Saturday, March 24, 2007

Van Ornum, Why Government at All? - Part I, Chapter 9



Having briefly, but I think sufficiently, considered the leading social reformers, and their schools of thought, which offer professed remedies for social jus, it remains to examine those palliatives which are persistently put forward in the name of reform; and also to consider what the necessary effect of palliatives is, and must always continue to be. I do not mean that in the special notice of particular authors which I have made, I have included all, or even many, of the real leaders. It has only been possible to notice those which seem to be the best exponents of their own schools; and I have aimed to deal with them, not as persons, but as representatives of the ideas they hold.

Among the popular projects labelled reform which engage the attention of so many men and women may be mentioned free trade, prohibition, restriction of immigration (one form of protection), arbitration, eight hour laws, trades unionism, woman’s suffrage, co-operation, profit sharing, civil service reform, election of good men to office, ballot reform, referendum, single tax, education, government control of public franchises, etc., all of which, except free trade, partake of the nature of state socialism. Being alike based upon the idea that reform can be brought about by political action, they may be considered together, and are subject to the general objections which we have already found to that system.

In placing co-operation, and profit sharing in this category, of course I mean those forms of co-operation and of profit sharing which depend upon some form of sanction or recognition from the state. [84]

Free trade, being merely the breaking down of government restrictions to trade: a lessening of the powers of government, is by just so far a step toward liberty; but as it does not depend upon a thorough realization of the principle of liberty, taken by itself it is only a palliative, and is open to the same objections which apply to ail palliatives as such.

Referendum is placed in the same list, because, at best, it is only an improved form of “popular government,” which is itself a myth. There is no such thing as popular government. The people do not govern. It is impossible that they should govern. When the change was made from a monarchy to a republic, the only change was in the outward form. The substance remained the same. Privilege, caste, wealth, still held sway; and always will hold sway as long as men permit any to govern. The people are tickled with the fancy that they are governing; and under that delusion permit grosser excesses than would ever be allowed to a monarchy. The claw which wounded them has only been thinly gloved. It is sharper than ever, although more hidden. Referendum would only change the glove. It would perpetuate the delusion of “popular government,” and put off, like all palliatives, the perception and realization of the truth.

Much as I desire the absolute equality of women with men, I cannot seek that equality through measures which I see have failed to secure the equality of men. Equality is a natural condition, and is only to be attained by the destruction of whatever introduces unnatural conditions. Suffrage is a privilege, and if an absolutely equal suffrage should be established it would, at best, only be the attainment of equality, which would exist without any suffrage at all. Why is it necessary to seek equality through privilege, which violates equality?

It is hardly necessary to say anything about trades unionism further than to remind its advocates that it [85] has been trying, for several hundred years, to better the condition of the working man; and yet to-day he is the same prey to the man who does not work; and he continues the same terrible struggle for existence that lie ever did. While it is true that individuals have been benefited, it has not lifted labor, as a whole, one particle above the helpless and dependent condition it has always held. I do not mean that working people do not now enjoy greater comforts than formerly; but I do mean that, as compared to their wants, their enjoyments are just as small. The proportion of their unsatisfied desires is just as great as ever; therefore their misery is just as acute. There is no hope for the working man as long as any man can take from him, under any pretext whatever, any part of his earnings without giving in return a satisfactory equivalent; or so long as any man can, through the operation of any law prevent him from employing himself in any way he pleases, and enjoying the full fruits of his labor. When that time comes, all men will be working men, because there will be no other way, but by work, whereby men can live. There being no way to live upon the earnings of others, their only alternative will be to earn for themselves. The problem of the working man is exactly the same as the problem of every other man, one of absolute unqualified liberty; which is only another name for equality.

All these several reforms, together with ail others which pass under the same head, and which do not go to the very root of the evil, are only so many byplays which serve to divide and distract the attention of the people, and prevent their focusing their efforts upon the real cause of their sufferings. Monopoly contributes, and will continue to contribute toward some, or even ail these reform movements, 50 long as it can keep people interested in them: keep them divided, and wasting their energies in ways which cannot bring considerable results. [86]

Palliatives always have another effect, to delay the correction of evils, and prolong the misery. Suffering is nature’s warning that people are on the wrong road; and the more intense the suffering the more urgent the demand for a change. So far as palliatives lessen that suffering they tend to prolong the misery, and continue the abuse. Monopoly very well understands this, and so contributes to so-called charity in order to relieve somewhat the suffering, and hush the discontent. [87]

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