Saturday, March 24, 2007

Van Ornum, Why Government at All? - Part I, Chapter 5



Having ascertained the methods by which the state must exert its force, if it attempts to control the production and exchange of wealth; or, in fact, of whatever else it may undertake, it is evident that its success depends upon one single condition: the obedience or submission of its citizens to its authority. Without this it will be impossible to enforce its decrees. Owing to a diversity of knowledge, and to a thousand varying personal characteristics, there is certain to be a diversity of opinion; but the ruling power in the state, however it is made up, or for whatever purpose, cannot permit freedom of expression in action, of this diversity, in the matters of its control, because this would end the regulation. There can be no regulation where each may or may not accept the prescribed course of action, as it may, or may not accord with his or her varying opinion.

Its foundation, then, is submission to authority. But what is authority, and what does submission imply? Authority presupposes superior qualities, as of knowledge, ability, virtue, or power of the authority; and by virtue of that superiority it claims obedience. To submit is to concede such a superiority. And just as men concede such a superiority: just as they exalt others above themselves, they abase themselves below those others. Just as they submit to be guided by others’ knowledge, do they forego the necessity of increasing their own. Just as they depend upon others’ ability, they cease to cultivate their own powers. [52] If they accept a guide by reason of the virtue of that guide, and use his virtue for their own guidance, they cease to be virtuous themselves. As they submit to the power of another they become slavish and cringing themselves. But, on the other hand, as they reject authority, and refuse to obey its dictates, do they become progressive and self-reliant.

These principles hold good when applied in every possible sphere of human activity. To concede the authority of the past, or of its masters of thought, in science, art, literature, or religion is to deny progress, and stop enquiry. To call it in question is to open the door for advancement. As long as the slave submits to a master he will continue to be a slave. Independence, self-reliance, strength of will, insubordination, always go together, and are incompatible with discipline.

As showing how completely the socialistic scheme depends upon compulsion, discipline, the superiority of some and inferiority of others, and the paternal nature of its government, see pages 63, 94, 123, 127-8, 141, 156, 183-4, 189-91, 199-201, of Edward Bellamy’s “Looking Backward.” These are only a few of the grosser illustrations of this essential character of the plan; and “Looking Backward” is only the working out in detail of the scheme. The schemes of those state socialists who do not accept Mr. Bellamy’s plans, depend equally upon this same submission.

Upon such a foundation there can be built but one superstructure: that of slavish dependence. Freedom of thought, independent manhood, individuality become swallowed up in authority, and a steadily falling standard of mediocrity. The power of the state made supreme, holding within its grasp all the resources and activities of the people to an extent which no despot ever knew before, with the spirit of resistance steadily weakened, we should have conditions inviting, and certain to produce, a despotism more intolerable than any the world ever knew. [53]

But even if this were not so: even if under these conditions the people could retain the power within their own grasp, and carry into successful operation their schemes, it would still violate the conditions of human progress, check the development of individual character, extinguish genius, and promote a constantly falling standard of mediocrity. Whatever our plans of progress, to succeed, they must not run counter to men’s natures; but to make sustenance the reward of labor, and then reward all men alike, whatever their deserts, at once destroys the incentive to excel, closes the door to personal advancement in that direction, prevents the expression of individuality, and encourages indolence and sloth. For some time to come the hope of increased reward for increased exertion must continue to be one of the greatest incentives to excellence. This, state socialism would destroy without substituting anything but dependence and uniformity in its place.

Such a system, as compared with the present, in some respects, might increase the amount of wealth produced, just as an improved system of discipline on a slave plantation might enable the master to get more work out of the slaves; but the advantage could not go to the slaves Those who wielded the despotism would get the advantage. As between the two: our present industrial slavery, and a slavery like this, the present is infinitely more to be desired.

This fact is incontestable, that the condition necessary to the development of an independent self-reliant manhood is the perfect freedom of the individual; and that just in proportion as that freedom is violated, this type of manhood is suppressed, and men become mean-spirited and base. [54]

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