Saturday, March 31, 2007

Van Ornum, Why Government at All? - Part IV, Chapter 3




As we have seen, one of the first results of the abolition of the law will be to remove, not only actual poverty, but all fear of poverty. When the boundless resources of nature are once opened up to the unrestricted use of mankind, and with no organized force remaining which is capable of robbing it of the fruits of its labor, not only poverty but the fear of it becomes a thing of the past. And when the possession of property confers no power by reason of that possession, it will cease to be sought as a means of distinction. Is man then less selfish than before? Not at all. His selfishness will seek new means of gratification. It will seek its natural channel of expression, instead of the artificial one. The supreme purpose of human life is the making of individual character; and in order to stimulate its development every man possesses a love of the admiration of his fellows, which I have called a love of distinction. So long as wealth alone confers distinction, men seek it with an all absorbing greed, regardless of the true aim and purpose of life. Character is sacrificed instead of promoted. But take away the power of property, by abolishing the laws which decree special rights of property, and men will seek distinction by cultivating those personal qualities which command the admiration of others, instead of depending upon property, the possession of which is more likely to indicate a want of those qualities.

Let each consider a moment how much greater will be his own powers of individual improvement when the question of a support through life, for [325] himself and for his family, is entirely eliminated, so that the acquirement of wealth will be merely a pastime, and he can follow his own inclinations to the utmost, free from all fear of want, or of the interference of his fellow man, instead of being compelled to toil unceasingly day in and day out, and year in and year out, for a mere subsistence, with a constant liability of being brought to a condition of destitution. And then contrast a whole people so situated, every individual member able to follow the utmost bent of his own desires, instead of being bound down to a brutalizing scramble for mere wealth, and we can form some idea of the vastly different results to be expected as the aggregate of human growth. When we were considering the causes that impel men to the commission of crime, it appeared that it is often the purest and loftiest impulses which most surely make men criminals. This fact ought to convince every one that such conditions are wholly unnatural; but they are no more unnatural than that men should be bound down to an everlasting grind to obtain a subsistence. Almost every person adopts some particular line of study, research, investigation, or experiment, or tries to perfect himself in some special industry, according to the bent of his, or her own mind; and make himself master of it. In the pursuit of that object he finds his greatest pleasure and enjoyment. When freed from the anxieties of getting a living, he can and will pursue that natural bent, and seek in the attainment of a high degree of excellence in that particular, the admiration of others. Herein will lie the natural development of individual character. Selfishness will here find its legitimate and healthy expression in the attainment of the highest degree of excellence possible. That degree of excellence will be that individual’s title to nobility; and the pursuit of such a nobility will be open to every one. Selfishness loses none of its intensity. [326] It is rather extended, exalted, purified, and lifted to new and higher objects, and is manifested in better ways. It is like gold refined from the dross which debases and hides the pure metal. The crowning glory of liberty will be a free and luxuriant individuality, with a title of nobility, which will be a real distinction, for everybody.

Herbert Spencer, in his ‘Social Statics,” recognizes the necessity for a constantly increasing differentiation in the constituent parts of society; and he looked for it in a differentiation as to political power. Therein was his mistake. He did not see that a differentiation in the constituent parts of society is consistent with the entire absence of political power, and a perfect freedom and equality of those constituents. He evidently saw no other place for such a differentiation except as to political power. If this were true, then slavery would be the inevitable condition of a large part of mankind; and just as civilization increases would slavery deepen, class distinctions become more pronounced, and social evils more intensified. So far from his being right, those differentiations as to political power must be obliterated before the natural, the individual differentiations, can find their legitimate expression. In the subdivision of labor may be seen an indication of the course of that natural differentiation which runs through all nature, producing specialization of function, and promoting the greatest variety of talent, while at the same time bringing all talents practically to the same level as to capacity. Here, as everywhere else, the one absolute imperative need is perfect freedom of action.

But under this condition of perfect liberty which I am contemplating, labor itself will become an emulation, a means of distinction, an expression of the highest individuality. Men will seek in the performance of labor, in the production of wealth which all may enjoy, in the doing of those things [327] which bring happiness to others, the gratification of their own happiness, and the attainment of their own honor and distinction. Man needs no laws toll compel him to do right, or to respect the rights and feelings of others. If he were to fail in these particulars, he would fail in the attainment of what most, if not all men, hold dearer than life itself,—their honor. The gratification of his own selfish desires will lead man to do more for society than he could be brought to do, if the doing of them were in recognition of any claim which society holds against him. Herein most certainly lies the pathway to that universal brotherhood the visions of which have appeared with varying clearness to social reformers of every age and clime; not in a human regeneration, not in a change in man’s nature, but in a development of that nature; not in a condition of society organized upon any plan, or according to any scheme; but in the destruction of all special organization and restrictions which hinder such a development.

I wish to caution the reader against dismissing too lightly this love of distinction as an element in the making of individual character, and in determining the course of individual action. It has been too common with writers to treat it as a weakness to be overcome, instead of an universal fact to be studied, and taken account of in all estimates of human dynamics. Milton speaks of fame as “the last infirmity of noble minds;” and this thought has run all through a large part of the literature of religion, and the teaching of a certain school of professed moral philosophers, who would make men over again after plans of their own. They would have them sacrifice their pride, humble themselves, crucify self, and become lowly and obedient. That very element which is intended to sweeten human intercourse, to awaken reciprocal feelings of love and sympathy between men, and to bring about an [328] universal brotherhood, is sought to be degraded and discredited. On the other hand, I hold that men need no other change than is afforded by a natural growth and development. Whatever I have found in the constitution of man, I have assumed that it is there because it belongs there, because it is necessary to the perfection and symmetry of his character; and that to suppress any of those constituents would be to destroy that symmetry, and produce an abnormal development. Men in all ages and climes, and under all conditions, seek distinction; and the way in which that propensity manifests itself is the surest mark of their degree of knowledge. If it is found, as in the Fiji Islander, in an ambition to be a murderer, it indicates the dense ignorance and brutality of the barbarian. So through all the gradations of human character up to our ideal condition where the possession of wealth no longer furnishes that gratification, and where labor itself becomes an emulation, we find the same active force moulding human character after its own highest ideal.

As the reader has probably already anticipated, the effect of the application of the proposed remedy upon the formation of individual character, must, as we have seen, remove every possible incentive to criminality. With universal wealth, and freedom from anxiety as to support in life, and with the possession of wealth conferring upon its possessor no power or distinction, there remains not the least object for any man to steal from another; (in fact, I am unable to see how he could possible steal at all) or to accumulate in one’s own possession more than his present needs require. Then this same universal love of distinction will surely obliterate the last remaining causes of violence, or aggression, which now come under the head of offenses against persons; and every spark of criminality must necessarily be extinguished. And this is exactly what [329] we might expect from a removal of that repressive force which now acts through the law to produce the prevailing volume of criminality.

Who shall pass judgment upon his brother? Who will add to the load of misery he is compelled to bear through the injustice of the law? Who shall even say that he is an erring brother? The real struggles of life are enacted in secret. There is an unseen bravery against the invasion of baseness and necessity which transcends the exploits of military heroes. There are triumphs which no eye sees, no renown rewards, and no trumpet salutes. How then can any man pass judgment upon another, or by his verdict condemn him to a life of infamy, no matter what the outward circumstances, and no matter what the evidence. For myself, I could not sit as a juror in any criminal case, and by my verdict consign any man to punishment. Victor Hugo says: “There is a sublime glory in the scriptural injunction to visit those who are sick and in prison; and in the commendation, Inasmuch as ye did it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye did unto me.” Every man who believe in the truth of the doctrines here formulated can do much to bring those doctrines to the attention of mankind, by refusing to convict a fellow man when sitting as a juror; and even if rejected as a juror by reason of those opinions, the very fact of announcing such opinions becomes a protest against the injustice of the law; and the oftener that protest is entered, the stronger it becomes. Every report of such a protest published in the newspapers will serve to direct men’s attention to the truth, and aid not only to bring about a truer understanding of crime, and its causes, but of the principles of liberty.

But it is not necessary to wait until summoned on a jury before protesting against the inhuman treatment of criminals, that commonly prevails. In private as well as in public men should make that protest [330] heard We ought never to join in the popular condemnation of others for the commission of offenses, even though they shock all our own sensibilities, and tend to arouse our resentments. There is an adequate cause for all things; and somewhere there operate causes sufficient to impel the criminal to commit the crime. The commission is an effect; in other words, the causes being what they were, he could not help doing what he did. Therefore he should not be blamed. “Inasmuch as ye did it unto one of the least of these, ye did it unto me.” Let us rather seek to remove the cause of crime, and the effect will disappear. The effect never can be removed until the restrictions of the law which produce it have been obliterated. We shall then see such a growth of individual character, and such improved social conditions as will remove all possible motive for crime, and develop every possible motive against it.

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