Saturday, March 24, 2007

Van Ornum, Why Government at All? - Part I, Chapter 8



In these reviews of prominent authors on social topics, it has doubtless been observed that I make no attempt to cover more than a small part of their field. I could not do so; first, because space will not permit of it within the limits I have set to this work; and, second, because I have not been able to make such an exhaustive examination of their works as would qualify me for the task. This last remark applies with great force to this chapter on the fallacies of Proudhon; and, in a less degree, to that on those of Karl Marx. Although Mr. Proudhon has been one of the most prolific of authors, yet I have only had access to two of his earlier works: that on “Property,” and the one on “Economic Contradictions.” It has been my purpose to avoid, as far as possible, confusing details, and to confine myseif to the general principles which underlie those proposed systems of reform which are being urged upon the people, and which may form a basis for coming social changes. That changes are desirable all admit, but ail do not agree as to what changes are necessary, or the steps required to produce them. Even those who are supposed to be most interested in the continuance of the present social relations, recognize the existence of social evils; and contribute money and time, and advocate the passage of laws which they hope will either bring about those changes, or greatly palliate the evils they seek to cure. But while doing so they strive to preserve intact their own advantage. They are all willing to have some one else reformed, only so the 5 reform leaves them undisturbed in their own privileges. [75]

What changes are desirable, and how can they be brought about? Are they inevitable; and if so, can anything be done to hasten, or retard them, and what? This is the problem in a nut-shell; and I have sought to confine this work strictly to its solution.

Mr. Proudhon’s first work, “Property,” is devoted to the working out in elaborate detail of the injustice of property; but even with ah his details he seems to have seen scarcely more than an outline of the important principles which he enunciated. But even to have seen that outline, I think is destined soon to lead to very important results. He does not appear to have grasped the full significance of possession as a necessary condition of property, or realized what the necessary development of property must be under it. While he saw too, somewhat of the effect of the law in violating this condition, he evidently failed to understand its importance, or he would not have fallen into the error of subordinating the individual to society, and thus laying the foundation for human law. And, as the so-called science of economics is based upon our present institution of property, he would not have considered it necessary to devote a work of upwards of 509 pages, like his “Economic Contradictions,” to the consideration of contradictions growing out of an institution which is artificial, and transitory in its nature. In Chap. VI. of Part II., I have more fully elaborated the subject of “property,” and shown its necessary development.

One of the most serious mistakes into which Mr. Proudhon fell, but one which has been common to most, if not all previous social writers, was in discussing social questions without first obtaining a clear knowledge of man himself, in his individual character. Thus we see Mr. Proudhon, at one time contending for liberty, and at another advocating the most obnoxious doctrines of state socialism; now denouncing the crime of property, and again defending it; sometimes condemning communism, and then contending [76] for the principles upon which it is founded; and at other times, wandering off until he loses himself among a multitude of contradictory economic absurdities. This I attribute to a want of a proper analysis, followed by a definite method of development, while keeping close to the cardinal principles of man’s nature.

As an instance of these contradictions he finds the three fundamental conditions of human well-being to be “liberty, equality, and security.” He says, “Liberty is an absolute right, because it is to man what impenetrability is to matter,—a sine qua non of existence; equality is an absolute right, because without equality there is no society; security is an absolute right, because in the eyes of every man his own liberty and life are as precious as another’s. These three rights are absolute; that is, susceptible of neither increase or diminution; because in society each associate receives as much as he gives,—liberty for liberty, equality for equality, security for security, body for body, soul for soul, in life and in death.”

And yet, on another page of the same book, his “Property,” page 330, he proposes to violate liberty by adopting almost the entire state socialistic programme, thus: “Gradually lower the rate of interest, organize industry, associate laborers and their functions, and take a census of the large fortunes, not for the granting of privileges, but that we may effect their redemption by settling a life annuity upon their proprietors. We must apply on a large scale the principle of collective production, give the state eminent domain over all capital, make each producer responsible, abolish the custom-house, and transform every profession and trade into a public function.”

We have seen already, and it will be made still plainer in the course of this work, how surely any scheme of this kind must violate liberty. If society as a whole can dictate any plan on which to organize industry, and carry out the above programme, notwithstanding [77] the possible protest of a part of that industry, and it must be able to do it in order to make that organization and general scheme effective, then the judgment of some must be made to prevail over that of others in matters that pertain strictly to those others, thus violating liberty, equality and security.

But if we consider the first proposition a moment we shall see that always to violate liberty is to violate equality and security as well. In fact, liberty is a term that embraces both the others, so that when we have said liberty we have said ail. There can be no liberty without equality, and no equality without liberty. Security also is violated when either is violated; for how eau a man be secure in his rights unless he is equal in those rights, as well as free in the assertion of them? So far as I am aware no social philosopher has ever sufficiently grasped that one grand fact, that under a perfect freedom of the individual, a practical equality between individuals is assured. Had this been done, we should not have been afflicted with ail kinds of propositions, from ail kinds of reformers, looking to an artificial or enforced equality by state regulation, or law. Owing to Mr. Proudhon’s failure to grasp that fact, he devotes very many pages of space to show that all labor is performed for society, and that “society pays all laborers equally” regardless of equal labor. He argues that it is unjust that he who does the most should get the most, “because society is forced to pay them ah the same wages; otherwise natural inequality would reappear in the very bosom of social equality.”

But glance a moment at his state socialistic scheme above outlined, for producing and maintaining an artificial equality. "Take a census of the large fortunes, not for the granting of privileges, but that we may effect their redemption by settling a life annuity upon their proprietors.” And what is the settling of a life annuity upon a man but the granting of a privilege? And where is the equality in [78] fixing a life annuity upon one, and stipulating that others shah pay that annuity? Where is the liberty of those who are bound to meet those payments? And where is their security in their own possessions if those possessions must be taken to pay to others an annuity?

Again, “we must apply on a large scale the principle of collective production, give the state eminent domain over all capital, and make each producer responsible,” etc. Now what is this state, which Mr. Proudhon proposes to invest with eminent domain over all the capital of its people? Simply a corporation, the stockholders of which are monopoly, and whose hired men are politicians; at least, those politicians who are not, are only trying to get a job from the same concern. And the men who draw the dividends are the monopolists. Who are they who draw the dividends from the tariff? Monopolists, every time. Who share the proceeds of the government bonds—the public debt? The bond holders,—one class of monopolists. Who profit by the special franchises and privileges granted to individuals and corporations? Still more monopolists. To what purposes is the judicial power of the State—the courts, put forth? Sometimes to settle disputes between the monopolists, disputes in which the people have no possible concern, but primarily and mainly to make the people give up to the monopolies. Do the people get any of the dividends? Not a cent. They pay the dividends; and then tax themselves to pay the officers of the corporation, and Support the police, militia, army and navy which stand behind the courts to compel obedience. This is the thing to which Mr. Proudhon would have us grant “eminent domain over ail capital.” Would he also “make each producer responsible” to this same thing? What then becomes of his conditions of human well being: “liberty, equality and security?”

Mr. Proudhon mistakes the whole nature of society. [79]

He regards it as something other than the free and voluntary association of each individual composing it. He makes the individual to exist for society, instead of society for the individual. While condemning (p. 127) the principle “to each according to his labor,” and insisting on equal pay to each no matter what the task performed, he is still willing, where a member of society will only perform half his task, to deprive him of half his pay, which brings hmm back to the first principle which lie condemned, of reward according to effort. Looking upon society as a sort of entity controlling in a measure the acts of its individual members, and performing certain functions among which may be mentioned the preservation of a sort of equality between its members, it is not strange that he is unable to rise above the notion of the need of a "political system," “organization of industry,” “punishments for idleness,” “defense against abuse,” “leaders, instructors, superintendents,” etc., but he says, “they must ail be solved by the principles of equality,” which is equivalent to the abolition of all of them; for there is not one of them that does not violate equality, and therefore liberty.

Society will be allowed to perform the labor, either herself, or through her representatives, but always in such a way that the general equality shall never be violated, and that only the idler shall be punished for his idleness. Further, if society may not use excessive severity toward her lazy members, she has a right, in self-defense, to guard against abuses. . . . There is not a laborer but receives from society at large the things he consumes, and with these, the power to reproduce. . . . The various articles of consumption are given to each by all; consequently, the production of each involves the production by all . . . Every product, coming from the hands of the producer, is mortgaged in advance by society. The producer himself is entitled to only that portion of his product which is expressed by a fraction whose denominator is equal to the number of individuals of which society is composed. In return the same producer has a share in ail the products of the others. . . . The laborer is not even proprietor of the price of his labor, and can not absolutely control its disposition. Let us not be blinded by a spurious justice. That which is given [80] the laborer in exchange for his product is not given him as a reward for past labor, but to provide for and secure further labor. We consume before we produce. The laborer may say at the end of the day, “I have paid yesterday’s expenses; tomorrow I shah pay those of to-day.” At every moment of his life, the member of society is in debt; he dies with the debt unpaid:—how is it possible for him to accumulate ?“

Then if men in society are always in debt to society, they are necessarily slaves to society, because debt, is a slavery; and the liberty Mr. Proudhon has been contending for becomes a myth. But he will not contend that the obligation of any man to society is greater than the obligation of society to him, therefore the obligations are the same; debit and credit are equal: one cancels the other, and there is no obligation at all.

No! Mr. Proudhon’s idea of society is a false and dangerous one; false, because it makes the individual subject to and dependent upon society, instead of society dependent upon and existing purely for the convenience of the individual; and dangerous because, if it were true, it would justify every sort of despotism, and meddlesome interference in the affairs of men, by their fellows, under tire pretense of self defense. No man owes anything to society, but ail to himself; and the impulse to make of himself all that is possible, and to procure all the good that lies within his reach is sufficient to stimulate him, if lie enjoys perfect natural liberty, and restrain him from the doing of things t» the detriment of other individuals, or society. The best, and the only protection that society can have against abuses is, to avoid setting up any power in society which can exercise any coercion over any individual, and which can therefore violate any man’s liberty. Every man then has liberty; every man has equality; and every man has security because there is nowhere anything to violate them.

The trouble with the study of social philosophy has been that it presented a vast array of facts which have heretofore been too little understood to form the basis [81] of any broad generalizations when made by the deductive method; that is, where the generalization is first assumed, and the course of investigation is then carried downward to particulars. This is the method adopted by all those philosophers whom I have reviewed in this work, except to a certain extent Henry George. He appears to have adopted the inductive method; that is, starting with particulars he has sought to rise to and ascertain the general laws which govern the phenomena under consideration. His error seems to me to lie in not first carrying his analysis deep enough to reach the foundation, before he tried to follow out the several details in order to find their law. Proudhon, like the others, has used the deductive method. Starting with a false theory of society, and therefore necessarily of man himself, he has naturally been led into errors and contradictions which seriously impair the value of his work. But his instincts are truer than his logic. They are constantly bringing him back, in spite of his aberrations and his mistakes, to a sense of the importance and dignity of the individual man, like the needle to the pole. There are times when he rises superior to them, and recognizes individual liberty “as the adequate expression of the natural form of human society.”

Nor is Henry George free from the same blemish of starting from wrong postulates as to society, and man in society. Otherwise he would never have reached common property in land, as the alternative of private property in land. And the same fault gives a coloring to many other parts of his work. Wherever he has made any real advance it has been by applying to his examinations the careful processes of inductive reasoning. Empiricisms always result from faulty deductions; and this is why, with all the thought that has been bestowed on social problems, social science practically remain in a state of empiricism to-day.

It is unnecessary to follow Mr. Proudhon through his numerous economic mistakes. They are all [82] referable to the same fundamental errors as have already been pointed out, but which in the end he does not let swerve him from the cardinal principle of human freedom. So far as I understand them, the members of the school of social philosophy which has been founded upon the teachings of Mr. Proudhon, have avoided most of his mistakes, and are steadily pressing forward on the lines of nearly perfect individual liberty. Those particulars wherein they fail to reach, in their contention, to the full realization of human liberty, are only in relation to the so-called punishment of crime, and a few minor matters, which arise from their failure to comprehend fully the essential dignity of man; and to see that, with perfect liberty, there can be no crime, because there will be absolutely no motive to commit crime; but, on the other hand, every motive against it. These imperfections moreover, are necessarily temporary, and must give way as progress makes clearer their vision. Liberty admits of no qualifications. It means, without restriction. There can not be “no government,” and still some government.

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