Saturday, March 31, 2007

Van Ornum, Why Government at All? - Part IV, Chapter 1






The vision of paradise, glimpses of which we caught at the beginning of our inquiry, and which appeared so unreal and distant, now begins to assume definite form, and character. Its gardens, fields, and wood-lands show a reality and nearness which before were only mist, haze and uncertainty. We are nearing our utopia: that dreamland of idealists, that heaven of Christians, and that paradise of all social reformers. We know that we are nearing it, because the outlines become sharper and clearer, and its objects become more distinct and real. It no longer presents the characteristics of a mirage; but we behold, only a little way in front of us, with every step of the intervening space clearly in view, rising, a splendor of reality, the perfection of which as far surpasses our previous vision as the splendor of the sunrise surpasses the first dim outlines of the early twilight.

We have found the nature, the length, the breadth, and the height of the one only obstruction to overcome before we can reach that promised land. It is an obstruction which admits of but one course of treatment: its removal. While it remains, it is almost a complete bar to human progress. At whatever cost, that bar must be removed. The law must be abolished. Time after time humanity approached that obstruction, and instead of removing it, has attempted to change it in specific ways, with the result that, instead of humanity destroying the obstruction, the obstruction has destroyed humanity—at least, has extinguished its hopes, suppressed its yearnings, and turned back civilization upon itself. Whenever the restrictions of the law have [296] been carried beyond the point of endurance, and men have risen against it, and for a time destroyed it, not understanding its true nature, they have invariably reconstructed it on such modified plans as seemed to promise better results, but which, in time, turned out to be just as bad as those which they supplanted.

Law, then, must be abolished instead of amended. It must be destroyed instead of being improved. Why? Because it is the safest course, the easiest course, and the only practicable course. All human history proves that mere changes are unsafe; in fact that at best, the new soon becomes as bad as the old, or worse. I said it was the easiest course. I say more; it is easier to destroy the whole fabric of the law than to amend it in any essential particular. And the easiest way is always the most practicable way.

But how? By violence, by fighting, by insurrection? By no means. These are the methods of revenge, of passion, of unreasoning ignorance. The problems of social life must be solved by the exercise of wisdom; but these are the negation of wisdom. Men who are actuated by passion or revenge do not reason. Reason is dethroned. Fury takes its place: a condition which easily makes men a prey to the wiles of the crafty.

There is an easier way; one that involves nonviolence, no destruction of property, and no injustice. It is one against which the courts, the police, the militia, the army, and the navy are utterly powerless. It requires no elaborate party organization, no considerable contributions to drain away the resources of those who are striving for liberty, and no long and anxious waiting for an interminable period of development of humanity before it can be realized. It only requires a clear knowledge of individual rights, a calm but determined insistence upon those rights, and the wisdom to avoid being [297] surprised into acts which would drive away friends, or give excuse for violence from enemies. It involves no long course of training in abstruse principles of political or social economy, which only the learned and thoughtful can grasp or understand. it is doubtful if any ordinary man in any walk of life would not be able to understand so much as is necessary for practical work on its first intelligent statement; or to understand its direct benefits to himself. It appeals directly to the only motive of every man’s action; his selfishness, and inspires strongly his hopes and anticipations.

It is a plan upon which all reformers, having in view the ultimate objects of all social reform, and who are not wedded to particular methods of attainment, can combine. The single taxer, who cares more to abolish poverty, to free the land, and to bring about the reign of universal and exact justice, than to levy the single tax, will find it the readiest means of reaching his goal The state socialist who desires to destroy cut-throat competition, to inaugurate an universal co-operation, and a perfect human equality, can secure it without repression, or doing violence in the least to human liberty. The anarchist at one stroke reaches the utmost limit of his highest ideal of liberty. The workingmen, including clerks and professional men, can, and naturally will unite upon such a platform. Small tradesmen and manufacturers will do the same; and the farmers must. It is their only hope. Circumstances, and their own inclination and interests, will all impel them to do so. They cannot possibly pay their mortgages. From the time that public agitation on this line is once begun, monopoly and government are doomed.

When this government was first established the people had just cast off the chains of another despotism. That despotism had claimed the right to tax them without their permission. And the rupture [298] had come mainly through the attempt to enforce that claim. Therefore it was quite natural that they should try to guard against subsequent attacks upon their liberties from that direction. So they provided both in the national constitution, and in the constitutions of all the states for an effective veto upon the acts of their rulers through control of the appropriations. I do not suppose that they contemplated the possibility of being called upon to use this measure for the destruction of all law, but only as a defense against obnoxious and tyrannical laws But they builded wiser than they knew. When they understand that all law is tyrannical they will look upon it all as obnoxious.

That plan of action is simply the withholding of taxes; not the refusal at first to ay taxes, but the refusal to appropriate them. Appropriation bills, like all other legislative acts, require the concurrence of both houses of the legislature, and the governor. An appropriation for national expenditures must pass both houses of congress and be approved by the president. If it fail of one house, it can go no further. In municipal affairs, money must be appropriated by the city council, and the bill be approved by the mayor, before the officers can get their pay. Even town and county boards in country places hold the grip upon the purse strings if they choose to use it. Taxes to the government machine are like steam to an engine. Without them the machine is powerless. All that is necessary is to combine, and elect a majority of one house, lo do no/king. It is not necessary to repeal a law, or to amend a law; simply refuse to pass any law. Elect men to one house only, absolutely pledged to do nothing, except to be present at every meeting, and vote "no" on every proposition, except motions for adjournment. Without appropriations the militia cannot be called out to put down a strike, a court cannot enforce a single process, a mortgage cannot [299] be foreclosed, a tenant cannot be evicted, a tax cannot be collected, the police must quit, and every office holder must go home about his business.

In municipal, or town, or country affairs, let the people who are not interested in monopoly combine to elect a majority of the city council, or the town or county boards, and the thing is done. They have only to see that those whom they elect perform precisely the duties they were elected to perform, and no other.

Such an agitation cannot long be carried on along these lines without attracting the attention of every man to its merits, or before a majority of the national house of representatives can be elected. When that is done the whole governing machine must stop. Freedom will have been achieved. Free production, and free trade will have become an accomplished fact, because there will be no one capable of interfering with trade or production. The whole system of internal revenue will be wiped out at one stroke; men will become emancipated from the bondage of government debts and taxes of all kinds. Monopoly cannot then enforce a single one of its demands. The land becomes free to whoever will use I it, for there will be none who are able to keep any one off it. All this can be done by only getting control of one of the three co-ordinate branches of government. To amend the law requires all three.

No tax is better than one tax, or many taxes. It is easier for men to understand, easier to attain, and easier to pay; and then, as already seen, it will give far better results. It reaches the full realization of liberty; that is, a condition where mankind is without restriction. It emancipates men form the bondage of public debts, and every other form of privilege. It takes away the club which the landlord, and the lendlord, and every other kind of a lord wields over mankind to compel submission.

This plan of work does not violate in the slightest [300] particular the fundamental objection of anarchists to political action. It is not a political move in the ordinary sense, but rather a co-operative one of mutual defense. It is purely defensive. It merely seeks to pack one house of the legislature with men pledged to refuse any appropriations for the execution of law; and by doing so, it is a perfect check upon all action by the other house and the executive. By electing men for this purpose we are not setting them up in authority over us, because they can exercise no authority. We need not elect, or even nominate any other officers than members of one house of congress, of the legislature, of city councils, and of county and town boards. This is a very different thing from present political methods, where two houses and an executive must be elected, and then to proceed to change the law by amendment or re-enactment in the face of active and powerful opposing interests, skilled in all the arts of intrigue and corruption.

At the last meeting of the Kansas legislature the farmers bad a clear majority in the house of representatives. Had they have taken the stand of refusing to appropriate a dollar to pay the expenses of the state government, instead of wasting their energies in a long struggle to elect one man to an useless office, one where for a long time to come at least, that officer is powerless to help them even if he wished to, they would have sounded a note which would have been heard around the world. Every tyrant would have understood it; and every victim groaning under the heel of oppression would have taken new heart. It would have given encouragement to the oppressed of every land under the sun. In our own country the farmer’s party, long before this, would have been the producer’s party against the idlers and monopolists. The republican and democratic parties would have been forced to coalesce and make common cause against it. The [301] farmers of Kansas would have found practically the whole farming community of this country behind them; and not only them, but all other classes of wealth producers also.

Until this issue is made, both the old parties will stand, one as the representative of conservatism, and the other of liberalism, according to the bias of the person who considers them, while they both practically represent the same thing. The difference between them is not enough to quarrel about. When there comes a real danger to the interests they stand for, they will permanently unite, as they did temporarily in Kansas, in the face of the farmers. While they remain apart it is a certain indication that they see no danger. But when they join hands, we may know that the end is near.

After a most careful survey of the whole situation I am convinced that this issue, of “no taxation,” is the true line of attack. It is the most vulnerable point in the whole position of monopoly. It is the one most easily assailed, and most difficult to defend. From the moment this issue is made, government itself is put upon the defensive. It will, and inevitably must try, at least, to show what good it does; by what right it exists,—what it does to justify that existence, which it cannot do. When it undertakes it, it is lost, as I have abundantly shown throughout this whole work. Thus, the contest must be carried on along lines, the mere discussion of which will bring out the essential principles of liberty and show the utter hollowness of the pretensions of government.

But other effects must follow almost immediately, of the same character as when the credit of any other corporation is attacked. It must not be expected that the beneficiaries of government,—the monopolists, are going to sit idly by and see the government credit attacked without an effort to rescue it. The men in Chicago who gave $500,000 in [302] five years into a secret fund to crush out anarchy, and boasted that they would make it ten times as much, if necessary, will pour out money like water at first. But they cannot make it effective. For a considerable time our agitation can only look to the enlightenment of the people. It can only be a campaign of education. The contributions of the rich can only be used to arouse prejudice, and meet the arguments put toward for liberty. And for this they will be harmless. The more bitterly they assail it the more they direct public attention to it. In fact, it is highly desirable that monopoly should present the best case it possibly can, in order to show how weak it is. There is not the least danger in that. I see only one more way in which it can use such contributions against a movement of this kind, conducted on perfectly peaceful plans. That is, by secret assassination of men foremost in this move. This would be no worse, and not much different from the methods adopted to kill off the Chicago anarchists; but it will be a plan extremely dangerous to those in whose interest it is adopted. Just now the wealthy men are badly frightened over the attempt upon the life of Russel Sage, in New York; and they will be slow to inaugurate a war which might provoke reprisals; and millionaires are painfully conspicuous persons when such dangers threaten.

As a means of propaganda and instruction of working men in the principles of liberty, co-operative unions can be organized in every shop or factory and on every railroad or other corporation on any basis which is found satisfactory to the men, to take up and carry the business right on as soon as the destruction of the law has enabled them to rid themselves of present so-called owners. The whole of the earnings will then go to those who do the work, with nothing for rent, interest, dividends on stock, royalties on patents, profits to useless employers, high salaries to ornamental officers, or corruption funds to buy [303] courts and legislatures. It matters but little on what terms those co-operative unions are formed. As soon as the law, by means of which unjust regulations can be enforced, is destroyed, there will be such a rearrangement of industry as will naturally correct any inequalities in the terms of those cooperative unions at first.

When however, the farmers, the workingmen, the small merchants and manufacturers, and the social reformers of all the varied schools, become sufficiently acquainted with the advantages of this plan of work, for any considerable number of them to combine upon a platform of “no taxation,’ the credit of the government is then seriously called in question. Its bonds will depreciate in value. It will become harder for it to raise money. Bonds held in foreign countries will be sent home for redemption. As soon as it reaches the point where the legislature refuses to make appropriations, a panic will ensue: not a commercial panic, but a panic in government securities. What funds happen to be on hand in public treasuries, will disappear in a twinkling. Every officer will try and look out for himself, and save what he can from the general wreck. The government cannot borrow. It requires legislative sanction even to do that. Capitalists are extremely careful to have all the forms of law complied with before they will buy a single public bond, or advance money in any way, even where the people are as submissive as lambs. But in the face of such a movement, not a capitalist in the world would put up a dollar, especially if the bonds were not sanctioned by all the forms of law, which sanction they cannot get. The army, the navy, the militia, the police, and employees generally cannot, and will not continue in service beyond the time they get their pay, especially if a strong party exists pledged to the stoppage of their pay. It is extremely doubtful if even the greatest monopolists, [304] those who have most to lose would advance a dollar to pay the running expenses of the government in a crisis like that, because the government could not possibly give an obligation to repay it, which would be recognized by its own law.

It can produce no commercial panic, because people will at once be relieved of their burdens. Rent paying will at once cease, which will be a present, palpable relief to more than nine out, of ten of the people. It will be impossible to throw a man into bankruptcy for failure to meet his notes when due, or to seize his goods, and close up his business. Taxes will be stopped; the patent monopoly will be broken; and if men with patent articles will not sell them for what they are worth, other people will make the articles. The hundreds and thousands of acres of vacant land in the city of Chicago, and unused land everywhere, will be open to whoever want it; and people will seize it, as starving men seize bread. Homes will rise everywhere like magic. Labor will be in the greatest demand, and wages will rise. If that is a panic, it is one that most people would like to see.

There are other considerations which commend such a plan. It needs no elaborate party organization, or considerable expense. A few plain simple statements which every one can understand can be issued cheaply in large numbers and generally circulated. Meetings can be held in parlors of private residences to talk over the details, and make all acquainted with its merits. Farmers’ and working- men’s organizations already in existence, and more or less in communication with one another, can be quickly instructed in all the important particulars. This is all that is necessary until it is time to make nominations for town or county boards, the common council, the legislature, or for congress, the only officers to be nominated.

No government and no police regulations can [305] prevent people from meeting peacefully and discussing methods for improving their own condition. Those discussions should always be carried on openly, temperately, but earnestly. On no account, and under no degree of provocation, should denunciation be indulged in. It only furnishes excuse for police interference. And besides, it is uncalled for. The rich are no different from the poor; and deserve no more censure. Both are injured by their ignorance. Present conditions are equally the result of the ignorance of the rich and the poor. There is no occasion for either to denounce the other. I would even invite the police to attend, and listen to the discussions, and to participate in them if they desire. And besides, the rich are precisely like the slaveholders of the south before the war. They have grown up under present institutions. Their minds have received a definite training. They have been taught to believe that the present social and industrial system is a wise and natural one. They have had no occasion to call it in question because it has treated them with very great favor. The slave-holders too, believed that slavery was wise and natural, equally beneficial to master and slave. These men are all just as much the creatures of their circumstances as are the criminals, the prostitutes, and the poor generally. There should be no resentment against any. Nor can the government prevent people from voting for whom they wish, or on whatever platform they like. And when those representatives have been elected they are entitled to their seats if properly qualified. The very fact that appropriation bills must be submitted to them for their approval implies their right to disapprove. If they may vote for a measure, they may vote against it. No one can legally exercise any compulsion upon them.

But some one will say; suppose our representatives should be bribed, and vote for appropriations [306] in violation of their pledges? I answer: this is a very unlikely thing to occur, because almost always when men are elected to office for any one specific purpose, whatever that purpose may be, they will do that thing. No matter how corrupt they may be in other matters, or how much they may violate pledges of a general character, it is very rare for any man to violate his pledge where its violation would be open and notorious, where that pledge is the only one upon which he secured his election, and where it involves the whole principle of his party. But even if, for the time being, such a defeat were encountered, it would only be temporary. It would make the determination of the people all the stronger to win in the end. It would have still another advantage; it would give more time for men to study, and familiarize themselves with the real principles of liberty before being called to the exercise of it. The longer men contemplate the sublime, and infinite possibilities of liberty, the better they appreciate it, the more determined they become in its pursuit, and the more tenaciously will they cling to it when it is once attained.

Such a political party will only be a temporary expedient. It will require no permanent organization; and can offer no great prizes to be scrambled for. Those elected to office can reap little, if any advantage, but to wear the laurel crown, a real distinction which in after years will be prized. The first practical lesson in voluntary co-operation on a large scale, will then be the united action of the people in such a party.

The next question that will be asked is, is it just? Let us see! What is justice? It is scarcely necessary to go into all the nice distinctions and use of the term, justice, as defined in the lexicons. It is only necessary to say that it is everywhere made synonymous with equity, which means even, equal. So justice is equality. But there is no equality in [307] taking from the poor by law to confer upon the rich. There is no equality in calling upon the poor to vote taxes upon themselves in order to enable the, rich to maintain an inequality in condition between themselves and the poor. Where is the equality that imposes upon the farmer the support of the machinery which will foreclose his mortgage, and evict him from his home; that will compel a man to defray the expenses of his own eviction when he is unable to pay his rent, or for the seizure of his stock when he cannot meet his obligations on time? When these wealth producers, through their representatives, are asked to vote these burdens upon themselves, what more natural, and equal, and therefore just than for them to decline to do anything of the kind? But in addition to ask men to pay for the employment of spies, and informers, as the government does, to pry into their most private and delicate affairs, to tempt them into some violation of regulations set up by other men, and then visit penalties upon them, passes the bounds of all proper conceptions of justice. Whatever may be thought of it at first, this issue cannot long be delayed. Although the attention of the people has not been seriously directed to government itself as the real cause of the evils they complain of, circumstances are likely to occur at any time to do so. When they do, the contest will be a short one. Any great crisis like a commercial panic or general railroad strike may precipitate it at any time. It is true, we have had political crises, and commercial crises, many times before, without producing this effect; but never when the conditions were like the present. Knowledge is more generally diffused than ever before; wealth is more easily produced, while times are harder; social topics have been more studied, and are better understood. Let such a crisis take place now, and it would take very little to focus the whole responsibility upon the government. [308]

Then, once establish liberty, and if a sufficient time is given to permit a vigorous growth of individuality it will become extremely difficult ever again to subjugate such a people to government control.

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