Thursday, March 29, 2007

Van Ornum, Why Government at All? - Part II, Chapter 8




If our analyses in the previous chapters are correct, then every restriction imposed by some men upon the actions of other men, either through religion, or the law, is precisely of the same nature as the restriction imposed by the master over his chattel slave. The difference is wholly in the degree to which the restriction is carried. And more than that, it has the same object in view, the living of some men off the earnings of other men.

If it is the restraints of religion, it has for its object the support of the church, which means, the authorities of the church. If they preach submission to God they mean, in all cases, submission to his representatives, the priests. The means used to effect those restraints have been sometimes legal enactments, sometimes promises of happiness in a supposed world to come, sometimes threats of torments after death, with anathemas and punishments before, and always by appeals to their superstitious reverence for something posed to lie outside of, or beyond human sense, and therefore not easily disproved by those who are disposed to cavil at their pretensions. That their object has been well attained, let the wealthy church dignitaries and the magnificent church establishments attest, in every country where religion has held sway; and let the poverty, ignorance, superstition, misery, and servile, truckling spirit of the people bear witness to the extent of the robbery perpetrated, and their degradation under it, which is only equaled by the cringing servility of the chattel slave.

Where those restraints have been imposed by the secular law, they had their origin in the supposed “divine [166] right of kings to govern,” the present veneration for law under a republican form of government being only a substitution of the political boss for the king, and the investing of his acts with the same sanctions as those which were formerly accorded to the sovereign, under the mistaken idea that it is the people who do the governing. Those restraints too have been to establish and perpetuate inequalities; to enable idlers to live luxuriously off the earnings of the industrious; to build up a rich class at the expense of a poor class, and to protect the rich in the possession and enjoyment of their wealth. The means primarily employed have been the conferring upon property of special rights and immunities not its by nature, thus giving those who have most property the most rights; and secondly, the granting of special privileges whereby the land, the money, the transportation facilities, manufacturing privileges, public debts, and in fact the whole resources of the country are parceled out to a horde of monopolists, mostly who never did an honest day’s work in their lives, but whose work has consisted in scheming to get the wealth that others produce. How well they have succeeded in their scheming, by the aid of the law, which is their principal instrument, let the poverty of the laborers, the bankrupt merchants, and the mortgaged or tenant farmers attest. All that is necessary for a man to live well or even to get rich is, to obtain a few shares in some profitable monopoly, buy a government or corporate bond, invest in some mortgage security, or get hold of some tract of land, just as men used to invest their money in niggers, and thereafter the slaves, that is, those who buy goods of the monopoly, who pay taxes to the government, do business with the corporation, buy or rent the land, or work to pay off the mortgage, will support him in idleness. He does not have to work any more. The slaves (the people) do that for him. [167]

Has the slave a right to run away? Whether he has or not, he sometimes does it. The master formerly regarded such a slave, or one who was suspected of a desire to run away, just as we are taught to-day to regard the man who fails to pay his debts, or the tenant who tries to beat his landlord. The press, mainly owned by, and in the pay of, monopoly hold up such an one as an awful example of human depravity. Shylock always insists upon his right to his pound of flesh; the master upon the baseness of the slave who runs away; the creditor that it is dishonorable to fail; and the landlord condemns the tenant who avoids payment. These are all only different statements of the same thing.

The social question today is precisely the same question as presented itself thirty to fifty years ago in this country: it is the question of liberty against slavery. It is the same one that has met humanity at every step of its progress from barbarism; and it will continue to confront it in some form, so long as one man, or one set of men, for any purpose whatever, or in any way, are allowed to control the actions or thoughts of other men.

Do not understand me as bringing a railing accusation against the monopolists, the landlords, the bond holders, the money loaners, or even the priests. They too are men, actuated by the same motives, pursuing the same end, and using the same means, that is, whatever they find ready to their hands. If the people are kept poor and miserable, it is because they have left the means for their own impoverishment in the others’ hands. That they have done it ignorantly is no excuse. The child that ignorantly places its hand on a hot stove, and is burned, has no cause to blame the stove. The child can only correct its own ignorance, and not do so any more. The monopolists are no worse than the other men; in fact, they are personally often very estimable people, except where their ignorance, combined [168] with their self love, produces arrogance. The slave masters, too, were generally intelligent, high-minded, and courteous gentlemen in their intercourse with their social equals; but that did not prevent them from being haughty, over-bearing, and arrogant to their slaves. The people who ignorantly vote to tax, themselves to support a court, and court officers whose sworn duty is to enforce the claims of monopoly, can find no fault if these officers do their duty and evict them when they default in their payments on their mortgages. The surprising thing is, that the farmers, the merchants, and the laborers do not say to the money loaners, the landlords, the bond holders, and monopolists in general, “Here! you fellows have had this thing all your own way long enough. We have paid the bills, and you have received the benefits. Suppose you pay your own bills for awhile. If you want courts to enforce claims against us, it is only fair that you pay their expenses. If you want police to protect your wealth, just pay their salaries out of your own pockets. It is not fair to ask those who have no wealth to pay for the protection of those who have. If you want militia to call on to defeat us when we strike, you must foot the bills." When the working men, the farmers, and the merchants will talk to the monopolists of this country like that, and mean it and do their voting to that end, and that only, they will be very near their own emancipation. The slaves will have freedom in sight.

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