Thursday, March 29, 2007

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




There ought to be nothing plainer than that when people are miserable they will get out of their misery if they can; they will change their condition if they are allowed to. If they are homeless they will build themselves homes, unless they are denied places to put those homes, and materials with which to construct them. If they are without food, they will produce it in the way or ways which nature provided, unless something prevents them. And so they will do for anything else. What is it then that keeps men poor, homeless, hungry, ragged, and destitute?

People are prone to look in every direction but the right one for the causes of whatever evils that afflict them. They have sought the source of their destitution in all manner of causes. At one time it has been their own indolence, until they find that the most industrious are just as bad off as the rest, in fact, the poor, as a class, are the industrious, while those who are notoriously the most idle,—landlords, and the like—are the wealthiest. Then their extravagance is brought under censure; but when they have reduced expenditures to the lowest point that seems possible, thinking it will certainly leave them something towards a reserve for a rainy day, they find their wages fall low enough to wipe out their savings. Intemperance, too, has borne the blame, until it was discovered that intemperance, whatever there is among the poor, is the result of their miseries, and not their cause, that neb take to drink to drown their troubles, just as they take to opium to soothe their pains. But even this is by no means general. The poor are not the ones among [170] whom exists the greatest dissipation. That is among the rich. As a class, the mechanics, and laborers, are the equals, in the virtue of temperance, with any other class of people in this country. At last those who contend for things as they are have fallen back upon the inscrutable providence of God as the cause and justification of poverty, thinking that here at least they are safe from overthrow. It is hard, at least, to disprove it, like the other fables intended to amuse or frighten the children. This serves the same purpose with children of a larger growth, but of limited intelligence. For a time it quiets their questionings, and allays their discontent; but, as with the child, it ceases to satisfy, and the inquiry returns. Let those who are curious enough to want to find out what it is that stands in the way, that prevents them from gratifying their desires, obey the promptings of nature and try to gratify them. For instance, if the desire is for a home let them start in on the first vacant lot they come to and undertake to utilize it. How long will it be before an officer of the law will make his appearance and warn them off as trespassers? And if they persist how long before the police will be upon them, or before the militia will be called out if there are enough who join in the move to make it formidable?

Of course, the press will denounce such a movement as “revolutionary,” as ‘subversive of all law and order,” a “violation of property rights,” etc. But that is largely what the press is for. The stock in the great newspaper corporations is almost invariably held by monopolists of one kind or another. Where papers are owned by single individuals they are generally politicians who are trying to get office, which is only another name for serving the monopolists, who are the stock-holders in the government corporation. So, the press may be regarded as one of the arms of the law, or the state, just as the police and the courts are, only it is used to make [171] public sentiment in favor of the monopolists who own it, and in whose interests it works; used to chain the thought instead of, like the police and the courts, to chain the bodies.

Another thing that will be used with powerful effect to hold them back is the restraints of religion. The church will thunder forth its anathemas against the violators of morality, just as it denounced the abolitionists as “slave stealers,” ignoring the primary wrong of surrounding property with special rights which made the slavery possible, and which now makes possible and encourages the appropriation of the land, and all the other resources of the country, by a few. The church has always taken this attitude toward every advance of the people, every attack upon privilege, because itself represents caste and privilege. When men were contending for the abolition of slavery the church was one of its principal strongholds; and it is, and will certainly remain a fortress of strength to monopoly until its defense of monopoly brings it more discredit than favor. When the people are intelligent enough to appreciate their own rights, institutions which stand in the way of their attainment will be visited with popular condemnation; and will loose their hold on the masses. And that is the secret to-day, of the church’s loss of influence over the multitude. As people increase in intelligence they throw off the restraints of religion. The church retains its influence longest where the ignorance is the densest. But when the church gets more discredit from its support of monopoly than favors for that support, it will wheel into line with progress, assume that it has always been in line, and claim the credit of the whole achievement. It did this in the anti-slavery conflict; it has done it in every other; and is certain to continue the same policy. The facility with which it makes these changes, and the fact that it deals with the most ignorant [172] and superstitious, who are not habitually critical, enables it to retain a considerable hold through centuries of advance, notwithstanding its unnumbered delinquencies. Being a purely human institution, it is necessarily governed by human passions and motives, which, we have already found, are wholly selfish. The policy of the church must therefore manifestly be selfish, which accords with every fact in its history.

Thus the tether which holds men back from the land, and from the other good things of this world, is composed of two strands, closely twisted together so as to form a mutual support, and they are the church and the state. One binds the mind, and the other the body. One teaches that it is immoral to exercise one’s natural liberty, and the other that it is illegal. This tether is the only thing that stands between men and freedom. It looks very formidable, but before we get through I think we shall find that its strength is more apparent than real; that its strength is wholly in the ignorance of those who are tethered by it.

I do not pretend to say that the church, or the state, has not, at some time, served a good purpose; but I do say that whatever that purpose was, they have outlived their usefulness, and now only exist as clogs upon progress, like thick clay upon a cartwheel. When tender plants first begin to grow they must be carefully guarded against frost, or drouth, or the burning rays of the sun. But when they obtain a firm foothold; become well rooted, they thrive best to remove them from the pots, and set them in the ground, where they can get the free air of heaven, with the rain, the sunshine, and the dew. Human knowledge is such a plant. When it first began to germinate it needed careful attention. When men knew little of its power, they could not appreciate its value, and therefore were not greatly stimulated to its pursuit. In the early [173] ages the priests were simply the wise men. They were the possessors of whatever learning there was. As was to be expected, they guarded it jealously, throwing around it every possible mystery, and clothing it with supernatural terrors to keep away the uninitiated. The power it gave them among the people, as a matter of course, stimulated the pursuit of that knowledge among the priests, who sought to perpetuate their power by building up a church and continuing the mysteries. The church served the same purpose as pots do in a hot-house. But when the pots are no longer needed, we only delay and stunt the growth of the plant by continuing their use.

This is the origin, the cause, and nature of the church. The theological structure that has been built up little by little, to meet the changing needs of the priests, was merely for the purpose of increasing those mysteries, continuing the hold of the priests over the people, securing their submission, and drawing from them the wealth necessary for their support. The theological schools of to-day, with their ceremonies of consecration and ordination, are only the survival of the rites and ceremonies of the ancient magicians, sooth-sayers, priests, and wise men for the initiation of neophytes into their sacred mysteries. The good the church has done, has been, not as commonly supposed in repressing the natural tendencies of men, keeping them in order, but in furnishing a kind of hot-house for the tender tree of knowledge. So far as it has tended to restrain men from. the gratification of their desires, it has violated liberty, has prevented the spread of knowledge, and defeated its only reason to be. The church was only useful so long as it imparted a stimulus to knowledge within, greater than its repression of the growth of knowledge without. That time has long since passed. The great scholars of the world have, for a long time, been reared or [174] schooled outside the pale of the church. Their distinction has been won in other fields than those presented by religion. The tree of knowledge has been taken out of the pot, and transplanted to the rich soil of human enterprise. The pot only cumbers the ground.

It is easy to see also, how law, government, or special privilege may have served a good purpose in the early development of man. When the infinite resources of nature were all but unknown, the production of wealth slow and laborious, man a savage, satisfied with the gratification of the grossest animal needs, the enterprising men were then the slaveholders, robbers, and pirates. They obtained and enjoyed more wealth because they did not depend upon their own production, but tool the product of others. They were not satisfied with the modes of living of those they plundered, but ransacked the world for new delights, and new gratifications. Their enterprise gave new scope and opportunity for the pursuit of knowledge, which knowledge still further increased their power. Their example was a constant invitation to others to do likewise. Afterwards it became, in many cases, easier and safer to obtain what they wanted by trading than by force; so the merchants were developed, who found most of their profit in producing things for the robber chiefs. They were their principal customers. For them they sought choice viands, fine fabrics, gems, and slaves; and, as a partial return, they received special favors, privileges, and advantages from those chiefs, who were the early governors, or rulers. These grants of privilege aimed to increase the opportunities for gain of those who were favored. The effect was to stimulate enterprise, which again promoted the acquirement of knowledge.

Government itself had its origin in the rule of these robbers, and pirate chiefs. Law was their [175] will, expressed in their edicts, or commands. And those who have studied the history of laws know that they were always intended for the slaves, attendants, and retainers of those chiefs. For themselves, or in their dealings with one another, they acknowledged no law.

While men needed such a stimulus to enterprise, and to the acquirement of knowledge, there is no doubt that government, law, and privilege did have that effect; but the need for government disappeared whenever it hindered enterprise, and the pursuit of knowledge more than it promoted them.

How can that be determined? Easily enough. How are the great monopolies operated to-day? By corporations made up of individual stockholders, only a very few of whom are actually engaged in promoting their enterprises. These stock-holders buy shares of stock, few or many, and sit down and wait for others to carry on the enterprise, they drawing their dividends at stated periods. It is not necessary for them to be enterprising, to cultivate their intelligence, or to do anything. Privilege has become a means of idleness, of sloth, and of parasitism upon others.

Another form of privilege is land-holding. Here parasitism has been carried to its highest degree of expression. The man who gets possession of a tract of land has only to sit still to obtain the fruit of others’ toil. He may be as stupid and idle as a post, and yet he gets rich. He is not only not enterprising himself, but by his robbery of others he discourages them from enterprises, because he takes away the rewards of enterprise.

But the individual merchant even, whom privilege at first helped to develop, has been, and is being destroyed by the same thing that aided him at first. He has no more show in the fierce competition for trade against the corporation, and those wielding great capital, than a pigmy has against a [176] giant in a prize-fight. He is forced out of the ring; and considers himself lucky if he can obtain a subordinate place under the corporation, or the great capitalist.

Science finds its votaries among individuals. Its discoveries are all made by those individuals. Invention, literature, philosophy, art, all depend wholly upon individuals for their advancement. Who ever heard of a corporation inventing a machine, or a process, writing a book, formulating a philosophy, or designing a work of art? So that the law, like the church, has ceased to promote the only object for which it existed. Enterprise and knowledge are repressed more than their growth is stimulated. These plants have long since been transplanted to the freer soil of individual effort, where they can no longer be helped by privilege; and in order to reach their most perfect development they must be free from the rule of the modern robber and private chiefs, the lineal descendants of the enterprising barbarians of antiquity.

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