun.” It does not mean “no organization.”

It simply means: “without a political leader.”

The difference, of course, between politics and every other area of life is that in politics, if you do not obey the government, you are thrown in jail. If you try to defend yourself against the people who come to throw you in jail, they will shoot you.

So – what does the word “anarchy” really mean?

It simply means a way of interacting with others without threatening them with violence if they do not obey.

It simply means “without political violence.”

The difference between this word and words like “murder” and “rape” is that we do not mix murder and rape with the exact opposite actions in our life, and consider the results normal, moral and healthy. We do not strangle a man in the morning, then help a woman across the street in the afternoon, and call ourselves “good.”

The true evils that we all accept – rape, assault, murder, theft – are never considered a core and necessary part of the life of a good person. An accused murderer does not get to walk free by pointing out that he spent all but five seconds of his life not killing someone.

With those acknowledged evils, one single transgression changes the moral character of an entire life. You would never be able to think of a friend who is convicted of rape in the same way again.

However – this is not the case with “anarchy” – it does not fit into that category of “evil” at all.

When we think of a society without political violence – without governments – these specters of chaos and brutality always arise for us, immediately and, it would seem, irrevocably.

However, it only takes a moment of thought to realize that we live the vast majority of our actual lives in complete and total anarchy – and call such anarchy “morally good.”

Everyday Anarchy

For instance, take dating, marriage and family.

In any reasonably free society, these activities do not fall in the realm of political coercion. No government agency chooses who you are to marry and have children with, and punishes you with jail for disobeying their rulings. Voluntarism, incentive, mutual advantage – dare we say “advertising”? – all run the free market of love, sex and marriage.

What about your career? Did a government official call you up at the end of high school and inform you that you were to become a doctor, a lawyer, a factory worker, a waiter, an actor, a programmer – or a philosopher? Of course not. You were left free to choose the career that best matched your interests, abilities and initiative.

What about your major financial decisions? Each month, does a government agent come to your house and tell you exactly how much you should save, how much you should spend, whether you can afford that new couch or old painting? Did you have to apply to the government to buy a new car, a new house, a plasma television or a toothbrush?

No, in all the areas mentioned above – love, marriage, family, career, finances – we all make our major decisions in the complete absence of direct political coercion.

Thus – if anarchy is such an all-consuming, universal evil, why is it the default – and virtuous – freedom that we demand in order to achieve just liberty in our daily lives?

If the government told you tomorrow that it was going to choose for you where to live, how to earn your keep, and who to marry – would you fall to your knees and thank the heavens that you have been saved from such terrible anarchy – the anarchy of making your own decisions in the absence of direct political coercion?

Of course not – quite the opposite – you would be horrified, and would oppose such an encroaching dictatorship with all your might.

This is what I mean when I say that we consider anarchy to be an irreducible evil – and also an irreducible good. It is both feared and despised – and considered necessary and virtuous.

If you were told that tomorrow you would wake up and there would be no government, you would doubtless fear the specter of “anarchy.”

If you were told tomorrow that you would have to apply for a government permit to have children, you would doubtless fear the specter of “dictatorship,” and long for the days of “anarchy,” when you could decide such things without the intervention of political coercion.

Thus we can see that we human beings are deeply, almost ferociously ambivalent about “anarchy.” We desperately desire it in our personal lives, and just as desperately fear it politically.

Another way of putting this is that we love the anarchy we live, and yet fear the anarchy we imagine.

One more point, and then you can decide whether my patient is beyond hope or not.

It has been pointed out that a totalitarian dictatorship is characterized by the almost complete absence of rules. When Solzhenitsyn was arrested, he had no idea what he was really being charged with, and when he was given his 10-year sentence, there was no court of appeal, or any legal proceedings whatsoever. He had displeased someone in power, and so it was off to the gulags with him!

When we examine countries where government power is at its greatest, we see situations of extreme instability, and a marked absence of objective rules or standards. The tinpot dictatorships of third world countries are regions arbitrarily and violently ruled by gangs of sociopathic thugs.

Closer to home, for most of us, is the example of inner-city government-run schools, ringed by metal detectors, and saturated with brutality, violence, sexual harassment, and bullying. The surrounding neighborhoods are also under the tight control of the state, which runs welfare programs, public housing, the roads, the police, the buses, the hospitals, the sewers, the water, the electricity and just about everything else in sight. These sorts of neighborhoods have moved beyond democratic socialism, and actually lie closer to dictatorial communism.

Similarly, when we think of these inner cities as a whole, we can also understand that the majority of the endemic violence results from the drug trade, which directly resulted from government bans on the manufacture and sale of certain kinds of drugs. Treating drug addiction rather than arresting addicts would, it is estimated, reduce criminal activity by up to 80%.

Here, again, where there is a concentration of political power, we see violence, mayhem, shootings, stabbings, rapes and all the attendant despair and nihilism – everything that “anarchism” is endlessly accused of!

What about prisons, where political power is surely at its greatest? Prisons seethe with rapes, murders, stabbings and assaults – not to mention drug addiction. Sadistic guards beat on sadistic prisoners, to the point where the only difference at times seems to be the costumes. Here we have a “society” that seems like a parody of “anarchy” – a nihilistic and ugly universe usually described by the word “anarchy” which actually results from a maximization of political power, or the exact opposite of “anarchy.”

Now, we certainly could argue that yes, it may be true that an excess of political power breeds anarchy – but that a deficiency of political power breeds anarchy as well! Perhaps “order” is a sort of Aristotelian mean, which lies somewhere between the chaos of a complete absence of political coercion, and the chaos of an excess of political coercion.

However, we utterly reject that approach in the other areas mentioned above – love, marriage, finances, career etc. We understand that any intrusion of political coercion into these realms would be a complete disaster for our freedoms. We do not say, with regards to marriage, “Well, we wouldn’t want the government choosing everyone’s spouse – but neither do we want the government having no involvement in choosing people spouses! The correct amount of government coercion lies somewhere in the middle.”

No, we specifically and unequivocally reject the intrusion of political coercion into such personal aspects of our lives.

Thus once more we must at least recognize the basic paradox that we desperately need and desire the reality of anarchy in our personal lives – and yet desperately hate and fear the idea of anarchy in our political environment.

We love the anarchy we live. We fear the anarchy we imagine – the anarchy we are taught to fear.

Until we can discuss the realities of our ambivalence towards this kind of voluntarism, we shall remain fundamentally stuck as a species – like any individual who wallpapers over his ambivalence, we shall spend our lives in distracted and oscillating avoidance, to the detriment of our own present, and our children’s future.

This is why I cannot just let this patient die. I still feel a heartbeat – and a strong one too!

Ambivalence and Bigotry

It is a truism – and I for one think a valid one – that the simple mind sees everything in black or white. Wisdom, on the other hand, involves being willing to suffer the doubts and complexities of ambivalence.

The dark-minded bigot says that all blacks are perfidious; the light-minded bigot says that all blacks are victims. The misogynist says that all women are corrupt; the feminist often says that all women are saints.

Exploring the complexities and contradictions of life with an open-minded fairness – neither with the imposition of premature judgment, nor the withholding of judgment once the evidence is in – is the mark of the scientist, the philosopher – of a rational mind.

The fundamentalists among us ascribe all mysteries to the “will of God” – which answers nothing at all, since when examined, the “will of God” turns out to be just another mystery; it is like saying that the location of my lost keys is “the place where my keys are not lost” – it adds nothing to the equation other than a teeth-gritting tautology. Mystery equals mystery. Anyone with more than half a brain can do little more than roll his eyes.

The immaturity of jumping to premature and useless conclusions is matched on the other hand only by the shallow and frightened fogs of modern – or perhaps I should say post-modern – relativism, where no conclusions are ever valid, no absolute statements are ever just – except that one of course – and everything is exploration, typically blindfolded, and without a compass. There is no destination, no guidepost, no sense of progress, no building to a greater goal – it is the endless dissection of cultural cadavers without even a definition of health or purpose, which thus comes perilously close to looking like fetishistic sadism.

The simple truth is that some black men are good, and some black men are bad, and most black men are a mixture, just as we all are. Some women are treacherous; some women are saints. “Blackness” or “gender” is an utterly useless metric when it comes to evaluating a person morally; it is about as helpful as trying to use an iPod to determine which way is north. The phrase “sexual penetration” does not tell us whether the act is consensual or not – saying that sexual penetration is always evil is as useless as saying that it is always good.

In the same way, some anarchism is good (notably that which we treasure so much in our personal lives) and some anarchism is bad (notably our fears of violent chaos, bomb-throwing and large mustaches). As a word, however, “anarchism” does nothing to help us evaluate these situations. Applying foolish black-and-white thinking to complex and ambiguous situations is just another species of bigotry

Claiming that “anarchism” is both rank political evil and the greatest treasure in our personal lives is a contradiction well worth examining, if we wish to gain some measure of mature wisdom about the essential questions of truth, virtue and the moral challenges of social organization.

Anarchy and History

Our clichéd vision of the typical anarchist tends to see him emerging shortly before World War I, which is very interesting when you think about it. The stereotypical anarchist is portrayed as a feverish failure, who uses his political ideology as a self-righteous cover for his lust for violence. He claims he wishes to free the world from tyranny, when in fact all he wants to do is to break bones and take lives.

We typically view this anarchist as a form of terrorist, which is generally defined as someone committed to the use of violence to achieve political ends, and place both in the same category as those who attempt a military coup against an existing government.

However, when you break it down logically, it seems almost impossible to provide a definition of terrorism which does not also include political leaders, or at least the political process itself.

The act of war is itself an attempt to achieve political ends through the use of violence – the annexation of property, the capturing of a new tax base, or the overthrow of a foreign government – and it always requires a government that is willing and able to increase the use of violence against its own citizens, through tax increases and/or the military draft. Even defending a country against invasion inevitably requires an escalation of the use of force against domestic citizens.

Thus how can we easily divide those outside the political process who use violence to achieve their goals from those within the political process who use violence to achieve their goals? It remains a daunting task, to say the least.

What is fascinating about the mythology of the “evil anarchists” – and mythology it is – is that even if we accept the stereotype, the disparity in body counts between the anarchists and their enemies remains staggeringly misrepresented, to say the least.

Anarchists in the period before the First World War killed perhaps a dozen or a score of people, almost all of them state heads or their representatives.

On the other hand, state heads or their representatives caused the deaths of over 10 million people through the First World War.

If we value human life – as any reasonable and moral person must – then fearing anarchists rather than political leaders is like fearing spontaneous combustion rather than heart disease. In the category of “causing deaths,” a single government leader outranks all anarchists tens of thousands of times.

Does this seem like a surprising perspective to you? Ah, well that is what happens when you look at the facts of the world rather than the stories of the victors.

Another example would be an objective examination of murder and violence in 19th-century America. The typical story about the “Wild West” is that it was a land populated by thieves, brigands and murderers, where only the “thin blue line” of the lone local sheriffs stood between the helpless townspeople and the endless predations of swarthy and unshaven villains.

If we look at the simple facts, though, and contrast the declining 19th century US murder rates with the 600,000 murders committed in the span of a few years by the government-run Civil War, we can see that the sheriffs were not particularly dedicated to protecting the helpless townspeople, but rather delivering their money, their lives and their children to the state through the brutal enforcement of taxation and military enslavement.

When we look at an institution such as slavery, we can see that it survived, fundamentally, on two central pillars – patronizing and fear-mongering mythologies, and the shifting of the costs of enforcement to others.

What justifications were put forward, for instance, for the enslavement of blacks? Well, the “white man’s burden,” or the need to “Christianize” and civilize these savage heathens – this was thecondescension – and also because if the slaves were turned free, plantations would be burned to the ground, pale-throated women would be savagely violated, and all the endless torments of violence and destruction would be wreaked upon society – this was the fear-mongering mythology!

Slavery as an institution could not conceivably survive economically if the slave owners had to pay for the actual expense of slavery themselves. Shifting the costs of the capture, imprisonment and return of slaves to the general taxpayer was the only way that slavery could remain profitable. The use of the political coercion required to make slavery profitable, of course, generates a great demand for mythological “cover-ups,” or ideological distractions from the violence at the core of the institution. Thus violence always requires intellectualization, which is why governments always want to fund higher education and subsidize intellectuals. We shall get to more of this later.

Even outside war, in the 20th century alone, more than 270 million people were murdered by their governments. Compared to the few dozen murders committed by anarchists, it is hard to see how the fantasy of the “evil anarchist” could possibly be sustained when we compare the tiny pile of anarchist bodies to the virtual Everest of the dead heaped by governments in one century alone.

Surely if we are concerned about violence, murder, theft and rape, we should focus on those who commit the most evils – political leaders – rather than those who oppose them, even misguidedly. If we accept that political leaders murder mankind by the hundreds of millions, then we may even be tempted to have a shred of sympathy for these “evil anarchists,” just as we would for a man who shoots down a rampaging mass murderer.

Anarchy and Ambivalence

The truth of the matter is that, as I stated above, it is clear that we have a love/hate relationship with anarchy. We yearn for it, and we fear it, in almost equal measure.

We love personal anarchy, and fear political anarchy. We desperately resist any encroachment or limitation upon our personal anarchy – and fear, mock and attack any suggestion that political anarchy could be of value.

But – how can it be possible that anarchy is both the greatest good and the greatest evil simultaneously? Surely that would make a mockery of reason, virtue and basic common sense.

Now we shall turn to a possible way of unraveling this contradiction.

Politics and Self-Interest

Truth is so often the first casualty of self-interest. In the realm of advertising, we can see this very clearly – the company that sells an anti-aging cream uses fear and insecurity to drive demand for its product. “Your beauty is measured by the elasticity of your skin, not the virtue of your soul,” they say, “and no one will find you attractive if you do not look young!”

This is a rather shallow exploitation of insecurity; clearly what is really being sold is a definition of “beauty” that does not require the challenging task of achieving and maintaining virtue. In the short run, it is far easier, after all, to rub overpriced cream on your face than it is to start down the path of genuine wisdom and integrity.

In this way, we can see that the self-interest of the advertiser and the consumer are both being served in the exchange, at the expense of the truth. We all know that we shall become old and ugly – and also that this fate need not rob us of love, but rather that we can receive and give more love in our dotage than we did in our youth, if we live with virtue, compassion and generosity.

However, there is far less money to be made in philosophy than there is in vanity – which is another way of saying that people will pay good money to avoid the demands of virtue – and so the mutual exploitation of shallow avoidance is a cornerstone of any modern economy.

In the same way, being told that “anarchism” is just bad, bad, bad helps us avoid the anxiety and ambivalence we in fact feel about that which we both fear and love at the same time. Our educational and political leaders “sell” us relief from ambivalence and uncomfortable exploration – inevitably, at the expense of truth – and so far, we have been relatively eager consumers.

Self-Interest and Exploitation

The CEOs of large companies receive enormous salaries for their services. Let us imagine a scenario wherein a small number of new companies grow despite having no senior managers – and appear to be making above-average profits to boot!

In this scenario, when business leadership is revealed as potentially counterproductive to profitability – or at least, unrelated to profitability – it is easy to see that the self-interest of business leaders is immediately and perhaps permanently threatened.

In addition, picture all the other groups and people whose interests would be harmed in such a scenario. Business schools would see their enrolment numbers drop precipitously; the lawyers, accountants and decorators who served these business leaders would see the demand for their services dropping; the private schools that catered to the families of the rich would be hard hit, at least for a time. Elite magazines, business shows, conventions, life coaches, haberdashers, tailors and all other sorts of other people would feel the sting of the transition, to put it mildly.

We can easily imagine that the first few companies to see increased profitability as a result of ditching their senior managers would be roundly condemned and mocked by the entrenched managers in similar companies. These companies would be accused of “cooking the books,” of exploiting a mere statistical anomaly or fluke, of having secret managers, of producing shoddy goods, of “stuffing the pipe” with premature sales, of actually running at a loss, and so on.

Their imminent demise would be gleefully predicted by most if not all self-interested onlookers. The CEOs of existing companies would avoid doing business with them, and would doubtless combine a patronizing “benevolence” (“Yes, you do see these trends emerge once every few years – they bubble up, falter, and die out, and investors end up poorer but wiser”) with fairly-open fear-mongering (“I’m not sure that it is a good career move to work at these sort of companies; I would consider it a rather black mark on the resume of any job-seeker…”) and so on.

Should these new companies continue to grow, doubtless the existing business executives would get in touch with their political friends, seeking for a political “solution” on behalf of the “consumers” they wished to “protect.”

Entrenched groups will always move to protect their own self-interest – this is not a bad thing, it is simply a fact of human nature. It is thus important to understand that what is called unproductive, negative, “extreme” or dangerous may indeed be so, but it is always worth looking at the motives of those who invest the time and energy to create and propagate such labels. Why are they so interested?

The Robber Barons

We can also find examples of this in the phenomenon of the “Robber Barons” in late 19th century America. The story goes that these amoral predatory monopolists were fleecing a helpless public, and so had to be restrained through the force of government anti-monopoly legislation.

If this story were really true, the first thing that we would expect is a 1-2 punch of evidence showing how prices were rising where these “monopolies” flourished – and also that it was these helpless and enraged consumers who thumped the ears of their legislators and demanded protection from the monopolists.

Of course, it would be purely absurd to imagine that this was the case, and it turns out to be a complete falsehood.

If an unjust price increase of 10%-20% was imposed upon ground beef, the net loss to the average consumer would be no more than a few pennies a week. It is incomprehensible to imagine any consumer – or group of consumers – combining their time and effort to pursue complex and lengthy legislation for the sake of opposing a tiny price increase. The cost/benefit ratio would be absurdly out of balance, since it would doubtless cost most of these consumers far more in time and money to pursue such action than they could conceivably save by reducing such an unjust price increase.

Are you pursuing legal action against Exxon for higher gas prices?

Of course not.

Thus to find the real culprits, we must first look at any group which can justify the pursuit of such complex and uncertain legislation; the purchasing of legislators, the writing of articles and other efforts spent to influence the media, the desperate pursuit of a highly risky venture – who could possibly justify such a mad investment?

The answer is obvious, and contains all the information we need to know to disprove the claims put forward.

The groups most harmed by these supposed-monopolists were, of course, their direct competitors. Thus we would expect that the primary – if not sole – sponsors of this legislation would not be the outraged consumers, but rather the companies competing with these “Robber Barons.”

Clearly, if these monopolists were unjustly increasing prices, this would be an endless invitation for these competitors – or even outside entrepreneurs – to undercut their prices.

Ah, but perhaps these Robber Barons were achieving their monopolies through preferential political favors such as forcibly keeping competitors from entering the market.

Well, we know for certain that this could not be the case. If these Robber Barons actually did own the legislature, then their competitors would be highly unlikely to take the step of attempting to influence the legislature, because they would know it was a fight they could not win. If these “monopolists” were gaining massive and unjust profits through political favors, then their competitors who were shut out of such a lucrative system would be completely unable to funnel as much money to the legislators. Furthermore, those making the laws would be exposed to blackmail for past deals if they “switched sides” so to speak.

Thus without examining a single historical fact, we can very easily determine what actually happened, which was that:

  1. The monopolists were not actually raising prices, but were lowering them, which we know because their competitors did not take
    the economic route of undercutting on price, but rather the political route of using the force of the state to cripple these “monopolists.”
  2. The monopolists were not gaining market share or unjust profits through political means, because the legislatures
    were still available for sale.
  3. The consumers were entirely happy with the existing arrangement, which we know because the competitors had
    nothing to offer that the consumers would prefer to the existing state of things.

This hypothesis is amply borne out by the accurate historical evidence. Where these “Robber Barons” dominated the market, the prices of the goods they produced went down, sometimes considerably – in the case of using refrigerated railcars to store meat, a price drop of 30% was achieved in the span of a few months.

Clearly, this did not harm the interests of the consumer – but it did harm the self-interest of those attempting to compete with these highly-efficient businesses. Sadly – though, with the temptation of the government ever-present, inevitably it seems – these competitors preferred to take the political route of attacking their successful rivals through the power of the state rather than attempting to innovate themselves in turn and compete more successfully in the free market.

What about the argument that the Robber Barons used violence to create their monopolies, by threatening or killing competing workers?

Well, even if we accept this argument as true, it serves the anarchistic argument far more than the statist position.

If you hired a security guard who continually fell asleep on the job, and permitted the facility he guarded to be robbed over and over again, year after year, what would your reaction be? Would you wake him up and promote him to the rank of global manager of a highly complex security company? Would his rank incompetence at a simple task make him your ideal candidate for an enormously complex job?

Of course not.

If a government is so amoral and incompetent that it permits the murder of innocent citizens by the Robber Barons, then clearly it cannot conceivably be competent and moral enough to protect citizens from the complex economic predations of the same Robber Barons. A group that cannot perform a simple function cannot conceivably perform a far more complex function.

Over a hundred years later, we can still see how effective this propaganda really is. The specters of these “Robber Barons” still inhabit the imaginary haunted houses of our history. The role of government in controlling exploitive monopolies remains unquestioned – and how many people know the basic facts of the situation, principally that it was not the consumers who opposed these companies, but their competitors?

When we look at political “solutions” to pressing “problems,” we see the same pattern over and over again. Government-run education was not instituted because parents were dissatisfied with private schools, or because children were not educated, or anything like that – but rather because the teachers wanted the job security, and cultural and religious busybodies wanted to get their hands on the tender minds of children. The “New Deal” in the 1930s was not instituted because the free market made people poor, but rather because government mismanagement of the money supply destroyed almost a quarter of the wealth of the United States.

Time and time again, we see that it is not freedom that leads to political control and an increase in state violence, but rather prior increases in political control and state violence.

The government does not expand its control because freedom does not work; freedom does not work because the government expands its control.

Thus we can see that freedom – or voluntarism, or anarchy – does not create problems that governments are required to “solve.” Rather, propagandists lie about what the government is up to (“protecting consumers” really means “using violence to protect the profits of inefficient businesses”) and the resulting expansions of political coercion and control breeds more problems, which are always ascribed to freedom.

Anarchy and Political Leaders

Clearly, there exists an entire class of people who gain immense profit, prestige and power from the existence of the government. It is equally true that, as a collective, these people have enormous control and influence over the minds of children, since it is that same government that educates virtually every child for six or more hours a day, five days a week, for almost a decade and a half of their formative years.

To analogize this situation, can we imagine that we would be at all surprised that children who came out of 14 years of religious indoctrination would in general believe in the existence and virtue of God? Would we be at all surprised if the strong arguments for atheism were left off a curriculum expressly designed by the priests, who directly profit from the maintenance of religious belief? In fact, we would fully expect such children to be actively trained in the rejection of arguments for atheism – inoculated against it, so to speak, so that they would react with scorn or hostility to such arguments.

We may as well hold our breath waiting for the next commercial from General Motors talking about the shortcomings of their own cars, and the virtues of their competitors’ vehicles. Or perhaps we should wait for a full-color spread from McDonald’s depicting detailed pictures of clogged arteries?

If so, we will wait in vain.

Similarly, when the government trains the children, how do we expect the government to portray itself? Would we expect government-paid teachers to talk openly about the root of state power, which is the initiation of the use of force against legally-disarmed citizens? Would we expect them to openly and honestly talk about the source of their income, which is the property taxes that are forcibly extracted from their students’ parents?

Would we expect these same teachers to talk about how government power grows through the endless pressure and greed of special interest groups, who wish to offload the costs of the violent enforcement of their greed on the taxpayers that they in fact prey upon?

Of course not.

This is not because these teachers are evil, but rather because people respond to incentives. If the basic truths of history, logic, ethics and reality are inconvenient to those in power – as they inevitably are – those paid by those in power will almost never talk about them. We would not expect a Stalinist-era teacher to speak of the glories of capitalism; we would not expect an Antebellum teacher to teach the children of slave-owners about the evils of slavery; we would not expect an instructor at West Point to talk about the evils and corruption of the military-industrial complex, any more than we would expect the Vatican to voluntarily initiate a discussion of child abuse by Catholic priests.

We can view these basic facts without bottomless rancor, but with a gentle, almost kindly sympathy towards the inevitable trickle-down and corrupting effects of violent power.

It is no doubt a dizzying perspective to begin to examine the dark, dank and foggy jungle of propaganda with the simple light of truth, but that is what an anarchist is really all about.

An anarchist accepts the simple and basic reality that every single human being fundamentally values free choice in his or her own personal life.

An anarchist accepts the simple and basic reality that he who pays the piper always calls the tune – and that arguments against the virtue and efficacy of political power will never be disseminated in an educational system paid for by political power.

An anarchist accepts the simple and basic reality that human beings at best have an ambivalent relationship with voluntarism – and that human beings habitually avoid the discomfort of ambivalence, and so don’t want to talk about anarchism any more then they want to bring up their doubts about religion during a Christian wedding ceremony.

The barriers to a reasonable understanding of the anarchistic perspective are emotionally volatile, socially isolating and almost endless. The reasonable anarchist accepts these basic facts – since facts are what anarchy is all about – and if he is truly wise, falls at least a little in love with the difficulties of his task.

We should love the difficulties we face, because if it were easy to free the world, the fact that the world is so far from being free would be completely incomprehensible…

Anarchy and the “Problem of the Commons”

Ask almost any professional economist what the role of government is, and he will generally reply that it is to regulate or solve the “problem of the commons,” and to make up for “market failures,” or the provision of public goods such as roads and water delivery that the free market cannot achieve on its own.

To anyone who works from historical evidence and even a basic smattering of first principles, this answer is, to be frank, outlandishly unfounded.

The “problem of the commons” is the idea that if farmers share common ground for grazing their sheep, that each farmer has a personal incentive for overgrazing, which will harm everyone in general. Thus the immediate self-interest of each individual leads to a collective stripping of the land.

It only takes a moment’s thought to realize that the government is the worst possible solution for this problem – if indeed it is a problem.

The problem of the commons recognizes that where collective ownership exists, individual exploitation will inevitably result, since there is no incentive for the long-term maintenance of the productivity of whatever is collectively owned. A farmer takes good care of his own fields, because he wants to profit from their utilization in the future. In fact, ownership tends to accrue to those individuals who can make the most productive future use of an asset, since they are the ones able to bid the most when it comes up for sale. If I can make $10,000 a year more out of a patch of land than you can, then I will be willing to bid more for it, and thus will end up owning it.

Thus where there is no stake in future profitability – as in the case of publicly-owned resources – those resources inevitably tend to be pillaged and destroyed.

This is the situation that highly intelligent, well-educated people – with perfectly straight faces – say should be solved through the creation of a government.

Why is this such a bizarre solution?

Well, a government – and particularly the public treasury – is the ultimate publicly-owned good. If publicly-owned goods are always pillaged and exploited, then how is the creation of the largest and most violent publicly-owned good supposed to solve that problem? It’s like saying that exposure to sunlight can be dangerous for a person’s health, and so the solution to that problem is to throw people into the sun.

The fact that people can repeat these absurdities with perfectly straight faces is testament to the power of propaganda and self-interest.

In the same way, we are told that free-market monopolies are dangerous and exploitive. Companies that wish to voluntarily do business with us, and must appeal to our self-interest, to mutual advantage, are considered grave threats to our personal freedoms.

And – the solution that is proposed by almost everyone to the “problem” of voluntary economic interaction?

Well, since voluntary and peaceful “monopolies” are so terribly evil, the solution that is always proposed is to create an involuntary, coercive, and violent monopoly in the form of a government.

Thus voluntary and peaceful “monopolies” are a great evil – but the involuntary and violent monopoly of the state is the greatest good!?

Can you see why I began this book talking about our complicated and ambivalent relationship to voluntarism, or anarchy?

We see this same pattern repeating itself in the realm of education. Whenever an anarchist talks about a stateless society, he is inevitably informed that in a free society, poor children will not get educated.

Where does this opinion come from? Does it come from a steadfast dedication to reason and evidence, an adherence to well-documented facts? Do those who hold this opinion have certain evidence that, prior to public education, the children of the poor were not being educated? Do they genuinely believe that the children of the poor are being well-educated now? Do they seriously believe that anarchists do not care about the education of the poor? Do they believe that they are the only people who care about the education of the poor?

Of course not. This is a mere knee-jerk propagandistic reaction, like hearing a Soviet-era Red Guard boy mumbling about the necessity of the workers controlling the means of production. It is not based upon evidence, but upon prejudice.

If the “problem of the commons” and the predations of monopolies are such dire threats, then surely institutionalizing these problems and surrounding them with the endless violence of police, military and prisons would be the exact opposite of a rational solution!

Of course, the problem of the commons is only a problem because the land is collectively owned; move it to private ownership, and all is well. Thus the solution to the problem of public ownership is clearly more private ownership, not more public ownership.

Ah, say the statists, but that is just a metaphor – what about fish in the ocean, pollution in the rivers, roads in the city and the defense of the realm?

Well the simple answer to that – from an anarchist perspective at least – is that if people are not intelligent and reasonable enough to negotiate solutions to these problems in a productive and sustainable manner, then surely they are also not intelligent or reasonable enough to vote for political leaders, or participate in any government whatsoever.

Of course, there are endless historical examples of private roads and railways, private fisheries, social and economic ostracism as an effective punishment for over-use or pollution of shared resources – the endless inventiveness of our species should surely by now never fail to amaze!

The statist looks at a problem and always sees a gun as the only solution – the force of the state, the brutality of law, violence and punishment. The anarchist – the endless entrepreneur of social organization – always looks at a problem and sees an opportunity for peaceful, innovative, charitable or profitable problem-solving.

The statist looks at a population and sees an irrational and selfish horde that needs to be endlessly herded around at gunpoint – and yet looks at those who run the government as selfless, benevolent and saintly. Yet these same statists always look at this irrational and dangerous population and say: “You must have the right to choose your political leaders!”

It is truly an unsustainable and irrational set of positions.

An anarchist – like any good economist or scientist – is more than happy to look at a problem and say, “I do not know the solution” – and be perfectly happy not imposing a solution through force.

Darwin looked at the question, “Where did life come from?” and only came up with his famous answer because he was willing to admit that he did not know – but that existing religious “answers” were invalid. Theologians, on the other hand, claim to “answer” the same question with: “God made life,” which as mentioned above, on closer examination, always turns out to be an exact synonym for: “I do not know.” To say, “God did it,” is to say that some unknowable being performed some incomprehensible action in a completely mysterious manner for some never-to-be-discovered end.

In other words: “I haven’t a clue.”

In the same way, when faced with challenges of social organization such as collective self-defense, roads, pollution and so on, the anarchist is perfectly content to say, “I do not know how this problem will be solved.” As a corollary, however, the anarchist is also perfectly certain that the pseudo-answer of “the government will do it” is a total non-answer – in fact, it is an anti-answer, in that it provides the illusion of an answer where one does not in fact exist. To an anarchist, saying “the government will solve the problem,” has as much credibility as telling a biologist – usually with grating condescension – “God created life.” In both cases, the problem of infinite regression is blindly ignored – if that which exists must have been created by a God, the God which exists must have been created by another God, and so on. In the same way, if human beings are in general too irrational and selfish to work out the challenges of social organization in a productive and positive manner, then they are far too irrational and selfish to be given the monopolistic violence of state power, or vote for their leaders.

Asking an anarchist how every conceivable existing public function could be re-created in a stateless society is directly analogous to asking an economist what the economy will look like down to the last detail 50 years from now. What will be invented? How will interplanetary contracts be enforced? Exactly how will time travel affect the price of a rental car? What megahertz will computers be running at? What will operating systems be able to do? And so on and so on.

This is all a kind of elaborate game designed to, fundamentally, stall and humiliate any economist who falls for it. A certain amount of theorizing is always fun, of course, but the truth is not determined by accurate long-term predictions of the unknowable. Asking Albert Einstein in 1910 where the atomic bomb will be dropped in the future is not a credible question – and the fact that he is unable to answer it in no way invalidates the theory of relativity.

In the same way, we can imagine that abolitionists would have been asked exactly how society would look 20 years after the slaves were freed. How many of them would have jobs? What would the average number of kids per family be? Who would be working the plantations?

Though these questions may sound absurd to many people, when you propose even the vague possibility of a society without a government, you are almost inevitably maneuvered into the position of fighting a many-headed hydra of exactly such questions: “How will the roads be provided in the absence of a government?” “How will the poor be educated?” “How will a stateless society defend itself?” “How can people without a government deal with violent criminals?”

In 25 years of talking about just these subjects, I have almost never – even after credibly answering every question that comes my way – had someone sit back, sigh and say, “Gee, I guess it really couldwork!”

No, inevitably, what happens is that they come up with some situation that I cannot answer immediately, or in a way that satisfies them, and then they sit back and say in triumph, “You see? Society justcannot work without a government!”

What is actually quite funny about this situation is that by taking this approach, people think that they are opposing the idea of anarchy, when in fact they are completely supporting it.

One simple and basic fact of life is that no individual – or group of individuals – can ever be wise or knowledgeable enough to run society.

Our core fantasy of “government” is that in some remote and sunlit chamber, with lacquered mahogany tables, deep leather chairs and sleepless men and women, there exists a group who are so wise, so benevolent, so omniscient and so incorruptible that we should turn over to them the education of our children, the preservation of our elderly, the salvation of the poor, the provision of vital services, the healing of the sick, the defense of the realm and of property, the administration of justice, the punishment of criminals, and the regulation of virtually every aspect of a massive, infinitely complex and ever-changing social and economic system. These living man-gods have such perfect knowledge and perfect wisdom that we should hand them weapons of mass destruction, and the endless power to tax, imprison and print money – and nothing but good, plenty and virtue will result.

And then, of course, we say that the huddled and bleating masses, who could never achieve such wisdom and virtue, not even in their wildest dreams, should all get together and vote to surrender half their income, their children, their elderly and the future itself to these man-gods.

Of course, we never do get to actually see and converse with these deities. When we do actually listen to politicians, all we hear are pious sentiments, endless evasions, pompous speeches and all of the emotionally manipulative tricks of a bed-ridden and abusive parent.

Are these the demi-gods whose only mission is the care, nurturing and education of our precious children’s minds?

Perhaps we can speak to the experts who advise them, the men behind the throne, the shadowy puppet-masters of pure wisdom and virtue? Can they come forward and reveal to us the magnificence of their knowledge? Why no, these men and women also will not speak to us, or if they do, they turn out to be even more disappointing than their political masters, who at least can make stirring if empty phrases ring out across a crowded hall.

And so, if we like, we can wander these halls of Justice, Truth and Virtue forever, opening doors and asking questions, without ever once meeting this plenary council of moral superheroes. We can shuffle in ever-growing disappointment through the messy offices of these mere mortals, and recognize in them a dusty mirror of ourselves – no more, certainly, and often far less.

Anarchy is the simple recognition that no man, woman, or group thereof is ever wise enough to come up with the best possible way to run other people’s lives. Just as no one else should be able to enforce on you his choice of a marriage partner, or compel you to follow a career of his choosing, no one else should be able to enforce his preferences for social organization upon you.

Thus when the anarchist is expected to answer every possible question regarding how society will be organized in the absence of a government, any failure to perfectly answer even one of them completely validates the anarchist’s position.

If we recognize that no individual has the capacity to run society (“dictatorship”), and we recognize that no group of elites has the capacity to run society (“aristocracy”), we are then forced to defend the moral and practical absurdity of “democracy.”

Anarchy and Democracy

It may be considered a mad enough exercise to attempt to rescue the word “anarchy” – however, to smear the word “democracy” seems almost beyond folly. Fewer words have received more reverence in the modern Western world. Democracy is in its essence the idea that we all run society. We choose individuals to represent our wishes, and the majority then gets to impose its wishes upon everyone else, subject ideally to the limitations of certain basic inalienable rights.

The irrational aspect of this is very hard to see, because of the endless amount of propaganda that supports democracy (though only in democracies, which is telling), but it is impossible to ignore once it becomes evident.

Democracy is based on the idea that the majority possesses sufficient wisdom to both know how society should be run, and to stay within the bounds of basic moral rules. The voters are considered to be generally able to judge the economic, foreign policy, educational, charitable, monetary, health care, military et al policies proposed by politicians. These voters then wisely choose between this buffet of various policy proposals, and the majority chooses wisely enough that whatever is then enacted is in fact a wise policy – and their chosen leader then actually enacts what he or she promised in advance, and the leader’s buffet of proposals is entirely wise, and no part of it requires moral compromise. Also, the majority is virtuous enough to respect the rights of the minority, even though they dominate them politically. Few of us would support the idea of a democracy where the majority could vote to put the minority to death, say, or steal all their property.

In addition, for even the idea of a democracy to work, the minority must be considered wise and virtuous enough to accept the decisions of the majority.

In short, democracy is predicated on the premises that:

A.    The majority of voters are wise and virtuous enough to judge an incredibly wide variety of complex proposals by politicians.

B.    The majority of voters are wise and virtuous enough to refrain from the desire to impose their will arbitrarily upon the minority,
but instead will respect certain universal moral ideals.

C.       The minority of voters who are overruled by the majority are wise and virtuous enough to accept being overruled,
and will patiently await the next election in order to try to have their say once more, and will abide by the universal moral ideals of the society.

This, of course, is a complete contradiction. If society is so stuffed to the gills with wise, brilliant, virtuous and patient souls, who all respect universal moral ideals and are willing to put aside their own particular preferences for the sake of the common good, what on earth do we need a government for?

Whenever this question is raised, the shining image of the “noble citizenry” mysteriously vanishes, and all sorts of specters are raised in their place. “Well, without a government, everyone would be at each other’s throats, there would be no roads, the poor would be uneducated, the old and sick would die in the streets etc. etc. etc.”

This is a blatant and massive contradiction, and it is highly informative that it is nowhere part of anyone’s discourse in the modern world.

Democracy is valid because just about everyone is wise and moral, we are told. When we accept this, and question the need for a government, the story suddenly reverses, and we are told that we need a government because just about everyone is amoral and selfish.

Do you see how we have an ambivalent relationship not just with anarchism, but with democracy itself?

In the same way, whenever an anarchist talks about a stateless society, he is immediately expected to produce evidence that every single poor person in the future will be well taken care of by voluntary charity.

Again, this involves a rank contradiction, which involves democracy.

The welfare state, old-age pensions, and “free” education for the poor are all considered in a democracy to be valid reflections of the virtuous will of the people – these government programs were offered up by politicians, and voluntarily accepted by the majority who voted for them, and also voluntarily accepted by the minority who have agreed to obey the will of the majority!

In other words, the majority of society is perfectly willing to give up an enormous chunk of its income in order to help the sick, the old and the poor – and we know this because those programs were voted for and created by democratic governments!

Ah, says the anarchist, then we already know that the majority of people will be perfectly willing to help the sick, the old and the poor in a stateless society – democracy provides empirical and incontrovertible evidence of this simple fact!

Again, when this basic argument is put forward, the myth of the noble citizenry evaporates once more!

“Oh no, without the government forcing people to be charitable, no one would lift a finger to help the poor, people are so selfish, they don’t care etc. etc. etc.”

This paradox cannot be unraveled this side of insanity. If a democratic government must force a selfish and unwilling populace to help the poor, then government programs do not reflect the will of the people, and democracy is a lie, and we must get rid of it – or at least stop pretending to vote.

If democracy is not a lie, then existing government programs accurately represent the will of the majority, and thus the poor, the sick and the old will have nothing to fear from a stateless society – and will, for many reasons, be far better taken care of by private charity than government programs.

Now it is certainly easy to just shrug off the contradictions above and it say that somewhere, somehow, there just must be a good answer to these objections.

Although this can be a pleasant thing to do in the short run, it is not something I have ever had much luck doing in the long term. These contradictions come back and nag at me – and I am actually very glad that they have done so, since I think that the progress of human thought utterly depends upon us taking nothing for granted.

The first virtue is always honesty, and we should be honest enough to admit when we do not have reasonable answers to these reasonable objections. This does not mean that we must immediately come up with new “answers,” but rather just sit with the questions for a while, ponder them, look for weaknesses or contradictions in our objections – and only when we are satisfied that the objections are valid should we begin looking for rational and empirical answers to even some of the oldest and most commonly-accepted “solutions.”

This process of ceasing to believe in non-answers is fundamental to science, to philosophy – and is the first step towards anarchism, or the acceptance that violence is never a valid solution to non-violent problems.

Anarchy and Violence

One of the truly tragic misunderstandings about anarchism is the degree to which anarchism is associated with violence.

Violence, as commonly defined, is the initiation of the use of force. (The word “initiation” is required to differentiate the category of self-defense.)

Since the word “ambivalent” seems to be the theme for this book, it is important to understand that those who advocate or support the existence of a government have themselves a highly ambivalent relationship to violence.

To understand what I mean by this, it is first essential to recognize that taxation – the foundation of any statist system – falls entirely under the category of “the initiation of the use of force.”

Governments claim the right to tax citizens – which is, when you look at it empirically, one group of individuals claiming the moral right to initiate the use of force against other individuals.

Now, you may believe for all the reasons in the world that this is justified, moral, essential, practical and so on – but all this really means is that you have an ambivalent relationship to the use of force. On the one hand, you doubtless condemn as vile the initiation of the use of force in terms of common theft, assault, murder, rape and so on.

Indeed, it is the addition of violence that makes specific acts evil rather than neutral, or good. Sex plus violence equals rape. Property transfer plus violence equals theft. Remove violence from property transfer, and you have trade, or charity, or borrowing, or inheritance.

However, when it comes to the use of violence to transfer property from “citizens” to “government,” these moral rules are not just neutralized, but actively reversed.

We view it as a moral good to resist a crime if possible – not an absolute necessity, but certainly a forgivable if not laudable action. However, to resist the forcible extraction of your property by the government is considered ignoble, and wrong.

Please note that I am not attempting to convince you of the anarchist position in this (or any other) section of this book. I consider it far too immense a task to change your mind about this in such a short work – and besides, if you are troubled by logical contradictions, I might rob you of the considerable intellectual thrill and excitement of exploring these ideas for yourself.

Thus in a democracy, we have a highly ambivalent relationship to violence itself. We both fear and hate violence when it is enacted by private citizens in pursuit of personal – and generally considered negative – goals. However, we praise violence when it is enacted by public citizens in pursuit of collective – and generally considered positive – goals.

For instance, if a poor man robs a richer man at gunpoint, we may feel a certain sympathy for the desperation of the act, but still we will pursue legal sanctions against the mugger. We recognize that relative poverty is no excuse for robbery, both due to the intrinsic immorality of theft, and also because if we allow the poor to rob the less poor, we generally feel that social breakdown would be the inevitable result. The work ethic of the poor would be diminished – as would that of the less poor, and society would in general dissolve into warring factions, to the economic and social detriment of all.

However, when we institutionalize this very same principle in the form of the welfare state, it is considered to be a noble and virtuous good to use force to take money from the more wealthy, and hand it over to the less wealthy.

Again, this book is not designed to be any sort of airtight argument against the welfare state – rather, it is designed to highlight the enormous moral contradictions in – and our fundamental ambivalence towards – the use of violence to achieve preferred ends.

Anarchy and War

I may have been doomed to this particular perspective from a very early age. I grew up in England in the 1970s, when the shadow cast by the Second World War still fell long across the mental landscape. I read war comics, saw war movies, heard details of epic battles, and sat silent during rather uncomfortable family gatherings where the British on my father’s side attempted to make small talk with the Germans on my mother’s.

I could not help but think, even when I was six or seven years old, that should my paternal uncle leap across the table and strangle my maternal uncle, this would be viewed as an immoral horror by everyone involved, and he would doubtless go to jail, probably for the rest of his life.

On the other hand, should they be placed in costume, and arrayed across a battlefield according to the whims of other men in costume, such a murder would be hailed as a noble sacrifice, and medals may be passed out, and pensions provided, and tickertape parades possibly ensue.

Thus, even in those long-ago days of soft white tablecloths and gently clinking cutlery, I mentally chewed on the problem that murder equals evil, and also that murder equals good. Murder equals jail, and murder equals medals.

When I was a little older, after “The Godfather” came out, endless slews of gangster movies sprayed their red gore across the silver screens. In these stories, certain tribal “virtues” such as loyalty, dedication and obeying orders, were portrayed as relatively noble, even as these butchers plied their bloody trade in slow motion, generally to the strains of classical music, and came to grimly spattered ends on bare concrete.

This paradox, too, stayed with me: “Murdering a man because another man orders you to – and pays you to – is a vile and irredeemable evil.”

Then, of course, another war movie would come out, with the exact opposite moral message: “Murdering a man because another man orders you to – and pays you to – is a virtuous and courageous good.”

I do remember bringing these contradictions up from time to time with the adults around me, only to be met with condescending irritation, often followed by a demand as to whether I would in fact prefer to be speaking German at present.

As I got older, and learned a little more about the world, these contradictions did not exactly resolve themselves, but rather were added to incessantly. We fought the Second World War to oppose National Socialism, I was told, as I munched on awful soy burgers, shivered in the cold and was told I could not bathe because the nationalized state unions were crippling the British economy.

I was told that I had to be terribly afraid of the selfish impulses of my fellow citizens – and also that I had to respect their wisdom when they chose a leader. I was told that the purpose of my education was to allow me to think for myself, but when I made decisions that those in authority disagreed with, I was scorned and humiliated, and my reasoning was never examined.

I was told that I should not use violence to solve my problems, but when I climbed a wall that apparently I was not supposed to, I was taken to the Headmaster’s office, where he assaulted me with a cane.

I was told that the British people were the wisest, most courageous and most virtuous group on the planet – and also that I was not to disobey those in authority.

When I was taught mathematics and science, I was punished for thinking irrationally – and then, when I asked sensible questions about the existence of God, I was punished for attempting to think rationally.

I was mocked as cowardly whenever I succumbed to peer pressure – and also mocked for my lack of interest in cheering our local sports team.

When I proposed thoughts that those in authority disagreed with, they demanded that I provide evidence; when I asked that they provide evidence for their beliefs, I was punished for insubordination.

This is nothing peculiar to me – all children go through these sorts of mental meat grinders – but I could not help but think, as I grew up, that what passed for “thinking” in society was more or less an endless series of manipulations designed to serve those in power.

What troubled me most emotionally was not the nonsense and contradictions that surrounded me, but rather the indisputable fact that they seemed completely invisible to everyone. Well, that’s not quite true. It is more accurate to say that these contradictions were visible exactly to the degree that they were avoided. Everyone walked through a minefield, claiming that it was not a minefield, but unerringly avoiding the mines nonetheless.

It became very clear to me quite quickly that I lived in a kind of negative intellectual and moral universe. The ethical questions most worth examining were those that were the most mocked, derided and attacked. What was virtuous was so often what was considered the most vile – and what was the most vile was often considered the most virtuous.

When I was 11, I went to the Ontario Science Center, which had an interesting and challenging exhibit where you attempted to trace the outline of a star by looking in a mirror. I have always remembered this exhibit, and just now I realize why – because this was my direct experience when attempting to map the ethics and virtues proclaimed by those around me – particularly those in authority.

Nowhere were these contradictions more pronounced than in the question of war.

It took me quite a long time to realize this, because the spectacle, fire and blood of war is so distracting, but the true violence of war does not occur on the battlefield, but in the homeland.

The carnage of conflict is only an effect of the core violence which supports war, which is the military enslavement of domestic citizens through the draft – and even more importantly, the direct theft of their money which pays for the war.

Without the money to fund a war – and pay the soldiers, whether they are drafted or not – war is impossible. The actual violence of the battlefield is a mere effect of the threatened violence at home. If citizens could not be forced to pay for the war – either in the present in the form of taxes, or in the future through deficit financing – then the carnage of the battlefield could never possibly occur.

I have read many books and articles on the root of war – whether it is nationalism, economic forces, faulty philosophical premises, class conflict and so on – none of which addressed the central issue, which is how war is paid for. This is like advancing merely psychological explanations as to why people play the lottery, without ever once mentioning their interest in the prize money. Why do people become doctors? Is it because they have a psychological need to present themselves as godlike healers, or because they are pleasing their mother and father, or because they are themselves secretly wounded, or because they possess an altruistic desire to heal the sick? These may be all interesting theories to pursue, but they are mere effects of the basic fact that doctors are highly paid for what they do.

Certainly psychological or sociological theories may explain why a particular person chooses to become a doctor rather than pursue some other high-paying occupation – but surely we should at least start with the fact that if doctors were not paid, almost no one would become a doctor. For instance, if a magic pill were invented tomorrow that ensured perfect health forever, there would be no more doctors – because no one would pay for the unnecessary service. Thus the first cause of doctors is – payment.

In the same way, we can endlessly theorize about the psychological, sociological or economic causes of war, but if we never talk about the simple fact that the first cause of war is domestic theft and military enslavement, then everything that follows remains mere abstract and airless intellectual quibbling, more designed to hide the truth than reveal it.

We can only point guns at foreign enemies because we first point guns at domestic citizens.

Without taxation, there can be no war.

Without governments, there can be no taxation.

Thus governments are the first cause of war.

The truth of the matter, I believe, is that deep down we know that if we pull out this one single thread – that coercion against citizens is the root of war – we know that many other threads will also come unraveled.

If we recognize the violence that is at the root of war – domestic violence, not foreign violence – then we stare at the core and ugly truth at the root of our society, and most of our collective moral aspirations.

The core and ugly truth at the root of our society is that we really, really like using violence to get things done. In fact, it is more than a mere aesthetic or personal preference – we define the use of violence as a moral necessity within our society.

How should we educate children? Why, we must force their parents – and everyone else – to pay for their education at gunpoint!

How should we help the poor? Why, we must force others in society to pay for their support at gunpoint!

How should we heal the sick? Why, we must force everyone to pay for their medical care at gunpoint!

Now, it may be the case that we have exhausted all other possibilities and ways of dealing with these complex and challenging problems, and that we have been forced to fall back on coercion, punishment and control as regretful necessities, and we are constantly looking for ways to reduce the use of violence in our solutions for these problems.

However, that is not the case, either empirically or rationally.

The education of poor children, the succor of the impoverished and the healing of the sick all occurred through private charities and voluntary associations long before statist agencies displaced them. This is exactly what you would expect, given the general modern support for these state programs, because everyone is so concerned with these genuinely needy groups.

Where violence is considered to be a regrettable but necessary solution to a problem, those in authority do not shy away from talking openly about it. When I was a child in England in the 1970s, I was repeatedly told with pride by my elders about their courageous use of violence against the Axis powers in World War II. No one tried to give me the impression that the Nazis were defeated by cunning negotiation and psychological tricks. The endless slaughterhouses of both the First and Second World Wars were not kept hidden from me, but rather the violence was praised as a regrettable but moral necessity.

American children are told about the nuclear attacks on Nagasaki and Hiroshima – the slaughter and radiation poisoning of hundreds of thousands of Japanese civilians is not kept a secret; it is not bypassed, ignored or repressed in the telling of the tale.

Even when the war in question was itself questionable, such as the war in Vietnam, no one shies away from the true nature of the conflict, which was endless genocidal murder.

I do not for a moment believe that all of these genocides and slaughters were morally justifiable – or even practically required – but mine is certainly a minority opinion, and since the majority believes that these murders were both morally justified and practically required, they feel fully comfortable openly discussing the violence that they consider unavoidable.

However, this is not the case when we talk about statist solutions to the problems of charity and ill health. You could spend an entire academic career in these fields, and read endless books and articles on the subject, and never once come across any reference to the fact that these solutions are funded through violence. Just so you can understand how strange this really is, imagine spending 40 years as a professional war historian, and never once coming across the idea that war involves violence. Would we not consider that a rather egregious evasion of a rather basic fact?

This is a rather volatile comparison I know, but we saw the same phenomenon occurring in Soviet Russia. Almost no reference was made to the gulags in official state literature, particularly that literature intended to be consumed overseas. The tens of millions of concentration camp inmates showed up nowhere in the general or academic narrative of the Soviet Union – when the book “One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich” finally appeared, even this relatively mild account of a day in the life of a prison camp inmate was greeted with shock, derision, horror and rage by those charged with defending that narrative.

It cannot really be the case that when society is genuinely proud of something, the truth is kept mysteriously hidden from view. Can we imagine fans of the New York Yankees actively working to repress the fact that their team won the World Series? Can we imagine the Communist leaders of China suppressing news that their athletes had won gold medals in the Olympics? Can we imagine a police department feverishly working to censor the facts about a large reduction in the crime rate?

Of course not. Where we are genuinely proud of an achievement, we do not refrain from talking about its causes. An Olympic athlete will speak with pride about the years of endless dawn training sessions; a successful entrepreneur will not hide the decades of hard work it took to succeed; a woman who has successfully struggled to lose weight is unlikely to wear a fat suit when she goes to her high school reunion.

However, when a core reality conflicts with a mythological narrative, academics, intellectuals and other cultural leaders are well-compensated for their ability to completely ignore that core reality – and usually savagely attack and mock anyone who brings it up.

Anarchy and Protection

One core reality that anarchists focus on – which surely is at least worthy of discussion – is that governments claim to serve and protect their citizens. When I was a child, and questioned the ethics of World War II, I was asked if I would prefer to be speaking German. In other words, the brave men and women of the Allied forces spent their lives and blood defending me from foreign marauders who would have enslaved me. This approach reinforces the basic story that the government was trying to protect its citizens.

In the same way, when I question the use of violence in the supplying of education, people always tell me that in the absence of that violence – even if they admit to its existence – the poor would remain uneducated. This approach reinforces the basic story that the purpose of state violence in this realm is to educate the children.

You can see the same pattern just about everywhere else. When I talk about the violence of the war on drugs, I am told that without such a war, society would degenerate into nihilistic addiction and violence – thus the purpose of the war on drugs is to keep people off drugs, and their neighbours safe from violence. When I talk about the base and coercive predation of Social Security, I am told that without it, the old would starve in the streets – thus reinforcing the narrative that the purpose of Social Security is to provide an income for the old, without which they would starve.

When we examine the narrative that the state exists to protect its citizens, we can clearly see that if we unearth the basic reality of the violence of taxation, a malevolent contradiction emerges.

It is very hard for me to tell you that I am only interested in protecting you, if I attack you first. If I roll up to you in a black van, jam a hood over your head, throw you in the back of my van, tie you up and toss you in my basement, would you reasonably accept as my explanation for this savagery that I only wished to keep you from harm?

Surely you would reply that if I was really interested in keeping you from harm, why on earth would I kidnap you and lock you up in a little room? Surely, if I initiate the use of force against you, it is somewhat irrational (to say the least) for me to tell you that I am only acting to protect you from the use of force.

This is a central reason why the aggression that governments initiate against their own citizens in order to extract the cash and cannon fodder for war is never talked about. It is hard to sustain the thesis that governments exist to protect their citizens if the first threat to citizens is always their own government.

If I have to rob you in order to pay for “protecting” your property from theft, at the very least I have created an insurmountable logical contradiction, if not a highly ambivalent moral situation.

In general, where coercion is a regrettable but necessary means of achieving a moral good, that coercion is not hidden from general view. In police dramas, the violence of the cops is not hidden. In war movies, shells, bullets and limbs fly across the screen with wanton abandon.

However, the coercion at the root of war and state social programs remains forever unspoken, unacknowledged, repressed, hidden from view; it is mad, shameful and imprudent to speak of it.

A hunter who proudly displays a dead deer on the hood of his car, and puts the antlers up in his basement, and barbecues the venison for his friends, can be considered somewhat proud – or at least not ashamed – of his hobby.

A hunter who uses a silencer, shoots a deer in the middle of the night, and carefully buries the body, leaving no trace, cannot be considered at all proud – and is in fact utterly ashamed – of his hobby.

Thus, when an anarchist looks at society, he sees a desperate shame regarding the use of violence to achieve social ends such as the military, health care, and education. Any anarchist who has even a passing interest in psychology – and I certainly put myself in this category – understands that this kind of unspoken shame is utterly toxic, both to an individual and to a society.

Thus it inevitably falls to anarchists to perform the unpleasant task of digging up the “body in the backyard,” or pointing out the widespread, prevalent and ever-increasing use of violence to achieve moral goals within society. “Is this right?” asks the anarchist – fully aware of the hostile and resentful glances he receives from those around him. “How can violence be both the greatest evil and the greatest good?” “If the violence that we use to achieve our supposedly moral ends is in fact justified and good, why is it that we are so ashamed to speak of it?”

To be an anarchist, to say the very least, requires a strong hide when it comes to social hostility and disapproval.

When people have genuinely exhausted all other possibilities, they tend not to be ashamed of their eventual solution. Even if we take the surface narrative of the Second World War at face value, the victors were able to express just pride because the narrative included the significant caveat that there was no other possible response to the aggression of the German, Italian and Japanese fascists.

Parents tend to be pretty open about hitting their children if they genuinely believe that no rational or moral alternatives exist to the use of violence. If hitting a child is the only way to teach her to be a good, productive and rational adult, then not hitting her is obviously a form of lax parenting, if not outright abuse. Hitting your daughter thus becomes a form of moral responsibility, and thus a positive good, much like yanking her back from running into traffic and ensuring that she eats her vegetables.

Such a parent, of course, reacts with outrage and indignation if you suggest to him that there are more productive alternatives to violence when it comes to raising children – for the obvious reason that if those alternatives exist, his violence turns from a positive good to a moral evil.

This is the situation that an anarchist faces when he talks about nonviolent alternatives to existing coercive “solutions.” If there is a nonviolent way to help the poor, heal the sick, educate the children, protect property, build roads, defend a geographical area, mediate disputes, punish criminals and so on – then the state turns from a regretfully necessary institution to an outright criminal monopoly.

This is a rather large and jagged pill for people to swallow, for any number of psychological, personal, professional and philosophical reasons.

Anarchy and Morality

Another paradox that anarchy brings into uncomfortable view is the contradiction between coercion and morality.

We all in general recognize and accept the principle that where there is no choice, there can be no morality. If a man is told to commit some evil while he has a gun pressed to his head, we would have a hard time categorizing him as evil – particularly compared to the man who is pressing the gun to his head.

If we accept the Aristotelian view that the purpose of life is happiness, and we accept the Socratic view that virtue brings happiness, then when we deny choice to people, we deny them the capacity for virtue, and thus for happiness.

There is great pleasure in helping others – I would certainly argue that it is one of the greatest pleasures, outside of love itself, which encompasses it. Helping others, though, is a highly complex business, which requires detailed personal attention, rigorous standards, a combination of encouragement, sternness, enthusiasm, sympathy and discipline – to name just a few!

Using coercion to drive charity is like using kidnapping to create love. Not only does the use of coercion through state programs deny choice to those wishing to help the poor – and thus the joy of achievement, and the motivation of happiness – but it corrupts and destroys the complex interchange required to elevate a human soul from its meager surroundings and its own low expectations.

If we believe that violence is a valid way to achieve moral ends – of helping the poor for instance – then there are two other approaches which would be far more logically consistent than the forced theft and transfer of taxation.

If violence is the only valid way to create economic “equality,” then surely it would make far more sense to simply allow those below a certain level of income to steal the difference from others. If we understand that state welfare agencies skim an enormous amount of money off the top – they represent a truly savage expense – then we can easily eliminate this overhead, and have a far more rational system besides, simply by eliminating the middleman and allowing the poor to steal from the middle and upper classes.

If the prospect of this solution fills you with horror, that is important to understand. If you feel that this proposal would degenerate into armed gangs of the poor rampaging through wealthier neighborhoods, then you are really saying that the poor are poor because they lack restraint and judgment, and will pillage others and undermine the economic success and general security of society in order to satisfy their own immediate appetites, without thought for the future.

If this is the case – if the poor really are such a shortsighted and savage band – then it is clear that they do not have the judgment and self-control to vote in democratic elections – which are essentially about the forcible transfer of income. If the poor only care about satisfying their immediate appetites, without a care for the long term, then they should not be at all involved in the coercive redistribution of wealth in society as a whole.

Ah, but what if taking the right to vote away from the poor fills you with outrage? Very well, then we can assume that the poor are rational, and able and willing to defer gratification. If a man is wise enough to vote on the use of force, then he is certainly wise enough to use that force himself.

Indeed, the barriers to using force personally are far higher than voting for the use of force in a democratic system. If you have to pick up a gun and go and collect your just property from richer people, that is quite a high “barrier to entry.” If, on the other hand, you simply have to scribble on the ballot once every few years, and then sit back and wait for your check to arrive, surely that will drive the escalation of violence in society far more rapidly.

If you still feel that this solution would be disastrous, because the poor would act with bad judgment, then you face a related issue, which is the quality of the education that the poor have received.

Anarchy and Education

If the poor lack wisdom, knowledge and good judgment, but they have been educated by the government for almost 15 years straight, then surely if we believe that the poor can be educated, we must then blame the government for failing to educate them. Since the poor cannot afford private schools, they must surrender their children to government schools, which have a complete and coercive monopoly over their education.

Now, either the poor have the capacity for wisdom and efficacy, or they do not. If the poor do have the capacity for wisdom, then the government is fully culpable for failing to cultivate it through education. If the poor do not have the capacity for wisdom, then the government is fully culpable for wasting massive resources in a futile attempt to educate them – and also, they cannot justly be allowed to vote.

Again, although I know that this must be uncomfortable or annoying to read through, I am willing myself to refrain from providing the clear and moral anarchistic solutions to these seemingly intractable problems. There is no point trying to give society a pill if society does not even think that it is sick. If your appendix is inflamed, and I offer to remove it for you, you will doubtless cry out your gratitude – if I run up to you on the street, however, and offer to remove an appendage that you believe to be both necessary and healthy, you would be highly inclined to charge me with assault.

Given that anarchism represents a near complete break with political society – although, as described above, a highly moral and rational expansion of personal society – it remains in no way attractive if nothing is seen to be particularly wrong with political society.

Churchill once famously remarked: “Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.” Anarchists believe this to be true, but would add that no form of government is better than no government at all!

This is not to say that democracy is not a better form of government than tyranny. It certainly is – my problem is that we have in the West achieved democracy over the past few hundred years, and now seem to be eternally content to rest on our laurels, so to speak.

I spent almost 15 years as a software entrepreneur, which may have colored my perspective on this issue to some degree. The software field reinvents itself almost from the ground up every year or two, it seems, which demands a constant commitment to dynamism, continual learning, and the abandonment of prior conceptions. The swift currents of perpetual change quickly sweep the inert away.

Thus I fully appreciate the significant step forward represented by democracy – but the mere fact that a thing is “better” in no way indicates that it is “best.”

When medieval surgeons realized that a patient had a better chance of surviving gangrene if they hacked off a limb, this could surely be called a better solution – but it could scarcely be called the bestpossible solution. Recognizing that prevention is always better than a cure does not mean that all cures are equally good.

I have no doubt whatsoever that the first caveman to figure out how to start a fire shared his knowledge with his tribe, and they all sat in a cave, with their feet pointed towards the flickering flames, warm in the midst of a winter chill for the first time, and grunted at each other: “Well, it can’t possibly get any better than this!”

No doubt when, a thousand years later, someone figured out that it was easier to capture and domesticate a cow rather than to continually hunt game, everyone sat back in front of their fire, their bellies full of milk, and grunted at each other: “Well, it can’t possibly get any better than this!”

These things are genuine improvements, to be sure, and we should not ever fail to appreciate the progress that we make – but neither should we automatically and endlessly assume that every step forward is the final and most perfect step, and that nothing can ever conceivably be improved in the future.

Democracy is considered to be superior to tyranny – and rightly so I believe – because to some degree it imitates the feedback mechanisms of the free market. Politicians, it is said, must provide goods and services to citizens, who provide feedback through voting.

It would seem to be logical to continue to extend that which makes democracy work further and further. If I find that, as a doctor, I infect fewer of my patients when I wash one little finger, then surely it would make sense to start washing other parts of my hand as well.

Really, this is what my approach to anarchism is fundamentally about. If voluntarism and feedback – a quasi-“market” – is what makes democracy superior, then surely we should work as hard as possible to extend voluntarism and feedback – particularly since we have the example of real markets, which work spectacularly well.

Anarchy and Reform

There is a great fear among people – or a great desire, to be more accurate – with regards to abandoning this system, when the perception exists that it can be reformed instead.

Democracy is messy, it is said – politicians pander to special interests, court voters with “free” goodies, manipulate the currency to avoid directly increasing taxes, create endless and intractable problems in the realms of education, welfare, incarceration and so on – but let’s not throw the baby out with the bathwater! If you have good ideas for improving the system, you should get involved, not sit back in your armchair and criticize everything in sight! One of the rare privileges of a living in a democracy is that anyone can get involved in the political process, from running for a local school board to prime minister or president of the entire country! Letter-writing campaigns, grassroots activism, blogs, associations, clubs – you name it, there are countless ways to get involved in the political process.

Given the degree of feedback available to the average citizen of a democracy, it makes little sense to agitate for changing the system as a whole. Since the system is so flexible and responsive, it is impossible to imagine that it can be replaced with any system that is more flexible – thus the practical ideal for anyone interested in social change is to bring his ideas to the “marketplace” of democracy, see who he can get on board, and implement his vision within the system – peacefully, politically, democratically.

This is a truly wonderful fairy tale, which has only the slight disadvantage of having nothing to do with democracy whatsoever.

When we think of a truly free market – otherwise known as the “free market” – we understand that we do not have to work for years and years, and give up thousands of hours and tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars, to satisfy our wishes. If I want to shop for vegetarian food, say, I do not have to spend years lobbying the local supermarket, or joining some sort of somewhat ineffective advisory Board, and pounding lawn signs, and writing letters, and cajoling everyone in the neighborhood – all I have to do is go and buy some vegetarian food, locally or over the Internet if I prefer.

If I want to date a particular woman, I do not have to lobby everyone in a 10 block radius, get them to sign a petition, make stirring speeches about my worthiness as a boyfriend, devote years of my life attempting to get collective approval for asking her out. All I have to do is walk up to her, ask her out and see if she says “yes.”

If I want to be a doctor, I do not have to spend years lobbying every doctor in the country to get a majority approval for my application. Neither do I have to pursue this process when I want to move, drive a car, buy a book, plan for my retirement, change countries, learn a language, buy a computer, choose to have a child, go on a diet, start an exercise program, go into therapy, give to a charity and so on.

Thus it is clear that individuals are “allowed” to make major and essential life decisions without consulting the majority. The vast majority of our lives is explicitly anti-democratic, insofar as we vehemently reserve the right to make our own decisions – and our own mistakes – without subjecting them to the scrutiny and authority of others. Why is it that we are “allowed” to choose who to marry, whether to have children, and how to raise them – but we are violently not allowed to openly choose where they go to school? Why is every decision that leads up to the decision of how to educate a child is completely free, personal, and anti-democratic – but the moment that the child needs an education, a completely opposite methodology is enforced upon the family? Why is the free anarchy of personal decisions – in direct opposition to coercive authority – such a moral imperative for every decision which leads up to the need for a child’s education – but then, free anarchic choice becomes the greatest imaginable evil, and coercive authority must be substituted in its place?

There is a particularly cynical side of me – which is not to say that the cynicism is necessarily misplaced – which would argue that the reason that there is no direct interference in having children is because that way people will have more kids, which the state needs to grow into taxpayers, in the same way that a dairy farmer needs his cows to breed. Those who profit from political power always need new taxpayers, but they certainly do not want independently critical and rational taxpayers, since that is fundamentally the opposite of being a taxpayer. Thus they do not interfere with having children, only with the education of children – just as a goose farmer will not interfere with egg laying, but will certainly clip the wings of any geese he wishes to keep alive and profit from.

Anarchy and Exceptions

At this point, you may be thinking that there are good reasons why political coercion is substituted for personal anarchy in particular situations. Perhaps there is some rule of thumb or principle which separates the two which, if it can be discovered, will lay this mystery bare.

If I break up with a girlfriend, for instance, I do not owe her anything legally. If I marry her, however, I do. When I take a new job, I may be subject to a probationary period of a few months, when I can be fired – or quit – with impunity. We can think of many examples of such situations – the major difference, however, is that these are all voluntary and contractual situations.

The justification for a government – particularly a democratic government – is really founded upon the idea of a “social contract.” Because we happen to be born in a particular geographical location, we “owe” the government our allegiance, time, energy and money for the rest of our lives, or as long as we stay. This “contract” is open to renegotiation, insofar as we can decide to alter the government by getting involved in the political process – or, we can leave the country, just as we can leave a marriage or place of employment. This argument – which goes back to Socrates – is based upon an implied contract that remains in force as long as we ourselves remain within the geographical area ruled over by the government.

However, this idea of the “social contract” fails such an elemental test that it is only testament to the power of propaganda that it has lasted as a credible narrative for over 2,000 years.

Children cannot enter into contracts – and adults cannot have contracts imposed upon them against their will. Thus being born in a particular location does not create any contract, since it takes a lunatic or a Catholic to believe that obligations accrue to a newborn squalling baby.

Thus children cannot be subjected to – or be responsible for – any form of implicit social contract.

Adults, on the other hand, must be able to choose which contracts they enter into – if they cannot, there is no differentiation between imposing a contract on a child, and imposing a contract on an adult. I cannot say that implicit contracts are invalid for children, but then they magically become automatically valid when the child turns 18, and bind the adult thereby.

It is important also to remember that there is fundamentally no such thing as “the state.” When you write a check to pay your taxes, it is made out to an abstract quasi-corporate entity, but it is cashed and spent by real life human beings. Thus the reality of the social contract is that it “rotates” between and among newly elected political leaders, as well as permanent civil servants, appointed judges, and the odd consultant or two. This coalescing kaleidoscope of people who cash your check and spend your money is really who you have your social contract with. (This can occur in the free market as well, of course – when you take out a loan to buy a house, your contract is with the bank, not your loan officer, and does not follow him when he changes jobs.)

However, to say that the same man can be bound by a unilaterally-imposed contract represented by an ever-shifting coalition of individuals, in a system that was set up hundreds of years before he was born, without his prior choice – since he did not choose where he was born – or explicit current approval, is a perfectly ludicrous statement.

We can generally accept as unjust any standard of justice that would disqualify itself. When we are shopping, we would scarcely call it a “sale” if prices had been jacked up 30%. We would not clip a “coupon” that added a dollar to the price of whatever we were buying – in fact, we would not call this a coupon at all!

If we examine the concept of the “social contract,” which is claimed as a core justification for the existence of a government, it is more than reasonable to ask whether the social contract would justly enforce the social contract itself! In other words, if the government is morally justified because of the ethical validity of an implicit and unilaterally imposed contract, will the government defend implicit and unilaterally imposed contracts? If I start up a car dealership and automatically “sell” a car to everyone in a 10 block radius, and then send them a bill for the car they have “bought” – and send them the car as well, and bind their children for eternity in such a deal as well – would the government enforce such a “contract”?

I think that we all know the answer to that question…

If I attempted to bring a social contract to an agency that claims as its justification the existence and validity of the exact same social contract, it would laugh in my face and call me insane.

Are you beginning to get a clear idea of the kind of moral and logical contradictions that a statist system is based upon?

Many times throughout human history, certain societies have come to the valid conclusion that an institution can no longer be reformed, but must instead be abolished. The most notable example is slavery, but we can think of others as well, such as the unity of church and state, oligarchical aristocracy, military dictatorships, human or animal sacrifices to the gods, rape as a valid spoil of war, torture, pedophilia, wife abuse and so on. This does not mean of course that all of these practices and institutions have faded from the world, but it does mean that in many civilized societies, the essential debate is over, and was not settled with the idea of “reforming” institutions such as slavery. The origin of the phrase “rule of thumb” came from an attempt to reform the beating of wives, and restrict it to beating your wife with a stick no wider than your thumb. This practice was not reformed, but rather abolished.

However well-intentioned these reforms may have been, we can at best only call them ethical in terms of halting steps towards the final goal, which is the elimination of the concept of wife beating as a moral norm at all. In the same way, some reformers attempted to get slave owners to beat their slaves less, or at least less severely, but with the hindsight of history and our further moral development, we can see that slavery was not fundamentally an institution that could ever be reformed, but rather had to be utterly abolished. We can find encouragement in such “reforms” only to the degree that they reduced suffering in the present, while hopefully spurring on the goal of abolishing slavery.

Any moralist who said that getting rid of slavery would be a criminal and moral disaster of the first order, but instead encouraged slaves to attempt to work within the system, or counseled slave owners to voluntarily take on the goal of treating their slaves with less brutality, could scarcely be called a moralist, at least by modern standards. Instead, we would term such a “reformer” as a very handy apologist for the existing brutality of the system. By pretending that the evils inherent in slavery could be mitigated or eliminated through voluntary internal reform, these “moralists” actually slowed or stalled the progress towards abolition in many areas. By holding out the false hope that an evil institution could be turned to goodness, these sophists blunted the power of the argument from morality, which is that slavery is an inherent evil, and thus cannot be reformed.

The finger-wagging admonition, “Rape more gently,” is oxymoronic. Rape is the opposite of gentle, the opposite of moral.

This is how many anarchists view the proposition that the existing system of political violence should be reformed somehow from within, rather than fundamentally opposed on moral terms, as an absolute evil, based on coercion and brutality, particularly towards children – with the inevitable consequence that its only salvation can come from being utterly abolished.

Anarchism and Political Realities

Along with the anarchistic moral arguments against the use of force to solve problems come many well-developed economic arguments against the long-term stability of any democratic political system.

To take just one example, let’s look at the problem of unequal incentives.

In the United States, thousands of sugar producers receive massive state subsidies and coercive protection from foreign competitors – benefits which have been in place, for the most part, since the close of the war of 1812. Although $1.2 billion was spent in 2005 subsidizing sugar production, the majority of the money goes to a few dozen growers.

These sugar subsidies cost the US economy billions of dollars annually, while netting major sugar producers millions of dollars a year each. The average American consumer would have to fight for years, spend untold hours and dollars attempting to overturn the subsidies in Congress – to save, what? A few dollars a year apiece? None but a lunatic would attempt it.

On the other hand, of course, these sugar growers will spend whatever time and money it takes to preserve their massive influx of cash. It is not that hard to figure out who will present stronger “incentives” – to say the least – to Congress. It is not that hard to figure out just who will donate as much as humanly possible to a Congressman’s run. It is embarrassingly easy to figure out who will keep calling the congressman at 2 a.m. with dire threats should he dare to question the value of the subsidies, and promises of money if he refrains.

Politicians, like so many of us, take the rational path of least resistance. A congressman will receive no thanks for killing these subsidies and returning a few unproven and ignored dollars to his average constituent’s pocket – such a “benefit” would scarcely even be noticed. However, the sugar growers would raise bloody hell to the very skies, as would all their employees, their hangers on, the professionals they employ, and anyone else who benefits from the concentration of illicit wealth that they enjoy.

Furthermore, should the subsidies be somehow cut, and the price of a candy bar dropped a nickel, all that would happen is that some other politician would impose a tax of, say, about a nickel on candy bars – to save the children’s teeth, of course – thus generating more cash for him to hand out and utterly nullifying any benefit to the consumer. Would any rational politician pursue a policy that would enrage his supporters, strengthen his enemies and win no new friends?

Of course not.

Thus it is clear to see that while no incentive exists to do the right thing, every conceivable incentive exists to do the wrong thing. In the case of sugar subsidies, the “sting” to the consumer is only a few dollars a year – multiply this, however, thousands and thousands of times over, for each special interest group, and we can see how the taxpayer will inevitably die a death not by beheading, but rather by the tiny bites of 10,000 mosquitoes, each feeding its young by feasting on a droplet of his blood.

No democratic government has ever survived without taking a monopoly control over the currency. The reason for this is simple – politicians need to buy votes, but that illusion is hard to sustain if those you give money to have to pay that money back within a few years in the form of higher taxes. Taxpayers would get wise to this sort of game very quickly, and so politicians need to find other ways to fog and befuddle taxpayers. Deficit financing is one way – give money to people in the present, then stick the bill to their children at some undefined point in the future, when you’re no longer around – perfect!

Another great way of pretending to give people money is to inflate their currency by printing more money. This way, you can give a man a hundred dollars today, and just reduce the purchasing power of his dollar by 5% next year by printing more. Not one person in a thousand will have any idea what’s really going on, and besides, you always have the business community to blame for “gouging” the consumer.

Another “solution” is to promise public-sector unions large increases in salary, which only really take effect toward the end of your office, so that the next administration gets stuck with the real bill. Also, you can sign perpetual contracts giving them plenty of medical and retirement benefits, the majority of which will only kick in when they get older, long after you are gone.

Alternatively, you can sell long-term bonds that give you the cash right now, while sticking future taxpayers in 10, 20 or 30 years with the bill for repaying your principle, and accumulated interest.

One other option is to start licensing everything in sight – building permits, hot dog stand permits, dog licenses and so on – thus grabbing a lot of cash up front, and leaving your successors to deal with the diminished tax base from lower economic activity in the future.

Or you can buy the votes of apartment-dwellers with “rent control” – leaving the next few administrations to deal with the inevitable resulting apartment shortage.

This list can go on and on – it is a list as old as the Roman and Greek democracies – but the essential point is that democracy is always and forever utterly unsustainable.

A basic fact of economics is that people respond to incentives – the incentives in any statist society – democratic, fascist, communist, socialist, you name it – are always so unbalanced as to turn the public treasury into a kind of blood mad shark-driven feeding frenzy.

Well, say the defenders of democracy, but the people can always choose to vote in other people who will fix the system!

One of the wonderful aspects of working from first principles, and taking our evidence from the real world, is that we don’t have to believe pious nonsense anymore. Except directly after significant wars, when they need to re-grow their decimated tax bases, democratic governments simply never ever get smaller.

The logic of this remains depressingly simple, and just as depressingly inevitable.

A central question that any voter who claims to wish to be informed must ask is: why is this man’s name on the ballot?

The standard answer is that he has a vision to fix the neighborhood, the city, or the country, and so he has nobly dedicated his life to public service, and needs your vote so that he can begin fixing the problem. He is a pragmatic idealist who knows that compromises must be made, but who can still make tangible improvements in your life.

Of course, this is all pure nonsense, as we can well see from the fact that things in a democracy always get worse, not better. Standards of living decline, national debt explodes, household debt increases, educational achivements plummet, poverty rates increase, incarceration rates increase, unfunded liabilities skyrocket – and yet, election after election, the sheep run to the polls and feverishly scribble their hopes on to the ballots, certain that this time, everything will turn around! (For those reading this in the future, we are currently right in the middle of “Obama-mania.”)

The question remains – why is this man on the ballot?

We all know that it takes an enormous amount of money and influence to run for any kind of substantial office. The central question is, then: why do people give money to a candidate?

I’m not talking about a national presidential campaign, where obviously people give a lot of money to the candidate in the hopes of giving him power to achieve some sort of shared goals and so on.

No, I mean: where does the money to get started even come from?

Why would pharmaceutical companies, aerospace companies, engineering companies, manufacturing companies, farmers, and public-sector unions and so on give money and support to a candidate?

Clearly, these groups are not handing out cash for purely idealistic reasons, since they are in the business of making money, at least for their members. Thus they must be giving money to potential candidates in return for political favors down the road – preferential treatment, tax breaks, tariff restrictions on competitors, government contracts etc.

In other words, any candidate that you get to vote for must have already been bought and paid for by others.

Does this sound like an odd and cynical assertion? Perhaps – but it is very easy to figure out if a candidate has been bought and paid for.

Candidates will always talk in stirring tones about “sacrifice” and so on, but you surely must have noticed by now that no candidate ever talks specifically about the spending that he is going to cut. You never hear him say that he is going to balance the budget by cutting the spending of X, Y or Z. Everything is either couched in abstract terms, or specific promises to specific groups. (At the moment, the current fetish – in leftist circles – is to pretend that 47 million Americans can get “free” healthcare if the government lowers the tax breaks on a few billionaires.)

In other words, if you don’t see anyone else’s head on the chopping block, that is because it is your head on the chopping block.

Of course, if the government really wanted to help the economy at the expense of some very rich people, it would simply annul the national debt – in effect, declare bankruptcy, and start all over again.

Why does it not do this? Why does it never even approach this topic? We have seen price controls on a variety of goods and services over the past few generations – why not simply place a moratorium on paying interest on the national debt, at least for the time being?

Well, the simple answer is that the government simply cannot survive without a constant infusion of loans, largely from foreign lenders.

This is a bit of a clue for you as to how important your vote really is, and how concerned your leaders are about your personal and particular issues – relative to, say, those of foreign lenders.

Ah, you might argue, but why would a pharmaceutical company, say, give money to a potential candidate, since no deal can possibly be put down in writing, and that potential candidate might well take the money, and then just not take the calls from that pharmaceutical company when he or she gets into power?

Well, this is a distinct possibility, of course, but it has a relatively simple solution.

When a candidate is interested in taking a run at any reasonably high office, he goes around to various places and asks for money.

When you ask someone for a few thousand dollars, naturally, his first question is going to be: “What are you going to do for me in return?”

Early on in any particular political race, there are quite a number of candidates. Anyone who wants to donate money to a political candidate in the hopes of gaining political favors down the road is only going to do so if he believes that the candidate will fulfill the unwritten obligation – the “anti-social contract,” if you like.

In politics, as in business, credibility is efficiency. Those who have built up reputations for keeping their promises end up being able to do business on a handshake, which keeps their costs down considerably. No new person entering a field will have the credibility or track record to be able to achieve this enviable efficiency, and so will have to earn it over the course of many years.

Thus we know for certain that when a company gives money to a political candidate, in the expectation of return favors in the future, that political candidate already has an excellent track record of doing just that. This kind of information will have been passed around certain communities – “Joe X is a man of his word!” – just as the reliability of a drug dealer and the quality of his product is passed around in certain other communities.

Thus we know that any candidate who receives significant funding from special interest groups is a man who has consistently proven his “integrity to corruptibility” in the past – for if he has no track record, or an inconsistent track record, no one will give him money to get started.

(Just as a side note, this is a very interesting example of exactly why anarchism will work – we do not need the state to enforce contracts, since the state itself functions on implicit contracts that can never be legally enforced.)

In other words, whenever you see a name on the ballot, you can be completely certain that that name represents a man who has already been bought and paid for over the course of many years, and that those who have paid for him do not have, let us say, your best interests at heart.

But we can go one step further.

Since all the money that moves around in a political system must come from somewhere – the millions of dollars that are given to the sugar farmers must come from taxpayers – we can be sure that just about every benefit that special interest groups seek to gain comes at your expense. Pharmaceutical companies want an extension on their patents so they can charge you more money. Domestic steel companies want to increase barriers against imported steel so they can charge you more money. If a government union wants additional benefits, that will cost you. If the police want to expand the war on drugs, that will cost you security, safety and money.

Whoever strives to benefit from the public purse has their hand groping towards your pocket.

Thus it is perfectly fair and reasonable to remind you that every name that you see on the ballot is diametrically opposed to your particular and personal interests, since they have been paid for by people who want to rob you blind.

Another aspect of “democricide” is the inevitable and constant escalation of public spending necessary to achieve or maintain political power.

Let us take the example of a mayor running for his second term. When he was running for his first term, sewage treatment workers donated $20,000 to his campaign, and in return he granted them a 10% raise. Now that he is running for his second term, and cannot give them another 10% raise, they have no reason to donate to his campaign. Thus he either has to offer the sewage treatment workers some other benefit, or he has to create some new program or benefit which he can dangle in front of some new group, in order to secure their donations. This is why political candidates always announce new spending when they throw their hats into the ring – the new spending is the rather unsubtle promise of benefits which will be granted to those who donate to his campaign. A new stadium, a new convention center, a new bridge, a new arts program, new housing projects, highway expansions and so on – all of these inevitably and permanently raise the “high water mark” of governmental spending, and are an absolute requirement of running for office.

Now, our aforementioned sewage treatment workers would of course prefer a permanent 10% raise rather than a one-time cash bonus. Thus they will always try to negotiate a permanent contract rather than continue to be at the mercy of the will and whim of their political masters.

As this process continues, the proportion of non-discretionary spending in any political budget grows and grows. This is another reason why new spending initiatives must always be created in order to secure new donations. Money cannot be shifted from one area to another, because it has permanently been earmarked for a particular group in return for a one-time political contribution in the past.

If the mayor who is running for his second term decides to attempt to roll back the 10% raise, in order to free up money which he can then offer to someone else in return for campaign contributions, he would be committing political suicide. He would be breaking a freely-signed contract, sticking it to the working man, and provoking a very smelly strike – but for his own particular self-interest, the effects would be even worse.

Remember, people will donate to a political campaign based on an implicit contract of future rewards from the public treasury. If a candidate attempts to “roll back” benefits that he has distributed previously in return for donations, not only will he incur the wrath of the existing special-interest group, but he will be revealed as a man who breaks his implicit and unenforceable “contracts.” Since this candidate can no longer be relied upon to give public money back to those who donate to his campaign, he will find that his campaign donations dry up almost immediately, and his political career comes to an abrupt end.

Of course, ex-politicians are highly prized as lobbyists as well, but if this mayor breaks faith with a donator, he will no longer be valuable in that capacity either, and will forego significant income in his post-political career.

Finally, any political candidate who has channeled public money to past donators faces the problem of blackmail. If he attempts to cross any of his prior supporters, mysterious leaks to the press will start to emerge, talking about the sleazy backroom deals that got him in power – thus also effectively ending his political career. All the other candidates will piously deride his cynical corruption, while of course making their own sleazy backroom deals in turn.

(It is highly instructive to note that two well-known fictional portrayals of the political campaign process – “The West Wing” and “The Wire” – repeatedly portray the candidate begging for money, but neveronce show why he receives it – the motives of his donors. The reason for this is simple: they wish to portray an idealistic politician, and so they cannot possibly reveal the reasons why people are giving him money. If the fictional story were to follow the inevitable “laws” of democracy, the storyline would be abruptly truncated, or the lead character would be revealed as far less sympathetic. The candidate would ask for money, and then the potential donor would indicate the favor he wanted in return. Then, the candidate would either refuse, thus ending his campaign for lack of funds – or he would agree, thus ending any real sympathy we have for him. This basic truth – like so many in a statist society – can never be discussed, even on a show like “The Wire,” which has little problem revealing corruption everywhere else. A policeman can be shown breaking a child’s fingers, but the true nature of the political process must be forever hidden…)

Thus we can see that – at least at the level of economics – democracy is a sort of slow-motion suicide, in which you are told that it is the highest civic virtue to approve of those who want to rob you.

I do not want this book to become a critique of democracy – but rather, as I have said before, my goal is simply to help you to understand the myriad contradictions involved in any logical or moral defense of a state-run society.

If you do not even know that society is sick, you will never be interested in a cure.

The Social Challenges of Anarchism

In the interests of efficiency – both yours and mine – I have decided to keep this book as short as possible. If I have not shown you at least some the logical and moral problems with our existing way of organizing society by now, I doubt that I shall ever be able to.

If we accept that perhaps some of the criticisms of statism presented in this little book are at least potentially somewhat valid, one essential question remains.

If you can easily understand the above simple and effective criticisms – compared to, say, the mathematics behind the theory of relativity – then the question must be asked:

“Why have you never heard of these criticisms?”

This question packs more of a punch than you may realize.

If I put forward the charge that our society is currently organized along the principles of violence, control and brutal punishment, but you have never heard this argument before, despite the eager talents of tens of thousands of well-paid intellectuals, professors, pundits, journalists, writers and so on, then there must be some reason – or series of reasons – why such a universal silence remains in place.

The standards of proof for startling new theories must be raised exactly to the degree that those new theories are easy to understand. New theories that are very hard to understand are easier to accept as potentially true, simply because of their difficulty. New theories that are very easy to understand, however, face a far higher hurdle, since they must explain why they have not been understood, discussed or disseminated before.

In this final section, I will talk about why I think anarchism is almost never openly discussed – and is in fact constantly scorned, feared and derided – and I will present what I think is an interesting paradox, which is that the degree to which anarchism remains undiscussed is exactly the degree to which anarchism will undoubtedly work.

Anarchism and Academia

Let’s have a look at academia, focusing on the Arts, where anarchism could be a potential topic – areas such as Political Science, Economics, History, Philosophy, Sociology etc.

It is true that a few intellectuals have had successful careers while expressing sympathy for anarchism – on the left, we have the example of Noam Chomsky; in the libertarian camp, we have the example of Murray Rothbard. However, the vast majority of academics simply roll their eyes if and when the subject of anarchism as a viable alternative to a violence-based society ever arises.

To understand this, the first thing that we need to recognize about academia is that, since it is highly subsidized by governments, demand vastly outstrips supply. In other words, there are far more people who want to become academics then there are jobs in academia.

Normally what would occur in this situation – were academia actually part of the free market – is that wages and perks would decline to the point where equilibrium would be reached.

At the moment, academics get several months off during the summer, do not labor under oppressive course loads, are virtually impossible to fire once they reach tenure, get to spend their days reading, writing and discussing ideas (which many of us would consider a hobby), travel with expenses paid to conferences, receive high levels of social respect, get paid sabbatical leaves, a full array of highly lucrative benefits, and can choose comfortable retirements or continued involvement in academia, as they see fit – and often make salaries in the six figures to boot!

Given the number of non-monetary benefits involved in being an academic, in a free market situation, wages would fall precipitously, or job requirements would rise. However, since academics – particularly in the US – basically work under the protection of a highly subsidized union, this does not occur.

Since the job itself is so innately desired by so many people, what results is a “sellers market,” in which dozens of qualified candidates jostle for each individual job. Like Angelina Jolie in a nightclub, those with the most to offer can be enormously picky.

Also, since academics cannot be fired, if a department head hires an unpleasant, troublesome, difficult or just unnerving person, he will have to live with that decision for the next 30-odd years. If divorce became impossible, people would be much more careful about choosing compatible spouses.

This is one simple and basic explanation for the exaggerated politeness and conviviality in the world of academia. People who are cantankerous, or who ask uncomfortable questions, or who reason from first principles and thus eliminate endless debating, or whose positions place into question the value and ethics of those around them, simply do not get hired.

In a free market situation, original and challenging thinking would be of great interest to students, who would doubtless pay a premium to be mentally stimulated in such a way. However, since the majority of funding in academia comes from governments, students have virtually no influence over the hiring of professors.

Let us imagine the progress of a wannabe anarchist graduate student.

In his undergraduate classes, he will annoy the professors and irritate his fellow students by asking uncomfortable questions that they cannot answer. If he talks about the violence that is at the root of state funding, he will also be open to the charge of rank hypocrisy – which I can assure you will be lavishly supplied – since he is accepting state money in the form of a subsidized university education.

His implicit criticism of his professors – that they are funded and secured through violence – will be highly annoying to them. Although this anarchist may grind his discontented way through an undergraduate degree, he will find it very hard to get any kinds of letters of reference from his professors to gain entrance into graduate school. If a professor talks about the applicant’s anarchism in his letter of recommendation, anyone evaluating such a letter will be utterly bewildered as to why such a recommendation is being made – thus devaluing any such letters from said professor in the future.

If the professor who recommends an anarchist finds that his future recommendations fall on more skeptical eyes, then the word will very quickly spread that taking this professor’s course, and getting a letter of recommendation from him, is the kiss of death for any academic aspirant.

Thus this professor will find enrollment in his courses mysteriously declining, which will not be helpful to his career, to say the least.

If the professor does not mention the grad student applicant’s anarchism, his fate becomes even worse, since even more time will be wasted interviewing an applicant that no one actually wants. Those on the receiving end of such a letter of recommendation will find it impossible to believe that the professor did not know that the student’s anarchism was a factor, and so will view his letter as a bizarre form of passive aggression, and will be that much less likely to view any future recommendations even remotely positively.

Thus an academic who writes a letter of recommendation for a student whose views will be disconcerting or discomfiting to others is undermining his value to his future students for no clear benefit whatsoever. We can safely assume that an academic who has reached the rank of professor – even prior to tenure – is not a man blind to his own long-term self-interest.

Even if this anarchist were to somehow get through to a Masters program, the same problems would exist, although they would be even worse than his undergraduate degree. Those who are in a Masters program – particularly in the Arts – are mostly there with the specific goal of securing a position in academia. In other words, they are not there for the relentless pursuit of inviolate truth, but rather to ingratiate themselves with their professors, do the kind of research that will get them noticed, and gain the kind of approval from those above them that will give them a boost up the next rung of the ladder.

Thus, when the anarchist begins talking about his theories, he will face either passive or aggressive hostility from those around him, who will view him as an irritating and counterproductive time-waster. Whether or not his theories are true is actually beside the point – the reality is that his theories actively interfere with the pursuit of academic success, which is why people are in the classroom in the first place.

Also, since the anarchist claims the power to see through the universal veneer of proclaimed self-interest to the core motivations beneath – yet does not see the core motivations of those around him in graduate school – he will also be seen to be obstinately blind. “You should believe the truth,” he will say, without seeing that these academic aspirants are not there for the truth, but rather to get a job in academia. In other words, he is avoiding the truth as much as they are.

Furthermore, by continually reminding people that the existing society in general – and academics in particular – is funded through violence, the anarchist is actively offending and insulting everyone around him. There are very few people who can absorb the moral charge of blindness to evil and corruption and come back with open-mindedness and curiosity.

If the anarchist is right, then the professors are corrupt, and the academic aspirants should really abandon their fields and go into the private sector, or become self-employed, or something along those lines. However, these people have already invested years of their lives and hundreds of thousands of dollars in lost income in pursuit of a position in academia. They obviously do not want a position in the free market, since they are in a graduate arts degree program – and should they leave that program, a good portion of the entire value that they have accumulated will vanish.

We could examine this process for much longer, but let us end with this point.

Let us imagine that a tenured academic reads this book and agrees with at least the potential validity of some of the arguments it contains. He does not have to really worry about getting fired, so why would he not begin to raise these questions with his colleagues?

Well, because these views will discredit him with his colleagues, display what they would consider “poor judgment,” (and in some ways they would not be wrong!) and this would have a highly deleterious effect on his ability to get published, speak at conferences, attract students, and enjoy a convivial and collegial work environment with his peers.

He will thus harm his own pleasure, career and interests, without changing anyone’s mind about anarchism – so why would he pursue such a course?

When an environment is corrupt, rational self-interest is automatically and irredeemably corrupted as well. We can see this easily in the realm of politics, but it is harder to see in the realm of academia.

Before I started this section, I said that I would present an interesting paradox, which is that the degree to which anarchism remains undiscussed is exactly the degree to which anarchism will undoubtedly work.

Anarchism is fundamentally predicated on the basic reality that violence is not required to organize society. Violence in the form of self-defense is acceptable, of course, but the initiation of the use of force is not only morally evil, but counterproductive from a pragmatic standpoint as well.

Anarchism – at least as I approach it – is not a form of relentless pacifism which rejects any coercive responses to violence. My formulation of an anarchistic society is one which has perfectly powerful and capable mechanisms for dealing with violent crime, in the absence of a centralized group of criminals called the state. In fact, an anarchistic society will undoubtedly deal with the problems of violent crime in a far more proactive and beneficial manner than our existing systems, which in fact do far more to provoke violence and criminality than they do to reduce or oppose it.

Anarchists recognize the power of implicit and voluntary social contract, and the power of both positive incentives such as pay and career success, as well as negative incentives such as social disapproval, economic exclusion and outright ostracism.

Thus in a very interesting way, the more that anarchism is excluded from the social discourse, the greater belief anarchists can have in the practicality of their own solutions.

In the realm of academia, obviously there is no central coercive committee that will shoot or imprison anyone who brings up anarchism in a positive light – there is no “state” in the realm of the university, yet the “rules” are universally respected and enforced, spontaneously, without planning, without coordination – and without violence!

This irony becomes even greater in the realm of politics, where the implicit “contracts” of political backroom deals are universally enforced through a process of positive selection for corruption, in that those who do not “pay back” their contributors with public money are automatically excluded from the system.

Thus both academia and the state itself work on anarchistic principles, which is the spontaneous self-organization and enforcement of unwritten rules without relying on violence.

A truly stateless society, where such rules could be made explicit and openly contractual, would function even more effectively.

In other words, if anarchism were openly talked about in state-funded academia, it would be very likely that anarchism would never work in practice.

If the unenforceable corruption of democracy did not “work” so well, that would be a significant blow against the practical efficacy of anarchism.

Academics and Voluntarism

Academics face an enormous challenge – particularly in economics – which is the charge of rank hypocrisy.

Economists are nearly universal in their support for free trade, yet of course most economists work in state-funded or state-supported institutions such as universities, the World Bank, the IMF and so on – and in academia in particular, take shelter behind enormously high barriers to entry in the form of institutionalized protectionism, and shield themselves from market forces through tenure.

Economists have a number of sophisticated responses to the question why, if voluntarism and free markets are so good, do they specifically exclude themselves from the push and pull of the free market?

First of all, academics will argue, the truth of a proposition is not determined by the integrity of the proposer (if Hitler says that two plus two is four, we cannot reasonably oppose him by saying that he is evil). Secondly, many academics will say that they have merely inherited the system from prior academics, and that they held these free-market views before they achieved tenure. Thirdly, they can argue that they do face possible unemployment, however unlikely, should their department close, and so on.

These are all very interesting arguments, and are worthy of our attention I think, but are fundamentally irrelevant to the question of academia.

It is a common defense of hypocritical intellectuals to say that their arguments cannot be judged by their own contradictory behaviour, but must be viewed on their own merits – but this argument doesbecome rather tiresome after a while.

To see what I mean, let us imagine a man named Bob who claims that his sole professional goal in life is motivating others to lose weight by following his diet. He continually proclaims that it is very important to be slim, and that only his diet will make you slim – but strangely enough, Bob himself remains morbidly obese!

It is certainly true that we cannot absolutely judge the efficacy and value of Bob’s diet solely by how much he weighs – but we can empirically judge whether or not Bob believes in the efficacy and value of his own diet.

Life is short, and the more rapidly we can make accurate decisions, the better off we are.

Imagine that, this afternoon, a disheveled and smelly man stops you on the street and offers his services as a financial advisor, but says that he cannot take your phone calls because after he declared personal bankruptcy, he has been forced to live in his car. It is certainly logically true that we cannot empirically use his situation to judge the value of his financial advice – but we can know for sure the following: either he has followed his own financial advice, which has clearly resulted in a disaster, or he has not, which means that he does not believe that it is either valuable or true.

Thus, based on the principles of mere efficiency, you would never hire such a vagrant as your trusted financial adviser – partly also due to the basic fact that he seems completely oblivious to the effect that his approach has on his credibility. Does he not recognize how you will view him, based on his presentation? If he does not realize how he appears to you, this also indicates his near-complete disconnect from reality.

In the same way, if I show up for a job interview wearing only a pair of underpants, two clothes-pins and a colander[1], it is clearly true that my choice of dress cannot be objectively used to judge the quality of my professional knowledge – but it certainly is the case that my judgment as a whole can be somewhat called into question, to say the least.

If you do not follow your own advice, I cannot ipso facto use that to judge your advice as incorrect, but I certainly can judge that you believe your advice to be incorrect, and make a completely rational decision about its value thereby.

Academics claim that their teachings are designed to have some effect in the outside world. No medical school teaches Klingon anatomy, because such “knowledge” would have no effect in the world.

Economists teach ideas so that better solutions can be implemented in the real world, which we know because they constantly complain that governments ignore their economic advice. In other words, they are frustrated because politicians constantly choose personal career goals over objectively valuable actions and decisions.

If I am trying to sell a diet book, and I am morbidly obese, obviously that totally undermines my credibility. What is the best way, then, for me to increase my credibility? Is it for me to endlessly complain that other people just don’t seem to believe in my diet?

Of course not.

The simple solution is for me to apply my efforts to that which I actually have control over – my own eating – and stop nagging other people to do what I obviously do not want to do.

This way, I can actually gain even more credibility than I would have had if I had been naturally slim to begin with. Since most people who want to diet are overweight, surely a man who loses a lot of weight – and keeps it off – by following his own diet has even more credibility!

What does this translate to in the realm of academics?

Well, almost all economists accept that free trade is the best way to organize economic interactions – thus they have the enormous collective advantage of already sharing common ideals, which is scarcely the case with politicians and other groups that economists criticize for failing to implement free trade.

If economists believe that free market voluntarism is the best way to organize interactions – and clearly they have far more control over their own profession than they do over governments – then they should work as hard as they can to apply those principles to their own profession. To lose their own excess weight, so to speak, rather than endlessly nag other people to follow the diet that they themselves reject.

Thus rather than lecture about the virtues and values of a voluntary free-market – with the clear goal of changing the behavior of others – economists should get together and change their own profession to reflect the values that they expect others to follow.

This way, they can do all the research, keep careful notes and publish papers describing the process of getting an organization to reform itself according to the commonly-accepted values of its members. The pitfalls and challenges of achieving such a noble end would be well worth documenting, as a guide and help to others.

Furthermore, since economists all believe that free trade improves quality and productivity, they could as a group measure the quality and productivity of the economics profession before and after the introduction of free trade and voluntarism. This would be an enormously valuable body of research, and would empirically support the case for going through the challenges of undoing protectionism within a profession.

Since academics very much want to have an effect on the outside world, by far the best way of achieving that goal is to reform their own profession to reflect the values that they already profess and hold as a group. They can then bring their own experience – not to mention integrity – to bear on the far greater challenges of helping governments and other organizations reform themselves.

It is quite fascinating that economists – to my limited knowledge at least – have produced virtually endless studies on the negative effects of protectionism in every conceivable field except their own.

If economists do take on the challenge of reforming their own profession according to their own commonly-held values, either such a revolution will succeed, or it will not.

If the revolution succeeds, academics would have the theoretical understanding, empirical evidence and professional credibility to bring their case for free trade to others, with a far greater chance of being successful.

If the revolution does not succeed, then clearly economists would have to give up the pretense that their arguments could ever have any effect on the outside world, and could begin the process of dismantling their own profession, since it would be revealed as little more than a fraud – the “selling” of a diet that was impossible to follow.

If economists cannot achieve conformity to their values within their own profession, where they share very similar methodologies, have the same goals, and speak the same language, then clearly asking other professions – with far greater obstacles – to reform themselves is ridiculously hypocritical, and fundamentally false.

I am sure that economists have far too much personal and professional integrity to take money for “snake oil” solutions that can never be implemented.

Thus I eagerly look forward to these economists taking their own advice, and reforming their own profession, where they have real control, in order to show other people that it can be done – and how it should be done – and to, as a group, truly achieve the goals that they so nobly profess as their main motivation.

What do you think the odds of this occurring are?

This is why you have never heard of anarchism.

Anarchy and Socializing

Human beings are so constituted – and I in no way think that this is a bad thing of course – to be exquisitely good at negotiating cost/benefit scenarios. This ability is fundamental to all forms of organic life, in that those who are unsuccessful at calculating these scenarios are quickly weeded out of the gene pool – but human beings possess this ability at a staggeringly brilliant conceptual level.

If you have gotten this far in this book, I can tell at least a few things about you. Obviously, you are curious and open-minded, and largely un-offended by original arguments, as long as they at least strive for rationality. I strongly doubt that you are in academia – or if you are, I fully expect lengthy, obtuse and condescending attacks on my arguments to appear in my inbox, or on your blog, within a few hours.

Potential academics have in my experience been irredeemably hostile to what I do because it puts them in an exquisitely tortuous position (this is particularly the case with my book “Universally Preferable Behavior: A Rational Proof of Secular Ethics”).

Wannabe academics have to believe that they are motivated by the pursuit of truth, not of tenure. Given that they have to ingratiate themselves with their academic masters, they must also believe that their professors are motivated by the pursuit of truth as well, not of power, salary and tenure. We can honorably submit ourselves to a moral teacher; we cannot honorably submit ourselves to an amoral teacher.

If academics is about the pursuit of truth, then my particular contributions to the field should at least garner some interest, if only because of the success I have had with laypeople. However, a wannabe grad student will face extreme anxiety at even the thought of bringing some of my work to the attention of his professors, because he knows what their reaction will be – scorn, dismissal, cynical laughter or genial bewilderment – and also that by bringing my work to his professors, he will be undermining the forward progress of his academic career.

Thus what I do is tortuous, particularly to graduate students, because it reveals to them the basic reality of academia, which is that it is not largely to do with the pursuit of truth, but rather is about the currying of influence and favor, and the pursuit of career goals – inevitably, at the expense of the truth itself.

When this is revealed, the long barren stretch of half a decade or more required to pursue and achieve a Ph.D. becomes a desert that truly feels too broad to cross. The anxiety and despair that my work evokes creates fear and hostility – and it is far easier to take that out on me then to question or criticize the academic system or the professors whose approval these moral heroes depend upon.

Furthermore, questioning the moral roots of the system they are embedded in will simply get them ejected from that system (just as anarchistic theory would predict) and will in no way reform that system, or change anyone’s mind within it, or improve the quality of teaching. Thus those who remain will inevitably tell themselves the comforting lie that the system is flawed, granted, but that leaving it would be to abandon one’s post, so to speak, and so the practical and moral thing to do is to struggle through, and improve the quality of teaching as best one can in the future.

Of course, this is all utterly impossible, but it is a tantalizing mythology that does help the average grad student sleep at night.

The reason that I’m talking about these kinds of calculations is that we all face this choice in life when we are presented with a startling and unforeseen argument that we cannot dismantle. Our truly brilliant ability to process cost/benefit scenarios immediately kicks out a series of syllogisms such as the following:

  • Anarchist arguments are valid BUT…
  • I will never have any influence on the elimination of the state in my lifetime;
  • I will alienate, frustrate and bewilder those around me by bringing these arguments up;
  • I will not have any influence on the thinking of those around me;
  • If people have to choose between the truth that I bring and their own illusions, they will ditch both me
    and the truth without as much as a backward glance.
  • Thus I will have alienated myself from those around me, for the sake of a goal I can never achieve.

These sorts of calculations flash rapidly through our minds, resulting in an irritation towards the arguments that can never be directly expressed, and fear of any further examination of the truth of one’s social and professional relations.

Society is really an ecosystem of agreed-upon premises or arguments, usually based on tradition. Those who accept the “truth” of these arguments find their practical course through the existing social infrastructure enormously eased; they do not ask people to really think, they do not discomfort others with uncomfortable truths, and thus what passes for discourse in the world resembles more two mirrors facing each other – a narrow infinity of empty reflection, if you will pardon the metaphor.

When a new idea attempts to enter into the intellectual bloodstream of society, so to speak, those who have placed their bets on the continuance of the existing belief structure react as any biological defense system would, with a combination of attack and isolation.

When you get an infection, your immune system will first attempt to kill off the bacteria; if it is unable to do that, it will attempt to isolate it, forming a hard shell or cyst around the infection.

In a similar way, when a new idea “infects” the existing ecosystem of social thinking, intellectuals will first attempt to ignore it, but then will attempt to “kill it off” using a wide variety of emotionally manipulative tricks, such as scorn, eye-rolling, cynical laughter, aggression, insults, condescension, ad hominem attacks and so on.

If these aggressive tactics do not work for some reason, then the fallback position is a rigid attempt to “isolate” those who support the new paradigm.

These tactics are so staggeringly effective that hundreds or thousands of years can pass between significant new intellectual movements and achievements. The last great leaps forward in Western thinking, it could be argued, occurred around the time of the Enlightenment, several hundred years ago, when the new ideas of the free market, and the power and validity of the scientific method emerged. (“Democracy” and the “separation of church and state” were not new concepts, but were inherited from the expanding interest in Roman jurisprudence that occurred after the 14th century through the rise of cities, and the subsequent necessity for more comprehensive and detailed civic laws.) Since then, there have been some dramatic increases in personal liberties – notably, the non-enforcement of slavery and the expansion of property rights for women, but in the 20th century, most of the “new” developments in human thinking tended to be tribal throwbacks, irrational in theory and evil in practice, such as fascism, communism, socialism, collectivism and so on.

Society “survives” by accepting a fairly rigid set of unquestionable axioms. If people start poking around at the root of those axioms, they are first ignored, then attacked, then isolated. Individuals have almost no ability to overturn these core axioms within their own lifetimes – and thus it takes a somewhat “irrational” dedication to truth and reason to take this course.

This is also something that I know about you…

Socrates described himself as a “gadfly” that buzzed around annoying those in society through his persistent questioning – but he himself was bothered by an internal “gadfly” which constantly nagged at him with these same problems.

Given the extraordinarily high degree of discomfort that is generated by questioning social axioms, I know for sure that you are also possessed by one of these internal “Socratic daemons” which will not let you rest in the face of irrationality, or remain content with pseudo-answers to essential questions.

Now that I have opened up at least the possibility of these answers up in your mind, I know that you will keep returning to them, almost involuntarily, turning them over, looking for weaknesses – because of a kind of obsession that you have, or a mania for consistency with reason and evidence.

There are very few of us who, in some sort of Rawlsian scenario, would get on bended knee before birth and demand to be granted this kind of obsessive compulsive dedication to philosophical truth. Given the high degree of social inconvenience, the resulting anxiety, hostility and isolation, and the near-certainty that we shall not live to see the truth we know accepted at large, it would seem to be almost a form of masochism to reopen arguments which everyone else accepts as both proven and moral. We might as well be a police detective questioning a case with 200 eyewitnesses, a confession, and a smoking gun. Just as this detective would be viewed as annoying, irrational and strange…

Well, I’m sure that you get the picture, because you live in this picture.

Thus in attempting to answer the question as to why these ideas, though rational and relatively simple to understand, remain unspoken and unexamined, we can see that any purely practical calculation of the costs and benefits of bringing these issues up, either in academics, or in one’s own personal social circle, would lead any reasonable person to avoid these thoughts for the same reason that we would give a hissing cobra a wide berth.

Of course, the reason that society does progress at all is because all thinking men and women pay at least a surface lip-service to the principles of reason and evidence.

The corruption and falsification of social discourse that inevitably results from state-funded intellectualism represents an enormously powerful and seemingly-overwhelming “front” that can forever keep a rational examination of core premises at bay.

Unfortunately for the academics – though fortunately for us – the rise of the Internet has to at least some degree diminished the threat of isolation, so that those of us dedicated to “truth at all costs” can never be fully isolated from social interaction, even if we must be satisfied with the arm’s-length intimacy of digital relationships.

Whereas in the past I would have had to endure a crippling and futile isolation from those around me, which would have very likely broken my spirit and my desire for “truth at all costs,” I can now converse freely with like-minded people at any time, day or night.

The cost of “the truth at all costs” has thus come down considerably, making it a far more attractive pursuit.

Anarchism and Integrity

Without a doubt, there is no conceivable way to make the case that you should examine or explore anarchy in order to achieve anarchistic goals at a political level. That would be like asking Francis Bacon, the founder of the modern scientific method, to pursue his ideas in order to secure funding for a particle accelerator.

When I was younger, I studied acting and playwriting for two years at the National Theater School in Montréal, Canada. On our very first day, we eager thespians were told that if we could be happy doing anything other than acting, we should do that other thing. Acting is such an irrational career to pursue that no sane calculation of the costs and benefits would ever lead anyone in that direction.

In the same way, if you can be happy and content without examining the core assumptions held by those around you, I would strongly suggest that you never bring the contents of this book up with anyone, and look at what is written about here as a mere unorthodox intellectual exercise, like examining the gameplay that might result from alternate chess rules.

If it is the case, however, that you have a passion for the truth – or, as it more often feels, that the truth has an unwavering passion for you – then the discontentedness and alienation that you have always felt can be profitably alleviated through an exploration of philosophical truth.

Once we begin to cross-examine our own core beliefs – the prejudices that we have inherited from history – we will inevitably face the feigned indifference, open hostility and condescending scorn from those around us, particularly those who claim to have an expertise in the matters we explore.

This can all be painful and bewildering, it is true – on the other hand, however, once we develop a truly deep and intimate relationship with the truth – and thus, really, with our own selves – we will find ourselves almost involuntarily looking back upon our own prior relationships and truly seeing for the first time the shallowness and evasion that characterized our interactions. We can never be closer to others than we are to ourselves, and we can never be closer to ourselves than we are to the truth – the truth leads us to personal authenticity; authenticity leads us to intimacy, which is the greatest joy in human relations.

Thus while it is true that while many shallow people will pass from our lives when we pursue the “truth at all costs,” it is equally true that across the desert of isolation lies a small village – it is not yet a city, nor even a town – full of honest and passionate souls, where love and friendship can flower free of hypocrisy, selfishness and avoidance, where curious and joyful self-expression flow easily, where the joy of honesty and the fundamental relaxation of easy self-criticism unifies our happy tribe in our pursuit and achievement of the truth.

The road to this village is dry, and long, and stony, and hard.

I truly hope that you will join us.

 

Afterward

I do thank you for taking the time to run through this little book. I hope that I have stimulated some interest within you about the thrill and value of exploring anarchy.

If you are interested in exploring these ideas further – in particular some thoughts on how an anarchistic society could work – you might enjoy some of the earlier Freedomain Radio podcasts, which are available at www.freedomainradio.com.

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The Right to Ignore the State by Herbert Spencer

The Right to Ignore the State

by Herbert Spencer (1820-1903)

1. The Right to Voluntary Outlawry

As a corollary to the proposition that all institutions must be subordinated to the law of equal freedom, we cannot choose but admit the right of the citizen to adopt a condition of voluntary outlawry. If every man has freedom to do all that he wills, provided he infringes not the equal freedom of any other man, then he is free to drop connection with the state — to relinquish its protection, and to refuse paying toward its support. It is self-evident that in so behaving he in no way trenches upon the liberty of others; for his position is a passive one; and whilst passive he cannot become an aggressor. It is equally self-evident that he cannot be compelled to continue one of a political corporation, without a breach of the moral law, seeing that citizenship involves payment of taxes; and the taking away of a man’s property against his will, is an infringement of his rights. Government being simply an agent employed in common by a number of individuals to secure to them certain advantages, the very nature of the connection implies that it is for each to say whether he will employ such an agent or not. If any one of them determines to ignore this mutual-safety confederation, nothing can be said except that he loses all claim to its good offices, and exposes himself to the danger of maltreatment — a thing he is quite at liberty to do if he likes. He cannot be coerced into political combination without a breach of the law of equal freedom; he can withdraw from it without committing any such breach; and he has therefore a right so to withdraw.

2. The Immorality of the State

“No human laws are of any validity if contrary to the law of nature; and such of them as are valid derive all their force and all their authority mediately or immediately from this original.” Thus writes Blackstone[1], to whom let all honor be given for having so far outseen the ideas of his time; and, indeed, we may say of our time. A good antidote, this, for those political superstitions which so widely prevail. A good check upon that sentiment of power-worship which still misleads us by magnifying the prerogatives of constitutional governments as it once did those of monarchs. Let men learn that a legislature is not “our God upon earth,” though, by the authority they ascribe to it, and the things they expect from it, they would seem to think it is. Let them learn rather that it is an institution serving a purely temporary purpose, whose power, when not stolen, is at the best borrowed.

Nay, indeed, have we not seen that government is essentially immoral? Is it not the offspring of evil, bearing about it all the marks of its parentage? Does it not exist because crime exists? Is it not strong, or as we say, despotic, when crime is great? Is there not more liberty, that is, less government, as crime diminishes? And must not government cease when crime ceases, for very lack of objects on which to perform its function? Not only does magisterial power exist because of evil; but it exists by evil. Violence is employed to maintain it; and all violence involves criminality. Soldiers, policemen, and gaolers; swords, batons, and fetters, are instruments for inflicting pain; and all infliction of pain is in the abstract wrong. The state employs evil weapons to subjugate evil, and is alike contaminated by the objects with which it deals, and the means by which it works. Morality cannot recognize it; for morality, being  simply a statement of the perfect law can give no countenance to anything growing out of, and living by, breaches of that law. Wherefore, legislative authority can never be ethical must always be conventional merely.

Hence, there is a certain inconsistency in the attempt to determine the right position, structure, and conduct of a government by appeal to the first principles of rectitude. For, as just pointed out, the acts of an institution which is in both nature and origin imperfect, cannot be made to square with the perfect law. All that we can do is to ascertain, firstly, in what  attitude a legislature must stand to the community to avoid being by its mere existence an embodied wrong; — secondly, in what manner it must be constituted so as to exhibit the least incongruity with the moral law; — and thirdly, to what sphere its actions must be limited to prevent it from multiplying those breaches of equity it is set up to prevent.

The first condition to be conformed to before a legislature can be established without violating the law of equal freedom, is the acknowledgment of the right now under discussion — the right to ignore the state.[2]

3. The People as the Source of Power

Upholders of pure despotism may fitly believe state-control to be unlimited and unconditional. They who assert that men are made for governments and not governments for men, may consistently hold that no one can remove himself beyond the pale of political organization. But they who maintain that the people are the only legitimate source of power — that legislative authority is not original, but deputed — cannot deny the right to ignore the state without entangling themselves in an absurdity.

For, if legislative authority is deputed, it follows that those from whom it proceeds are the masters of those on whom it is conferred: it follows further, that as masters they confer the said authority voluntarily: and this implies that they may give or withhold it as they please. To call that deputed which is wrenched from men whether they will or not, is nonsense. But what is here true of all collectively is equally true of each separately. As a government can rightly act for the people, only when empowered by them, so also can it rightly act for the individual, only when empowered by him. If A, B, and C, debate whether they shall employ an agent to perform for them a certain service, and if whilst A and B agree to do so, C dissents, C cannot equitably be made a party to the agreement in spite of himself. And this must be equally true of thirty as of three: and if of thirty, why not of three hundred, or three thousand, or three millions?

4. Subordination of Government Authority Of the political superstitions lately alluded to, none is so universally diffused as the notion that majorities are omnipotent. Under the impression that the preservation of order will ever require power to be wielded by some party, the moral sense of our time feels that such power cannot rightly be conferred on any but the largest moiety of society. It interprets literally the saying that “the voice of the people is the voice of God,” and transferring to the one the sacredness attached to the other, it concludes that from the will of the people, that is of the majority, there can be no appeal. Yet is this belief entirely erroneous.

Suppose, for the sake of argument, that, struck by some Malthusian panic, a legislature duly representing public opinion were to enact that all children born during the next ten years should be drowned. Does anyone think such an enactment would be warrantable? If not, there is evidently a limit to the power of a majority. Suppose, again, that of two races living together — Celts and Saxons, for example — the most numerous determined to make the others their slaves. Would the authority of the greatest number be in such case valid? If not, there is something to which its authority must be subordinate. Suppose, once more, that all men having incomes under 50 pounds a year were to resolve upon reducing every income above that amount to their own standard, and appropriating the excess for public purposes.

Could their resolution be justified? If not, it must be a third time confessed that there is a law to which the popular voice must defer. What, then, is that law, if not the law of pure equity — the law of equal freedom? These restraints, which all would put to the will of the majority, are exactly the restraints set up by that law. We deny the right of a majority to murder, to enslave, or to rob, simply because murder, enslaving, and robbery are violations of that law — violations too gross to be overlooked. But if great violations of it are wrong, so also are smaller ones. If the will of the many cannot supersede the first principle of morality in these cases, neither can it in any. So that, however insignificant the minority, and however trifling the proposed trespass against their rights, no such trespass is permissible.

When we have made our constitution purely democratic, thinks to himself the earnest reformer, we shall have brought government into harmony with absolute justice. Such a faith, though perhaps needful for this age, is a very erroneous one. By no process can coercion be made equitable. The freest form of government is only the least objectional form. The rule of the many by the few we call tyranny: the rule of the few by the many is tyranny also; only of a less intense kind. “You shall do as we will, and not as you will,” is in either case the declaration: and if the hundred make it to the ninety-nine, instead of the ninety-nine to the hundred, it is only a fraction less immoral. Of two such parties, whichever fulfills this declaration necessarily breaks the law of equal freedom: the only difference being that by the one it is broken in the persons of ninety-nine, whilst by the other it is broken in the persons of a hundred. And the merit of the democratic form of government consists solely in this, that it trespasses against the smallest number.

The very existence of majorities and minorities is indicative of an immoral state. The man whose character harmonizes with the moral law, we found to be one who can obtain complete happiness without diminishing the happiness of his fellows. But the enactment of public arrangements by vote implies a society consisting of men otherwise constituted — implies that the desires of some cannot be satisfied without sacrificing the desires of others — implies that in the pursuit of their happiness the majority inflict a certain amount of unhappiness on the minority — implies, therefore, organic immorality. Thus, from another point of view, we again perceive that even in its most equitable form it is impossible for government to dissociate itself from evil; and further, that unless the right to ignore the state is recognized, its acts must be essentially criminal.

5. The Limits of Taxation

That a man is free to abandon the benefits and throw off the burdens of citizenship, may indeed be inferred from the admissions of existing authorities and of current opinion. Unprepared as they probably are for so extreme a doctrine as the one here maintained, the radicals of our day yet unwittingly profess their belief in a maxim which obviously embodies this doctrine. Do we not continually hear them quote Blackstone’s assertion that “no subject of England can be constrained to pay any aids or taxes even for the defense of the realm or the support of government, but such as are imposed by his own consent, or that of his representative in parliament?” And what does this mean? It means, say they, that every man should have a vote. True: but it means much more. If there is any sense in words it is a distinct enunciation of the very right now contended for. In affirming that a man may not be taxed unless he has directly or indirectly given his consent, it affirms that he may refuse to be so taxed; and to refuse to be taxed, is to cut all connection with the state. Perhaps it will be said that this consent is not a specific, but a general one, and that the citizen is understood to have assented to everything his representative may do, when he voted for him. But suppose he did not vote for him; and on the contrary did all in his power to get elected someone holding opposite views — what them? The reply will probably be that, by taking part in such an election, he tacitly agreed to abide by the decision of the majority. And how if he did not vote at all? Why then he cannot justly complain of any tax, seeing that he made no protest against its imposition. So, curiously enough, it seems that he gave his consent in whatever way he acted — whether he said yes, whether he said no, or whether he remained neuter!  A rather awkward doctrine this. Here stands an unfortunate citizen who is asked if he will pay money for a certain proffered advantage; and whether he employs the only means of expressing his refusal or does not employ it, we are told that he practically agrees; if only the number of others who agree is greater than the number of those who dissent. And thus we are introduced to the novel principle that A’s consent to a thing is not determined by what A says, but by what B may happen to say!

It is for those who quote Blackstone to choose between this absurdity and the doctrine above set forth. Either his maxim implies the right to ignore the state, or it is sheer nonsense.

6. On Civil and Religious Liberty

There is a strange heterogeneity in our political faiths. Systems that have had their day, and are beginning here and there to let the daylight through, are patched with modern notions utterly unlike in quality and colour; and men gravely display these systems, wear them, and walk about in them, quite unconscious of their grotesqueness. This transition state of ours, partaking as it does equally of the past and the future, breeds hybrid theories exhibiting the oddest union of bygone despotism and coming freedom. Here are types of the old organization curiously disguised by germs of the new — peculiarities showing adaptation to a preceding state modified by rudiments that prophesy of something to come — making altogether so chaotic a mixture of relationships that there is no saying to what class these births of the age should be referred.

As ideas must of necessity bear the stamp of the time, it is useless to lament the contentment with which these incongruous beliefs are held. Otherwise it would seem unfortunate that men do not pursue to the end the trains of reasoning which have led to these partial modifications. In the present case, for example, consistency would force them to admit that, on other points besides the one just noticed, they hold opinions and use arguments in which the right to ignore the state is involved.

For what is the meaning of Dissent? The time was when a man’s faith and his mode of worship were as much determinable by law as his secular acts; and, according to provisions extant in our statute-book, are so still. Thanks to the growth of a Protestant spirit, however, we have ignored the state in this matter — wholly in theory, and partly in practice. But how have we done so? By assuming an attitude which, if consistently maintained, implies a right to ignore the state entirely. Observe the positions of the two parties. “This is your creed,” says the legislator; “you must believe and openly profess what is here set down for you.” “I shall not do anything of the kind,” answers the nonconformist, “I will go to prison rather.” “Your religious ordinances,” pursues the legislator, “shall be such as we have prescribed. You shall attend the churches we have endowed, and adopt the ceremonies used in them.”  Nothing shall induce me to do so,” is the reply; “I altogether deny your power to dictate to me in such matters, and mean to resist to the uttermost.” “Lastly,” adds the legislator, “we shall require you to pay such sums of money toward the support of these religious institutions, as we may see fit to ask.” “Not a farthing will you have from me,” exclaims our sturdy Independent: “even did I believe in the doctrines of your church (which I do not), I should still rebel against your interference; and if you take my property, it shall be by force and under protest.”

What now does this proceeding amount to when regarded in the abstract? It amounts to an assertion by the individual of the right to exercise one of his faculties — the religious sentiment — without let or hindrance, and with no limit save that set up by the equal claims of others. And what is meant by ignoring the state? Simply an assertion of the right similarly to exercise all the faculties. The one is just an expansion of the other — rests on the same footing with the other — must stand or fall with the other. Men do indeed speak of civil and religious liberty as different things; but the distinction is quite arbitrary. They are parts of the same whole and cannot philosophically be separated.

“Yes they can,” interposes an objector; “assertion of the one is imperative as being a religious duty. The liberty to worship God in the way that seems to him right, is a liberty without which a man cannot fulfill what he believes to be Divine commands, and therefore conscience requires him to maintain it.” True enough; but how if the same can be asserted of all other liberty? How if maintenance of this also turns out to be a matter of conscience? Have we not seen that human happiness is the Divine will — that only by exercising our faculties is this happiness obtainable — and that it is impossible to exercise them without freedom? And if this freedom for the exercise of faculties is a condition without which the Divine will cannot be fulfilled, the preservation of it is, by our objector’s own showing, a duty. Or, in other words, it appears not only that the maintenance of liberty of action may be a point of conscience, but that it ought to be one. And thus we are clearly shown that the claims to ignore the state in religious and in secular matters are in essence identical.

The other reason commonly assigned for nonconformity, admits of similar treatment. Besides resisting state dictation in the abstract, the dissenter resists it from disapprobation of the doctrines taught. No legislative injunction will make him adopt what he considers an erroneous belief; and, bearing in mind his duty toward his fellow-men, he refuses to help through the medium of his purse in disseminating this erroneous belief. The position is perfectly intelligible. But it is one which either commits its adherents to civil nonconformity also, or leaves them in a dilemma. For why do they refuse to be instrumental in spreading error? Because error is adverse to human happiness. And on what ground is any piece of secular legislation disapproved? For the same reason — because thought adverse to human happiness. How then can it be shown that the state ought to be resisted in the one case and not in the other? Will any one deliberately assert that if a government demands money from us to aid in teaching what we think will produce evil, we ought to refuse it; but that if the money is for the purpose of doing what we think will produce evil, we ought not to refuse it?

Yet such is the hopeful proposition which those have to maintain who recognize the right to ignore the state in religious matters, but deny it in civil matters.

7. Progress Hindered by Lack of Social Morality

The substance of the essay once more reminds us of the incongruity between a perfect law and an imperfect state. The practicability of the principle here laid down varies directly as social morality. In a thoroughly vicious community its admission would be productive of anarchy. In a completely virtuous one its admission will be both innocuous and inevitable.

Progress toward a condition of social health — a condition, that is, in which the remedial measures of legislation will no longer be needed, is progress toward a condition in which those remedial measures will be cast aside, and the authority prescribing them disregarded. The two changes are of necessity coordinate. That moral sense whose supremacy will make society harmonious and government unnecessary, is the same moral sense which will then make each man assert his freedom even to the extent of ignoring the state — is the same moral sense which, by deterring the majority from coercing the minority, will eventually render government impossible. And as what are merely different manifestations of the same sentiment must bear a constant ratio to each other, the tendency to repudiate governments will increase only at the same rate that governments become needless.

Let not any be alarmed, therefore, at the promulgation of the foregoing doctrine. There are many changes yet to be passed through before it can begin to exercise much influence. Probably a long time will elapse before the right to ignore the State will be generally admitted, even in theory. It will be still longer before it receives legislative recognition. And even then there will be plenty of checks upon the premature exercise of it. A sharp experience will sufficiently instruct those who may too soon abandon legal protection. Whilst, in the majority of men, there is such a love of tried arrangements, and so great a dread of experiments, that they will probably not act upon this right until long after it is safe to do so.

8. The Coming Decay of the State

It is a mistake to assume that government must necessarily last forever. The institution marks a certain stage of civilization — is natural to a particular phase of human development. It is not essential, but incidental. As amongst the Bushmen we find a state antecedent to government, so may there be one in which it shall have become extinct. Already has it lost something of its importance. The time was when the history of a people was but the history of its government. It is otherwise now. The once universal despotism was but a manifestation of the extreme necessity of restraint. Feudalism, serfdom, slavery, all tyrannical institutions, are merely the most vigorous kinds of rule, springing out of, and necessary to, a bad state of man.

The progress from these is in all cases the same — less government. Constitutional forms means this. Political freedom means this. Democracy means this. In societies, associations, joint-stock companies, we have new agencies occupying big fields filled in less advanced times and countries by the State. With us the legislature is dwarfed by newer and greater powers — is no longer master, but slave. “Pressure from without” has come to be acknowledged as ultimate ruler. The triumph of the Anti-Corn Law League is simply the most marked instance yet of the new style of government, that of opinion, overcoming the old style, that of force. It bids fair to become a trite remark that the law-maker is but the servant of the thinker. Daily is Statecraft held in less repute. Even the “Times” can see that “the social changes thickening around us establish a truth sufficiently humiliating to legislative bodies,” and that “the great stages of our progress are determined rather by the spontaneous workings of society, connected as they are with the progress of art and science, the operation of nature, and other such unpolitical causes, than by the proposition of a bill, the passing of an act, or any other event of politics or of State.” Thus, as civilization advances, does government decay. To the bad it is essential; to the good, not. It is the check which national wickedness makes to itself, and exists only to the same degree. Its continuance is proof of still-existing barbarism. What a cage is to the wild beast, law is to the selfish man. Restraint is for the savage, the rapacious, the violent; not for the just, the gentle, the benevolent. All necessity for external force implies a morbid state. Dungeons for the felon; a strait jacket for the maniac; crutches for the lame; stays for the weak-backed; for the infirm of purpose a master; for the foolish a guide; but for the sound mind in a sound body none of these. Were there no thieves and murderers, prisons would be unnecessary. It is only because tyranny is yet rife in the world that we have armies. Barristers, judges, juries, all the instruments of law, exist simply because knavery exists. Magisterial force is the sequence of social vice, and the policeman is but the complement of the criminal. Therefore it is that we call government “a necessary evil.”

What then must be thought of a morality which chooses this probationary institution for its basis, builds a vast fabric of conclusions upon its assumed permanence, selects acts of parliament for its materials, and employs the statesman for its architect? The expediency philosopher does this. It takes government into partnership, assigns to it entire control of its affairs, enjoins all to defer to its judgment, makes it, in short, the vital principle, the very soul, of its system. When Paley teaches that “the interest of the whole society is binding upon every part of it,” he implies the existence of some supreme power by which “that interest of the whole society” is to be determined. And elsewhere he more explicitly tells us that for the attainment of a national advantage the private will of the subject is to give way, and that “the proof of this advantage lies with the legislature.” Still more decisive is Bentham when he says that “the happiness of the individuals of whom a community is composed — that is, their pleasures and their security — is the sole end which the legislator ought to have in view, the sole standard in conformity with which each individual ought, as far as depends upon the legislature, to be made to fashion his behavior.” These positions, be it remembered, are not voluntarily assumed; they are necessitated by the premises. If, as its propounder tells us, “expediency” means the benefit of the mass, not of the individual, — of the future as much as of the present, — it presupposes someone to judge of what will most conduce to that benefit.

Upon the “utility” of this or that measure the views are so various as to render an umpire essential. Whether protective duties, or established religions, or capital punishments, or poor laws, do or do not minister to the “general good” are questions concerning which there is such difference of opinion that, were nothing to be done till all agreed upon them, we might stand still to the end of time. If each man carried out, independently of a State power, his own notions of what would best secure “the greatest happiness of the greatest number,” society would quickly lapse into confusion. Clearly, therefore, a morality established upon a maxim of which the practical interpretation is questionable involves the existence of some authority whose decisions respecting it shall be final, — that is, a legislature. And without that authority such a morality must ever remain inoperative.

See here, then, the predicament, a system of moral philosophy professes to be a code of correct rules for the control of human beings — fitted for the regulation of the best as well as the worst members of the race — applicable, if true, to the guidance of humanity in its highest conceivable perfection. Government, however, is an institution originating in man’s imperfection; an institution confessedly begotten by necessity out of evil; one which might be dispensed with were the world peopled with the unselfish, the conscientious, the philanthropic; one, in short, inconsistent with this same “highest conceivable perfection.” How, then, can that be a true system of morality which adopts government as one of its premises?

Author’s Endnotes

[1] Sir William Blackstone (1723-1780) was the most renowned of English jurists.

[2] Hence may be drawn an argument for direct taxation; seeing that only when taxation is direct does repudiation of state burdens become possible.

 

The Politics of Obedience – The Discourse of Voluntary Servitude by Étienne de la Boétie

More Anti-Statism: The Underpinnings of the State

La Boétie wrote the following essay while still a law student at the University of Orléans in the early 1550s. Gene Sharp, author of The Politics of Nonviolent Action, had this to say about it: “[La] Boétie’s Discourse is a highly significant essay on the ultimate source of political power, the origins of dictatorship, and the means by which people can prevent political enslavement and liberate themselves. The Discourse should have a prominent place in the history of political theory, and also of the development of the power analysis in which the technique of non-violent struggle is rooted.”

The Politics of Obedience:
The Discourse of Voluntary Servitude

by Étienne de la Boétie

(Part I)

I see no good in having several lords;
Let one alone be master, let one alone be king.

THESE WORDS Homer puts in the mouth of Ulysses,1 as he addresses the people. If he had said nothing further than “I see no good in having several lords,” it would have been well spoken. For the sake of logic he should have maintained that the rule of several could not be good since the power of one man alone, as soon as he acquires the title of master, becomes abusive and unreasonable. Instead he declared what seems preposterous: “Let one alone be master, let one alone be king.” We must not be critical of Ulysses, who at the moment was perhaps obliged to speak these words in order to quell a mutiny in the army, for this reason, in my opinion, choosing language to meet the emergency rather than the truth. Yet, in the light of reason, it is a great misfortune to be at the beck and call of one master, for it is impossible to be sure that he is going to be kind, since it is always in his power to be cruel whenever he pleases. As for having several masters, according to the number one has, it amounts to being that many times unfortunate. Although I do not wish at this time to discuss this much debated question, namely whether other types of government are preferable to monarchy,2 still I should like to know, before casting doubt on the place that monarchy should occupy among commonwealths, whether or not it belongs to such a group, since it is hard to believe that there is anything of common wealth in a country where everything belongs to one master. This question, however, can remain for another time and would really require a separate treatment involving by its very nature all sorts of political discussion.

FOR THE PRESENT I should like merely to understand how it happens that so many men, so many villages, so many cities, so many nations, sometimes suffer under a single tyrant who has no other power than the power they give him; who is able to harm them only to the extent to which they have the willingness to bear with him; who could do them absolutely no injury unless they preferred to put up with him rather than contradict him. Surely a striking situation! Yet it is so common that one must grieve the more and wonder the less at the spectacle of a million men serving in wretchedness, their necks under the yoke, not constrained by a greater multitude than they, but simply, it would seem, delighted and charmed by the name of one man alone whose power they need not fear, for he is evidently the one person whose qualities they cannot admire because of his inhumanity and brutality toward them. A weakness characteristic of human kind is that we often have to obey force; we have to make concessions; we ourselves cannot always be the stronger. Therefore, when a nation is constrained by the fortune of war to serve a single clique, as happened when the city of Athens served the thirty Tyrants3 one should not be amazed that the nation obeys, but simply be grieved by the situation; or rather, instead of being amazed or saddened, consider patiently the evil and look forward hopefully toward a happier future.

Our nature is such that the common duties of human relationship occupy a great part of the course of our life. It is reasonable to love virtue, to esteem good deeds, to be grateful for good from whatever source we may receive it, and, often, to give up some of our comfort in order to increase the honor and advantage of some man whom we love and who deserves it. Therefore, if the inhabitants of a country have found some great personage who has shown rare foresight in protecting them in an emergency, rare boldness in defending them, rare solicitude in governing them, and if, from that point on, they contract the habit of obeying him and depending on him to such an extent that they grant him certain prerogatives, I fear that such a procedure is not prudent, inasmuch as they remove him from a position in which he was doing good and advance him to a dignity in which he may do evil. Certainly while he continues to manifest good will one need fear no harm from a man who seems to be generally well disposed.

But O good Lord! What strange phenomenon is this? What name shall we give it? What is the nature of this misfortune? What vice is it, or, rather, what degradation? To see an endless multitude of people not merely obeying, but driven to servility? Not ruled, but tyrannized over? These wretches have no wealth, no kin, nor wife nor children, not even life itself that they can call their own. They suffer plundering, wantonness, cruelty, not from an army, not from a barbarian horde, on account of whom they must shed their blood and sacrifice their lives, but from a single man; not from a Hercules nor from a Samson, but from a single little man. Too frequently this same little man is the most cowardly and effeminate in the nation, a stranger to the powder of battle and hesitant on the sands of the tournament; not only without energy to direct men by force, but with hardly enough virility to bed with a common woman! Shall we call subjection to such a leader cowardice? Shall we say that those who serve him are cowardly and faint-hearted? If two, if three, if four, do not defend themselves from the one, we might call that circumstance surprising but nevertheless conceivable. In such a case one might be justified in suspecting a lack of courage. But if a hundred, if a thousand endure the caprice of a single man, should we not rather say that they lack not the courage but the desire to rise against him, and that such an attitude indicates indifference rather than cowardice? When not a hundred, not a thousand men, but a hundred provinces, a thousand cities, a million men, refuse to assail a single man from whom the kindest treatment received is the infliction of serfdom and slavery, what shall we call that? Is it cowardice? Of course there is in every vice inevitably some limit beyond which one cannot go. Two, possibly ten, may fear one; but when a thousand, a million men, a thousand cities, fail to protect themselves against the domination of one man, this cannot be called cowardly, for cowardice does not sink to such a depth, any more than valor can be termed the effort of one individual to scale a fortress, to attack an army, or to conquer a kingdom. What monstrous vice, then, is this which does not even deserve to be called cowardice, a vice for which no term can be found vile enough, which nature herself disavows and our tongues refuse to name?

Place on one side fifty thousand armed men, and on the other the same number; let them join in battle, one side fighting to retain its liberty, the other to take it away; to which would you, at a guess, promise victory? Which men do you think would march more gallantly to combat—those who anticipate as a reward for their suffering the maintenance of their freedom, or those who cannot expect any other prize for the blows exchanged than the enslavement of others? One side will have before its eyes the blessings of the past and the hope of similar joy in the future; their thoughts will dwell less on the comparatively brief pain of battle than on what they may have to endure forever, they, their children, and all their posterity. The other side has nothing to inspire it with courage except the weak urge of greed, which fades before danger and which can never be so keen, it seems to me, that it will not be dismayed by the least drop of blood from wounds. Consider the justly famous battles of Miltiades,4 Leonidas,5 Themistocles,6 still fresh today in recorded history and in the minds of men as if they had occurred but yesterday, battles fought in Greece for the welfare of the Greeks and as an example to the world. What power do you think gave to such a mere handful of men not the strength but the courage to withstand the attack of a fleet so vast that even the seas were burdened, and to defeat the armies of so many nations, armies so immense that their officers alone outnumbered the entire Greek force? What was it but the fact that in those glorious days this struggle represented not so much a fight of Greeks against Persians as a victory of liberty over domination, of freedom over greed?

It amazes us to hear accounts of the valor that liberty arouses in the hearts of those who defend it; but who could believe reports of what goes on every day among the inhabitants of some countries, who could really believe that one man alone may mistreat a hundred thousand and deprive them of their liberty? Who would credit such a report if he merely heard it, without being present to witness the event? And if this condition occurred only in distant lands and were reported to us, which one among us would not assume the tale to be imagined or invented, and not really true? Obviously there is no need of fighting to overcome this single tyrant, for he is automatically defeated if the country refuses consent to its own enslavement: it is not necessary to deprive him of anything, but simply to give him nothing; there is no need that the country make an effort to do anything for itself provided it does nothing against itself. It is therefore the inhabitants themselves who permit, or, rather, bring about, their own subjection, since by ceasing to submit they would put an end to their servitude. A people enslaves itself, cuts its own throat, when, having a choice between being vassals and being free men, it deserts its liberties and takes on the yoke, gives consent to its own misery, or, rather, apparently welcomes it. If it cost the people anything to recover its freedom, I should not urge action to this end, although there is nothing a human should hold more dear than the restoration of his own natural right, to change himself from a beast of burden back to a man, so to speak. I do not demand of him so much boldness; let him prefer the doubtful security of living wretchedly to the uncertain hope of living as he pleases. What then? If in order to have liberty nothing more is needed than to long for it, if only a simple act of the will is necessary, is there any nation in the world that considers a single wish too high a price to pay in order to recover rights which it ought to be ready to redeem at the cost of its blood, rights such that their loss must bring all men of honor to the point of feeling life to be unendurable and death itself a deliverance?

Everyone knows that the fire from a little spark will increase and blaze ever higher as long as it finds wood to burn; yet without being quenched by water, but merely by finding no more fuel to feed on, it consumes itself, dies down, and is no longer a flame. Similarly, the more tyrants pillage, the more they crave, the more they ruin and destroy; the more one yields to them, and obeys them, by that much do they become mightier and more formidable, the readier to annihilate and destroy. But if not one thing is yielded to them, if, without any violence they are simply not obeyed, they become naked and undone and as nothing, just as, when the root receives no nourishment, the branch withers and dies.

To achieve the good that they desire, the bold do not fear danger; the intelligent do not refuse to undergo suffering. It is the stupid and cowardly who are neither able to endure hardship nor to vindicate their rights; they stop at merely longing for them, and lose through timidity the valor roused by the effort to claim their rights, although the desire to enjoy them still remains as part of their nature. A longing common to both the wise and the foolish, to brave men and to cowards, is this longing for all those things which, when acquired, would make them happy and contented. Yet one element appears to be lacking. I do not know how it happens that nature fails to place within the hearts of men a burning desire for liberty, a blessing so great and so desirable that when it is lost all evils follow thereafter, and even the blessings that remain lose taste and savor because of their corruption by servitude. Liberty is the only joy upon which men do not seem to insist; for surely if they really wanted it they would receive it. Apparently they refuse this wonderful privilege because it is so easily acquired.

Poor, wretched, and stupid peoples, nations determined on your own misfortune and blind to your own good! You let yourselves be deprived before your own eyes of the best part of your revenues; your fields are plundered, your homes robbed, your family heirlooms taken away. You live in such a way that you cannot claim a single thing as your own; and it would seem that you consider yourselves lucky to be loaned your property, your families, and your very lives. All this havoc, this misfortune, this ruin, descends upon you not from alien foes, but from the one enemy whom you yourselves render as powerful as he is, for whom you go bravely to war, for whose greatness you do not refuse to offer your own bodies unto death. He who thus domineers over you has only two eyes, only two hands, only one body, no more than is possessed by the least man among the infinite numbers dwelling in your cities; he has indeed nothing more than the power that you confer upon him to destroy you. Where has he acquired enough eyes to spy upon you, if you do not provide them yourselves? How can he have so many arms to beat you with, if he does not borrow them from you? The feet that trample down your cities, where does he get them if they are not your own? How does he have any power over you except through you? How would he dare assail you if he had no cooperation from you? What could he do to you if you yourselves did not connive with the thief who plunders you, if you were not accomplices of the murderer who kills you, if you were not traitors to yourselves? You sow your crops in order that he may ravage them, you install and furnish your homes to give him goods to pillage; you rear your daughters that he may gratify his lust; you bring up your children in order that he may confer upon them the greatest privilege he knows—to be led into his battles, to be delivered to butchery, to be made the servants of his greed and the instruments of his vengeance; you yield your bodies unto hard labor in order that he may indulge in his delights and wallow in his filthy pleasures; you weaken yourselves in order to make him the stronger and the mightier to hold you in check. From all these indignities, such as the very beasts of the field would not endure, you can deliver yourselves if you try, not by taking action, but merely by willing to be free. Resolve to serve no more, and you are at once freed. I do not ask that you place hands upon the tyrant to topple him over, but simply that you support him no longer; then you will behold him, like a great Colossus whose pedestal has been pulled away, fall of his own weight and break into pieces?

(Part II)

DOCTORS ARE NO DOUBT CORRECT in warning us not to touch incurable wounds; and I am presumably taking chances in preaching as I do to a people which has long lost all sensitivity and, no longer conscious of its infirmity, is plainly suffering from mortal illness. Let us therefore understand by logic, if we can, how it happens that this obstinate willingness to submit has become so deeply rooted in a nation that the very love of liberty now seems no longer natural.

In the first place, all would agree that, if we led our lives according to the ways intended by nature and the lessons taught by her, we should be intuitively obedient to our parents; later we should adopt reason as our guide and become slaves to nobody. Concerning the obedience given instinctively to one’s father and mother, we are in agreement, each one admitting himself to be a model. As to whether reason is born with us or not, that is a question loudly discussed by academicians and treated by all schools of philosophers. For the present I think I do not err in stating that there is in our souls some native seed of reason, which, if nourished by good counsel and training, flowers into virtue, but which, on the other hand, if unable to resist the vices surrounding it, is stifled and blighted. Yet surely if there is anything in this world clear and obvious, to which one cannot close one’s eyes, it is the fact that nature, handmaiden of God, governess of men, has cast us all in the same mold in order that we may behold in one another companions, or rather brothers. If in distributing her gifts nature has favored some more than others with respect to body or spirit, she has nevertheless not planned to place us within this world as if it were a field of battle, and has not endowed the stronger or the cleverer in order that they may act like armed brigands in a forest and attack the weaker. One should rather conclude that in distributing larger shares to some and smaller shares to others, nature has intended to give occasion for brotherly love to become manifest, some of us having the strength to give help to others who are in need of it. Hence, since this kind mother has given us the whole world as a dwelling place, has lodged us in the same house, has fashioned us according to the same model so that in beholding one another we might almost recognize ourselves; since she has bestowed upon us all the great gift of voice and speech for fraternal relationship, thus achieving by the common and mutual statement of our thoughts a communion of our wills; and since she has tried in every way to narrow and tighten the bond of our union and kinship; since she has revealed in every possible manner her intention, not so much to associate us as to make us one organic whole, there can be no further doubt that we are all naturally free, inasmuch as we are all comrades. Accordingly it should not enter the mind of anyone that nature has placed some of us in slavery, since she has actually created us all in one likeness.

Therefore it is fruitless to argue whether or not liberty is natural, since none can be held in slavery without being wronged, and in a world governed by a nature, which is reasonable, there is nothing so contrary as an injustice. Since freedom is our natural state, we are not only in possession of it but have the urge to defend it. Now, if perchance some cast a doubt on this conclusion and are so corrupted that they are not able to recognize their rights and inborn tendencies, I shall have to do them the honor that is properly theirs and place, so to speak, brute beasts in the pulpit to throw light on their nature and condition, The very beasts, God help me! if men are not too deaf, cry out to them, “Long live Liberty!” Many among them die as soon as captured: just as the fish loses life as soon as he leaves the water, so do these creatures close their eyes upon the light and have no desire to survive the loss of their natural freedom. If the animals were to constitute their kingdom by rank, their nobility would be chosen from this type. Others, from the largest to the smallest, when captured put up such a strong resistance by means of claws, horns, beak, and paws, that they show clearly enough how they cling to what they are losing; afterwards in captivity they manifest by so many evident signs their awareness of their misfortune, that it is easy to see they are languishing rather than living, and continue their existence—more in lamentation of their lost freedom than in enjoyment of their servitude. What else can explain the behavior of the elephant who, after defending himself to the last ounce of his strength and knowing himself on the point of being taken, dashes his jaws against the trees and breaks his tusks, thus manifesting his longing to remain free as he has been and proving his wit and ability to buy off the huntsmen in the hope that through the sacrifice of his tusks he will be permitted to offer his ivory as a ransom for his liberty? We feed the horse from birth in order to train him to do our bidding. Yet he is tamed with such difficulty that when we begin to break him in he bites the bit, he rears at the touch of the spur, as if to reveal his instinct and show by his actions that, if he obeys, he does so not of his own free will but under constraint. What more can we say?

Even the oxen under the weight of the yoke complain,
And the birds in their cage lament,

as I expressed it some time ago, toying with our French poesy. For I shall not hesitate in writing to you, O Longa, to introduce some of my verses, which I never read to you because of your obvious encouragement which is quite likely to make me conceited. And now, since all beings, because they feel, suffer misery in subjection and long for liberty; since the very beasts, although made for the service of man, cannot become accustomed to control without protest, what evil chance has so denatured man that he, the only creature really born to be free, lacks the memory of his original condition and the desire to return to it?

There are three kinds of tyrants; some receive their proud position through elections by the people, others by force of arms, others by inheritance. Those who have acquired power by means of war act in such wise that it is evident they rule over a conquered country. Those who are born to kingship are scarcely any better, because they are nourished on the breast of tyranny, suck in with their milk the instincts of the tyrant, and consider the people under them as their inherited serfs; and according to their individual disposition, miserly or prodigal, they treat their kingdom as their property. He who has received the state from the people, however, ought to be, it seems to me, more bearable and would be so, I think, were it not for the fact that as soon as he sees himself higher than the others, flattered by that quality which we call grandeur, he plans never to relinquish his position. Such a man usually determines to pass on to his children the authority that the people have conferred upon him; and once his heirs have taken this attitude, strange it is how far they surpass other tyrants in all sorts of vices, and especially in cruelty, because they find no other means to impose this new tyranny than by tightening control and removing their subjects so far from any notion of liberty that even if the memory of it is fresh it will soon be eradicated. Yet, to speak accurately, I do perceive that there is some difference among these three types of tyranny, but as for stating a preference, I cannot grant there is any. For although the means of coming into power differ, still the method of ruling is practically the same; those who are elected act as if they were breaking in bullocks; those who are conquerors make the people their prey; those who are heirs plan to treat them as if they were their natural slaves.

In connection with this, let us imagine some newborn individuals, neither acquainted with slavery nor desirous of liberty, ignorant indeed of the very words. If they were permitted to choose between being slaves and free men, to which would they give their vote? There can be no doubt that they would much prefer to be guided by reason itself than to be ordered about by the whims of a single man. The only possible exception might be the Israelites who, without any compulsion or need, appointed a tyrant.7 I can never read their history without becoming angered and even inhuman enough to find satisfaction in the many evils that befell them on this account. But certainly all men, as long as they remain men, before letting themselves become enslaved must either be driven by force or led into it by deception; conquered by foreign armies, as were Sparta and Athens by the forces of Alexander8 or by political factions, as when at an earlier period the control of Athens had passed into the hands of Pisistrates.9 When they lose their liberty through deceit they are not so often betrayed by others as misled by themselves. This was the case with the people of Syracuse, chief city of Sicily when, in the throes of war and heedlessly planning only for the present danger, they promoted Denis,10 their first tyrant, by entrusting to him the command of the army, without realizing that they had given him such power that on his victorious return this worthy man would behave as if he had vanquished not his enemies but his compatriots, transforming himself from captain to king, and then from king to tyrant.11

It is incredible how as soon as a people becomes subject, it promptly falls into such complete forgetfulness of its freedom that it can hardly be roused to the point of regaining it, obeying so easily and so willingly that one is led to say, on beholding such a situation, that this people has not so much lost its liberty as won its enslavement. It is true that in the beginning men submit under constraint and by force; but those who come after them obey without regret and perform willingly what their predecessors had done because they had to. This is why men born under the yoke and then nourished and reared in slavery are content, without further effort, to live in their native circumstance, unaware of any other state or right, and considering as quite natural the condition into which they were born. There is, however, no heir so spendthrift or indifferent that he does not sometimes scan the account books of his father in order to see if he is enjoying all the privileges of his legacy or whether, perchance, his rights and those of his predecessor have not been encroached upon. Nevertheless it is clear enough that the powerful influence of custom is in no respect more compelling than in this, namely, habituation to subjection. It is said that Mithridates12 trained himself to drink poison. Like him we learn to swallow, and not to find bitter, the venom of servitude. It cannot be denied that nature is influential in shaping us to her will and making us reveal our rich or meager endowment; yet it must be admitted that she has less power over us than custom, for the reason that native endowment, no matter how good, is dissipated unless encouraged, whereas environment always shapes us in its own way, whatever that may be, in spite of nature’s gifts. The good seed that nature plants in us is so slight and so slippery that it cannot withstand the least harm from wrong nourishment; it flourishes less easily, becomes spoiled, withers, and comes to nothing. Fruit trees retain their own particular quality if permitted to grow undisturbed, but lose it promptly and bear strange fruit not their own when ingrafted. Every herb has its peculiar characteristics, its virtues and properties; yet frost, weather, soil, or the gardener’s hand increase or diminish its strength; the plant seen one spot cannot be recognized in another.

Whoever could have observed the early Venetians, a handful of people living so freely that the most wicked among them would not wish to be king over them, so born and trained that they would not vie with one another except as to which one could give the best counsel and nurture their liberty most carefully, so instructed and developed from their cradles that they would not exchange for all the other delights of the world an iota of their freedom; who, I say, familiar with the original nature of such a people, could visit today the territories of the man known as the Great Doge,13 and there contemplate with composure a people unwilling to live except to serve him, and maintaining his power at the cost of their lives? Who would believe that these two groups of people had an identical origin? Would one not rather conclude that upon leaving a city of men he had chanced upon a menagerie of beasts? Lycurgus,14 the lawgiver of Sparta, is reported to have reared two dogs of the same litter by fattening one in the kitchen and training the other in the fields to the sound of the bugle and the horn, thereby to demonstrate to the Lacedaemonians that men, too, develop according to their early habits. He set the two dogs in the open market place, and between them he placed a bowl of soup and a hare. One ran to the bowl of soup, the other to the hare; yet they were, as he maintained, born brothers of the same parents. In such manner did this leader, by his laws and customs, shape and instruct the Spartans so well that any one of them would sooner have died than acknowledge any sovereign other than law and reason.

It gives me pleasure to recall a conversation of the olden time between one of the favorites of Xerxes, the great king of Persia, and two Lacedaemonians. When Xerxes equipped his great army to conquer Greece, he sent his ambassadors into the Greek cities to ask for water and earth. That was the procedure the Persians adopted in summoning the cities to surrender. Neither to Athens nor to Sparta, however, did he dispatch such messengers, because those who had been sent there by Darius his father had been thrown, by the Athenians and Spartans, some into ditches and others into wells, with the invitation to help themselves freely there to water and soil to take back to their prince. Those Greeks could not permit even the slightest suggestion of encroachment upon their liberty. The Spartans suspected, nevertheless, that they had incurred the wrath of the gods by their action, and especially the wrath of Talthybios, the god of the heralds; in order to appease him they decided to send Xerxes two of their citizens in atonement for the cruel death inflicted upon the ambassadors of his father. Two Spartans, one named Sperte and the other Bulis, volunteered to offer themselves as a sacrifice. So they departed, and on the way they came to the palace of the Persian named Hydarnes, lieutenant of the king in all the Asiatic cities situated on the sea coasts. He received them with great honor, feasted them, and then, speaking of one thing and another, he asked them why they refused so obdurately his king’s friendship. “Consider well, O Spartans,” said he, “and realize by my example that the king knows how to honor those who are worthy, and believe that if you were his men he would do the same for you; if you belonged to him and he had known you, there is not one among you who might not be the lord of some Greek city.”

“By such words, Hydarnes, you give us no good counsel,” replied the Lacedaemonians, “because you have experienced merely the advantage of which you speak; you do not know the privilege we enjoy. You have the honor of the king’s favor; but you know nothing about liberty, what relish it has and how sweet it is. For if you had any knowledge of it, you yourself would advise us to defend it, not with lance and shield, but with our very teeth and nails.”

Only Spartans could give such an answer, and surely both of them spoke as they had been trained. It was impossible for the Persian to regret liberty, not having known it, nor for the Lacedaemonians to find subjection acceptable after having enjoyed freedom.

Cato the Utican, while still a child under the rod, could come and go in the house of Sylla the despot. Because of the place and family of his origin and because he and Sylla were close relatives, the door was never closed to him. He always had his teacher with him when he went there, as was the custom for children of noble birth. He noticed that in the house of Sylla, in the dictator’s presence or at his command, some men were imprisoned and others sentenced; one was banished, another was strangled; one demanded the goods of another citizen, another his head; in short, all went there, not as to the house of a city magistrate but as to the people’s tyrant, and this was therefore not a court of justice, but rather a resort of tyranny. Whereupon the young lad said to his teacher, “Why don’t you give me a dagger? I will hide it under my robe. I often go into Sylla’s room before he is risen, and my arm is strong enough to rid the city of him.” There is a speech truly characteristic of Cato; it was a true beginning of this hero so worthy of his end. And should one not mention his name or his country, but state merely the fact as it is, the episode itself would speak eloquently, and anyone would divine that he was a Roman born in Rome at the time when she was free.

And why all this? Certainly not because I believe that the land or the region has anything to do with it, for in any place and in any climate subjection is bitter and to be free is pleasant; but merely because I am of the opinion that one should pity those who, at birth, arrive with the yoke upon their necks. We should exonerate and forgive them, since they have not seen even the shadow of liberty, and, being quite unaware of it, cannot perceive the evil endured through their own slavery. If there were actually a country like that of the Cimmerians mentioned by Homer,15 where the sun shines otherwise than on our own, shedding its radiance steadily for six successive months and then leaving humanity to drowse in obscurity until it returns at the end of another half-year, should we be surprised to learn that those born during this long night do grow so accustomed to their native darkness that unless they were told about the sun they would have no desire to see the light? One never pines for what he has never known; longing comes only after enjoyment and constitutes, amidst the experience of sorrow, the memory of past joy. It is truly the nature of man to be free and to wish to be so, yet his character is such that he instinctively follows the tendencies that his training gives him.

Let us therefore admit that all those things to which he is trained and accustomed seem natural to man and that only that is truly native to him which he receives with his primitive, untrained individuality. Thus custom becomes the first reason for voluntary servitude. Men are like handsome race horses who first bite the bit and later like it, and rearing under the saddle a while soon learn to enjoy displaying their harness and prance proudly beneath their trappings. Similarly men will grow accustomed to the idea that they have always been in subjection, that their fathers lived in the same way; they will think they are obliged to suffer this evil, and will persuade themselves by example and imitation of others, finally investing those who order them around with proprietary rights, based on the idea that it has always been that way.

There are always a few, better endowed than others, who feel the weight of the yoke and cannot restrain themselves from attempting to shake it off: these are the men who never become tamed under subjection and who always, like Ulysses on land and sea constantly seeking the smoke of his chimney, cannot prevent themselves from peering about for their natural privileges and from remembering their ancestors and their former ways. These are in fact the men who, possessed of clear minds and far-sighted spirit, are not satisfied, like the brutish mass, to see only what is at their feet, but rather look about them, behind and before, and even recall the things of the past in order to judge those of the future, and compare both with their present condition. These are the ones who, having good minds of their own, have further trained them by study and learning. Even if liberty had entirely perished from the earth, such men would invent it. For them slavery has no satisfactions, no matter how well disguised.

The Grand Turk16 was well aware that books and teaching more than anything else give men the sense to comprehend their own nature and to detest tyranny. I understand that in his territory there are few educated people, for he does not want many. On account of this restriction, men of strong zeal and devotion, who in spite of the passing of time have preserved their love of freedom, still remain ineffective because, however numerous they may be, they are not known to one another; under the tyrant they have lost freedom of action, of speech, and almost of thought; they are alone in their aspiration. Indeed Momus, god of mockery, was not merely joking when he found this to criticize in the man fashioned by Vulcan, namely, that the maker had not set a little window in his creature’s heart to render his thoughts visible. It is reported that Brutus, Cassius, and Casca, on undertaking to free Rome, and for that matter the whole world, refused to include in their band Cicero, that great enthusiast for the public welfare if ever there was one, because they considered his heart too timid for such a lofty deed; they trusted his willingness but they were none too sure of his courage. Yet whoever studies the deeds of earlier days and the annals of antiquity will find practically no instance of heroes who failed to deliver their country from evil hands when they set about their task with a firm, whole-hearted, and sincere intention. Liberty, as if to reveal her nature, seems to have given them new strength. Harmodios and Aristogiton, Thrasybulus, Brutus the Elder, Valerianus, and Dion achieved successfully what they planned virtuously: for hardly ever does good fortune fail a strong will. Brutus the Younger and Cassius were successful in eliminating servitude, and although they perished in their attempt to restore liberty, they did not die miserably (what blasphemy it would be to say there was anything miserable about these men, either in their death or in their living!).17 Their loss worked great harm, everlasting misfortune, and complete destruction of the Republic, which appears to have been buried with them. Other and later undertakings against the Roman emperors were merely plottings of ambitious people, who deserve no pity for the misfortunes that overtook them, for it is evident that they sought not to destroy, but merely to usurp the crown, scheming to drive away the tyrant, but to retain tyranny. For myself, I could not wish such men to prosper and I am glad they have shown by their example that the sacred name of Liberty must never be used to cover a false enterprise.

But to come back to the thread of our discourse, which I have practically lost: the essential reason why men take orders willingly is that they are born serfs and are reared as such. From this cause there follows another result, namely that people easily become cowardly and submissive under tyrants. For this observation I am deeply grateful to Hippocrates, the renowned father of medicine, who noted and reported it in a treatise of his entitled Concerning Diseases. This famous man was certainly endowed with a great heart and proved it clearly by his reply to the Great King, who wanted to attach him to his person by means of special privileges and large gifts. Hippocrates answered frankly that it would be a weight on his conscience to make use of his science for the cure of barbarians who wished to slay his fellow Greeks, or to serve faithfully by his skill anyone who undertook to enslave Greece. The letter he sent the king can still be read among his other works and will forever testify to his great heart and noble character.

By this time it should be evident that liberty once lost, valor also perishes. A subject people shows neither gladness nor eagerness in combat: its men march sullenly to danger almost as if in bonds, and stultified; they do not feel throbbing within them that eagerness for liberty which engenders scorn of peril and imparts readiness to acquire honor and glory by a brave death amidst one’s comrades. Among free men there is competition as to who will do most, each for the common good, each by himself, all expecting to share in the misfortunes of defeat, or in the benefits of victory; but an enslaved people loses in addition to this warlike courage, all signs of enthusiasm, for their hearts are degraded, submissive, and incapable of any great deed. Tyrants are well aware of this, and, in order to degrade their subjects further, encourage them to assume this attitude and make it instinctive.

Xenophon, grave historian of first rank among the Greeks, wrote a book in which he makes Simonides speak with Hieron, Tyrant of Syracuse, concerning the anxieties of the tyrant. This book is full of fine and serious remonstrances, which in my opinion are as persuasive as words can be. Would to God that all despots who have ever lived might have kept it before their eyes and used it as a mirror! I cannot believe they would have failed to recognize their warts and to have conceived some shame for their blotches. In this treatise is explained the torment in which tyrants find themselves when obliged to fear everyone because they do evil unto every man. Among other things we find the statement that bad kings employ foreigners in their wars and pay them, not daring to entrust weapons in the hands of their own people, whom they have wronged. (There have been good kings who have used mercenaries from foreign nations, even among the French, although more so formerly than today, but with the quite different purpose of preserving their own people, considering as nothing the loss of money in the effort to spare French lives. That is, I believe, what Scipio the great African meant when he said he would rather save one citizen than defeat a hundred enemies.) For it is plainly evident that the dictator does not consider his power firmly established until he has reached the point where there is no man under him who is of any worth. Therefore there may be justly applied to him the reproach to the master of the elephants made by Thrason and reported by Terence:

Are you indeed so proud
Because you command wild beasts?

This method tyrants use of stultifying their subjects cannot be more clearly observed than in what Cyrus did with the Lydians after he had taken Sardis, their chief city, and had at his mercy the captured Croesus, their fabulously rich king. When news was brought to him that the people of Sardis had rebelled, it would have been easy for him to reduce them by force; but being unwilling either to sack such a fine city or to maintain an army there to police it, he thought of an unusual expedient for reducing it. He established in it brothels, taverns, and public games, and issued the proclamation that the inhabitants were to enjoy them. He found this type of garrison so effective that he never again had to draw the sword against the Lydians. These wretched people enjoyed themselves inventing all kinds of games, so that the Latins have derived the word from them, and what we call pastimes they call ludi, as if they meant to say Lydi. Not all tyrants have manifested so clearly their intention to effeminize their victims; but in fact, what the aforementioned despot publicly proclaimed and put into effect, most of the others have pursued secretly as an end. It is indeed the nature of the populace, whose density is always greater in the cities, to be suspicious toward one who has their welfare at heart, and gullible toward one who fools them. Do not imagine that there is any bird more easily caught by decoy, nor any fish sooner fixed on the hook by wormy bait, than are all these poor fools neatly tricked into servitude by the slightest feather passed, so to speak, before their mouths. Truly it is a marvelous thing that they let themselves be caught so quickly at the slightest tickling of their fancy. Plays, farces, spectacles, gladiators, strange beasts, medals, pictures, and other such opiates, these were for ancient peoples the bait toward slavery, the price of their liberty, the instruments of tyranny. By these practices and enticements the ancient dictators so successfully lulled their subjects under the yoke, that the stupefied peoples, fascinated by the pastimes and vain pleasures flashed before their eyes, learned subservience as naively, but not so creditably, as little children learn to read by looking at bright picture books. Roman tyrants invented a further refinement. They often provided the city wards with feasts to cajole the rabble, always more readily tempted by the pleasure of eating than by anything else. The most intelligent and understanding amongst them would not have quit his soup bowl to recover the liberty of the Republic of Plato. Tyrants would distribute largess, a bushel of wheat, a gallon of wine, and a sesterce: and then everybody would shamelessly cry, “Long live the King!” The fools did not realize that they were merely recovering a portion of their own property, and that their ruler could not have given them what they were receiving without having first taken it from them. A man might one day be presented with a sesterce and gorge himself at the public feast, lauding Tiberius and Nero for handsome liberality, who on the morrow, would be forced to abandon his property to their avarice, his children to their lust, his very blood to the cruelty of these magnificent emperors, without offering any more resistance than a stone or a tree stump. The mob has always behaved in this way—eagerly open to bribes that cannot be honorably accepted, and dissolutely callous to degradation and insult that cannot be honorably endured. Nowadays I do not meet anyone who, on hearing mention of Nero, does not shudder at the very name of that hideous monster, that disgusting and vile pestilence. Yet when he died—when this incendiary, this executioner, this savage beast, died as vilely as he had lived—the noble Roman people, mindful of his games and his festivals, were saddened to the point of wearing mourning for him. Thus wrote Cornelius Tacitus, a competent and serious author, and one of the most reliable. This will not be considered peculiar in view of what this same people had previously done at the death of Julius Caesar, who had swept away their laws and their liberty, in whose character, it seems to me, there was nothing worth while, for his very liberality, which is so highly praised, was more baneful than the cruelest tyrant who ever existed, because it was actually this poisonous amiability of his that sweetened servitude for the Roman people. After his death, that people, still preserving on their palates the flavor of his banquets and in their minds the memory of his prodigality, vied with one another to pay him homage. They piled up the seats of the Forum for the great fire that reduced his body to ashes, and later raised a column to him as to “The Father of His People.” (Such was the inscription on the capital.) They did him more honor, dead as he was, than they had any right to confer upon any man in the world, except perhaps on those who had killed him.

They didn’t even neglect, these Roman emperors, to assume generally the title of Tribune of the People, partly because this office was held sacred and inviolable and also because it had been founded for the defense and protection of the people and enjoyed the favor of the state. By this means they made sure that the populace would trust them completely, as if they merely used the title and did not abuse it. Today there are some who do not behave very differently; they never undertake an unjust policy, even one of some importance, without prefacing it with some pretty speech concerning public welfare and common good. You well know, O Longa, this formula which they use quite cleverly in certain places; although for the most part, to be sure, there cannot be cleverness where there is so much impudence. The kings of the Assyrians and even after them those of the Medes showed themselves in public as seldom as possible in order to set up a doubt in the minds of the rabble as to whether they were not in some way more than man, and thereby to encourage people to use their imagination for those things which they cannot judge by sight. Thus a great many nations who for a long time dwelt under the control of the Assyrians became accustomed, with all this mystery, to their own subjection, and submitted the more readily for not knowing what sort of master they had, or scarcely even if they had one, all of them fearing by report someone they had never seen. The earliest kings of Egypt rarely showed themselves without carrying a cat, or sometimes a branch, or appearing with fire on their heads, masking themselves with these objects and parading like workers of magic. By doing this they inspired their subjects with reverence and admiration, whereas with people neither too stupid nor too slavish they would merely have aroused, it seems to me, amusement and laughter. It is pitiful to review the list of devices that early despots used to establish their tyranny; to discover how many little tricks they employed, always finding the populace conveniently gullible, readily caught in the net as soon as it was spread. Indeed they always fooled their victims so easily that while mocking them they enslaved them the more.

What comment can I make concerning another fine counterfeit that ancient peoples accepted as true money? They believed firmly that the great toe of Pyrrhus, king of Epirus, performed miracles and cured diseases of the spleen; they even enhanced the tale further with the legend that this toe, after the corpse had been burned, was found among the ashes, untouched by the fire. In this wise a foolish people itself invents lies and then believes them. Many men have recounted such things, but in such a way that it is easy to see that the parts were pieced together from idle gossip of the city and silly reports from the rabble. When Vespasian, returning from Assyria, passes through Alexandria on his way to Rome to take possession of the empire, he performs wonders: he makes the crippled straight, restores sight to the blind, and does many other fine things, concerning which the credulous and undiscriminating were, in my opinion, more blind than those cured. Tyrants themselves have wondered that men could endure the persecution of a single man; they have insisted on using religion for their own protection and, where possible, have borrowed a stray bit of divinity to bolster up their evil ways. If we are to believe the Sybil of Virgil, Salmoneus, in torment for having paraded as Jupiter in order to deceive the populace, now atones in nethermost Hell:

He suffered endless torment for having dared to
imitate
The thunderbolts of heaven and the flames of
Jupiter.
Upon a chariot drawn by four chargers he went,
unsteadily
Riding aloft, in his fist a great shining torch.
Among the Greeks and into the market-place
In the heart of the city of Elis he had ridden
boldly:
And displaying thus his vainglory he assumed
An honor which undeniably belongs to the gods
alone.
This fool who imitated storm and the inimitable
thunderbolt
By clash of brass and with his dizzying charge
On horn-hoofed steeds, the all-powerful Father
beheld,
Hurled not a torch, nor the feeble light
From a waxen taper with its smoky fumes,
But by the furious blast of thunder and lightning
He brought him low, his heels above his head.

If such a one, who in his time acted merely through the folly of insolence, is so well received in Hell, I think that those who have used religion as a cloak to hide their vileness will be even more deservedly lodged in the same place.

Our own leaders have employed in France certain similar devices, such as toads, fleurs-de-lys, sacred vessels, and standards with flames of gold. However that may be, I do not wish, for my part, to be incredulous, since neither we nor our ancestors have had any occasion up to now for skepticism. Our kings have always been so generous in times of peace and so valiant in time of war, that from birth they seem not to have been created by nature like many others, but even before birth to have been designated by Almighty God for the government and preservation of this kingdom. Even if this were not so, yet should I not enter the tilting ground to call in question the truth of our traditions, or to examine them so strictly as to take away their fine conceits. Here is such a field for our French poetry, now not merely honored but, it seems to me, reborn through our Rosnard, our Baif, our Bellay. These poets are defending our language so well that I dare to believe that very soon neither the Greeks nor the Latins will in this respect have any advantage over us except possibly that of seniority. And I should assuredly do wrong to our poesy—I like to use that word despite the fact that several have rhymed mechanically, for I still discern a number of men today capable of ennobling poetry and restoring it to its first lustre—but, as I say, I should do the Muse great injury if I deprived her now of those fine tales about. King Clovis, amongst which it seems to me I can already see how agreeably and how happily the inspiration of our Ronsard in his Frunciade will play. I appreciate his loftiness, I am aware of his keen spirit, and I know the charm of the man: he will appropriate the oriflamme to his use much as did the Romans their sacred bucklers and the shields cast from heaven to earth, according to Virgil. He will use our phial of holy oil much as the Athenians used the basket of Ericthonius; he will win applause for our deeds of valor as they did for their olive wreath which they insist can still be found in Minerva’s tower. Certainly I should be presumptuous if I tried to cast slurs on our records and thus invade the realm of our poets.

But to return to our subject, the thread of which I have unwittingly lost in this discussion: it has always happened that tyrants, in order to strengthen their power, have made every effort to train their people not only in obedience and servility toward themselves, but also in adoration. Therefore all that I have said up to the present concerning the means by which a more willing submission has been obtained applies to dictators in their relationship with the inferior and common classes.

(Part III)

I COME NOW to a point which is, in my opinion, the mainspring and the secret of domination, the support and foundation of tyranny. Whoever thinks that halberds, sentries, the placing of the watch, serve to protect and shield tyrants is, in my judgment, completely mistaken. These are used, it seems to me, more for ceremony and a show of force than for any reliance placed in them. The archers forbid the entrance to the palace to the poorly dressed who have no weapons, not to the well armed who can carry out some plot. Certainly it is easy to say of the Roman emperors that fewer escaped from danger by aid of their guards than were killed by their own archers.18 It is not the troops on horseback, it is not the companies afoot, it is not arms that defend the tyrant. This does not seem credible on first thought, but it is nevertheless true that there are only four or five who maintain the dictator, four or five who keep the country in bondage to him. Five or six have always had access to his ear, and have either gone to him of their own accord, or else have been summoned by him, to be accomplices in his cruelties, companions in his pleasures, panders to his lusts, and sharers in his plunders. These six manage their chief so successfully that he comes to be held accountable not only for his own misdeeds but even for theirs. The six have six hundred who profit under them, and with the six hundred they do what they have accomplished with their tyrant. The six hundred maintain under them six thousand, whom they promote in rank, upon whom they confer the government of provinces or the direction of finances, in order that they may serve as instruments of avarice and cruelty, executing orders at the proper time and working such havoc all around that they could not last except under the shadow of the six hundred, nor be exempt from law and punishment except through their influence.

The consequence of all this is fatal indeed. And whoever is pleased to unwind the skein will observe that not the six thousand but a hundred thousand, and even millions, cling to the tyrant by this cord to which they are tied. According to Homer, Jupiter boasts of being able to draw to himself all the gods when he pulls a chain. Such a scheme caused the increase in the senate under Julius, the formation of new ranks, the creation of offices; not really, if properly considered, to reform justice, but to provide new supporters of despotism. In short, when the point is reached, through big favors or little ones, that large profits or small are obtained under a tyrant, there are found almost as many people to whom tyranny seems advantageous as those to whom liberty would seem desirable. Doctors declare that if, when some part of the body has gangrene a disturbance arises in another spot, it immediately flows to the troubled part. Even so, whenever a ruler makes himself a dictator, all the wicked dregs of the nation—I do not mean the pack of petty thieves and earless ruffians19 who, in a republic, are unimportant in evil or good—but all those who are corrupted by burning ambition or extraordinary avarice, these gather around him and support him in order to have a share in the booty and to constitute themselves petty chiefs under the big tyrant. This is the practice among notorious robbers and famous pirates: some scour the country, others pursue voyagers; some lie in ambush, others keep a lookout; some commit murder, others robbery; and although there are among them differences in rank, some being only underlings while others are chieftains of gangs, yet is there not a single one among them who does not feel himself to be a sharer, if not of the main booty, at least in the pursuit of it. It is dependably related that Sicilian pirates gathered in such great numbers that it became necessary to send against them Pompey the Great, and that they drew into their alliance fine towns and great cities in whose harbors they took refuge on returning from their expeditions, paying handsomely for the haven given their stolen goods.

Thus the despot subdues his subjects, some of them by means of others, and thus is he protected by those from whom, if they were decent men, he would have to guard himself; just as, in order to split wood, one has to use a wedge of the wood itself. Such are his archers, his guards, his halberdiers; not that they themselves do not suffer occasionally at his hands, but this riff-raff, abandoned alike by God and man, can be led to endure evil if permitted to commit it, not against him who exploits them, but against those who like themselves submit, but are helpless. Nevertheless, observing those men who painfully serve the tyrant in order to win some profit from his tyranny and from the subjection of the populace, I am often overcome with amazement at their wickedness and sometimes by pity for their folly. For, in all honesty, can it be in any way except in folly that you approach a tyrant, withdrawing further from your liberty and, so to speak, embracing with both hands your servitude? Let such men lay aside briefly their ambition, or let them forget for a moment their avarice, and look at themselves as they really are. Then they will realize clearly that the townspeople, the peasants whom they trample under foot and treat worse than convicts or slaves, they will realize, I say, that these people, mistreated as they may be, are nevertheless, in comparison with themselves, better off and fairly free. The tiller of the soil and the artisan, no matter how enslaved, discharge their obligation when they do what they are told to do; but the dictator sees men about him wooing and begging his favor, and doing much more than he tells them to do. Such men must not only obey orders; they must anticipate his wishes; to satisfy him they must foresee his desires; they must wear themselves out, torment themselves, kill themselves with work in his interest, and accept his pleasure as their own, neglecting their preference for his, distorting their character and corrupting their nature; they must pay heed to his words, to his intonation, to his gestures, and to his glance. Let them have no eye, nor foot, nor hand that is not alert to respond to his wishes or to seek out his thoughts.

Can that be called a happy life? Can it be called living? Is there anything more intolerable than that situation, I won’t say for a man of mettle nor even for a man of high birth, but simply for a man of common sense or, to go even further, for anyone having the face of a man? What condition is more wretched than to live thus, with nothing to call one’s own, receiving from someone else one’s sustenance, one’s power to act, one’s body, one’s very life?

Still men accept servility in order to acquire wealth; as if they could acquire anything of their own when they cannot even assert that they belong to themselves, or as if anyone could possess under a tyrant a single thing in his own name. Yet they act as if their wealth really belonged to them, and forget that it is they themselves who give the ruler the power to deprive everybody of everything, leaving nothing that anyone can identify as belonging to somebody. They notice that nothing makes men so subservient to a tyrant’s cruelty as property; that the possession of wealth is the worst of crimes against him, punishable even by death; that he loves nothing quite so much as money and ruins only the rich, who come before him as before a butcher, offering themselves so stuffed and bulging that they make his mouth water. These favorites should not recall so much the memory of those who have won great wealth from tyrants as of those who, after they had for some time amassed it, have lost to him their property as well as their lives; they should consider not how many others have gained a fortune, but rather how few of them have kept it. Whether we examine ancient history or simply the times in which we live, we shall see clearly how great is the number of those who, having by shameful means won the ear of princes—who either profit from their villainies or take advantage of their naiveté—were in the end reduced to nothing by these very princes; and although at first such servitors were met by a ready willingness to promote their interests, they later found an equally obvious inconstancy which brought them to ruin. Certainly among so large a number of people who have at one time or another had some relationship with bad rulers, there have been few or practically none at all who have not felt applied to themselves the tyrant’s animosity, which they had formerly stirred up against others. Most often, after becoming rich by despoiling others, under the favor of his protection, they find themselves at last enriching him with their own spoils.

Even men of character—if it sometimes happens that a tyrant likes such a man well enough to hold him in his good graces, because in him shine forth the virtue and integrity that inspire a certain reverence even in the most depraved–even men of character, I say, could not long avoid succumbing to the common malady and would early experience the effects of tyranny at their own expense. A Seneca, a Burrus, a Thrasea, this triumverate of splendid men, will provide a sufficient reminder of such misfortune. Two of them were close to the tyrant by the fatal responsibility of holding in their hands the management of his affairs, and both were esteemed and beloved by him. One of them, moreover, had a peculiar claim upon his friendship, having instructed his master as a child. Yet these three by their cruel death give sufficient evidence of how little faith one can place in the friendship of an evil ruler. Indeed what friendship may be expected from one whose heart is bitter enough to hate even his own people, who do naught else but obey him? It is because he does not know how to love that he ultimately impoverishes his own spirit and destroys his own empire.

Now if one would argue that these men fell into disgrace because they wanted to act honorably, let him look around boldly at others close to that same tyrant, and he will see that those who came into his favor and maintained themselves by dishonorable means did not fare much better. Who has ever heard tell of a love more centered, of an affection more persistent, who has ever read of a man more desperately attached to a woman than Nero was to Poppaea? Yet she was later poisoned by his own hand. Agrippina his mother had killed her husband, Claudius, in order to exalt her son; to gratify him she had never hesitated at doing or bearing anything; and yet this very son, her offspring, her emperor, elevated by her hand, after failing her often, finally took her life. It is indeed true that no one denies she would have well deserved this punishment, if only it had come to her by some other hand than that of the son she had brought into the world. Who was ever more easily managed, more naive, or, to speak quite frankly, a greater simpleton, than Claudius the Emperor? Who was ever more wrapped up in his wife than he in Messalina, whom he delivered finally into the hands of the executioner? Stupidity in a tyrant always renders him incapable of benevolent action; but in some mysterious way by dint of acting cruelly even towards those who are his closest associates, he seems to manifest what little intelligence he may have.

Quite generally known is the striking phrase of that other tyrant who, gazing at the throat of his wife, a woman he dearly loved and without whom it seemed he could not live, caressed her with this charming comment: “This lovely throat would be cut at once if I but gave the order.” That is why the majority of the dictators of former days were commonly slain by their closest favorites who, observing the nature of tyranny, could not be so confident of the whim of the tyrant as they were distrustful of his power. Thus was Domitian killed by Stephen, Commodus by one of his mistresses, Antoninus by Macrinus, and practically all the others in similar violent fashion.

The fact is that the tyrant is never truly loved, nor does he love. Friendship is a sacred word, a holy thing; it is never developed except between persons of character, and never takes root except through mutual respect; it flourishes not so much by kindnesses as by sincerity. What makes one friend sure of another is the knowledge of his integrity: as guarantees he has his friend’s fine nature, his honor, and his constancy. There can be no friendship where there is cruelty, where there is disloyalty, where there is injustice. And in places where the wicked gather there is conspiracy only, not companionship: these have no affection for one another; fear alone holds them together; they are not friends, they are merely accomplices.

Although it might not be impossible, yet it would be difficult to find true friendship in a tyrant; elevated above others and having no companions, he finds himself already beyond the pale of friendship, which receives its real sustenance from an equality that, to proceed without a limp, must have its two limbs equal. That is why there is honor among thieves (or so it is reported) in the sharing of the booty; they are peers and comrades; if they are not fond of one another they at least respect one another and do not seek to lessen their strength by squabbling. But the favorites of a tyrant can never feel entirely secure, and the less so because he has learned from them that he is all powerful and unlimited by any law or obligation. Thus it becomes his wont to consider his own will as reason enough, and to be master of all with never a compeer. Therefore it seems a pity that with so many examples at hand, with the danger always present, no one is anxious to act the wise man at the expense of the others, and that among so many persons fawning upon their ruler there is not a single one who has the wisdom and the boldness to say to him what, according to the fable,20 the fox said to the lion who feigned illness: “I should be glad to enter your lair to pay my respects; but I see many tracks of beasts that have gone toward you, yet not a single trace of any who have come back.”

These wretches see the glint of the despot’s treasures and are bedazzled by the radiance of his splendor. Drawn by this brilliance they come near, without realizing they are approaching a flame that cannot fail to scorch them. Similarly attracted, the indiscreet satyr of the old fables, on seeing the bright fire brought down by Prometheus, found it so beautiful that he went and kissed it, and was burned21; so, as the Tuscan22 poet reminds us, the moth, intent upon desire, seeks the flame because it shines, and also experiences its other quality, the burning. Moreover, even admitting that favorites may at times escape from the hands of him they serve, they are never safe from the ruler who comes after him. If he is good, they must render an account of their past and recognize at last that justice exists; if he is bad and resembles their late master, he will certainly have his own favorites, who are not usually satisfied to occupy in their turn merely the posts of their precedessors, but will more often insist on their wealth and their lives. Can anyone be found, then, who under such perilous circumstances and with so little security will still be ambitious to fill such an ill-fated position and serve, despite such perils, so dangerous a master? Good God, what suffering, what martyrdom all this involves! To be occupied night and day in planning to please one person, and yet to fear him more than anyone else in the world; to be always on the watch, ears open, wondering whence the blow will come; to search out conspiracy, to be on guard against snares, to scan the faces of companions for signs of treachery, to smile at everybody and be mortally afraid of all, to be sure of nobody, either as an open enemy or as a reliable friend; showing always a gay countenance despite an apprehensive heart, unable to be joyous yet not daring to be sad!

However, there is satisfaction in examining what they get out of all this torment, what advantage they derive from all the trouble of their wretched existence. Actually the people never blame the tyrant for the evils they suffer, but they do place responsibility on those who influence him; peoples, nations, all compete with one another, even the peasants, even the tillers of the soil, in mentioning the names of the favorites, in analyzing their vices, and heaping upon them a thousand insults, a thousand obscenities, a thousand maledictions. All their prayers, all their vows are directed against these persons; they hold them accountable for all their misfortunes, their pestilences, their famines; and if at times they show them outward respect, at those very moments they are fuming in their hearts and hold them in greater horror than wild beasts. This is the glory and honor heaped upon influential favorites for their services by people who, if they could tear apart their living bodies, would still clamor for more, only half satiated by the agony they might behold. For even when the favorites are dead those who live after are never too lazy to blacken the names of these man-eaters23 with the ink of a thousand pens, tear their reputations into bits in a thousand books, and drag, so to speak, their bones past posterity, forever punishing them after their death for their wicked lives.

Let us therefore learn while there is yet time, let us learn to do good. Let us raise our eyes to Heaven for the sake of our honor, for the very love of virtue, or, to speak wisely, for the love and praise of God Almighty, who is the infallible witness of our deeds and the just judge of our faults. As for me, I truly believe I am right, since there is nothing so contrary to a generous and loving God as tyranny—I believe He has reserved, in a separate spot in Hell, some very special punishment for tyrants and their accomplices.

NOTES

1. Iliad, Book II, Lines 204–205.—H.K.

2. Government by a single ruler. From the Greek monos (single) and arkhein (to command).—H.K.

3. An autocratic council of thirty magistrates that governed Athens for eight months in 404 B.C. They exhibited such monstrous despotism that the city rose in anger and drove them forth.—H.E.

4. Athenian general, died 489 B.C. Some of his battles: expedition against Scythians; Lemnos; Imbros; Marathon, where Darius the Pemian was defeated.—H.K.

5. King of Sparta, died at Thermopolae in 480 B.C., defending the pass with three hundred loyal Spartans against Xerxes.—H.K.

6. Athenian statesman and general, died 460 B.C. Some of his battles: expedition against Aegean Isles; victory over Persians under Xerxes at Salamis.—H.K.

7. The reference is to Saul anointed by Samuel.—H.K.

8. Alexander the Macedonian became the acknowledged master of all Hellenes at the Assembly of Corinth, 335 B.C.—H.K.

9. Athenian tyrant, died 627 B.C. He used ruse and bluster to control the city and was obliged to flee several times.—H.K.

10. Denis or Dionysius, tyrant of Syracuse, died in 367 B.C. Of lowly birth, this dictator imposed himself by plottings, putsches, and purges. The danger from which he saved his city was the invasion by the Carthaginians.—H.K.

11. Dionysius seized power in Syraeuse in 405 B.C.—M.N.R.

12. Mithridates (c. 135–63 B.C.) was next to Hannibal the most dreaded and potent enemy of Roman power. The reference in the text is to his youth when he spent some years in retirement hardening himself and immunizing himself against poison. In his old age, defeated by Pompey, betrayed by his own son, he tried poison and Finally had to resort to the dagger of a friendly Gaul. (Pliny, Natural History, XXIV, 2.)—H.K.

13. The ruler of Venice.—M.N.R.

14. A half-legendary figure concerning whose life Plutarch admits there is much obscurity. He bequeathed to his land a rigid code regulating land, assembly, education, with the individual subordinate to the state.—H.K.

15. Odyssey. Book II, Lines 14–19. The Cimmerians were a barbarian people active north of the Black Sea in the eighth and seventh centuries B.C., and gave their name to Crimea.—M.N.R.

16. The Ottoman Sultan of Constantinople was often called the Grand Turk.—M.N.R.

17. Brutus and Cassias helped to assassinate Julius Caesar in 44 B.C. They committed suicide after being defeated by Marcus Antonius at the Battles of Philippi in 42 B.C.—M.N.R.

18. Almost a third of the Roman Emperors were killed by their own soldiers.—M.N.R.

19. The cutting off of ears as a punishment for thievery is very ancient. In the middle ages it was still practiced under St. Louis. Men so mutilated were dishonored and could not enter the clergy or the magistracy.—H.K.

20. By Aesop.—M.N.R.

21. Aeschylus’ Prometheus the Firebearer (fragment).—M.N.R.

22. Petrarch, Cazoniere, Sonnet XVII. La Boetie has accurately rendered the lines concerning the moth.—H.K.

23. The word was used by Homer in the Iliad, Book I, Line 341.—M.N.R.

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The Politics of Obedience – The Discourse of Voluntary Servitude by Etienne De La Boetie

More Anti-Statism: The Underpinnings of the State

La Boetie wrote the following essay while still a law student at the University of Orleans in the early 1550s. Gene Sharp, author of The Politics of Nonviolent Action, had this to say about it: “[La] Boetie’s Discourse is a highly significant essay on the ultimate source of political power, the origins of dictatorship, and the means by which people can prevent political enslavement and liberate themselves. The Discourse should have a prominent place in the history of political theory, and also of the development of the power analysis in which the technique of non-violent struggle is rooted.”

The Politics of Obedience:
The Discourse of Voluntary Servitude

by Etienne De La Boetie

(Part I)

I see no good in having several lords;
Let one alone be master, let one alone be king.

THESE WORDS Homer puts in the mouth of Ulysses,1 as he addresses the people. If he had said nothing further than “I see no good in having several lords,” it would have been well spoken. For the sake of logic he should have maintained that the rule of several could not be good since the power of one man alone, as soon as he acquires the title of master, becomes abusive and unreasonable. Instead he declared what seems preposterous: “Let one alone be master, let one alone be king.” We must not be critical of Ulysses, who at the moment was perhaps obliged to speak these words in order to quell a mutiny in the army, for this reason, in my opinion, choosing language to meet the emergency rather than the truth. Yet, in the light of reason, it is a great misfortune to be at the beck and call of one master, for it is impossible to be sure that he is going to be kind, since it is always in his power to be cruel whenever he pleases. As for having several masters, according to the number one has, it amounts to being that many times unfortunate. Although I do not wish at this time to discuss this much debated question, namely whether other types of government are preferable to monarchy,2 still I should like to know, before casting doubt on the place that monarchy should occupy among commonwealths, whether or not it belongs to such a group, since it is hard to believe that there is anything of common wealth in a country where everything belongs to one master. This question, however, can remain for another time and would really require a separate treatment involving by its very nature all sorts of political discussion.

FOR THE PRESENT I should like merely to understand how it happens that so many men, so many villages, so many cities, so many nations, sometimes suffer under a single tyrant who has no other power than the power they give him; who is able to harm them only to the extent to which they have the willingness to bear with him; who could do them absolutely no injury unless they preferred to put up with him rather than contradict him. Surely a striking situation! Yet it is so common that one must grieve the more and wonder the less at the spectacle of a million men serving in wretchedness, their necks under the yoke, not constrained by a greater multitude than they, but simply, it would seem, delighted and charmed by the name of one man alone whose power they need not fear, for he is evidently the one person whose qualities they cannot admire because of his inhumanity and brutality toward them. A weakness characteristic of human kind is that we often have to obey force; we have to make concessions; we ourselves cannot always be the stronger. Therefore, when a nation is constrained by the fortune of war to serve a single clique, as happened when the city of Athens served the thirty Tyrants3 one should not be amazed that the nation obeys, but simply be grieved by the situation; or rather, instead of being amazed or saddened, consider patiently the evil and look forward hopefully toward a happier future.

Our nature is such that the common duties of human relationship occupy a great part of the course of our life. It is reasonable to love virtue, to esteem good deeds, to be grateful for good from whatever source we may receive it, and, often, to give up some of our comfort in order to increase the honor and advantage of some man whom we love and who deserves it. Therefore, if the inhabitants of a country have found some great personage who has shown rare foresight in protecting them in an emergency, rare boldness in defending them, rare solicitude in governing them, and if, from that point on, they contract the habit of obeying him and depending on him to such an extent that they grant him certain prerogatives, I fear that such a procedure is not prudent, inasmuch as they remove him from a position in which he was doing good and advance him to a dignity in which he may do evil. Certainly while he continues to manifest good will one need fear no harm from a man who seems to be generally well disposed.

But O good Lord! What strange phenomenon is this? What name shall we give it? What is the nature of this misfortune? What vice is it, or, rather, what degradation? To see an endless multitude of people not merely obeying, but driven to servility? Not ruled, but tyrannized over? These wretches have no wealth, no kin, nor wife nor children, not even life itself that they can call their own. They suffer plundering, wantonness, cruelty, not from an army, not from a barbarian horde, on account of whom they must shed their blood and sacrifice their lives, but from a single man; not from a Hercules nor from a Samson, but from a single little man. Too frequently this same little man is the most cowardly and effeminate in the nation, a stranger to the powder of battle and hesitant on the sands of the tournament; not only without energy to direct men by force, but with hardly enough virility to bed with a common woman! Shall we call subjection to such a leader cowardice? Shall we say that those who serve him are cowardly and faint-hearted? If two, if three, if four, do not defend themselves from the one, we might call that circumstance surprising but nevertheless conceivable. In such a case one might be justified in suspecting a lack of courage. But if a hundred, if a thousand endure the caprice of a single man, should we not rather say that they lack not the courage but the desire to rise against him, and that such an attitude indicates indifference rather than cowardice? When not a hundred, not a thousand men, but a hundred provinces, a thousand cities, a million men, refuse to assail a single man from whom the kindest treatment received is the infliction of serfdom and slavery, what shall we call that? Is it cowardice? Of course there is in every vice inevitably some limit beyond which one cannot go. Two, possibly ten, may fear one; but when a thousand, a million men, a thousand cities, fail to protect themselves against the domination of one man, this cannot be called cowardly, for cowardice does not sink to such a depth, any more than valor can be termed the effort of one individual to scale a fortress, to attack an army, or to conquer a kingdom. What monstrous vice, then, is this which does not even deserve to be called cowardice, a vice for which no term can be found vile enough, which nature herself disavows and our tongues refuse to name?

Place on one side fifty thousand armed men, and on the other the same number; let them join in battle, one side fighting to retain its liberty, the other to take it away; to which would you, at a guess, promise victory? Which men do you think would march more gallantly to combat—those who anticipate as a reward for their suffering the maintenance of their freedom, or those who cannot expect any other prize for the blows exchanged than the enslavement of others? One side will have before its eyes the blessings of the past and the hope of similar joy in the future; their thoughts will dwell less on the comparatively brief pain of battle than on what they may have to endure forever, they, their children, and all their posterity. The other side has nothing to inspire it with courage except the weak urge of greed, which fades before danger and which can never be so keen, it seems to me, that it will not be dismayed by the least drop of blood from wounds. Consider the justly famous battles of Miltiades,4 Leonidas,5 Themistocles,6 still fresh today in recorded history and in the minds of men as if they had occurred but yesterday, battles fought in Greece for the welfare of the Greeks and as an example to the world. What power do you think gave to such a mere handful of men not the strength but the courage to withstand the attack of a fleet so vast that even the seas were burdened, and to defeat the armies of so many nations, armies so immense that their officers alone outnumbered the entire Greek force? What was it but the fact that in those glorious days this struggle represented not so much a fight of Greeks against Persians as a victory of liberty over domination, of freedom over greed?

It amazes us to hear accounts of the valor that liberty arouses in the hearts of those who defend it; but who could believe reports of what goes on every day among the inhabitants of some countries, who could really believe that one man alone may mistreat a hundred thousand and deprive them of their liberty? Who would credit such a report if he merely heard it, without being present to witness the event? And if this condition occurred only in distant lands and were reported to us, which one among us would not assume the tale to be imagined or invented, and not really true? Obviously there is no need of fighting to overcome this single tyrant, for he is automatically defeated if the country refuses consent to its own enslavement: it is not necessary to deprive him of anything, but simply to give him nothing; there is no need that the country make an effort to do anything for itself provided it does nothing against itself. It is therefore the inhabitants themselves who permit, or, rather, bring about, their own subjection, since by ceasing to submit they would put an end to their servitude. A people enslaves itself, cuts its own throat, when, having a choice between being vassals and being free men, it deserts its liberties and takes on the yoke, gives consent to its own misery, or, rather, apparently welcomes it. If it cost the people anything to recover its freedom, I should not urge action to this end, although there is nothing a human should hold more dear than the restoration of his own natural right, to change himself from a beast of burden back to a man, so to speak. I do not demand of him so much boldness; let him prefer the doubtful security of living wretchedly to the uncertain hope of living as he pleases. What then? If in order to have liberty nothing more is needed than to long for it, if only a simple act of the will is necessary, is there any nation in the world that considers a single wish too high a price to pay in order to recover rights which it ought to be ready to redeem at the cost of its blood, rights such that their loss must bring all men of honor to the point of feeling life to be unendurable and death itself a deliverance?

Everyone knows that the fire from a little spark will increase and blaze ever higher as long as it finds wood to burn; yet without being quenched by water, but merely by finding no more fuel to feed on, it consumes itself, dies down, and is no longer a flame. Similarly, the more tyrants pillage, the more they crave, the more they ruin and destroy; the more one yields to them, and obeys them, by that much do they become mightier and more formidable, the readier to annihilate and destroy. But if not one thing is yielded to them, if, without any violence they are simply not obeyed, they become naked and undone and as nothing, just as, when the root receives no nourishment, the branch withers and dies.

To achieve the good that they desire, the bold do not fear danger; the intelligent do not refuse to undergo suffering. It is the stupid and cowardly who are neither able to endure hardship nor to vindicate their rights; they stop at merely longing for them, and lose through timidity the valor roused by the effort to claim their rights, although the desire to enjoy them still remains as part of their nature. A longing common to both the wise and the foolish, to brave men and to cowards, is this longing for all those things which, when acquired, would make them happy and contented. Yet one element appears to be lacking. I do not know how it happens that nature fails to place within the hearts of men a burning desire for liberty, a blessing so great and so desirable that when it is lost all evils follow thereafter, and even the blessings that remain lose taste and savor because of their corruption by servitude. Liberty is the only joy upon which men do not seem to insist; for surely if they really wanted it they would receive it. Apparently they refuse this wonderful privilege because it is so easily acquired.

Poor, wretched, and stupid peoples, nations determined on your own misfortune and blind to your own good! You let yourselves be deprived before your own eyes of the best part of your revenues; your fields are plundered, your homes robbed, your family heirlooms taken away. You live in such a way that you cannot claim a single thing as your own; and it would seem that you consider yourselves lucky to be loaned your property, your families, and your very lives. All this havoc, this misfortune, this ruin, descends upon you not from alien foes, but from the one enemy whom you yourselves render as powerful as he is, for whom you go bravely to war, for whose greatness you do not refuse to offer your own bodies unto death. He who thus domineers over you has only two eyes, only two hands, only one body, no more than is possessed by the least man among the infinite numbers dwelling in your cities; he has indeed nothing more than the power that you confer upon him to destroy you. Where has he acquired enough eyes to spy upon you, if you do not provide them yourselves? How can he have so many arms to beat you with, if he does not borrow them from you? The feet that trample down your cities, where does he get them if they are not your own? How does he have any power over you except through you? How would he dare assail you if he had no cooperation from you? What could he do to you if you yourselves did not connive with the thief who plunders you, if you were not accomplices of the murderer who kills you, if you were not traitors to yourselves? You sow your crops in order that he may ravage them, you install and furnish your homes to give him goods to pillage; you rear your daughters that he may gratify his lust; you bring up your children in order that he may confer upon them the greatest privilege he knows—to be led into his battles, to be delivered to butchery, to be made the servants of his greed and the instruments of his vengeance; you yield your bodies unto hard labor in order that he may indulge in his delights and wallow in his filthy pleasures; you weaken yourselves in order to make him the stronger and the mightier to hold you in check. From all these indignities, such as the very beasts of the field would not endure, you can deliver yourselves if you try, not by taking action, but merely by willing to be free. Resolve to serve no more, and you are at once freed. I do not ask that you place hands upon the tyrant to topple him over, but simply that you support him no longer; then you will behold him, like a great Colossus whose pedestal has been pulled away, fall of his own weight and break into pieces?

(Part II)

DOCTORS ARE NO DOUBT CORRECT in warning us not to touch incurable wounds; and I am presumably taking chances in preaching as I do to a people which has long lost all sensitivity and, no longer conscious of its infirmity, is plainly suffering from mortal illness. Let us therefore understand by logic, if we can, how it happens that this obstinate willingness to submit has become so deeply rooted in a nation that the very love of liberty now seems no longer natural.

In the first place, all would agree that, if we led our lives according to the ways intended by nature and the lessons taught by her, we should be intuitively obedient to our parents; later we should adopt reason as our guide and become slaves to nobody. Concerning the obedience given instinctively to one’s father and mother, we are in agreement, each one admitting himself to be a model. As to whether reason is born with us or not, that is a question loudly discussed by academicians and treated by all schools of philosophers. For the present I think I do not err in stating that there is in our souls some native seed of reason, which, if nourished by good counsel and training, flowers into virtue, but which, on the other hand, if unable to resist the vices surrounding it, is stifled and blighted. Yet surely if there is anything in this world clear and obvious, to which one cannot close one’s eyes, it is the fact that nature, handmaiden of God, governess of men, has cast us all in the same mold in order that we may behold in one another companions, or rather brothers. If in distributing her gifts nature has favored some more than others with respect to body or spirit, she has nevertheless not planned to place us within this world as if it were a field of battle, and has not endowed the stronger or the cleverer in order that they may act like armed brigands in a forest and attack the weaker. One should rather conclude that in distributing larger shares to some and smaller shares to others, nature has intended to give occasion for brotherly love to become manifest, some of us having the strength to give help to others who are in need of it. Hence, since this kind mother has given us the whole world as a dwelling place, has lodged us in the same house, has fashioned us according to the same model so that in beholding one another we might almost recognize ourselves; since she has bestowed upon us all the great gift of voice and speech for fraternal relationship, thus achieving by the common and mutual statement of our thoughts a communion of our wills; and since she has tried in every way to narrow and tighten the bond of our union and kinship; since she has revealed in every possible manner her intention, not so much to associate us as to make us one organic whole, there can be no further doubt that we are all naturally free, inasmuch as we are all comrades. Accordingly it should not enter the mind of anyone that nature has placed some of us in slavery, since she has actually created us all in one likeness.

Therefore it is fruitless to argue whether or not liberty is natural, since none can be held in slavery without being wronged, and in a world governed by a nature, which is reasonable, there is nothing so contrary as an injustice. Since freedom is our natural state, we are not only in possession of it but have the urge to defend it. Now, if perchance some cast a doubt on this conclusion and are so corrupted that they are not able to recognize their rights and inborn tendencies, I shall have to do them the honor that is properly theirs and place, so to speak, brute beasts in the pulpit to throw light on their nature and condition, The very beasts, God help me! if men are not too deaf, cry out to them, “Long live Liberty!” Many among them die as soon as captured: just as the fish loses life as soon as he leaves the water, so do these creatures close their eyes upon the light and have no desire to survive the loss of their natural freedom. If the animals were to constitute their kingdom by rank, their nobility would be chosen from this type. Others, from the largest to the smallest, when captured put up such a strong resistance by means of claws, horns, beak, and paws, that they show clearly enough how they cling to what they are losing; afterwards in captivity they manifest by so many evident signs their awareness of their misfortune, that it is easy to see they are languishing rather than living, and continue their existence—more in lamentation of their lost freedom than in enjoyment of their servitude. What else can explain the behavior of the elephant who, after defending himself to the last ounce of his strength and knowing himself on the point of being taken, dashes his jaws against the trees and breaks his tusks, thus manifesting his longing to remain free as he has been and proving his wit and ability to buy off the huntsmen in the hope that through the sacrifice of his tusks he will be permitted to offer his ivory as a ransom for his liberty? We feed the horse from birth in order to train him to do our bidding. Yet he is tamed with such difficulty that when we begin to break him in he bites the bit, he rears at the touch of the spur, as if to reveal his instinct and show by his actions that, if he obeys, he does so not of his own free will but under constraint. What more can we say?

Even the oxen under the weight of the yoke complain,
And the birds in their cage lament,

as I expressed it some time ago, toying with our French poesy. For I shall not hesitate in writing to you, O Longa, to introduce some of my verses, which I never read to you because of your obvious encouragement which is quite likely to make me conceited. And now, since all beings, because they feel, suffer misery in subjection and long for liberty; since the very beasts, although made for the service of man, cannot become accustomed to control without protest, what evil chance has so denatured man that he, the only creature really born to be free, lacks the memory of his original condition and the desire to return to it?

There are three kinds of tyrants; some receive their proud position through elections by the people, others by force of arms, others by inheritance. Those who have acquired power by means of war act in such wise that it is evident they rule over a conquered country. Those who are born to kingship are scarcely any better, because they are nourished on the breast of tyranny, suck in with their milk the instincts of the tyrant, and consider the people under them as their inherited serfs; and according to their individual disposition, miserly or prodigal, they treat their kingdom as their property. He who has received the state from the people, however, ought to be, it seems to me, more bearable and would be so, I think, were it not for the fact that as soon as he sees himself higher than the others, flattered by that quality which we call grandeur, he plans never to relinquish his position. Such a man usually determines to pass on to his children the authority that the people have conferred upon him; and once his heirs have taken this attitude, strange it is how far they surpass other tyrants in all sorts of vices, and especially in cruelty, because they find no other means to impose this new tyranny than by tightening control and removing their subjects so far from any notion of liberty that even if the memory of it is fresh it will soon be eradicated. Yet, to speak accurately, I do perceive that there is some difference among these three types of tyranny, but as for stating a preference, I cannot grant there is any. For although the means of coming into power differ, still the method of ruling is practically the same; those who are elected act as if they were breaking in bullocks; those who are conquerors make the people their prey; those who are heirs plan to treat them as if they were their natural slaves.

In connection with this, let us imagine some newborn individuals, neither acquainted with slavery nor desirous of liberty, ignorant indeed of the very words. If they were permitted to choose between being slaves and free men, to which would they give their vote? There can be no doubt that they would much prefer to be guided by reason itself than to be ordered about by the whims of a single man. The only possible exception might be the Israelites who, without any compulsion or need, appointed a tyrant.7 I can never read their history without becoming angered and even inhuman enough to find satisfaction in the many evils that befell them on this account. But certainly all men, as long as they remain men, before letting themselves become enslaved must either be driven by force or led into it by deception; conquered by foreign armies, as were Sparta and Athens by the forces of Alexander8 or by political factions, as when at an earlier period the control of Athens had passed into the hands of Pisistrates.9 When they lose their liberty through deceit they are not so often betrayed by others as misled by themselves. This was the case with the people of Syracuse, chief city of Sicily when, in the throes of war and heedlessly planning only for the present danger, they promoted Denis,10 their first tyrant, by entrusting to him the command of the army, without realizing that they had given him such power that on his victorious return this worthy man would behave as if he had vanquished not his enemies but his compatriots, transforming himself from captain to king, and then from king to tyrant.11

It is incredible how as soon as a people becomes subject, it promptly falls into such complete forgetfulness of its freedom that it can hardly be roused to the point of regaining it, obeying so easily and so willingly that one is led to say, on beholding such a situation, that this people has not so much lost its liberty as won its enslavement. It is true that in the beginning men submit under constraint and by force; but those who come after them obey without regret and perform willingly what their predecessors had done because they had to. This is why men born under the yoke and then nourished and reared in slavery are content, without further effort, to live in their native circumstance, unaware of any other state or right, and considering as quite natural the condition into which they were born. There is, however, no heir so spendthrift or indifferent that he does not sometimes scan the account books of his father in order to see if he is enjoying all the privileges of his legacy or whether, perchance, his rights and those of his predecessor have not been encroached upon. Nevertheless it is clear enough that the powerful influence of custom is in no respect more compelling than in this, namely, habituation to subjection. It is said that Mithridates12 trained himself to drink poison. Like him we learn to swallow, and not to find bitter, the venom of servitude. It cannot be denied that nature is influential in shaping us to her will and making us reveal our rich or meager endowment; yet it must be admitted that she has less power over us than custom, for the reason that native endowment, no matter how good, is dissipated unless encouraged, whereas environment always shapes us in its own way, whatever that may be, in spite of nature’s gifts. The good seed that nature plants in us is so slight and so slippery that it cannot withstand the least harm from wrong nourishment; it flourishes less easily, becomes spoiled, withers, and comes to nothing. Fruit trees retain their own particular quality if permitted to grow undisturbed, but lose it promptly and bear strange fruit not their own when ingrafted. Every herb has its peculiar characteristics, its virtues and properties; yet frost, weather, soil, or the gardener’s hand increase or diminish its strength; the plant seen one spot cannot be recognized in another.

Whoever could have observed the early Venetians, a handful of people living so freely that the most wicked among them would not wish to be king over them, so born and trained that they would not vie with one another except as to which one could give the best counsel and nurture their liberty most carefully, so instructed and developed from their cradles that they would not exchange for all the other delights of the world an iota of their freedom; who, I say, familiar with the original nature of such a people, could visit today the territories of the man known as the Great Doge,13 and there contemplate with composure a people unwilling to live except to serve him, and maintaining his power at the cost of their lives? Who would believe that these two groups of people had an identical origin? Would one not rather conclude that upon leaving a city of men he had chanced upon a menagerie of beasts? Lycurgus,14 the lawgiver of Sparta, is reported to have reared two dogs of the same litter by fattening one in the kitchen and training the other in the fields to the sound of the bugle and the horn, thereby to demonstrate to the Lacedaemonians that men, too, develop according to their early habits. He set the two dogs in the open market place, and between them he placed a bowl of soup and a hare. One ran to the bowl of soup, the other to the hare; yet they were, as he maintained, born brothers of the same parents. In such manner did this leader, by his laws and customs, shape and instruct the Spartans so well that any one of them would sooner have died than acknowledge any sovereign other than law and reason.

It gives me pleasure to recall a conversation of the olden time between one of the favorites of Xerxes, the great king of Persia, and two Lacedaemonians. When Xerxes equipped his great army to conquer Greece, he sent his ambassadors into the Greek cities to ask for water and earth. That was the procedure the Persians adopted in summoning the cities to surrender. Neither to Athens nor to Sparta, however, did he dispatch such messengers, because those who had been sent there by Darius his father had been thrown, by the Athenians and Spartans, some into ditches and others into wells, with the invitation to help themselves freely there to water and soil to take back to their prince. Those Greeks could not permit even the slightest suggestion of encroachment upon their liberty. The Spartans suspected, nevertheless, that they had incurred the wrath of the gods by their action, and especially the wrath of Talthybios, the god of the heralds; in order to appease him they decided to send Xerxes two of their citizens in atonement for the cruel death inflicted upon the ambassadors of his father. Two Spartans, one named Sperte and the other Bulis, volunteered to offer themselves as a sacrifice. So they departed, and on the way they came to the palace of the Persian named Hydarnes, lieutenant of the king in all the Asiatic cities situated on the sea coasts. He received them with great honor, feasted them, and then, speaking of one thing and another, he asked them why they refused so obdurately his king’s friendship. “Consider well, O Spartans,” said he, “and realize by my example that the king knows how to honor those who are worthy, and believe that if you were his men he would do the same for you; if you belonged to him and he had known you, there is not one among you who might not be the lord of some Greek city.”

“By such words, Hydarnes, you give us no good counsel,” replied the Lacedaemonians, “because you have experienced merely the advantage of which you speak; you do not know the privilege we enjoy. You have the honor of the king’s favor; but you know nothing about liberty, what relish it has and how sweet it is. For if you had any knowledge of it, you yourself would advise us to defend it, not with lance and shield, but with our very teeth and nails.”

Only Spartans could give such an answer, and surely both of them spoke as they had been trained. It was impossible for the Persian to regret liberty, not having known it, nor for the Lacedaemonians to find subjection acceptable after having enjoyed freedom.

Cato the Utican, while still a child under the rod, could come and go in the house of Sylla the despot. Because of the place and family of his origin and because he and Sylla were close relatives, the door was never closed to him. He always had his teacher with him when he went there, as was the custom for children of noble birth. He noticed that in the house of Sylla, in the dictator’s presence or at his command, some men were imprisoned and others sentenced; one was banished, another was strangled; one demanded the goods of another citizen, another his head; in short, all went there, not as to the house of a city magistrate but as to the people’s tyrant, and this was therefore not a court of justice, but rather a resort of tyranny. Whereupon the young lad said to his teacher, “Why don’t you give me a dagger? I will hide it under my robe. I often go into Sylla’s room before he is risen, and my arm is strong enough to rid the city of him.” There is a speech truly characteristic of Cato; it was a true beginning of this hero so worthy of his end. And should one not mention his name or his country, but state merely the fact as it is, the episode itself would speak eloquently, and anyone would divine that he was a Roman born in Rome at the time when she was free.

And why all this? Certainly not because I believe that the land or the region has anything to do with it, for in any place and in any climate subjection is bitter and to be free is pleasant; but merely because I am of the opinion that one should pity those who, at birth, arrive with the yoke upon their necks. We should exonerate and forgive them, since they have not seen even the shadow of liberty, and, being quite unaware of it, cannot perceive the evil endured through their own slavery. If there were actually a country like that of the Cimmerians mentioned by Homer,15 where the sun shines otherwise than on our own, shedding its radiance steadily for six successive months and then leaving humanity to drowse in obscurity until it returns at the end of another half-year, should we be surprised to learn that those born during this long night do grow so accustomed to their native darkness that unless they were told about the sun they would have no desire to see the light? One never pines for what he has never known; longing comes only after enjoyment and constitutes, amidst the experience of sorrow, the memory of past joy. It is truly the nature of man to be free and to wish to be so, yet his character is such that he instinctively follows the tendencies that his training gives him.

Let us therefore admit that all those things to which he is trained and accustomed seem natural to man and that only that is truly native to him which he receives with his primitive, untrained individuality. Thus custom becomes the first reason for voluntary servitude. Men are like handsome race horses who first bite the bit and later like it, and rearing under the saddle a while soon learn to enjoy displaying their harness and prance proudly beneath their trappings. Similarly men will grow accustomed to the idea that they have always been in subjection, that their fathers lived in the same way; they will think they are obliged to suffer this evil, and will persuade themselves by example and imitation of others, finally investing those who order them around with proprietary rights, based on the idea that it has always been that way.

There are always a few, better endowed than others, who feel the weight of the yoke and cannot restrain themselves from attempting to shake it off: these are the men who never become tamed under subjection and who always, like Ulysses on land and sea constantly seeking the smoke of his chimney, cannot prevent themselves from peering about for their natural privileges and from remembering their ancestors and their former ways. These are in fact the men who, possessed of clear minds and far-sighted spirit, are not satisfied, like the brutish mass, to see only what is at their feet, but rather look about them, behind and before, and even recall the things of the past in order to judge those of the future, and compare both with their present condition. These are the ones who, having good minds of their own, have further trained them by study and learning. Even if liberty had entirely perished from the earth, such men would invent it. For them slavery has no satisfactions, no matter how well disguised.

The Grand Turk16 was well aware that books and teaching more than anything else give men the sense to comprehend their own nature and to detest tyranny. I understand that in his territory there are few educated people, for he does not want many. On account of this restriction, men of strong zeal and devotion, who in spite of the passing of time have preserved their love of freedom, still remain ineffective because, however numerous they may be, they are not known to one another; under the tyrant they have lost freedom of action, of speech, and almost of thought; they are alone in their aspiration. Indeed Momus, god of mockery, was not merely joking when he found this to criticize in the man fashioned by Vulcan, namely, that the maker had not set a little window in his creature’s heart to render his thoughts visible. It is reported that Brutus, Cassius, and Casca, on undertaking to free Rome, and for that matter the whole world, refused to include in their band Cicero, that great enthusiast for the public welfare if ever there was one, because they considered his heart too timid for such a lofty deed; they trusted his willingness but they were none too sure of his courage. Yet whoever studies the deeds of earlier days and the annals of antiquity will find practically no instance of heroes who failed to deliver their country from evil hands when they set about their task with a firm, whole-hearted, and sincere intention. Liberty, as if to reveal her nature, seems to have given them new strength. Harmodios and Aristogiton, Thrasybulus, Brutus the Elder, Valerianus, and Dion achieved successfully what they planned virtuously: for hardly ever does good fortune fail a strong will. Brutus the Younger and Cassius were successful in eliminating servitude, and although they perished in their attempt to restore liberty, they did not die miserably (what blasphemy it would be to say there was anything miserable about these men, either in their death or in their living!).17 Their loss worked great harm, everlasting misfortune, and complete destruction of the Republic, which appears to have been buried with them. Other and later undertakings against the Roman emperors were merely plottings of ambitious people, who deserve no pity for the misfortunes that overtook them, for it is evident that they sought not to destroy, but merely to usurp the crown, scheming to drive away the tyrant, but to retain tyranny. For myself, I could not wish such men to prosper and I am glad they have shown by their example that the sacred name of Liberty must never be used to cover a false enterprise.

But to come back to the thread of our discourse, which I have practically lost: the essential reason why men take orders willingly is that they are born serfs and are reared as such. From this cause there follows another result, namely that people easily become cowardly and submissive under tyrants. For this observation I am deeply grateful to Hippocrates, the renowned father of medicine, who noted and reported it in a treatise of his entitled Concerning Diseases. This famous man was certainly endowed with a great heart and proved it clearly by his reply to the Great King, who wanted to attach him to his person by means of special privileges and large gifts. Hippocrates answered frankly that it would be a weight on his conscience to make use of his science for the cure of barbarians who wished to slay his fellow Greeks, or to serve faithfully by his skill anyone who undertook to enslave Greece. The letter he sent the king can still be read among his other works and will forever testify to his great heart and noble character.

By this time it should be evident that liberty once lost, valor also perishes. A subject people shows neither gladness nor eagerness in combat: its men march sullenly to danger almost as if in bonds, and stultified; they do not feel throbbing within them that eagerness for liberty which engenders scorn of peril and imparts readiness to acquire honor and glory by a brave death amidst one’s comrades. Among free men there is competition as to who will do most, each for the common good, each by himself, all expecting to share in the misfortunes of defeat, or in the benefits of victory; but an enslaved people loses in addition to this warlike courage, all signs of enthusiasm, for their hearts are degraded, submissive, and incapable of any great deed. Tyrants are well aware of this, and, in order to degrade their subjects further, encourage them to assume this attitude and make it instinctive.

Xenophon, grave historian of first rank among the Greeks, wrote a book in which he makes Simonides speak with Hieron, Tyrant of Syracuse, concerning the anxieties of the tyrant. This book is full of fine and serious remonstrances, which in my opinion are as persuasive as words can be. Would to God that all despots who have ever lived might have kept it before their eyes and used it as a mirror! I cannot believe they would have failed to recognize their warts and to have conceived some shame for their blotches. In this treatise is explained the torment in which tyrants find themselves when obliged to fear everyone because they do evil unto every man. Among other things we find the statement that bad kings employ foreigners in their wars and pay them, not daring to entrust weapons in the hands of their own people, whom they have wronged. (There have been good kings who have used mercenaries from foreign nations, even among the French, although more so formerly than today, but with the quite different purpose of preserving their own people, considering as nothing the loss of money in the effort to spare French lives. That is, I believe, what Scipio the great African meant when he said he would rather save one citizen than defeat a hundred enemies.) For it is plainly evident that the dictator does not consider his power firmly established until he has reached the point where there is no man under him who is of any worth. Therefore there may be justly applied to him the reproach to the master of the elephants made by Thrason and reported by Terence:

Are you indeed so proud
Because you command wild beasts?

This method tyrants use of stultifying their subjects cannot be more clearly observed than in what Cyrus did with the Lydians after he had taken Sardis, their chief city, and had at his mercy the captured Croesus, their fabulously rich king. When news was brought to him that the people of Sardis had rebelled, it would have been easy for him to reduce them by force; but being unwilling either to sack such a fine city or to maintain an army there to police it, he thought of an unusual expedient for reducing it. He established in it brothels, taverns, and public games, and issued the proclamation that the inhabitants were to enjoy them. He found this type of garrison so effective that he never again had to draw the sword against the Lydians. These wretched people enjoyed themselves inventing all kinds of games, so that the Latins have derived the word from them, and what we call pastimes they call ludi, as if they meant to say Lydi. Not all tyrants have manifested so clearly their intention to effeminize their victims; but in fact, what the aforementioned despot publicly proclaimed and put into effect, most of the others have pursued secretly as an end. It is indeed the nature of the populace, whose density is always greater in the cities, to be suspicious toward one who has their welfare at heart, and gullible toward one who fools them. Do not imagine that there is any bird more easily caught by decoy, nor any fish sooner fixed on the hook by wormy bait, than are all these poor fools neatly tricked into servitude by the slightest feather passed, so to speak, before their mouths. Truly it is a marvelous thing that they let themselves be caught so quickly at the slightest tickling of their fancy. Plays, farces, spectacles, gladiators, strange beasts, medals, pictures, and other such opiates, these were for ancient peoples the bait toward slavery, the price of their liberty, the instruments of tyranny. By these practices and enticements the ancient dictators so successfully lulled their subjects under the yoke, that the stupefied peoples, fascinated by the pastimes and vain pleasures flashed before their eyes, learned subservience as naively, but not so creditably, as little children learn to read by looking at bright picture books. Roman tyrants invented a further refinement. They often provided the city wards with feasts to cajole the rabble, always more readily tempted by the pleasure of eating than by anything else. The most intelligent and understanding amongst them would not have quit his soup bowl to recover the liberty of the Republic of Plato. Tyrants would distribute largess, a bushel of wheat, a gallon of wine, and a sesterce: and then everybody would shamelessly cry, “Long live the King!” The fools did not realize that they were merely recovering a portion of their own property, and that their ruler could not have given them what they were receiving without having first taken it from them. A man might one day be presented with a sesterce and gorge himself at the public feast, lauding Tiberius and Nero for handsome liberality, who on the morrow, would be forced to abandon his property to their avarice, his children to their lust, his very blood to the cruelty of these magnificent emperors, without offering any more resistance than a stone or a tree stump. The mob has always behaved in this way—eagerly open to bribes that cannot be honorably accepted, and dissolutely callous to degradation and insult that cannot be honorably endured. Nowadays I do not meet anyone who, on hearing mention of Nero, does not shudder at the very name of that hideous monster, that disgusting and vile pestilence. Yet when he died—when this incendiary, this executioner, this savage beast, died as vilely as he had lived—the noble Roman people, mindful of his games and his festivals, were saddened to the point of wearing mourning for him. Thus wrote Cornelius Tacitus, a competent and serious author, and one of the most reliable. This will not be considered peculiar in view of what this same people had previously done at the death of Julius Caesar, who had swept away their laws and their liberty, in whose character, it seems to me, there was nothing worth while, for his very liberality, which is so highly praised, was more baneful than the cruelest tyrant who ever existed, because it was actually this poisonous amiability of his that sweetened servitude for the Roman people. After his death, that people, still preserving on their palates the flavor of his banquets and in their minds the memory of his prodigality, vied with one another to pay him homage. They piled up the seats of the Forum for the great fire that reduced his body to ashes, and later raised a column to him as to “The Father of His People.” (Such was the inscription on the capital.) They did him more honor, dead as he was, than they had any right to confer upon any man in the world, except perhaps on those who had killed him.

They didn’t even neglect, these Roman emperors, to assume generally the title of Tribune of the People, partly because this office was held sacred and inviolable and also because it had been founded for the defense and protection of the people and enjoyed the favor of the state. By this means they made sure that the populace would trust them completely, as if they merely used the title and did not abuse it. Today there are some who do not behave very differently; they never undertake an unjust policy, even one of some importance, without prefacing it with some pretty speech concerning public welfare and common good. You well know, O Longa, this formula which they use quite cleverly in certain places; although for the most part, to be sure, there cannot be cleverness where there is so much impudence. The kings of the Assyrians and even after them those of the Medes showed themselves in public as seldom as possible in order to set up a doubt in the minds of the rabble as to whether they were not in some way more than man, and thereby to encourage people to use their imagination for those things which they cannot judge by sight. Thus a great many nations who for a long time dwelt under the control of the Assyrians became accustomed, with all this mystery, to their own subjection, and submitted the more readily for not knowing what sort of master they had, or scarcely even if they had one, all of them fearing by report someone they had never seen. The earliest kings of Egypt rarely showed themselves without carrying a cat, or sometimes a branch, or appearing with fire on their heads, masking themselves with these objects and parading like workers of magic. By doing this they inspired their subjects with reverence and admiration, whereas with people neither too stupid nor too slavish they would merely have aroused, it seems to me, amusement and laughter. It is pitiful to review the list of devices that early despots used to establish their tyranny; to discover how many little tricks they employed, always finding the populace conveniently gullible, readily caught in the net as soon as it was spread. Indeed they always fooled their victims so easily that while mocking them they enslaved them the more.

What comment can I make concerning another fine counterfeit that ancient peoples accepted as true money? They believed firmly that the great toe of Pyrrhus, king of Epirus, performed miracles and cured diseases of the spleen; they even enhanced the tale further with the legend that this toe, after the corpse had been burned, was found among the ashes, untouched by the fire. In this wise a foolish people itself invents lies and then believes them. Many men have recounted such things, but in such a way that it is easy to see that the parts were pieced together from idle gossip of the city and silly reports from the rabble. When Vespasian, returning from Assyria, passes through Alexandria on his way to Rome to take possession of the empire, he performs wonders: he makes the crippled straight, restores sight to the blind, and does many other fine things, concerning which the credulous and undiscriminating were, in my opinion, more blind than those cured. Tyrants themselves have wondered that men could endure the persecution of a single man; they have insisted on using religion for their own protection and, where possible, have borrowed a stray bit of divinity to bolster up their evil ways. If we are to believe the Sybil of Virgil, Salmoneus, in torment for having paraded as Jupiter in order to deceive the populace, now atones in nethermost Hell:

He suffered endless torment for having dared to
imitate
The thunderbolts of heaven and the flames of
Jupiter.
Upon a chariot drawn by four chargers he went,
unsteadily
Riding aloft, in his fist a great shining torch.
Among the Greeks and into the market-place
In the heart of the city of Elis he had ridden
boldly:
And displaying thus his vainglory he assumed
An honor which undeniably belongs to the gods
alone.
This fool who imitated storm and the inimitable
thunderbolt
By clash of brass and with his dizzying charge
On horn-hoofed steeds, the all-powerful Father
beheld,
Hurled not a torch, nor the feeble light
From a waxen taper with its smoky fumes,
But by the furious blast of thunder and lightning
He brought him low, his heels above his head.

If such a one, who in his time acted merely through the folly of insolence, is so well received in Hell, I think that those who have used religion as a cloak to hide their vileness will be even more deservedly lodged in the same place.

Our own leaders have employed in France certain similar devices, such as toads, fleurs-de-lys, sacred vessels, and standards with flames of gold. However that may be, I do not wish, for my part, to be incredulous, since neither we nor our ancestors have had any occasion up to now for skepticism. Our kings have always been so generous in times of peace and so valiant in time of war, that from birth they seem not to have been created by nature like many others, but even before birth to have been designated by Almighty God for the government and preservation of this kingdom. Even if this were not so, yet should I not enter the tilting ground to call in question the truth of our traditions, or to examine them so strictly as to take away their fine conceits. Here is such a field for our French poetry, now not merely honored but, it seems to me, reborn through our Rosnard, our Baif, our Bellay. These poets are defending our language so well that I dare to believe that very soon neither the Greeks nor the Latins will in this respect have any advantage over us except possibly that of seniority. And I should assuredly do wrong to our poesy—I like to use that word despite the fact that several have rhymed mechanically, for I still discern a number of men today capable of ennobling poetry and restoring it to its first lustre—but, as I say, I should do the Muse great injury if I deprived her now of those fine tales about. King Clovis, amongst which it seems to me I can already see how agreeably and how happily the inspiration of our Ronsard in his Frunciade will play. I appreciate his loftiness, I am aware of his keen spirit, and I know the charm of the man: he will appropriate the oriflamme to his use much as did the Romans their sacred bucklers and the shields cast from heaven to earth, according to Virgil. He will use our phial of holy oil much as the Athenians used the basket of Ericthonius; he will win applause for our deeds of valor as they did for their olive wreath which they insist can still be found in Minerva’s tower. Certainly I should be presumptuous if I tried to cast slurs on our records and thus invade the realm of our poets.

But to return to our subject, the thread of which I have unwittingly lost in this discussion: it has always happened that tyrants, in order to strengthen their power, have made every effort to train their people not only in obedience and servility toward themselves, but also in adoration. Therefore all that I have said up to the present concerning the means by which a more willing submission has been obtained applies to dictators in their relationship with the inferior and common classes.

(Part III)

I COME NOW to a point which is, in my opinion, the mainspring and the secret of domination, the support and foundation of tyranny. Whoever thinks that halberds, sentries, the placing of the watch, serve to protect and shield tyrants is, in my judgment, completely mistaken. These are used, it seems to me, more for ceremony and a show of force than for any reliance placed in them. The archers forbid the entrance to the palace to the poorly dressed who have no weapons, not to the well armed who can carry out some plot. Certainly it is easy to say of the Roman emperors that fewer escaped from danger by aid of their guards than were killed by their own archers.18 It is not the troops on horseback, it is not the companies afoot, it is not arms that defend the tyrant. This does not seem credible on first thought, but it is nevertheless true that there are only four or five who maintain the dictator, four or five who keep the country in bondage to him. Five or six have always had access to his ear, and have either gone to him of their own accord, or else have been summoned by him, to be accomplices in his cruelties, companions in his pleasures, panders to his lusts, and sharers in his plunders. These six manage their chief so successfully that he comes to be held accountable not only for his own misdeeds but even for theirs. The six have six hundred who profit under them, and with the six hundred they do what they have accomplished with their tyrant. The six hundred maintain under them six thousand, whom they promote in rank, upon whom they confer the government of provinces or the direction of finances, in order that they may serve as instruments of avarice and cruelty, executing orders at the proper time and working such havoc all around that they could not last except under the shadow of the six hundred, nor be exempt from law and punishment except through their influence.

The consequence of all this is fatal indeed. And whoever is pleased to unwind the skein will observe that not the six thousand but a hundred thousand, and even millions, cling to the tyrant by this cord to which they are tied. According to Homer, Jupiter boasts of being able to draw to himself all the gods when he pulls a chain. Such a scheme caused the increase in the senate under Julius, the formation of new ranks, the creation of offices; not really, if properly considered, to reform justice, but to provide new supporters of despotism. In short, when the point is reached, through big favors or little ones, that large profits or small are obtained under a tyrant, there are found almost as many people to whom tyranny seems advantageous as those to whom liberty would seem desirable. Doctors declare that if, when some part of the body has gangrene a disturbance arises in another spot, it immediately flows to the troubled part. Even so, whenever a ruler makes himself a dictator, all the wicked dregs of the nation—I do not mean the pack of petty thieves and earless ruffians19 who, in a republic, are unimportant in evil or good—but all those who are corrupted by burning ambition or extraordinary avarice, these gather around him and support him in order to have a share in the booty and to constitute themselves petty chiefs under the big tyrant. This is the practice among notorious robbers and famous pirates: some scour the country, others pursue voyagers; some lie in ambush, others keep a lookout; some commit murder, others robbery; and although there are among them differences in rank, some being only underlings while others are chieftains of gangs, yet is there not a single one among them who does not feel himself to be a sharer, if not of the main booty, at least in the pursuit of it. It is dependably related that Sicilian pirates gathered in such great numbers that it became necessary to send against them Pompey the Great, and that they drew into their alliance fine towns and great cities in whose harbors they took refuge on returning from their expeditions, paying handsomely for the haven given their stolen goods.

Thus the despot subdues his subjects, some of them by means of others, and thus is he protected by those from whom, if they were decent men, he would have to guard himself; just as, in order to split wood, one has to use a wedge of the wood itself. Such are his archers, his guards, his halberdiers; not that they themselves do not suffer occasionally at his hands, but this riff-raff, abandoned alike by God and man, can be led to endure evil if permitted to commit it, not against him who exploits them, but against those who like themselves submit, but are helpless. Nevertheless, observing those men who painfully serve the tyrant in order to win some profit from his tyranny and from the subjection of the populace, I am often overcome with amazement at their wickedness and sometimes by pity for their folly. For, in all honesty, can it be in any way except in folly that you approach a tyrant, withdrawing further from your liberty and, so to speak, embracing with both hands your servitude? Let such men lay aside briefly their ambition, or let them forget for a moment their avarice, and look at themselves as they really are. Then they will realize clearly that the townspeople, the peasants whom they trample under foot and treat worse than convicts or slaves, they will realize, I say, that these people, mistreated as they may be, are nevertheless, in comparison with themselves, better off and fairly free. The tiller of the soil and the artisan, no matter how enslaved, discharge their obligation when they do what they are told to do; but the dictator sees men about him wooing and begging his favor, and doing much more than he tells them to do. Such men must not only obey orders; they must anticipate his wishes; to satisfy him they must foresee his desires; they must wear themselves out, torment themselves, kill themselves with work in his interest, and accept his pleasure as their own, neglecting their preference for his, distorting their character and corrupting their nature; they must pay heed to his words, to his intonation, to his gestures, and to his glance. Let them have no eye, nor foot, nor hand that is not alert to respond to his wishes or to seek out his thoughts.

Can that be called a happy life? Can it be called living? Is there anything more intolerable than that situation, I won’t say for a man of mettle nor even for a man of high birth, but simply for a man of common sense or, to go even further, for anyone having the face of a man? What condition is more wretched than to live thus, with nothing to call one’s own, receiving from someone else one’s sustenance, one’s power to act, one’s body, one’s very life?

Still men accept servility in order to acquire wealth; as if they could acquire anything of their own when they cannot even assert that they belong to themselves, or as if anyone could possess under a tyrant a single thing in his own name. Yet they act as if their wealth really belonged to them, and forget that it is they themselves who give the ruler the power to deprive everybody of everything, leaving nothing that anyone can identify as belonging to somebody. They notice that nothing makes men so subservient to a tyrant’s cruelty as property; that the possession of wealth is the worst of crimes against him, punishable even by death; that he loves nothing quite so much as money and ruins only the rich, who come before him as before a butcher, offering themselves so stuffed and bulging that they make his mouth water. These favorites should not recall so much the memory of those who have won great wealth from tyrants as of those who, after they had for some time amassed it, have lost to him their property as well as their lives; they should consider not how many others have gained a fortune, but rather how few of them have kept it. Whether we examine ancient history or simply the times in which we live, we shall see clearly how great is the number of those who, having by shameful means won the ear of princes—who either profit from their villainies or take advantage of their naivetƒ©—were in the end reduced to nothing by these very princes; and although at first such servitors were met by a ready willingness to promote their interests, they later found an equally obvious inconstancy which brought them to ruin. Certainly among so large a number of people who have at one time or another had some relationship with bad rulers, there have been few or practically none at all who have not felt applied to themselves the tyrant’s animosity, which they had formerly stirred up against others. Most often, after becoming rich by despoiling others, under the favor of his protection, they find themselves at last enriching him with their own spoils.

Even men of character—if it sometimes happens that a tyrant likes such a man well enough to hold him in his good graces, because in him shine forth the virtue and integrity that inspire a certain reverence even in the most depraved–even men of character, I say, could not long avoid succumbing to the common malady and would early experience the effects of tyranny at their own expense. A Seneca, a Burrus, a Thrasea, this triumverate of splendid men, will provide a sufficient reminder of such misfortune. Two of them were close to the tyrant by the fatal responsibility of holding in their hands the management of his affairs, and both were esteemed and beloved by him. One of them, moreover, had a peculiar claim upon his friendship, having instructed his master as a child. Yet these three by their cruel death give sufficient evidence of how little faith one can place in the friendship of an evil ruler. Indeed what friendship may be expected from one whose heart is bitter enough to hate even his own people, who do naught else but obey him? It is because he does not know how to love that he ultimately impoverishes his own spirit and destroys his own empire.

Now if one would argue that these men fell into disgrace because they wanted to act honorably, let him look around boldly at others close to that same tyrant, and he will see that those who came into his favor and maintained themselves by dishonorable means did not fare much better. Who has ever heard tell of a love more centered, of an affection more persistent, who has ever read of a man more desperately attached to a woman than Nero was to Poppaea? Yet she was later poisoned by his own hand. Agrippina his mother had killed her husband, Claudius, in order to exalt her son; to gratify him she had never hesitated at doing or bearing anything; and yet this very son, her offspring, her emperor, elevated by her hand, after failing her often, finally took her life. It is indeed true that no one denies she would have well deserved this punishment, if only it had come to her by some other hand than that of the son she had brought into the world. Who was ever more easily managed, more naive, or, to speak quite frankly, a greater simpleton, than Claudius the Emperor? Who was ever more wrapped up in his wife than he in Messalina, whom he delivered finally into the hands of the executioner? Stupidity in a tyrant always renders him incapable of benevolent action; but in some mysterious way by dint of acting cruelly even towards those who are his closest associates, he seems to manifest what little intelligence he may have.

Quite generally known is the striking phrase of that other tyrant who, gazing at the throat of his wife, a woman he dearly loved and without whom it seemed he could not live, caressed her with this charming comment: “This lovely throat would be cut at once if I but gave the order.” That is why the majority of the dictators of former days were commonly slain by their closest favorites who, observing the nature of tyranny, could not be so confident of the whim of the tyrant as they were distrustful of his power. Thus was Domitian killed by Stephen, Commodus by one of his mistresses, Antoninus by Macrinus, and practically all the others in similar violent fashion.

The fact is that the tyrant is never truly loved, nor does he love. Friendship is a sacred word, a holy thing; it is never developed except between persons of character, and never takes root except through mutual respect; it flourishes not so much by kindnesses as by sincerity. What makes one friend sure of another is the knowledge of his integrity: as guarantees he has his friend’s fine nature, his honor, and his constancy. There can be no friendship where there is cruelty, where there is disloyalty, where there is injustice. And in places where the wicked gather there is conspiracy only, not companionship: these have no affection for one another; fear alone holds them together; they are not friends, they are merely accomplices.

Although it might not be impossible, yet it would be difficult to find true friendship in a tyrant; elevated above others and having no companions, he finds himself already beyond the pale of friendship, which receives its real sustenance from an equality that, to proceed without a limp, must have its two limbs equal. That is why there is honor among thieves (or so it is reported) in the sharing of the booty; they are peers and comrades; if they are not fond of one another they at least respect one another and do not seek to lessen their strength by squabbling. But the favorites of a tyrant can never feel entirely secure, and the less so because he has learned from them that he is all powerful and unlimited by any law or obligation. Thus it becomes his wont to consider his own will as reason enough, and to be master of all with never a compeer. Therefore it seems a pity that with so many examples at hand, with the danger always present, no one is anxious to act the wise man at the expense of the others, and that among so many persons fawning upon their ruler there is not a single one who has the wisdom and the boldness to say to him what, according to the fable,20 the fox said to the lion who feigned illness: “I should be glad to enter your lair to pay my respects; but I see many tracks of beasts that have gone toward you, yet not a single trace of any who have come back.”

These wretches see the glint of the despot’s treasures and are bedazzled by the radiance of his splendor. Drawn by this brilliance they come near, without realizing they are approaching a flame that cannot fail to scorch them. Similarly attracted, the indiscreet satyr of the old fables, on seeing the bright fire brought down by Prometheus, found it so beautiful that he went and kissed it, and was burned21; so, as the Tuscan22 poet reminds us, the moth, intent upon desire, seeks the flame because it shines, and also experiences its other quality, the burning. Moreover, even admitting that favorites may at times escape from the hands of him they serve, they are never safe from the ruler who comes after him. If he is good, they must render an account of their past and recognize at last that justice exists; if he is bad and resembles their late master, he will certainly have his own favorites, who are not usually satisfied to occupy in their turn merely the posts of their precedessors, but will more often insist on their wealth and their lives. Can anyone be found, then, who under such perilous circumstances and with so little security will still be ambitious to fill such an ill-fated position and serve, despite such perils, so dangerous a master? Good God, what suffering, what martyrdom all this involves! To be occupied night and day in planning to please one person, and yet to fear him more than anyone else in the world; to be always on the watch, ears open, wondering whence the blow will come; to search out conspiracy, to be on guard against snares, to scan the faces of companions for signs of treachery, to smile at everybody and be mortally afraid of all, to be sure of nobody, either as an open enemy or as a reliable friend; showing always a gay countenance despite an apprehensive heart, unable to be joyous yet not daring to be sad!

However, there is satisfaction in examining what they get out of all this torment, what advantage they derive from all the trouble of their wretched existence. Actually the people never blame the tyrant for the evils they suffer, but they do place responsibility on those who influence him; peoples, nations, all compete with one another, even the peasants, even the tillers of the soil, in mentioning the names of the favorites, in analyzing their vices, and heaping upon them a thousand insults, a thousand obscenities, a thousand maledictions. All their prayers, all their vows are directed against these persons; they hold them accountable for all their misfortunes, their pestilences, their famines; and if at times they show them outward respect, at those very moments they are fuming in their hearts and hold them in greater horror than wild beasts. This is the glory and honor heaped upon influential favorites for their services by people who, if they could tear apart their living bodies, would still clamor for more, only half satiated by the agony they might behold. For even when the favorites are dead those who live after are never too lazy to blacken the names of these man-eaters23 with the ink of a thousand pens, tear their reputations into bits in a thousand books, and drag, so to speak, their bones past posterity, forever punishing them after their death for their wicked lives.

Let us therefore learn while there is yet time, let us learn to do good. Let us raise our eyes to Heaven for the sake of our honor, for the very love of virtue, or, to speak wisely, for the love and praise of God Almighty, who is the infallible witness of our deeds and the just judge of our faults. As for me, I truly believe I am right, since there is nothing so contrary to a generous and loving God as tyranny—I believe He has reserved, in a separate spot in Hell, some very special punishment for tyrants and their accomplices.

NOTES

1. Iliad, Book II, Lines 204–205.—H.K.

2. Government by a single ruler. From the Greek monos (single) and arkhein (to command).—H.K.

3. An autocratic council of thirty magistrates that governed Athens for eight months in 404 B.C. They exhibited such monstrous despotism that the city rose in anger and drove them forth.—H.E.

4. Athenian general, died 489 B.C. Some of his battles: expedition against Scythians; Lemnos; Imbros; Marathon, where Darius the Pemian was defeated.—H.K.

5. King of Sparta, died at Thermopolae in 480 B.C., defending the pass with three hundred loyal Spartans against Xerxes.—H.K.

6. Athenian statesman and general, died 460 B.C. Some of his battles: expedition against Aegean Isles; victory over Persians under Xerxes at Salamis.—H.K.

7. The reference is to Saul anointed by Samuel.—H.K.

8. Alexander the Macedonian became the acknowledged master of all Hellenes at the Assembly of Corinth, 335 B.C.—H.K.

9. Athenian tyrant, died 627 B.C. He used ruse and bluster to control the city and was obliged to flee several times.—H.K.

10. Denis or Dionysius, tyrant of Syracuse, died in 367 B.C. Of lowly birth, this dictator imposed himself by plottings, putsches, and purges. The danger from which he saved his city was the invasion by the Carthaginians.—H.K.

11. Dionysius seized power in Syraeuse in 405 B.C.—M.N.R.

12. Mithridates (c. 135–63 B.C.) was next to Hannibal the most dreaded and potent enemy of Roman power. The reference in the text is to his youth when he spent some years in retirement hardening himself and immunizing himself against poison. In his old age, defeated by Pompey, betrayed by his own son, he tried poison and Finally had to resort to the dagger of a friendly Gaul. (Pliny, Natural History, XXIV, 2.)—H.K.

13. The ruler of Venice.—M.N.R.

14. A half-legendary figure concerning whose life Plutarch admits there is much obscurity. He bequeathed to his land a rigid code regulating land, assembly, education, with the individual subordinate to the state.—H.K.

15. Odyssey. Book II, Lines 14–19. The Cimmerians were a barbarian people active north of the Black Sea in the eighth and seventh centuries B.C., and gave their name to Crimea.—M.N.R.

16. The Ottoman Sultan of Constantinople was often called the Grand Turk.—M.N.R.

17. Brutus and Cassias helped to assassinate Julius Caesar in 44 B.C. They committed suicide after being defeated by Marcus Antonius at the Battles of Philippi in 42 B.C.—M.N.R.

18. Almost a third of the Roman Emperors were killed by their own soldiers.—M.N.R.

19. The cutting off of ears as a punishment for thievery is very ancient. In the middle ages it was still practiced under St. Louis. Men so mutilated were dishonored and could not enter the clergy or the magistracy.—H.K.

20. By Aesop.—M.N.R.

21. Aeschylus’ Prometheus the Firebearer (fragment).—M.N.R.

22. Petrarch, Cazoniere, Sonnet XVII. La Boetie has accurately rendered the lines concerning the moth.—H.K.

23. The word was used by Homer in the Iliad, Book I, Line 341.—M.N.R.

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Common Law in Illinois

Here is a Power Point presentation I used when I spoke at the Illinois Libertarian Party Convention in 2006. My speech focused on the Common Law, and how it is still operative in Illinois. Officials often portray individuals who invoke the Common Law as being fringe, patriot or militia radicals; and there is much confusion and misunderstanding of what the Common Law is. The Common Law embodies long-held judicial decisions dating back hundreds of years. It stands in distinction to statutory law, which is man-made law and often mala prohibita in nature. The application of statutes in relation to the Common Law is to modify, amend, or address shortcomings in the Common Law to address the application of the Common Law to modern-day issues where the Common Law had not previously been applied. The notes below I gleaned from the Corpus Juris Secundum which is the authoritative Legal Encyclopedia used by legal professionals and jurists. I have also included an additional analysis of the City of St. Louis, Missouri Earnings Tax, which imposes a 1% tax upon the “wages” of “taxpayers” working within the corporate limits of the City of St. Louis, Missouri. I attempt to clarify and illustrate the chicanery and confusion used in the wording of the City Code which attempts to impose a tax upon working people. You will need the ability to view Microsoft PowerPoint slide shows to view the presentation. 
Discussion of the Common Law

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 Common Law in Illinois 

Corpus Juris Secundum on the Common Law § §  11 et seq.

 The common law of England, so far as applicable and of a general nature, is in full force in Illinois until repealed by legislative authority.
 There is no national common law operative as such throughout the United States, and the adoption and application of the common law were matters left to the several states for determination.

Under the Act of March 5, 1874, which is still in effect, the General Assembly provided: “The common law of England, so far as the same is applicable and of a general nature, and all statutes or acts of the British parliament made in aid of, and to supply the defects of the common law, prior to the fourth year of James the First, excepting the second section of the sixth chapter of 43d Elizabeth, the eighth chapter of 13th Elizabeth, and ninth chapter of 37th Henry Eighth, and which are of a general nature and not local to that kingdom, shall be the rule of decision, and shall be considered as of full force until repealed by legislative authority.” The fourth year of James the First began March 24, 1606.

This statute, without the exceptions, was passed by the general convention of the Colony of Virginia, May, 1776, and in its present form was carried into the legislature of the Indiana Territory by the Act of September 7, 1807, was in force in the territory of Illinois and was reenacted by the first state legislature by Act of February 4, 1819, and has been retained in the same form in succeeding revisions. The statute is declaratory of what was the law by which the inhabitants of the territory now constituting the State of Illinois were governed, and of the rights, privileges, and immunities to which they were entitled ever since Anglo-Saxon civilization first obtained a foothold in it.

The legislature fixed the fourth year of James the First, instead of the date of the Declaration of Independence, or of the formation of our Constitution, as the period for transplanting the common law of England because that was the period at which the first territorial government was established in America, and with it the common law of England as it then existed.

As a result of the Act, the great body of the English common law became, so far as applicable, in force in this state, and remains in force except so far as it has been modified or repealed by statute, or changed or modified by custom as found in decisions of our courts. The common law, when applicable, is as much a part of the law of the state, where it has not been expressly abrogated by statute, as the statutes themselves. In other words, Illinois is a common law state.

 
On the other hand, it has long been settled that the adoption has extended only to cases where the common law is applicable to the habits and condition of our society and in harmony with the genius, spirit, and objects of our institutions. The statute adopting the common law of England does not require the courts to enforce the local customs of England, but, on the contrary, they are excluded.  

 What the statute adopted was not just those doctrines which happened to have already been announced by English courts at the close of the Middle Ages, but rather a system of law whose outstanding characteristics are its adaptability and capacity for growth. The Supreme Court pointed out in the very early case of Penny v. Little, which was quoted in Amann v. Faidy, “That if we are to be restricted to the common law, as it was enacted at fourth James, rejecting all modifications and improvements which have since been made, by practice and statutes, except our own statutes, we will find that system entirely inapplicable to our present condition, for the simple reason that it is more than two hundred years behind the age.”

Adoption of English statutes. The Act of March 5, 1874, which is still in effect, adopted not only the common law of England, but also all statutes in aid thereof or to supply defects therein passed prior to the fourth year of James the First, except the second section of the sixth chapter of 43 Elizabeth, the eighth chapter of 13th Elizabeth, and ninth chapter of 37th Henry the Eighth, which were of a general nature and not local to that kingdom. 
 English statutes are not in force in Illinois which were passed since the fourth year of James the First, or which are inapplicable to our conditions and inconsistent with our institutions.

Corpus Juris Secundum on the Common Law § §  14, 15

Various maxims and principles of the common law which are of general application and are suited to the conditions and surroundings of our state have been adopted and are in force to the extent that they have not been superseded by statutory enactment.

Thus, the courts have applied the doctrine of Mobilia sequuntur personam and the maxim De minimis non curat lex. 
 In addition, other maxims and principles have been applied, such as ignorance of the law excuses no one, and everyone of sound and pure mind is bound at his peril to take knowledge of both the common and statute law; the law only favors the vigilant; the law abhors forfeitures and will show them no mercy or favor; persons must so use their own property and so exercise their own privileges that they do not thereby destroy or peril the rights of others; the law does not permit a person to do indirectly what he cannot do directly; and the law does not require the performance of a useless act.

Statutes

Rules for the construction of statutes are not rules of law, but are only aids which courts use to ascertain the legislative intent not clearly manifest from the language of the statute.

The purpose of all rules or maxims adopted by the courts for the construction or interpretation of statutes is to discover the true intent and meaning of the law. These rules or maxims are not rules of law, but are merely aids used by the courts in arriving at the real intention of the legislature when that intention is not clearly manifest from the language used.

These rules are useful only in cases of doubt, and are never to be used to create a doubt, but only to remove it.

Definitions.

The General Assembly has the power to make a reasonable definition of the terms used in an act, even though such definitions do not correspond with those contained in other acts. Statutory definitions control in the construction of the terms in an act, and the common-law definitions of those terms must yield to the statutory definitions.

 Words defined

The words in a statute may be defined by common usage, by previous judicial construction, as well as by statutory definition, to render the statute certain.

 § 52. Construction as including or binding sovereign

General legislative enactments do not impair the rights of the sovereign unless such an intent is expressly declared in the statute.
 The rights of the sovereign are never impaired by a general legislative enactment unless such an intent is expressly declared in the statute, and the words of a statute applying to private rights do not affect the rights of the state. The state is not bound by or included in any act of the General Assembly unless expressly named or necessarily implied to give effect to the act, although the rule that general legislative enactments are not applicable to the state is not violated when the state is made subject to the provisions thereof by reason of the expressed intention of the General Assembly to make it subject thereto.

In common usage the word “person” does not include the sovereign, and statutes employing the word are generally construed to exclude the sovereign, although the purpose, subject matter, context, legislative history, and executive interpretation of a statute are aids to construction which may indicate an intent, by the use of the term “person,” to bring the state or nation within the scope of the statute. According to the Statute on Statutes, the words “person” or “persons,” as well as all words referring to or importing persons, may extend and be applied to bodies politic and corporate as well as individuals.

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A commentary on the delusion of independence

I had promised myself that I would not send a message to this list on Independence Day due to the fact that I find myself in low spirits when reflecting on the state of our nation, but I did not promise that I would not send a message AFTER Independence Day, which I prefer to call co-dependence day. I presume many of you were somewhat upbeat and happy for having a three-day weekend. Some of you probably “ooh” and “ah” to fireworks displays, gorge yourselves on barbeque, and numb your wits with copious libations. The braver amongst you risked repetitive stress injury by flagellating Old Glory on-a-stick with such vigor that the aggregated breeze generated can actually affect the jet stream.
I, however, found that day to be a painful reminder of how we have digressed since the independence of the American inhabitants was won by way of treason and murder. Men, imperfect though they were, came to adopt universal principles pertaining to the recognition of natural rights promulgated by an author whose authority is beyond the reach of the manipulating hand of man. Through philosophical affirmation of unalienable rights these men posited a system of governance where a hierarchy of justice founded upon the rights of the individual would be secured. As a result, people would be permitted to pursue happiness unfettered, with the state being a silent guardian of the common liberty.
In the early years of this country, the common man, however ignorant or uneducated he may have appeared, recognized, understood, and cherished the freedom he possessed. He understood the purpose and limits of the new government. He lived his life with no prior restraint on his actions. His labor, fireside, travels, and family were sacrosanct. The audacity of government to inspect the private actions of a free man had not yet manifested in legislation or administrative acts. Agreed, the common man was not a paragon of virtue; without fault or vices. He was free to live and make all the mistakes properly befitting imperfect men. He was not yet placed under the yoke fashioned by other imperfect men in satisfying their own avarice and greed.
Today, there is virtually no aspect of our lives beyond the domain of governmental interference. The attitudes of the majority reflect an inherent distrust in human nature. Reason and conscience have been replaced with myriad statutes, ordinances, policies, and regulations. The State has assumed, under the doctrine of parens patriae, to deem us all incompetent, thereby justifying its intrusions into our lives. I find it curious that we celebrate the independence won by the colonies from England, but we seldom, if ever, contemplate our personal independence.
I, personally, find little value in our present form of government. As an Anarchist, I fail to recognize the legitimacy of government as it may pertain to those who do not consent to such a system. There is little doubt that any argument which claims our current government reflects the will of the people who first formed it would quickly fail. And if the argument is then that it reflects the will of the people today, then it is even more disturbing to see reflected in our political consciousness a belief that freedom should be mediated by a central authority; and the needs and necessities of life are best left to central planners and administrators.
We, as a nation, are at a crossroads. We will either capitulate to being governed into regulatory compliance, or come to revere the natural rights of individuals. A revolution is both long overdue and necessary. Whether it will be a revolution borne of blood or mind has yet to be determined. Almost assuredly, the taking of live is unavoidable. Government systematically engages in the capricious taking of innocent life. Thousands of people are maimed and killed by police action. Review of such atrocities is measured by “departmental policy” as opposed to standards of conduct applied equally to all, and based upon well-founded and established legal standards developed over thousands of years. To harm another, in whatever way and absent an imminent and demonstrable threat to the liberty or life another or one’s self while acting under the authority of the people purported to be protected is a treason perpetrated upon mankind itself.
The only celebration I partook of that day was that of my own claim of independence and sovereignty. I came to realize that I could no longer participate in the charade of liberty we are indoctrinated with by incessant incantations of so-called patriots. I am likewise nauseated by those I loosely refer to as my “countrymen” who excuse and dissemble; hiding behind their religion and God in justification for prostrating themselves before other men. Such people either worship a God who is a coward and despot; or they honestly have no faith in anything other than a fear of death and truth. I refuse to acknowledge a God, who would prefer those creatures which he created with a capacity for reason and hope for freedom, to serve as political sodomites for their earthly rulers.
I have made my intentions clear by way of my Declaration. I have sworn to live, die, and if need-be defend to the death those principles. Freedom cannot be purchased on bended knee and outstretched palm. It is purchased through struggle, pain, and blood. The rewards are far grander than the cost. I will willingly lay down my life for what I have come to accept as truth. I will be damned before I allow another man to frighten me into compliance. Let us see how the government responds to someone who exercises their natural right and sovereign prerogative to refuse to consent.
People speak as if the object of life is to live as easily and comfortably as possible with little outside interference. Tell me, how do you reconcile with your conscience when it confronts you with the disparity between your beliefs and your actions? How will you reflect back on your life, lying on your death bed and hoping for whatever eternal existence awaits, when you have submitted yourself to subjugation and arbitrary rule in violation of your conscience?
The purpose of life is not to amass as many trips around the sun as possible; it is to spend those trips living a life we have come to understand through inquiry and discovery. How in God’s name can anyone act in a way that is in violation of their conscience? I understand there is a aspect of fear for doing so, but that fear is often self-imposed, based on the pretenses projected to us through media, society, and ignorance.
At the end of this essay I find my spirits now elevated. Despite what the world may confront me with, or what men may seek to impose upon me, I possess free will and the courage to exercise it as I see fit. The enumerated, licensed, regulated, deceived, and fearful can do what they will with this world. Celebrate your delusion of freedom and wear your chains dutifully. Even though I hope to enjoy my time in this life, I have not so endeared myself with its trappings that I will deny my nature for it. I am free. That is my celebration; Independence of self and spirit. You should try it.