Saturday, March 24, 2007

Van Ornum, Why Government at All? - Part I, Chapter 10



Just now the farmers and working men all over the country are bestirring themselves for some kind of reform which will relieve them somewhat from their load of debt and taxation, and prevent the threatened loss of their farms and homes through the foreclosure of mortgages which hang over them. Their demands have not yet been fully formulated; and even if they were, they are certain to be modified, or increased, as they better understand their rights and their strength.

A very significant feature of the movement is its great spontaneity, showing that its “reason to be” lies in some deep and widespread danger which threatens general disaster. It is not easy to induce the farmer to break his political ties, to abandon his party, to forget the prejudices and associations of a lifetime, and to unite with others for common purposes, whom he has been taught to regard as so unpatriotic as to be little short of treasonable. That he has done this generally, and with astonishing celerity, is attested by the election returns from every agricultural State in the union. In Kansas they so far succeeded as to elect a majority of representatives to the popular branch of the legislature, and were able to control absolutely the legislation of that state; while in several others they hold what is called the balance of power. And the prospects are that another election will indicate a still greater increase of their power and influence.

So far it is well. One great gain is in breaking down the prejudices which bound them to a particular party. Another is in accustoming them to act together for mutual defense and aid. But, as was to be expected, politicians have seized upon the movement to [88] lift themselves into place and power. To do so, they are advocating the most absurd and stupid measures, measures which can only aggravate the evils complained of, hoping to induce the farmers to elect them to office. A third party is held out to them as the panacea of all their ills; always with the mental stipulation that those politicians be made that party. One thing it will be well for the farmer to remember, and that is, that it does not make any difference to him which man is sheriff when they come to foreclose his mortgage. It is of small consequence to him who makes the assessment, or who collects the taxes,—the man he helped to elect, or the one on the opposition ticket. It makes no difference who holds the offices. The mortgage, and the taxes, are the real things that hurt. The farmer may form his third party, elect his ticket, get possession of the offices, and be sold out just the same. What has he gained? Why the net result is, that he has helped a few politicians to fat places, while he is ruined.

This splendid movement among the farmers, so full of promise, and big with hope, may be their emancipation, or their ruin. Which shall it be?

In a previous chapter I spoke of government as a corporation, the stockholders of which are monopolies, with office holders as its hired men, and the politicians as its would-be employees. That was no mere figure of speech. It is a real palpable fact. The principal stockholders; that is the largest monopolies, are the ones who dictate the policy of the corporation; and that without regard to who are its servants. If they want a law passed, they get it, whether it is by deceit, by strategy, by flat-cry, or by bribery; and when it is passed they insist upon its enforcement because it is law. They own the press, and the pulpit, and play upon the fears and prejudices of the people as a musician will play upon the keys of a piano. Thus they make public sentiment, and always in their own favor. Farmers and working men can no more hope to change [89] the nature and policy of that corporation by ordinary political party methods than the consumers of kerosene oil can hope to change the nature and policy of the Standard Oil Company.

But there is one thing they can do, if they have the firmness and wisdom to apply the remedy, which will bring them complete and immediate relief. When done, they will not only have broken the chains of their own slavery, but those of every human being; and that too without violence, or injustice to any. The farmers in Kansas are to-day in a position to effect their complete emancipation without the passage of a single law, and without electing another officer.

But, however, before we come to the remedy, I want to ask farmers, workingmen, merchants, producers of ail descriptions, all men, all women, all who love themselves, their children, humanity; who hope for a brighter and better future for themselves and for humanity, to go over the ground with me carefully, examine ail the facts; see how simple is the problem and how easy of solution: how just and natural is the remedy, and how complete.

Study this corporation, we call government, a little further. People think it is to protect the rights of ah, and promote justice. They are mistaken. It is to execute the law: to enforce obedience to the law. But what is the law? It is a body of special privileges: artificial contrivances misnamed rights, really wrongs. Natural property needs no law to define it, or protect it. But make property something which it is not by nature, and it then needs special protection from the law. Men only have natural rights. Things have none. The right pertains only to the person. But make laws for the special protection of things—of property: set up “property rights,” and it naturally follows that he who has the most property has the most rights. Right is changed into wrong, and the law stands as its guardian. It ceases to promote justice; because justice is equality. It has no other [90] meaning. So, the law stands as the defender of the inequality of property: a roundabout way of making it inequality of mer.: or injustice. Politics is the art of hiding the reality from the people who are being governed; of tickling them with the fiction that they are governing themselves; and that “all men are equal before the law,” and consequently that the law protects ail, and promotes justice. It is not only the art of deceiving the people, but of promoting the interests of the corporation, which, like every other corporation, exists wholly for the benefit of its own stockholders; that is, the monopolies. The practice of politics, being in its nature a scheming for advantage over others, necessarily involves trickery, deceit, dishonesty, a scramble. The greater the prize offered, the greater the scramble, the dishonesty, deceit and trickery. These are not the methods of reform. This is the reason why men of integrity, high minded men, men of honor avoid politics. A third party, to be successful, must use the same methods, employ the same material, and work for the same end as those they oppose. It must simply outdo the others in their work of rascality. And after the farmers, workingmen, and other producers, have offered their political prizes, have set on foot the scramble among men who are willing to engage in such a scramble by employing such means, what right have they to complain if they find in the end, as they will, that they have only changed masters; that themselves are the ones who have been duped, and that their condition is worse than before? They need not be surprised that the politicians they have set up, have served their real masters, the monopolists; and that that ever-growing corporation, the government, bears with still greater pressure upon them in its demand for taxes, while enforcing with even more relentlessness the claims of monopoly.

Suppose the new third party could succeed in bringing the railroads, telegraphs, and telephones [91] under government control and management; suppose it should substitute greenbacks for national bank notes; adopt unlimited coinage of silver; and ban money to farmers at 2 per cent. interest on the security of their farms, what good would that do? Stop and think. These public franchises they seek to control, are now monopolies, and are operated for private advantage; and the thing which gives power to these monopolies is the law. Were it not for the law people would not give up to them. Therefore, they ail have an interest in maintaining the law: or, in other words, the government. The measure of that interest depends upon the size of their monopoly; or, to put it in a different way, the amount of their stock in the government corporation depends upon the size of their private monopoly. Then, to transfer these franchises to government control and management, is only to put them into the hands of the larger corporation which is composed of precisely the same stock holders, and run in the same interest.

If the government issues the circulating medium, whether gold, silver, paper, or what not, it naturally controls that circulation; and must. That control is certain to be exerted in the interest of the stock holders in that same corporation. Money is a tool of ‘ trade; and why not let trade provide its own tools needed for carrying on business, without depending upon the whims or interests of politicians? To assume that it is not capable of doing so without the assistance of the politicians, is to ascribe extraordinary weakness to one, and talents to the other.

And again, if farmers were enabled to borrow money at two per cent. interest, to pay off their present mortgages, how could that possibly help them? There is no difference in principle between bow interest and high interest. The only difference is in the degree. Why pay interest at all? And besides, if they could accomplish it, they would only be increasing their taxes, just as they decreased their interest. [92] They are only taking the burden off one shoulder, and adding it on to the other. It would not relieve them one whit. But it would open the door to the most outrageous favoritism that was ever seen. Politicians would fix the value on the property of their friends, according to the usefulness of those friends; and corruption would reach greater heights—or depths—than ever. The public treasury would become one vast corruption fund for tire use of rival politicians in promoting their own schemes; while the increase of taxes would fall, just as it does now, on the farmers, the workingmen, the producers of the country.

0f course, the politicians in the farmer’s movement will denounce these views, and cry out for a party. They will appeal to ail sorts of prejudices; and if the farmers will listen to them, they will go on just as they have done before, and the farmers will come out just where they have before. The time will come when the farmers will heed these things. They may not do so now. They may have to learn a good many hard lessons first. One lesson it would be well for them to learn is, that the workingmen and farmers of Rome spent five hundred years in contending with their politicians, backed by their monopolists, against tire very same abuses as our workingmen and farmers complain of to-day; and finally Rome fell because justice was dead. We can repeat their experience; or we can attain to perfect liberty. Which shall it be?

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