Saturday, March 31, 2007

Van Ornum, Why Government at All? - Part IV, Chapter 2




The first thought that will arise in men’s minds will be as to what effect such a remedy will have upon public order. Will men be secure in their persons and property when the action of the law has been paralyzed? In the next chapter I will consider the effect upon property; in this I will do it for persons.

Notwithstanding our analysis of law in Part III, and the very complete proof that the law always promotes disorder, instead of order, few men can avoid a lingering fear that in the absence of law a condition of violence would be inaugurated, which would realize the popular conception of anarchy. That it would be anarchy there is no doubt, but of a very different kind from what men commonly mean when they speak of anarchy. The vulgar conception of anarchy is a condition of disorder. And this idea is promoted by the definitions given in the dictionaries. Webster defines anarchy as “want of government; the state of society where there is no law or supreme power, or where the laws are not efficient, and individuals do what they please with impunity;” and so far he is correct. But he adds, “political confusion. Hence, confusion in general,” which is not true, unless individuals, in doing what they please, please to be disorderly, which we know is not the case. The absurdity of Webster’s definition is made more apparent when defining the word “anarchical,” which he gives as, “without rule or government; in a state of confusion, as a state or society; as, anarchic despotism; an anarchical state.” But despotism implies a despot, and a despot is always a ruler or governor But anarchy [310] means “want of government,” the absence of rulers, and therefore the absence of despots, according to Webster himself. To speak of “anarchic despotism,” or “an anarchical state,” is to employ a contradiction of terms. Where anarchy is, there is no despot, and no state. Webster has only reflected the vulgar prejudices of the ignorant; and his definition is entitled to no respect whatever.

But the assumption that disorder would follow the abolition of the law is historically disproved. Thomas Paine, in his “Rights of man” says:

“For upwards of two years from the commencement of the American war, and a longer period in several of the American states, there were no established forms of government. The old governments had been abolished, and the country was too much occupied in defense to employ its attention in establishing a new government; yet, during this interval, order and harmony were preserved as inviolate as in any country in Europe. There is a natural aptness in man, and more so in society, because it embraces a greater variety of abilities and resources, to accommodate itself to whatever situation it is in.

“The instant formal government is abolished, society begins to act. A general association takes place, and the common interest produces common security.

“So far it is from being true, as has been pretended, that the abolition of any formal government is the dissolution of society, it acts by a contrary impulse, and brings the latter closer together.

“Formal governments make but a small part of civilized life; and when even the best that human wisdom can devise is established, it is a thing more in name and idea than in fact. it is to the great and fundamental principles of society and civilization—to the common usage universally consented to, and mutually and reciprocally maintained—to the unceasing circulation, of interest, which passes through its innumerable channels, invigorates the whole mass of civilized man, it is to these things, infinitely more than anything which even the best instituted governments can perform, that the safety and prosperity of the individual and of the whole depends.

“The more perfect civilization is the less occasion has it for government, because the more does it regulate its own affairs and govern itself; but so contrary is the practice of old governments to the reason of the case, that the expenses of them increase in the proportion they ought to diminish. It is but few general laws that civilized life requires, and those of such common usefulness, that whether they are enforced by the forms of government or not, the effect will be nearly the same. If we consider what the principles are that first condense men into society, and what the motives that regulate their mutual [311] intercourse afterwards, we shall find by the time that we arrive at what is called government, that nearly the whole of the business is performed by the natural operation of the parts upon each other.

“Man, with respect to all those matters, is more a creature of consistency than he is aware of, or than governments would wish him to believe. All the great laws of society are laws of nature. Those of trade and commerce, whether with respect to the intercourse of individuals, or of nations, are laws of natural and reciprocal interest. They are followed and obeyed, because it is the interest of the parties so to do, and not on account of any formal laws their governments may impose, or interpose.”

But Thomas Paine, with even his grand conceptions of liberty, did not grasp its full import. He did not emancipate himself from the idea that a “few general laws” are required in civilized life.

Another writer of no mean reputation who has learned the essential hollowness of the pretensions of government to preserve public order, is William Godwin. In his “Political Justice” he says:

“There is a state of society that by the mere simplicity of its structure, would lead to the elimination of offense; a state, in which temptation would be almost unknown, truth brought down to the level of all apprehensions, and vice sufficiently checked by the general discountenance, and sober condemnation of every spectator. Such are the consequences that might be expected to spring from an abolition of the craft and mystery of governing; while on the other hand, the innumerable murders that are daily committed under the sanction of legal forms, are solely to be ascribed to the pernicious notion of an extensive territory; to the dreams of glory, empire, and national greatness, which have hitherto proved the bane of the human species, without producing entire benefit and happiness to a single individual.”

Another thing which goes to show that no general disorder might be expected is the fact that our present population, made up as it is of diverse nationalities, speaking every language on earth, with widely different customs, traditions, and religions, and reared under the most different conditions, sometimes living in separate communities, and sometimes in a state of almost promiscuous admixture, and naturally subject to intense jealousies, do live in peace and harmony now. We find them dwelling in close relationship one to the other, sharing [312] each others hopes, and sympathizing with each others troubles. Almost the only things that now sow dissension between them are the troubles growing out of poverty, exhibitions of the brutality bred of poverty, and legal disputes which are themselves fostered by the presence and advantages conferred by the law, precisely as the habit of carrying weapons promotes individual quarrels. Will men be more likely to dispute about property when the power of property is destroyed; when property becomes tenfold easier of acquirement; when poverty no longer has terrors for any man; when the brutalities bred of poverty give place to an universal desire for the esteem, admiration, and love of their fellow men; and when there is no longer any law to stimulate men to meddle in the affairs of their fellows, or to exercise a repressive influence in their concerns? No! the law is always the promoter of disorder, and to abolish the law is to stop the disorder.

But even, if for a time, men did trespass upon the property of others,—steal it, or take it away violently, whose property would they steal, and whom would they rob? Of course it would be the rich. They would never steal from the man who had little when they could just as well reach one who had much. Take away the protection that the law affords to the rich, and if a man is going to steal he will go where there is most to steal. Why should the poor, whom the law cannot protect, out of their poverty be forced to pay for protection to the rich, who are abundantly able to pay for their own protection? Then if the poor combine, and refuse to vote to tax themselves to protect those who can, and ought to pay for their own protection, they are only doing what common sense, and their own natural promotings would impel them to do. If the rich want protection let them hire their Pinkertons, and special police, and pay them out of their [313] own pockets. It will undoubtedly cost them more than at present; but that is nothing that the poor need have any concern about. Another thing, the protection the rich can secure from their special private police can only extend to protection of persons and immediate possessions. It could not enforce a monopoly. In the absence of the sanctions of law, people would not submit to aggressions from such a police. But even this would soon be brought to an end by the general increase in prosperity which would raise the wages of that police along with the increase of all other classes of wages, and soon bankrupt the rich to pay them, especially as their monopolies and privileges would be cut off. Even that police would quickly find its interest on the side of the people, and would soon leave the rich to shift for themselves.

I shall be charged with directly encouraging men to steal, and to rob. But it is not true. I am only stating facts which those who will make such accusations against me, cannot themselves deny. We are trying to ascertain just what results to expect from the adoption of a certain plan of action; and to see how it will affect those who must join in the combination, if it is done at all. I shall also be acccused of urging men to repudiate their honest debts; of advocating wholesale dishonesty. But that again is just as untrue as the other. Every man must judge for himself whether or not it is right or proper for him to pay a debt. I will only take away the power of the creditor to summon to his aid the force of the whole people to crush the unfortunate debtor. I will leave debt and credit just where it was when the debt was contracted, a private matter between the parties, in which no one else has any right to interfere, with or without the instigation of either party.

But as to so-called public debts, there is no doubt that they will be wholly and absolutely repudiated, [314] There is not one single element of justice in one of them. No man can make an obligation that another is bound to pay, without the consent of that other. In all that I propose there is nothing to promote violations of the rights, or security of persons of any one. No sane man will believe for a moment that there is anything in relieving men from the burdens of public debt, from the power of the personal creditor, from the exactions of the landlord, and from the demands of all other forms of monopoly, which will impel them to disorder. Disorder springs from wrong, from injustice, from infractions of personal liberty, which are only made possible by the law.

But there is another view to take of this whole matter, and that is, its necessity. There is absolutely no way in which by ordinary political reforms labor can emancipate itself, the farmer can clear himself from debt, or the small merchant and manufacturer can prevent being crushed out by the pitiless competition in trade. There has never been a case in the whole history of the world, since we have a written history, when a class has ever thrown off its yoke through mere reforms in the law. Where it has been done at all, it has always been by the destruction, or suspension, in whole or in part, of the law. Sometimes it has come by revolution, which has permitted of a partial re-adjustment, and relief of the extreme tension; and sometimes by the arbitrary authority of some bold and powerful lawgiver, but It has always been at the expense of established forms, and legal rights. The same causes that are operating to crush out the producing classes in this country are those that the same classes contended against in ancient Rome, for more than five hundred years. Those causes are debt, taxes, monopoly, and special privilege. Reforms were sought to be brought about by the law. The privileged classes steadily opposed, and defeated the reforms, carrying their opposition to the extent of seeing [315] Rome itself destroyed rather than yield. And men are constituted now exactly as they were then. Our own monopolists are certain to present just as determined a resistance to everything that will take away anything of their own power. The reforms effected by Solon, in Athens, in the sixth century B. C. is an instance of the arbitrary setting aside of the law by a bold and courageous lawgiver. There too, the poverty and indebtedness of the farmers, and small tradesmen, brought about in the same way, had aroused demands for reform which had been resisted until a crisis was imminent. Men were actually sold as slaves, and exported, in payment of debt. Those who still clung to their small properties could, with all their pinching, barely keep their heads above water. Solon decreed the annulment of all mortgages. The rights of property established by law were set aside for the time being. The small cultivator was given a fresh start. The tension of the situation was relieved; but the relief was not permanent. Nor could it be. The causes which produced the distress in the first instance were only temporarily suspended. Privilege, established and sanctioned by law, was soon restored, and in time reproduced the same conditions as before.

Lycurgus is also said to have adopted the expedient of abolishing debt as a relief of widespread distress. But if so, he left the causes, as Solon did, to reproduce the distress at a later time. Nehemiah also, after the Babylonian captivity, resorted to the same expedient, and with the same result. It is utterly useless to remove the effect, if the cause remains undisturbed. The law is the cause of inequality; and in order to permanently remove the inequality it is only necessary to destroy the law, which is easiest done by taking away the thing that the law lives on,—the taxes. But in all this there is nothing to produce disorder, because, as already [316] shown, the disorder arises from the distress. It is an effect which will disappear with the distress which occasions it.

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