Thursday, March 29, 2007

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




I have said that government is a corporation. Let us see! When a state, city, county, or township is organized, a corporation is formed, according to certain prescribed rules. It is not only a corporation in theory but in name. The popular theory is that each citizen owns a single share of stock in that corporation, which is represented by his one vote. As in every other corporation the majority must rule. Still, if the popular theory only held good, and each stock holder actually expressed his own unbiased will by his vote, and was intelligent enough to have and to express an intelligent will, there would be little cause for complaint. It would then only be a condition where manifestly no governing corporation would be needed. But aside from all this, and admitting for the present a necessity for such a corporation, it is plain even to the dullest that all do not possess that degree of intelligence. Not that they are lacking in the power of its development, but in the condition. Knowledge is a plant which only grows under favoring conditions. And where a large part of the people are desperately poor, they remain ignorant and brutal for want of the conditions which develop knowledge; and they are easily swayed by the rich and crafty. We have also seen that the laws enacting special rights of property still further increase the power and influence of the possessors of property, while they correspondingly decrease the power and influence of those who have none, or little; so that the power of the rich is still further increased. Every special privilege, or franchise, [192] granted by law but augments that power on one side, and diminishes it on the other. Then, given a class whose interest it is to control the poor and ignorant, and with another class so poor and ignorant a to be willing to be controlled, it is utterly impossible that the rich and crafty should not be able to command a majority, and become masters of that corporation; and that they should not use that mastery to freeze out the smaller stock-holders. It would be impossible to trace all the ways in which this process of freezing out the smaller stockholders is carried on. To undertake it would transcend the limits set to this work. I will only note a few of them, and leave my readers to supply others. It can be done by any one who will use ordinary observation and thought.

To begin with, if unnatural rights of property are established, it requires unnatural means to enforce them. If the land is to be monopolized by a few and others are to be compelled to pay for the privilege of using it, that few must have at its command a sufficient power to compel respect for their claims. If men are to be prevented from freely exchanging the product of their labor with whomsoever they will without paying toll to these modern pirates, it necessitates heavy expenditures to carry it out. If they are to be obliged to contribute annually to support a horde of useless bondholders, it takes money to do it. If all the multitude of monopolies,—forms of slavery, are to be made effective, the people kept in subjection, and forced to give up to them, it involves enormous expenditures for public building and works, courts, great and small, and court officers, records, police, militia, armies, navies, tax gatherers, and office holders generally. These are the agencies by which the mass of men are held in slavery. By preventing them from going directly to the land,—the heritage and birth-right of all,—and producing freely the wealth necessary to place [193] them in comfort, they prevent the acquisition of knowledge, with the attendant growth of individual character. Even after men have produced wealth, under all the disadvantages to which they are subjected, the various forms of monopoly, through interest, rents, taxes, and increase of prices, constantly filch it away from them. Even if taxes are levied for the support of this corporation upon the property of citizens, the grossest favoritism is always shown in favor of the rich as against the poor. In the very nature of the case it is utterly impossible to devise a tax which will work with equal justice to all. Taxes, if levied upon any basis of valuation, can take no account of the intentions of the owner of the property, therefore they must fall in- differently upon property whether in the hands of the consumer or not. But taxes upon goods in the hands of other than the consumer, are simply added to their cost, and are shifted until finally paid by the consumer.

Our single-tax friends think they have found a simple process of reaching an equal and just system of taxation. By levying the tax upon the land values, it is assumed that they cannot be shifted, but I have already shown in Part I that this is a mistake,—that the single-tax can, and must be shifted precisely as every other tax is shifted. Taxation in every form is essentially a robbery, and always falls upon the weak, while its benefits accrue to the strong. Thus, with the crafty rich in control of the governing corporation, and necessarily manipulating it in their own interests, society must present on one side the ignorant poor, and on the other the haughty and overbearing rich. The more abject the poverty, the more do the poor reverence the power of wealth; and the greater the wealth of the rich, the more arrogant and domineering they become, and the more willingly the poor entrust their most important interests to their keeping, which is only [194] to say, that the more intense the degree of slavery the more slavish become the objects of that slavery, and the more arrogant become the masters. So that the poor, no matter what may be their relative numbers, can no more shape the policy of the ad ministration of the government than they can originate the solar system. A few party leaders determine the programme, or policy, and in one or two speeches fix what shall be said or written, while they in turn receive their inspiration from the great interests which stand back of all politicians; and the small fry follow in their wake. This is the way platforms are made, policies established and laws initiated. Bagehot says, that “all important laws affect large vested interests; they touch great sources of political strength; and these great interests require to be treated as delicately, and with as nice a manipulation of language, as the feelings of any foreign country in making treaties.”

This is the very nature of government; and whether we consider the most autocratic or the most popular the difference is only in the outward form. At bottom it is the strong and crafty, against the weak and ignorant. Its basis is, the subjection of the will of one part of the people to the will of another part, whether it is the will of one, or of many. The voting is only a farce enacted in order to give the appearance of fairness, the more completely to blind the poor to the trickeries and impositions practiced upon them. These trickeries take every possible form and character. False and diverting issues craftily put forward to mislead the people, and divert their attention away from the real cause of their miseries; bogus enthusiasm worked up over some scheme which has for its object the promotion of some new form of plunder; playing upon their sentiments of religion, patriotism, or party prejudices until they are so confused and divided that they are unable to discriminate [195] between truth and falsehood, or unite upon any practical measure of relief, are some of the ways in which voting is made a farce. But, should all these influences fail, and men be elected of sufficient knowledge and stability to perceive, and for a time pursue, the real good of the people as a whole, and oppose the will of the real governors, public sentiment is again invoked through the command of the governors to destroy their influence, discredit their motives, and blast their reputation, while comfort, wealth, and honor are held out to them in a thousand insidious ways to tempt them into subservience to the will of the strong and crafty. The natural and inevitable selfishness of men here comes in, with their love of distinction and admiration, and the invariable result is that the ranks of the strong are secretly, if not openly, reinforced by new accessions, while the people are left just where they were before.

Democracy is not fulfilling the expectation of its jealous and conscientious founders. It is coming to be perceived that it is just as impotent to secure justice, and correct the great inequalities in condition, as the most absolute autocracy. The history of popular governments, in all nations, is the history of a constantly increasing restriction of the liberties of the people, and in the name of the people.

In a monarchy the powers of the despot are physically limited. He can give only so many hours each day to business. The balance is devoted to pleasure, society, the court, and his mistresses. Even if he wishes to he could not understand more than a small part of public affairs; so that his capacity for meddling is comparatively small. But this is not the case with representative government. Representatives rave no such powers of unlimited gratification, so that each has more time and opportunity for meddling; and a country ruled by such [196] representatives, is ruled by a worse despot, one with unlimited time, unlimited vanity, unlimited assurance, and whose ambition is stimulated to the most vicious activity.

But suppose the attempt is made to redress grievances or correct abuses through legislation, let us see what that involves. Even in the best of laws, be they never so wisely designed as a whole, the insertion or omission of a harmless appearing word, or clause, at a critical moment of its passage, sometimes even a comma, will destroy the whole intent of it; or even a provision for its enforcement may be omitted. And after all, when a seemingly desirable law has run the gauntlet of all the adverse influences of ignorance, incompetence, trickery, and bribery, a hostile executive may defeat its execution through a mere quibble, and finally, in almost every case in the whole history of law, the ultimate effect of every legal enactment has been different, if not exactly opposite, to what its promoters expected, or intended, except where a law has been directly or positively repealed. To entertain a hope, or expectation of correcting the evils of monopoly,.— achieving liberty, through amendments, or improvements in the law, is as utterly futile as for one who has lost his money at the gambling table to hope to recover it by play, where he knows that the game is stocked against him. Men are playing against loaded dice. They are beaten at every turn. It does no good to curse the politicians. They are only the hired men of monopoly, and must do its bidding if they would receive the advancement they seek. The political party is only an organization for getting and distributing the offices. Its action in shaping the real policy of the governing corporation is next to nothing. The differences between the different parties is not worth mentioning, only just enough to amuse the people, distract their attention, and keep them occupied with trifles. In [197] the choice of parties the people are governed by their interests, and by their passions, which are cunningly played upon by those who would control those actions. Thus ignorance and poverty produce general tyranny, and while liberty of thought and action ostensibly prevail, slavery, under the name of “majority rule,” is the universal fact. Under these circumstances monopolists may well advise workingmen to “do their striking at the ballot-box.” It is like a gambler advising his victim to keep on betting against a game which he knows has been fixed beyond the possibility of his winning. But we shall find that even the ballot box has virtues when the people acquire intelligence enough to use it.

If we trace government to its source, and learn its historic basis, we shall find as little in its history to command respect as appears in its present constitution. Composed at first of pirate or robber chiefs, who plundered and made war upon their neighbors, their power gradually became consolidated, and confirmed, until they took on more permanent forms, when the chiefs became Kings, Dictators, or Emperors, governing by nearly absolute authority, and surrounding themselves with favorites to whom they granted special privilege to plunder certain districts, or in certain ways, and who in turn supported the pretensions of the chief. This is the origin and genesis of government. The chief enforced deference to his will; and when he became king, what at first was admitted to be an enforced usurpation, was afterward claimed as a “Divine right.” And the same is true of every other infringement of the rights of the people. A protective tariff only has to stand a very short time before its beneficiaries set up the plea that they have acquired “vested rights” under it, and therefore it must not be repealed. Morality is invoked against any interference with their “vested rights.” Morality is [198] only the ghost of that old doctrine of the “Divine right of kings." It throws a glamour of sanctity around usurpation. This was true in the case of chattel slavery. It is true to-day of land monopoly, the money monopoly, the transportation monopoly, and of every other monopoly in this world. The law, morality, or religion are never invoked except to bolster up and sustain some hoary headed wrong or abuse. “Vested right” is a humbug; morality is a humbug; and religion is a humbug. There is no such thing as vested right. There is no right except justice,—present justice, which is only another word for equality; and there is no equality except in liberty. If there ever was any basis for morality, or religion, the reason for them has been so completely lost, or perverted, that it can no longer be traced. The sole use of either of them to-day is to maintain the control of the slaves by their masters. Does any one question the truth of this? Let a movement be made, in any way, by the people, to regain possession of the fruits of their labor, of which they have been despoiled; or to free the land, and religion, morality, and law will all be in- yoked to defeat them. When the people could no longer be blinded to the hollowness of the pretense of the “Divine right of the king” they overthrew the forms of monarchy, and substituted a republic. While the immediate effect of a change from monarchical to popular government, and in fact, any change in form, must always be to obscure the real nature of law, awaken false hopes, deceive the people, and make possible still greater violations of liberty, the ultimate effect upon human progress is likely to be salutary. Until mankind has drank deep of the bitter cup of slavery it is unable to appreciate the sweets of liberty. If men had never followed a false light, or learned its dangers, they might easily be led astray, and again loose their liberties, as they have done before. They have repeatedly [199] achieved liberty through the destruction of government, but they have inevitably submitted again to the yoke of slavery, by setting up the law in the same, or some new form. Until they become free in thought,—until knowledge is sufficiently increased to enable them to understand and appreciate liberty, they can never preserve it, even though all law were, for a time, destroyed. This consideration alone is enough to discredit all violence in the destruction of law, because, where violence is necessary, it is a certain indication that popular knowledge is as yet insufficient.

The change was merely one of outward form. The substance remains. The king still lives in the law; and his favorites are the monopolists, who continue to plunder the people, some in certain districts, and some in certain ways, just as effectually as they ever did. The monopolists are just as much the favorites of the law as their ancient progenitors, the courtiers, were of the king. One, through the forms of the law, obtains a tract of land, and can plunder the district it comprises, in the collection of rent; another receives a special franchise, and can plunder in certain ways all who are compelled to use his monopoly. The law just as completely and just as certainly exists for plunder as the robber and pirate chiefs did from whom it sprung. The people are worshiping the law with just as much devotion to-day as they ever worshipped the king when he pretended to govern by right divine; and with just as much reason. I do not assert that the development from monarchy to a republic was not a necessary one in the progress toward freedom, but that the problem became more difficult just as it became more complicated; just as the real situation became more obscure.

As I write there lies before me a list of 215 citizens of the city of Chicago, with what is said to be a conservative estimate of the private fortune of each. The account says that “most of the money was made since the fire,—amassed in fifteen years.” These fortunes range from $1,000,000 to $25,000,000 and aggregate $506,500,000. Allowing those 215 men to have been fairly industrious during the time, and to have actually produced all the wealth that their average degree of industry could produce in the absence of special advantages given them by law, it is safe to say, that after paying their expenses of living, which were certainly no trifle with any of them, if they had been able to lay by $2000 a year each, for that fifteen years, it would probably be all that, by any reasonable estimate, could be attributed to their own labor in the production of wealth. This would give each a clear saving of $30,000 at the end of his fifteen years, after paying for a very comfortable living during the time; or a total of less than $6,500,000, leaving more than $500,000,000 abstracted by the operation of law from the workers of Chicago, in fifteen years, by 215 men only. And if 215 men obtained $500,000,000 in that time, it would be interesting to know how much all the other monopolists big and little received through the same means, and in the same time, especially as a very large proportion of them never did produce any part of their wealth, but have depended entirely upon the advantage possessed in the law. While those 215 men were undoubtedly the largest monopolists in the city during the time, and received more of the plunder than any other equal number, they were by no means all, or even more than a small minority of the direct beneficiaries of the law. I think it is a very conservative estimate to conclude that not more than one tenth of the total fruits of monopoly in the city of Chicago, during those fifteen years, went to those 215 men. This gives a grand total of more than $5,000,000,000 as the direct takings of monopoly, through the operation of the law, in fifteen years, in the city of [201] Chicago alone. But even this does not represent its cost to the people of Chicago. The wasting of labor through enforced idleness, or through inadequate employment, interference with production by legal restraints, the ruin of enterprises which were driven into bankruptcy, or out of business, all represent losses probably as great, at least, as all the actual stealings of monopoly; so that $10,000,000,000 would not be too great a sum to estimate as the total cost of the law, to the people of Chicago, in fifteen years; a sum large enough to place every man, woman, and child in the whole city in luxurious circumstances for their whole lives. When this same computation is extended to the whole country, and it must be, because the same conditions exist everywhere, the amount swells to proportions far beyond the power of the human mind to grasp.

We can now form a fairly good idea of the nature, origin, and cost of the law, as well as to who pays the cost, and who gets the benefit. It is next in order to examine its tendencies and limitations; and its effects upon human association, and upon the making of individual character.

“Every government, let its form be what it may, contains within itself a principle common to all, which is that of a sovereign power, over which there is no control, and which controls all others."—Thomas Paine.

Thomas Paine was a firm believer in popular government; and he placed this sovereign power, in democratic governments, in the people. I have already shown that the people do not, and in the nature of the case, cannot govern. It must be, even were it possible to secure a perfectly fair expression of the intelligent and unbiased opinion of every person, a government by the majority, of a minority, which is the subjection of the will of some men to the will of other men, which is itself a violation of nature, of equality, of justice, and of liberty. But [202] as we understand how majorities are made it becomes all the more monstrous. Despotism is always despotism whether exercised by king or by congress; whether it is the expression of the will of a sovereign or of a law bought with the bribes of the rich. The instruments of it are no more tolerable in a Czar Reed than in a Nero; in Anthony Comstock than in the Spanish Inquisition.

A peculiarity of every system of law is that its imperfections are being constantly exposed. It is like a leaky vessel,—it always needs mending. Repair it in one place and a fault is shown in another. Restrictions placed upon men’s liberty naturally arouse resentments and resistance, stimulate their ingenuity to defeat its provisions, and finally, revolt against its injustice. This necessitates more laws to overcome their resistance, or defeat their ingenuity. So legislatures and common councils interfere to formulate more laws to meet these contingencies. In this way the volume of law constantly increases, government becomes more complex, and more centralized; law encroaches more and more on liberty, and the people become more dependent; in fact, more servile in disposition, losing their hardy independence which is the concomitant of liberty. Inequality grows, classes are established, poverty and wealth become more sharply differentiated, and a ruling class is built up on one side, and on the other the ruled. All this is directly opposed to the spirit and conditions of association. Association can only exist between equals in material condition, consequently the growth of inequalities is the destruction, of association, and also of civilization, because civilization depends upon association. As law increases slavery becomes more intense, because law is the very essence of slavery; that is, restriction. And the only limit to the scope of law, that is, to the degree of slavery, is the point of the endurance of the slaves. The more ignorant a people [203] the longer and further they will endure the impositions of the law; but just as they increase in intelligence is the power of legal restraints weakened. I do not mean that increasing intelligence will always show a present corresponding disregard for law, because, for a considerable time men are occupied with their ordinary pursuits, and their minds are diverted from evils which steadily encroach upon them. But whenever any great emergency arises to arrest their attention, they discover the encroachment, and act with greater promptitude and decision. And more, they are likely to call in question, to a greater degree, the fundamental principles of the law itself.

But while the law operates it works with destructive effect to repress individuality, and prevent the development of individual character. The slave is not a responsible being, for he must obey his master. The soldier is not responsible, for he is subject to his superior officer. The pauper is not responsible, for he is dependent upon others for his subsistence. And everywhere, where men are subjected to the will of others, they lose the sense of responsibility for their own acts; thus individual character is weakened. Law is but the expressed will of its makers, and when that will is made to prevail against those who are not consenting, or after their consent has been withdrawn, it is clearly an unjustifiable usurpation, and furthermore an usurpation which violates liberty, promotes inequality, destroys association, prevents the growth of civilization, and crushes individual character. Government always stands in direct antagonism to civilization. It is the greatest, and almost the only impediment to civilization.

“The more perfect civilization is, the less occasion it has 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.”—Thomas Paine. [204]

He might have included all new governments as well. With monopoly and privilege operating by and through the law, it is utterly impossible to prevent the degeneracy of labor through reduction of wages; the crushing out of the small merchants and manufacturers through rents, taxes, interest, and disadvantage in competition; or the farmer through the foreclosure of his mortgage, and the multitude of agencies which rob him of his earnings. No association of interests, no political reform, no effort of public charity, or of instruction, can change, or virtually modify, the increasing dependence. Those social reformers who seek to ameliorate the condition of mankind, individually or socially, whether socialists, anarchists, single taxers, communists, or third party men, and who would remove the obstacles to man’ s natural development, must see, that those obstacles lie wholly in legal restraints to his natural liberty, that they are inherent in the law itself, and that they can never be removed except by removing the law. These facts once clearly recognized, all will see that the real ends of all social reformers are identical, that the place of each is shoulder to shoulder with all the others, and that they are properly allies working together for the same purpose, and must use the same means. And when they learn further that it is far easier to compass the entire destruction of the law, to destroy every possible monopoly, and reach absolute liberty, than to make any essential amendment to the law, it seems impossible for them to hesitate a moment longer. The only limit to which these tendencies are carried, as I said before, is the limit of endurance of the people; and that depends upon the degree of general intelligence which prevails.

Is there any doubt that the limit of endurance is the only limit to the degree of our present slavery? Examine any of the details and see. Is it in taxes? If men can be taxed at all, they can be taxed to [205] the full extent of their possessions. There is no logical stopping point except the forbearance of the taxed. And this doctrine is held by the courts. The right of taxation implies the right of confiscation. If it is in rent, the landlord can exact whatever he will within the power of the tenant to pay; or he may refuse to rent at all. The same thing is true of interest. In the slavery of debt, the creditor will seize the goods of the debtor to the full value of his claim. The slight exceptions allowed by law are so hedged about with restrictions and difficulties as to be of little practical advantage to the debtor. These exceptions are of the same nature as the laws in the south which used to forbid the master to kill his slave, or which provided for a minimum allowance of meal and molasses per week. Neither of them were of any practical value to the slave. If it is the slavery of any other form of monopoly, that monopoly may increase its demands to any amount it sees fit. There is no limit but the point of endurance of the people. If prices are increased above that limit people refuse to buy the goods and thus express their resistance. The slave has no more rights now than he had before the war. The law is never intended for the protection of the slave, but for the master. In 1856 the Supreme Court of the United States decided that if Dred Scott was a freeman, lie was an alien and could bring no action; but if he was a slave, he could still bring no action, because a slave had no standing in court, having no rights which that court could protect. And the question to-day is precisely the same. When a man is brought into court, the question is, according to the law does he owe the debt? In other words, is he a slave? This is the only question to be determined. If yes, then the edict is, to seize his possessions for the benefit of the master, to the extent of his mastery, the debt. It is of no consequence what that debt arises from; to [206] the state for taxes, to the landlord for rent, to the usurer for interest, to the monopolist for charges, or even to the petty tyrant of a magistrate for costs of process. It is all one. The status of the slave is the same.

Since writing the foregoing a scandal has broken out in the operations of the Chicago Drainage Commission, which forcibly illustrates the methods by which the functions of government are made to work to the advantage of monopoly, and build up a rich and privileged class at the expense of the poor. When the drainage commissioners undertook to acquire from the property holders along the line of the proposed canal, the right of way, preparatory to beginning the work, they found that options had already been secured upon the property along the whole line. A syndicate of wealthy men had been formed, and the options secured through the agency of a single real estate firm, which had acted as brokers for the syndicate. All this had been done three weeks before the route had been fixed upon, so far as was known to the public. The syndicate was informed in advance of the intended action of the board; and was thus enabled to act with certainty. Who were the members of this syndicate? It is probably impossible to obtain their names. Nor is it necessary. Those things are always worked in secret; but their personality is of no consequence. The purpose, and the only purpose, was to rob the tax-payers in charging a high price for the land on which to dig the canal,—more than the land could be bought for of the owners; and to hold the land not so needed for actual use of the canal, until the improvement, built at the expense of those taxpayers, had increased the value. In other words, to fleece the tax-payers for their own advantage without doing one thing to earn this wealth they will obtain. Some may be simple enough to believe that the syndicate did not contain more or [207] less of the commissioners themselves. I am not one of them. The information upon which the syndicate acted must have come from an authorized source. It would take no such chances as the purchase of options unless the assurances were backed by sufficient votes in the board to insure that certain location. The report reads that “a secretly appointed committee of the new board is now engaged in investigating, with the utmost secrecy, certain features which may cause an upheaval in political and business circles."

Nonsense! It will do nothing of the kind. It may have the effect of admitting some new members to the syndicate. Nothing more!

It is possible that there is nothing in the whole story; and that the disturbance comes from disappointed rival interests. Grant it. Does that make it any better? That a public improvement for which the people will be called upon to pay should develop rival interests to fight over at all, is the real evil. Government can do nothing without operating to the advantage of some, and the disadvantage of others.

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