Thursday, March 29, 2007

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






It is time now to review the ground we have passed over, and to assemble and arrange the results already obtained, in order to form a starting point for a still further advance.

In the first part of this work we found the ultimate objects of all social reforms to be the same; that is, to bring about a reign of universal justice, although pursuing, in many cases, directly opposite paths to its accomplishment. We found them all tracing the evils complained of to the same source,—the law; and then, instead of analyzing the law to find if they are faults in its administration, which can be remedied, or if they are inherent in the principle of the law itself, they all more or less assume that law is a necessity, and that it only needs to be changed in certain prescribed ways, according to the notions of the particular school represented, to make it work beneficent results, and eliminate the evils. The single taxer traces the difficulty to the laws relating to land tenure, and concludes that by changing the laws of taxation so as to bear solely upon the land monopoly, that monopoly may in time become vested in the hands of that corporation called government, which professes to act for the whole people, but which really acts for the associated monopolies. The state socialist would increase the power and prestige of government, and increase the restrictions already imposed by law, in order to destroy competition, notwithstanding that the competition itself arises wholly through the operation of law. The ordinary philosophical anarchist, while realizing to an extent the inherent viciousness of the law, and while seeking [180] in a large measure to reduce the volume of law, still insists upon “some law, some regulation, some protection from people who might wish to violate his rights.” The free trader, prohibitionist, green- backer, farmer’ s alliance man, trades unionist, and other social reformers, all find in the law the seeds of injustice, but infer that if the particular injustice which they see could only be removed by amending the law, everything would work harmoniously. All but the anarchist seek to bring about their specific changes by political methods, because they are the only methods by which mere changes in the laws can be effected. Even the anarchist keeps a close eye on political movements, and not unfrequently is quite ready to help elect a friend to office.

The best and ablest minds, in the whole history of man, in every country and every age, have been bent to the solution of the question of the proper relation of men, one to another in human society. Facts have been accumulated, theories advanced, and generalizations attempted. The facts have remained, while the theories and generalizations have been successively overthrown. As in every other science, no broad and comprehensive generalization was possible until a sufficient number of facts had been obtained, nor until those facts had been sufficient studied and understood. False theories and generalizations are always sure to be overthrown, whether the true ones are found or not. The attempts that have heretofare been made to generalize social facts, and reach a scientific arrangement of them, I think have failed because men have not properly studied and understood those facts. They have studied society as such, instead of resolving it into its integral parts, and then making a careful analysis of those parts. Their methods have been deductive instead of inductive. They have assumed certain generalizations, and from that have proceeded [181] to particulars, bending their facts to fit their generalizations.

On the other hand, I have sought the key to a right understanding of the facts, in the study of man as an individual. The individual exists before society. He is the unit, or integer of society; and before we can form any correct idea of what society should be, we must know what man is, what his wants are and what the impulses are which prompt his to association. Man has been regarded as a bundle of contradictions, swayed by opposite motives, some good and some bad, no one being quite certain whether the good or the bad would ultimately triumph. If the philosophers have treated of morals they have implied, at least, the existence of immorality. If they have spoken of good actions, they have asserted or presupposed bad ones. They have made benevolence the opposite of selfishness, and then given them both a place in the motives that prompt men’s actions. They have classed meekness, love, and sympathy as virtues, while other propensities equally natural and necessary have been set down as vices. They have thus assumed that the author of man’s being, whoever or whatever it might be, has made a bad job of it; and that the work needs to be done over again according to such patterns as y may furnish; and that it is the province of society to do this I have assumed, on the other hand, that nature makes no mistakes; or, if it does, it is beyond our power to correct them. I have assumed that the first step to the solution of the social question is to begin with the facts of individual character, and rise by the strict methods of induction to the association of those individuals in society. I do not claim that I have found all the hidden springs that modify human action,—all the elements of man’s character. At best it is only an outline; an outline perhaps that may be lacking in very important particulars; [182] but, as far as it goes, true to the facts in all essential particulars.

If we would see some of the ways in which people assume that nature has left its work undone, and in which nature’s work requires to be supplemented by human enactment in order to prevent general ruin and disaster, we have but to consult a list of the several proposed reforms to find them. First, there are efforts at prohibition, which look to the prevention of intemperance by making it difficult for people to obtain drink; agitations for Sunday observance; and agitations for the observance of other assumed moral standards, all proceeding under the supposition that it is the business of some people to look out for and take care of the morals of other people.

Laws limiting the rates of interest are also just so many attempts to tinker nature. Not perceiving that interest itself is the result of human enactments which interfere with the regular and equal action of natural laws, men seek in counter restrictions, to balance the evil effects of the first, instead of sweeping away the artificial laws of property which make interest possible.

Henry George’s scheme to distribute the advantage of special locations by appropriating the rents to public uses, is another one of the same kind. He fails to see that with the laws establishing property rights abolished,—land free, the advantage of location must distribute itself naturally and equally, in the prices of the goods produced on the favored spot. He does not yet see that nature works with perfect justice to all mankind; and that it is only when man attempts to do nature’s work over again in his way, that evil results.

We may go still another step, and include all human enactments of every kind and quality. So far as they are intended to minister to any general need of mankind in the adjustment of human relations, [183] they are an utter failure, and worse. They are absolutely harmful, as witness the social evils; poverty, vice, crime, brutality, and misery, which are all clearly traceable to the same cause,—the law.

The solicitude of nature is everywhere for the individual, that he may develop the best that he is capable of physically and mentally. The laws of nature all tend to the making of the highest specimen of individual character; and the sole condition of the best growth, is perfect freedom. To assume that some would naturally grow vicious, criminal, or bad, and that law is needed for them, is as absurd as it would be to suppose that some trees would grow rotten if they were not prevented from doing so by other trees. Trees do rot; but from disease. Such trees do not grow.

From Adam Smith to Henry George, all the professed economists have sought in what they miscall Political Economy, but which is properly Social Economy, that is, that branch of philosophy which discusses the sources and methods of material wealth and prosperity, for those principles which underlie human association. In many respects I have carried the examination of those principles of social economy further than any of them. I have found the lesson, and the only lesson they teach, to be the imperative necessity for the absolute freedom of each individual from all restraints imposed by others, as the one sole condition of man’s best and highest development, socially or individually. That same lesson has been more than confirmed in every particular when we have turned to the study of the constitution of the individual man. Whether we have considered the formation of his desires, the acquirement of knowledge by which those desires are shaped, the enjoyment of happiness, or the making of individual character, it is the ignoring of this same prime requisite that [184] stands forth as the only hindrance to the upward and onward sweep of human progress.

Freedom being the condition of human development, and the perfection of society depending upon the perfection of the individuals composing it, the interest of both are best promoted by removing the restrictions to that freedom, instead of imposing new ones, or changing their character, as most of the professed reformers seek to do.

Wherever we examine the nature and effects of these restrictions we find the same pernicious results. Is it those which bar men from the land? It is the laws of property which, while professing to protect property rights, set up false conditions of property, and thus violate the natural rights of persons as to property, and enable some to collect of others tribute in the form of rent. Is it the slavery of debt? It is again those laws of property which enact unnatural conditions of property, enabling those who have voluntarily parted with their property to compel its restoration, and pending that restoration, to exact gratuitous contributions in the form of interest. Is it the monopoly of money? It is in the development of those same laws of property which hinder men from providing, in their own ways, the tools necessary to carry on exchanges and in limiting the use of those tools, so as to enable those who control the tools to collect tribute for their use, again in the form of interest. Is it the monopoly of transportation and communication? Here again are found the laws of property so adjusted as to favor, not those who perform the labor of transportation, but who control the opportunity to perform that labor, and who reap the reward of its performance without ever having lifted a hand to labor. They have only bought stock. The gratuitous contribution in this case is in the form of dividends; and this same thing applies to almost all other forms of monopoly. Is it the support of the [185] corporation we call government? Again we have a whole host of laws in violation of the natural rights of persons to property, and restrictions to their natural freedom looking directly to the making effective those violations of natural property; taxes, licenses, duties, fees, etc., collected to maintain the machinery which actuates and enforces these restrictions of liberty. And when we come to consider crime, we shall find that it, too, results wholly from these restrictions, and mostly from the violations of the natural rights of persons to property,—that crime is itself in fact, only the natural and justifiable revolt against the injustice of the law.

Thus does almost every injustice in this world cluster around the laws which violate the natural rights of persons to property; which enact unnatural conditions of property; and which necessarily violate natural liberty, in every conceivable way, in the attempt to enforce those violations. All these injustices and inequalities radiate in every direction from this one center, and ramify through all the relations of business, of religion, of politics, and of society. Vast interests hang upon them. Learned professions are built upon them as a foundation. Literature takes its coloring from them. And every system of ethics and morals is directed to their support. The whole volume of the law has for its one sole object, immediately or remotely, the preservation or extension of the special advantages enjoyed by the few, mainly through the violations of the natural condition of property. Government itself stands as the concrete corporate body of all the associated monopolies, privileges, and advantages which violate the natural rights of persons to property, by taking from the industrious to confer upon the idle. In government the landlord is the partner of the lendlord, the mine owner of the railroad magnate, the bondholder of the coal baron, Jay Gould of Lord Scully, the Standard Oil Co. of the [186] national bank monopoly, the mortgage loan companies of the whisky trust, the landowner of the tariff beneficiary, and the elevator monopoly of the gas trusts. Each separate monopoly constitutes a wheel, great or small according to the size of the monopoly, within the greater wheel,—the government. Each stock-holder in a monopoly may be said to be a cog in one of those wheels. The affairs of this corporation are carried on precisely as the affairs of any other corporation are conducted. The principal stock-holders are the directors; and they dictate its policy. While they tickle the people with the fiction that the people govern, they take good care that nothing is done to weaken the power of monopoly. If they want a law passed) or one repealed, they know perfectly well how to get it. The office holders are their servants, and must do their bidding.

Through the agencies at the command of monopoly, the press and the pulpit, backed by the courts and the army, it has thus far succeeded in securing obedience to its dictates. How long it will continue to obtain respect and command submission, depends upon the intelligence of the people. When they have become intelligent enough to throw off the yoke, they will do it without consulting the convenience of their masters.

The first step in this direction is to understand the real nature of the yoke. This we have already found to be essentially the yoke of slavery. Slavery may differ in either one of two ways. The first is in form; and the second in degree. One of the forms of slavery is, where men are bought and sold as chattels. The essential character of it is that their labor is taken without recompense. There are different degrees even in this form; as, in ancient England the serfs of the soil were freer than the negroes in the south were before emancipation. Another form of slavery is where the land is bought [187] and sold as a chattel. The essential character in this case is also that the labor of the men who must use it is taken without recompense. The degree of slavery in this case corresponds to the price of the land. When the land is rented it has not changed the nature of the transaction a particle. Rent and purchase money are the same. Our single tax friends hope to change its nature by appropriating the rent to public uses. They would change the master, and make it the state, just as we should have done, if, at the close of the late war, we had made the negroes slaves of the state instead of freeing them. The slave traders of to-day are the real estate men who make a business of buying and selling the opportunities for men to labor,—the land, which is only another way of buying and selling the unpaid labor of the men.

We have other slave traders also; those who buy and sell stocks, bonds, mortgages, securities, patents, and make investments. These things are only privileges; and when we come to analyze them we find the privilege to consist in the privilege of collecting from some people gratuities in the form of interest, dividends and royalties for which no equivalent is given. If it is a public bond, the bond-holder buys of the government monopoly the privilege of appropriating to himself a given amount of the unpaid labor of the people, which this same monopoly engages to collect in the form of taxes, and turn over to him annually; and, finally, from the same source, to repay him the original amount paid for this privilege. If it is stocks, bonds or mortgages of a corporation, it is again the power to live off the unpaid earnings of those who do the work of that corporation, or who use the facilities that corporation was organized to furnish. The aggregate amount of those annual charges, evidences of debt; in other words, evidences of slavery, constitute the great bulk of the cost of railroad transportation. If the interest [188] on the bonds and mortgages, and the dividends on the stock of the railroads were wiped out, and the expenses only covered the actual labor and expense of operation, the workingmen who perform that labor would have no cause to complain of their wages, or the farmers and business men of the charges.

In the case of notes and mortgages against individuals, the slave master is brought a step nearer to the slave. He holds the power to take from him directly the unpaid fruits of his labor as interest, while behind him stands the power of associated monopoly,—the state, to compel submission. Wherever one man holds the power over another man, directly or indirectly, to live without labor, in whole or in part, off the earnings of that other, it can be traced directly to and identified as some form of slavery. And furthermore, in whatever form such slavery exists it is made possible through the operation of law, and through this alone.

Therefore, any reform which does not strike at the principle of slavery as such,—which merely seeks to change some of the forms of slavery, or palliate its evils, is not of the slightest value. It is not within the power of God (if there is a God) or to prevent the constant fall of wages, the crushing out of small merchants and manufacturers, and the ruin of the farmers as long as the power of monopoly, as a whole, remains unbroken. Monopoly: that is, slavery, is essentially a war upon society, and a violation of liberty and equality. It is the cause of all the depopulated countries, the ruined cities, and degenerated peoples in the world. Reforms which do not strike at the root—the fountain head and source of slavery, (the law) only distract the attention of people from the real cause of their trouble, amuse them with trifles, and choke them with political sugar plums. Reform, mend, patch, here a little and there a little, prop up, paint, and when we are through, we have but a whited sepulcher [189] reeking with horrible uncleanness within, and tumbling to decay without. The only cure for slavery is freedom. Slavery is the expression of the despair and death of mankind; freedom its hope and life.

In the previous chapters I have proved theoretically that freedom from the restraints of the law is the true condition of human progress; that the degree of civilization depends upon the perfection of association; and that association again requires equality in material condition of the people. I have also shown that it is solely by the law that inequalities are established and maintained, mostly in those laws which enact special rights of property. It now remains to examine the actual workings of law, and see if the principles we have already discovered hold good in practice.

Another lesson we have learned in the course of our examination is the utter futility, and worse, of violence as a method of reform. Slavery is but the expression of human ignorance. But violence begets violence, inflames passions, and provokes resentments. Knowledge cannot grow in such a soil. Freedom can only he attained through an increase in knowledge. If freedom were to be conferred up on any people without their having first attained the knowledge necessary to its understanding and appreciation, they would at once set up again the fetish of the law, and worship it with the same devotion as before. That is why the violent destruction of one government has always been followed by putting another in its place, which in a little time became as bad as the first.

How can it be known when men have reached that degree of intelligence? Simple enough! When their knowledge finds expression in action. If I shall make clear in the course of this hook, how simple and easy a matter the attainment of freedom will be when that time comes, I shall have accomplished [190] my purpose. Although, as yet, men almost universally venerate the law, I think it is mainly because their attention has not been seriously directed to its injustice. Such is not likely to continue, however. Recent economic discussions have paved the way, and demands for political reform will probably increase the tendency, while any great crisis, like a commercial panic or a general railroad strike for instance, will be likely to precipitate it at any time.

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