Thursday, March 29, 2007

Van Ornum, Why Government at All? - Part II, Chapter 4

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CHAPTER IV.

DEVELOPMENT OF INDIVIDUAL CHARACTER.

In the last chapter we found the impulses prompting men to association to be purely selfish, to lie wholly in the benefits such association can bring to the individual. We found also that in order to realize those benefits it is not necessary for the individual to sacrifice anything of his individual rights or liberties on entering into society. He need not stop to balance advantages against disadvantages. Nature everywhere tends toward the perfectibility of the individual, and it nowhere imposes any disqualifications or disadvantages upon the enjoyment of such a manifest good as that of association with his fellows. On the other hand we are constantly told that “when men become members of society they must give up something of their natural liberties, in order to protect and preserve the rest of them, in other words: submit to be taxed; that “men must pay to society for the protection they receive from society;” and “that each must bear his share of the public burdens.” How came there to be public burdens? How is it that society has any protection to give, and from whom and from what does it protect? When men give up a portion of their liberties, where do those liberties go to; who gets them?

We shall find in the further development of our subject that nature not only imposes no burdens upon association, that association involves no disadvantages, but that nature punishes the limitations of freedom, which the ignorance of man imposes, with social evils exactly in proportion to those limitations. We shall also find that association itself only becomes possible in its best and [124] truest sense as perfect liberty is recognized and respected.

But the thing we have to do now is to trace the development of human character, which results from the operation of social forces.

The subdivision of labor, which becomes more and more complete as association becomes more perfect, enables gratification to keep pace with desire. The love of distinction finds its highest stimulus as association reaches its most ideal expression. The increase in material wealth itself promotes individual growth. Wealth may be likened unto the nourishment which the plant draws from the earth, with which to support its growth; while distinction, or the admiration and regard of other men, is like the genial warmth of the sun to the same plant. The plant cannot grow at all without the first, and without the second it becomes a monstrosity. The co-ordination of social forces acting upon the individual, have precisely the same effect upon him as the interplay of physical forces do upon the growth of the plant. Where they are at their best, the best specimens of men are found, just as we find the most perfect plants where the conditions of their growth are the most favorable. The problem of the life of the man is the same as the problem of the life of the plant,—the development of the best specimen of its kind which the circumstances will permit. And that object is always realized. If the specimen proves not to be a good one, it is because the conditions under which it grew were not good. Therefore the question of the improvement of man, as an animal, and I know of him only as such, is the question of improving the conditions under which he must be developed. Those conditions which most profoundly influence his development are the conditions of the society in which he is placed. If those conditions are unfavorable it is impossible to obtain good results.[125] As society is the expression of the average intelligence of the individuals who compose it, it necessarily follows that the only way to improve society is to increase the intelligence of those individuals, which is best done by removing the limitations to their individual advancement.

Another thing to be remembered is, that neither plant nor animal can develop anything which is not already a part of itself—which is not a part of its own nature. We can not confer qualities upon another which he did not before possess. All improvement must be a development from within—a growth. “Men do not gather grapes of thorns, nor figs of thistles.” Therefore the futility of trying to “change men’s hearts,” of regenerating them, of conferring upon them grace they did not before possess.

Another thing which points unmistakably to the supreme solicitude of nature for the individual, and which demands the perfect freedom of that individual from all external restraint, is his faculty of private judgment. While all men are actuated by the same motives; have the same object in view, that of their own happiness; and are practically equal in their powers and capabilities, they are still widely different in their tastes, their inclinations, and their circumstances. This necessarily develops widely differing results. From these differences, often seemingly small in the beginning, grow all the diversity of character and talent as seen among men. No two men are alike, and no one can fully understand or appreciate another, and therefore can not judge for another. And if there ever was any intelligent design in the constitution of man’s nature, that design must have had in view the complete independence of each individual from any reliance whatever upon the judgment or direction of another, or it never would have endowed each with the faculty of judging for himself, and with the [126] natural tendency to resent others’ interference. Had there been any design to confer upon some the power to judge for others, to pass laws for, or to exercise any restraint upon those others, it would have provided some way whereby those who were to judge could have been known and recognized; and whereby they could know and understand the thoughts, feelings, tastes and desires of those for whom they were to judge. For without all this they can make no intelligent judgment; and without some distinguishing mark to designate them, no one can know whose judgment to accept aside from their own.

Yet some men assume to make laws and rules of conduct for the guidance of other men; to command certain actions, and forbid others; and to determine what desires are proper to be gratified, and what ones are not. Under conditions like this, it is too much to expect individual character to be developed in its best and most varied forms. Whatever external restraints are imposed upon the individual, they must show their effects in weakening the force of his character, and in dwarfing its growth. And as society is made up of the individuals which compose it, whatever weakens those individuals must weaken society. Therefore, the necessary and inevitable result of governmental control, or in fact any control exercised by another, whether through the restraints of custom, religion, or the law, just as far as it expresses the will of society, the church, or the government, is to repress the expression of individuality, to weaken the responsibilities of individual action, and to destroy healthy activity. John Stuart Mill says, that “whatever crushes individuality is despotism, by whatever name it may be called, and whether it professes to be enforcing the will of God, or the injunctions of man.” Wilhelm Von Humboldt says: “The true end of man is the highest and most harmonious development of his powers to [127] a complete and consistent whole. Freedom is the grand and indispensable condition which the possibility of such a development presupposes.”

All true growth and culture spring solely from the inner life. They are always a development of what is within; and are never produced by external or artificial contrivances. That development must always be in accordance with human nature, and not against it. So, as men, when free, cannot possibly act other than according to their natures, the best results with any man must always be obtained when that man is absolutely free from every external restraint. The development of the artist is the training of the hand, and the education of the eye, and the imagination. Can it possibly help in the making of that artist, to pinion his hand, to close an eye, or to insist that his imagination shall only be exercised in certain prescribed ways?

Von Humboldt says, “The impressions, inclinations, and passions which have their immediate source in the senses, are those which first and most violently manifest themselves in human nature. When they are absent, the springs of power have perished. They are the source of all spontaneous activity, and inspire a glowing genial warmth in human nature. They infuse life and elastic vigor into the whole being; when unsatisfied, they render it active, buoyant, ingenious in the invention of schemes, and courageous in their execution; when satisfied, they promote an easy unhindered play of ideas. In general, they animate and quicken all conceptions with a greater and more varied activity, suggest new views, point out hitherto unnoticed aspects, and, according to the manner in which they are satisfied, intimately react upon the whole physical organization, which in turn react upon the soul.”

How then can the freest possible expression of these passions and inclinations do otherwise than develop the highest and best good of the individual and as society is only an aggregation of individuals, how can the best good of each produce else than the best good of all? This is nature’s way.

The condition of the best growth of individual character is in absolute freedom from hindrances imposed by others. My own growth depends upon [128] freedom from restraint, but when I throw impediments in the way of the growth of others, I injure my own environment and so hinder my own growth. Individuality is the law of the universe. Every mountain, even, has its individuality, every valley has its character, every tree, shrub and plant its own personality.

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