Thursday, March 29, 2007

Van Ornum, Why Government at All? - Part II, Chapter 5




In this work I have proceeded and shall continue to proceed upon the hypothesis that men are equal; and yet the differences between them are notorious and obvious. It becomes necessary to examine those differences, see what they consist of, what they arise from, and find out if they do, in fact, violate any dogma of equality. Are men in any essential particular unequal? Republican government is said to be based upon the equality of men. The theory of the elective franchise is, that men are equal; and that one man’s vote should count for as much as another’s. Is the fact true to the theory? In its practical workings, does republican government violate the equality it is supposed to express? These questions are of the highest importance, because they lie at the very foundation of human society; and upon their answer depend the condemnation or justification of republican institutions, and the social adjustments based upon them.

It is not my purpose to enter into any philosophical speculations as to whether men are or are not equal in their powers and capabilities, except in so far as it has a bearing upon their association in society. More than this would be outside the scope of this work. It is so greatly the fashion nowadays to deny the equality of men, and point to their differences as proof of inequality, making that assumed inequality the basis and excuse for the observed inequalities in social conditions, that we need to examine the subject and see if there is any such inequality as would justify those inequalities in condition.

I will try and define what is meant by equality, [130] and show that even if all that is claimed by those who contend for inequality were true, it would still be no justification for inequalities in social adjustments.

If I say that men are equal, I do not mean that they are alike. No two men can be alike; because, while they are made from the same clay, have the same vital spark, are actuated by the same motive, inspired by the same hope, and seek the same ends, yet they are modified by different conditions. Their conditions cannot be the same in any two instances. Then the equality of men does not involve their sameness; and their differences do not imply their inequality.

The most obvious differences between men are in size, weight, strength, skill, endurance, special talents, etc. Men do vary somewhat in size; and it is frequently the case that a large man has strength nearly corresponding to his size; but almost invariably whatever advantage is derived from one source, is neutralized by another, sometimes physical, and sometimes mental. Thus arise special talents, special adaptations, and special inclinations. It is a principle in mechanics that whatever is gained in power is lost in speed, and vice versa; and the same thing holds good, in a manner, among men. When we find a giant in size and strength, his movements are often slow and ponderous; while the one who is small and comparatively weak is likely to be active. The compensation may, however, be in some mental quality which fits one for certain occupations for which the other is totally unfit. The object of insisting upon the inequality of men is to justify their inequality of condition; but even admitting that inequality as a fact, it is no justification for their prevailing inequalities in condition unless nature itself would establish them, independent of the workings of any human law, or regulation . It is the height of absurdity to attempt to [131] justify the possession of hundreds of millions of dollars, or even of single millions, by some, and nothing by others, on any differences in the size and strength of men, or on any other observable difference, if any one thinks differently let him set up any standard he thinks best, and apply it to the men of wealth. Nature does not make a king of an idiot, or a rich man of a fool. It takes human law to do that.

Skill, endurance, and talents in special callings, are mainly acquired by special training, so that they are simply modifications which result from conditions; and are not inherent in men themselves. It is said that some men have a natural bent in some particular direction; but that proves nothing. Other men have equally strong inclinations in other directions; and while individual differences may come to be great there is nothing to show a superiority or inferiority in one or the other. Differences of this kind make no foundation on which to build a necessary subjection of the will of one man to the will of another.

Considering further those physical differences, the new-born babe is dependent upon the care and attention of others. But are they not all equally so? Is the child of a king less dependent than that of the beggar? And must they not both have the fostering care of others, or perish? Then, throughout their whole lives, they are equally dependent for their growth and development upon the proper sup. ply of nutrition, and in fact, upon the satisfaction of all their bodily wants. All men must have food or starve. Notwithstanding any differences that may exist in the amount or kind required by each, their dependence on its supply is precisely alike. In the same climate all men are naturally equal in their dependence upon shelter and clothing. Whatever differences exist have been the result of privation, or exposure, which have inured one to [132] hardship more than the other; but so far from this difference indicating an inferiority of the poor, if it proved anything, it proves their superiority, because they are by so far relieved of their dependence upon their wants. They by so far rise above their needs. But even this is only a temporary and artificial superiority, which nature seeks constantly to extinguish. It can only be maintained by maintaining the conditions which produced it, a thing that people will not do; for as soon as they can supply their needs, they do so; and their advantage of greater hardihood vanishes with the necessity or the deprivation which caused it. The calloused hand very quickly becomes soft when no longer kept to toil.

And what is true of the body is just as true of the mind. The mind cannot develop unless its needs are supplied. And this applies equally to men in every possible condition , in life. In this no one has an advantage over another. In these respects, all men are equal: the rich and the poor, the master and the slave, the black and the white, the child of the pauper and that of the millionaire. In fact, it is open to serious doubt whether if the babe of the wildest Bushman were reared in the heart of civilization, under conditions which did not impress it with a sense of social inferiority, it would not equal in its development the child of genius.

Out of this equality of needs comes the equality of rights. If all men are equally dependent upon the exercise of their powers, they must, of necessity, be equally free to exert those powers. This is simply justice, which is again equality. The equal balance is the symbol of justice. When the scales are even: that is, equal, they are just; and then only. So also, out of this same principle of equality of needs comes the greatest and most important principle of all human association, the principle of freedom; for, when the will of’ one is made to prevail [133] over the will of another, in matters that pertain to that other, then equality is violated, justice is not done, and the liberty of that person is no more. It follows then that men being equal, their association in society must be on terms of perfect equality or liberty: that is, on the perfect freedom of each individual from restraints imposed by other individuals. On any basis of the inequality of men, association is imperfect, because there can be no real association except among equals, Where society is divided into classes, association can only exist between the members of each particular class. There can be none between the members or separate classes. Civilization depends upon association, and the more perfect that association the higher the civilization. Then a high degree of civilization is impossible based upon human inequality, upon class distinctions, and upon restrictions placed upon some by others, because these things are in their very nature anti-social and opposed to civilization.

Equality of right means the equality of opportunity, which precludes the possibility of some taking possession of the materials of the universe which nature has provided for all to exert their labor upon, for the satisfaction of their desires, and charging a price for its use. It precludes the possibility of placing restrictions upon the gratification of any human desire. Human law is absolutely incompatible with liberty; and always operates to the advantage of some, and the disadvantage of others.

Then liberty is what is meant by human equality; and equality is perfectly compatible with the widest personal differences between individuals. For instance a man who is strong, robust, and muscular may require two or three times as much food for his sustenance as another does who is small, weak and less active; but they are both equally [134] dependent upon its supply, whatever the amount may be; and justice requires that both be equally free in procuring it. But suppose our strong man is also a very acquisitive one, and finds his own pleasure in amassing wealth, while the other delights in music. Justice still requires that each remain equally free to follow the bent of his own desires, while they still can and do remain equal, notwithstanding their increasing personal differences. But as will be found when we come to consider property, in the absence of the law which confers an added power and distinction upon the possession of property, both the motive for the amassing of wealth and the possible injury to others by the possession of it will be destroyed. Personal genius may reach its highest expression in any direction, or in ten thousand directions producing the greatest diversity of individual character without equality being violated in the slightest degree.

In such a society the poet will associate freely any equally with the philosopher, the artist, the composer, the inventor, the mechanic, the merchant, the farmer and the laborer. Labor will then no longer be a badge of servitude and inferiority; because, first, where equality is not violated for a time none can live without labor upon the labor of others, and therefore all must labor; and second, the natural stimulants to labor, if not interfered with by law, will soon act and be abundant to induce labor on the part of every human being. Men will produce wealth as spontaneously as a tree will bear fruit.

When people attribute the miseries of the poor to their extravagance, their indolence, intemperance, or incompetence, assuming that themselves are less extravagant, etc., they are guilty of gross heartlessness, and exhibit serious ignorance of their own natures if nothing worse. If the poor are extravagant, what have they done but used the means at [135] their disposal to satisfy their desires? Who is it who presumes to judge of another’s needs, or to determine what desires are proper for him to gratify? Nature offers to all men the utmost abundance of its exhaustless resources from which to draw their supplies and gratify their desires. Why then should not all men be extravagant? Why not indulge those desires to their fullest? But for those who have monopolized the resources of nature, have denied the poor access to those resources, have taken from them their earnings under the forms of laws intended only for their own advantage and thus deprived them of means of their growth, to turn around and taunt them with an arrested development reaches the summit of brazen effrontery. Did not nature make all men equally averse to work, equally wanton and wild? How long since the landlord conquered his indolence or the capitalist became industrious?

Until the poor are relieved of the support of the rich, it were well for the rich to say as little as possible about the inferiority, the improvidence, intemperance and the indolence of the poor. The rich are estopped from making such pleas. It will be time enough to do that when, after having had an equal chance, the poor fail to improve it, and better their condition.

But those who deny the equality of men as a principle, often with the same breath acknowledge that equality, boast of the freedom of our institutions, assume that they are based upon equality and claim that “all men are equal before the law”. If they really were so, there could no considerable difference arise in their conditions. It is because they are not equal before the law, because our institutions are not free, and because it is the very nature and purpose of the law to set up and perpetuate inequality, that those differences in conditions arise.

There is another important respect in which [136] differences are observed, which remains to be considered. Sometimes people speak of “good men”, and “bad men”, meaning thereby that there is a moral or ethical distinction that corresponds to these adjectives. If this is true, there must be some quality that makes a good act essentially different from a bad one. But all through the preceding chapters we have found all men constituted a- like, in every essential particular; all having the same motive force actuating them, that of selfishness; all equally ignorant at the start, and equally dependent upon overcoming that ignorance; all pursuing the same end, that of happiness; all seeking to reach it through the gratification of desires which have been awakened by increasing intelligence; and all warmed into a more genial life and growth by the admiration and appreciation of their fellows. The recognition of this equality in men in the springs of their activity leads to most important results. It at once destroys those moral and ethical distinctions which are commonly denominated “good” and “bad”. The only things left in man answering to these adjectives are “wise” and “foolish.”

There can then be no such thing as “good men,” or “good women” in any other sense than as wise, or intelligent men, or women; nor as “bad men” or women, than as foolish, or ignorant ones.

Thieves are called “bad men”, but what is a thief? One who violates the rights of property.

But what are the rights of property? The artificial, or conventional rights conferred on property by human laws which are themselves violations of nature. It is not the natural rights of property the violation of which we punish as theft, but only those which are created by law. If we punished the violation of the real or natural rights of property we should send every landlord, every real-estate man, every money loaner, in short, every monopolist [137] in the country, to the penitentiary for a theft. Fortunately for them it is only the violation of those arbitrary enactments which the law seeks to punish. It is a peculiarity of human law that the same power which enacted it can repeal it; but can a man be said to have violated any moral dogma which is so capricious and uncertain that it is liable to change, and what is immoral to-day, may become highly moral and proper to-morrow? For a fuller treatment of this subject see Chapter VII, Part II, on property, and Chapter VI, of Part III, on crime.

Thus, in theory at least, we find that social equality is more than a vague sentimentality. It is a positive living principle: a fact that is everywhere seeking recognition; and the bar which everywhere prevents that recognition and realization is the law which creates and maintains inequality. The greatest and best thinkers too, especially in modern times, have seen with more or less clearness this grand principle, as their studies have been more or less directed to the subject. They have seldom or never carried their examination far enough to grasp the idea in all its fullness, and significance; but still they have seen it. Henry Thomas Buckle perceived clearly the worthlessness, as well as the absurdity and injustice, of legal restrictions as a corrective of what are called moral delinquencies: saw that men in their actions are governed by natural laws which always, in the aggregate, operate with certainty and precision; but he failed to see that all this springs from the essential equality of men. He laid down principles and formulas which if carried to their logical conclusion would abolish every legal enactment, and realize liberty. Victor Hugo, Wilhelm Von Humboldt, and Bagehot, all obtained certain glimpses of this important truth. Bagehot says, “In the early ages of an agricultural colony, whether you have political democracy [138] or not, social democracy you must have, for nature makes it, and not you. But in time, wealth grows and inequality begins.” Why did he not say that when the inequalities set up by the law have had time to concentrate the wealth, then inequality becomes apparent? The inequality begins with the law, and it will end with the law.

Rochefoucault, Hevetius, Kant, Fichte and Hegel all carry the principle much farther. They do not stop with the social equality of men. They agree that the intelligence of men differs only qualitatively ‘\between individuals. In judgment it is quantitatively equal in all.

It is not certain there is even a qualitative difference. Law is so subtle in its influence, and so far reaching in its results that we are apt to refer to natural causes effects which, on closer examination, are clearly traceable to it.

Against it all stands this universal fact, that nature, while producing variety, tends constantly to an equality, just as water always seeks its level. Were I to undertake to cite the almost innumerable proofs of this proposition, and to indicate the ways in which equality tries to assert itself, it would require a volume to do this alone.

But there is one proof, or rather series of proofs, which is so remarkable and conclusive that I cannot resist the temptation to present it. It is the history of the work of the Children’s Aid Society, of New York.

While this society ranks among the lists of organized charities, it is essentially different from others, in that it seeks to remove the obstacles which prevent the children from helping themselves: to make them more independent, instead of conferring upon them a help which will increase their dependence. To this end, the most abandoned and destitute children in New York, the offspring of vice and crime, street rats, who gnaw [139] at society, and who scamper away when the light is turned on, who sleep in boxes, under stair ways, on barges, in the coldest weather, with little or no food, kicked and cuffed by their elders, hunted by the police, in rags, under door-ways, in the storm with not a door open to them, with not a welcome from any—such as these are taken and sent away, mostly to the country, where homes are found for them with those who will adopt, educate, and rear them as their own. Nowhere can be found a more unpromising class of subjects to work upon. Many of them are children of foreigners, the history of whose ancestors has been through all time, one of destitution, of a hopeless subjection to injustice amounting almost to personal slavery, or maybe they are children of a long line of criminals, prostitutes, drunkards, the very dregs and outcasts of society, yet in almost every instance, these children have made good citizens, noted for their honesty, uprightness, and intelligence. Many have accumulated wealth, attained to distinction in the learned professions, and all have proved their equality with children born in the conditions into which this society transplanted them.

The experience of this society has extended over a period of about forty years, during which time probably not less than 50,000 children have been provided with homes in this way; so that it affords evidence of the very highest order that the favorable results obtained were not owing to any temporary causes. I have not the reports of the society at hand, so that I cannot speak with perfect accuracy, but my recollection is that the proportion of children taken charge of by the society which turned out bad did not reach two per cent. It has certainly been so small as to be a source of astonishment to even the most sanguine.

Facts like these are not meaningless. They tell of the unspeakable injustice of social adjustments [140] which condemn millions to lives of horrid brutality, and all to infinitely less than the grand possibilities which await all development to greater enlightenment.

There remains one more plea that men urge in justification for inequalities of condition: and that is, the doctrine of evolution,—”The survival of the fittest.” This is an instance of the base uses to which a grand principle may be perverted. It assumes that the men who possess the wealth are the fittest; and that they possess it because they are the fittest. In this application it is but a restatement of the old doctrine that ‘might makes right.” According to it every injustice on the face of the earth becomes right; and the test of the rightfulness of an act becomes the ability of one to perform it. If these men are the fittest, and if they hold by virtue of their superior fitness, then they need have no fear of the abolition of the artificial, or legal regulations which give then an advantage. If their superiority is a natural one, they need no artificial prop to sustain it. But if it is not a natural one, if the law is only a means of enabling the idler to live at ease off the worker, then it promotes the survival of the unfittest, and obstructs the natural expression of human evolution. If the idler who lives off the labor of others is the fittest to live, then the lice which subsist and fatten upon the calf are fitter to live than the calf is, which is being eaten up by them.

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