Thursday, March 29, 2007

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




Having found the real origin, nature, basis, tendencies and limitations of government, we must also consider its ostensible functions in order to remove any lingering respect or regard which may still be entertained for it by those who have not become fully awakened to the hollowness of its pretensions. We must see if in fact it does bring any of the benefits which are usually ascribed to its workings.

The ostensible functions of government may be briefly summed up as, “the preservation of the security of its citizens.” If it protects against a foreign foe, it is the preservation of security. If it maintains internal order, quells disturbance, settles disputes, punishes or prevents crime, enforces contracts, collects debts, preserves records, and promotes morals and education, it is because the doing of these things is supposed to add to the security of the citizens in their persons and property, and to make sure that each really gets his due,—in other words, secures justice. The only excuse which can be urged for the state’ s meddling in the private affairs of the people is, that it seeks to, and does, accomplish this very object. If we find that this object is not attained in any case; but, on the other hand, in all cases security is violated,—justice is defeated, we shall be forced to the conclusion that law or government is always an usurpation, and an injustice; and that the only way to preserve security, and promote justice, is to destroy the law,—abolish government.

There is another important respect wherein certain people are coming to ascribe great virtues to [209] government, which is, the performance of undertakings in which it is assumed that government can perform a service for the people more efficiently than people can do it for themselves, such as the building and maintenance of certain kinds of highways, of providing means for conveying intelligence, supplying gas, water, etc. The chief advantage urged is that as far as already undertaken it does, and an extension of the principle probably would, bring a greater degree of security to each individual in the enjoyment of his fair share of the benefits to be derived from these several public enterprises. So that even these are no exception; and the preservation of security is the one sole ostensible function of government.

I say ostensible, because, we have already found that the real purpose of government is to promote the advantage of those who govern. We have found that human nature being what it is, where some men control the actions of other men they will always control them to their own advantage. The real object for exercising such a control can never be other than to reap that advantage. But if those who govern were frank enough to avow their purpose it would put an end to their governing in short order. Therefore the ostensible functions of government must always be different from the real ones. Having considered the real functions of government in the preceding pages, we now turn to the ostensible ones, which we find to be the preservation in various ways of the security of its citizens.

One of the first and most important of these, is the defense against foreign enemies. Through the action of the governing corporation war is made, or peace is declared; and measures are adopted for the invasion of the territory of others, or the defense of its own. Surely here, if anywhere, a governing corporation is needed. But we shall find that here [210] again government is so far unnecessary that instead of promoting the public defense, and preserving security, it has precisely the contrary effect. It is constantly embroiling the people in foreign complications, arousing sectional, or national jealousies, inspiring hatreds, and fomenting strife. It is a constant source of irritation between peoples who not only have nothing to gain by strife, but who have everything to gain by peace and fraternity. In the absence of rulers, with their jealousies, rivalries, ambitions, and intrigues, I am unable to conceive of a cause of war arising between two countries. People of one country would gladly trade freely with the people of—other countries, and would no more think of making war upon them, than a merchant would think of making war upon his customers. Each must be the customer of the other, and each be equally benefited by the commercial intercourse between them. The prosperity of each would enhance the prosperity of the others. Boundary lines would be abolished, because the necessity for them grows out of the dominion of governments; and with the abolition of governments,—rulers, the need for them would disappear.

The action of governments in embroiling their people in foreign wars, and thus bringing upon them the very evils from which they pretend to protect them, is well illustrated in the case of France and Germany. The last war was notoriously a quarrel between the crowned heads carried on by their representatives, which culminated in an angry scene between the French envoy and Bismarck, in which neither the French or German people had the remotest real concern. But immediately, without consulting the people who must do the fighting, the vast armies of each were set in motion for a hostile attack upon the other. The sentiments of patriotism on either side were cunningly played upon by the rulers; immense enthusiasm was aroused [211] until the people went wild with excitement. Instead of setting the precious rascals who started the quarrel to fighting it out between them, the people, who never quarreled, or had any cause to quarrel, were set to cutting each other’s throats, or murdering each other in other ways, while the originators took good care to keep out of harm’s way. Mourning and desolation was brought home to every hearthstone in both France and Germany; the richest portions of France were given up to destruction; she was stripped of two of her fairest provinces; and Paris itself succumbed to the invader. At last, as a condition of peace, France was compelled to pay to Germany an indemnity of two hundred millions of pounds sterling: about one thousand millions of dollars. Did the German people who did the fighting get any of this indemnity? Not a dollar. It all went to enhance the glory, splendor, and power of the despotic rulers of Germany who had been parties to the original quarrel.

This war kindled the angry passions of the two peoples to a dangerous degree, and those passions have never been allowed to subside since. They are ready to break out afresh whenever the rulers on either side shall take it into their heads to renew the quarrel. That France has since changed to a republic makes not a whit of difference. Those republican rulers are just as ready to plunge their country into another war with Germany as ever Louis Napoleon was. The fire of hatred and revenge has been so steadily and cunningly fanned on both sides that whenever it suits the convenience of those rulers to quarrel again they are morally certain of getting the support of the poor dupes upon whom must fall the whole scourge of war, and who have everything to lose and nothing to gain by fighting. The danger, and the only danger to the security of the citizens, in any country in Europe to day, is from their so-called defenders,—their governments. [212]

But the Franco-Prussian war was in no way different from every other war between the two countries. Their early wars were simply quarrels between the French monarchs and the princes of the house of Hapsburg, in jealousy of the latter's ambition for universal dominion. Afterward, when religious dissensions broke out in Germany, and Germany had become weakened by them, Richelieu, and afterward Louis XIV, deemed it a favorable time, while so weakened, to plunder her. But they were called in by some of the contending factions among the German princes themselves (Germany’s protectors) who were intriguing for power in the empire. Throughout, not only the whole history of the struggles between the French and Germans, but that of all the wars that have ever cursed the world, they have been due solely to government in some form or other. In all cases it is the jealousies, ambitions, and intrigues of the rulers which have brought upon the people the curse of war, and the horrors of invasion.

Yet Lord Salisbury says: “The real danger of European wars lies not in the intrigues and rivalries of monarchs and statesmen, but in the deep feelings of great nations.” But who is it who play upon those feelings, provoke the arrogance, ignorant prejudices, and foment the hatreds of those people? It is precisely those monarchs and statesmen; and when they can no longer be held in check, they put on innocent airs, and cry:

“Thou canst not say I did it: never shake

Thy gory locks at me.”

If any one thinks that all governments are not essentially organized robbers, and that the best of them are not as bad as the worst, in that respect, we will take the government of England under the ministry of that professed liberal, Mr. William E. Gladstone. Some of the English monopolists,— favorites of the governing corporation in England, [213] had entered into a conspiracy with the Khedive of Egypt to impose new burdens upon the people of Egypt; that is, to intensify the already grievous slavery of the people by an increase of the bonded debt. They advanced money to the Khedive, at enormous and usurious rates of interest, to squander in extravagant expenditures for his own aggrandizement, he binding himself to repay those advances out of increased robberies of the people in taxes. After the bonds had been issued, and the people placed under tribute to their foreign slave-masters, the bond-holders, for the payment of debts which they had had no hand in contracting, and for money from which they had never received any benefit, those masters became suspicious that the Khedive would not, or could not, carry out his part of the agreement; and so they appealed to Mr. Gladstone for assistance. They demanded such a share in the administration of the internal affairs of Egypt as would enable them to make sure of their plunder.

Did Mr. Gladstone rebuke their rascalities, and refuse their demands? By no means. Were they not the special favorites,—the beneficiaries of the laws which he had undertaken to execute? Were they not large shareholders in the governing corporation over which he presided? On the contrary, he fitted out a naval and military expedition against Egypt; bombarded the city of Alexandria; murdered innocent and unoffending citizens; seized upon the administration of affairs; and enforced the demands of the bond-holders; a practice and policy which has been continued through subsequent administrations.

All this was done, so far as the world knows to the contrary, without one word of protest from this man who is held up to the admiration of the world as a “liberal”(!) ruler. This course was also adopted notwithstanding it was liable to, and almost did embroil his own country, that country the people of [214] which it was his ostensible business to protect in their security, in a foreign war the outcome of which no man could foresee. But there are attending results which accompany all wars, which Mr. Gladstone could foresee, and which he could not possibly be ignorant of. Those were that in case of the threatened European war, involving two, and possible four of the great powers of Europe in addition to his own, vast numbers of the people in all those countries, and those too who had no interest in Egyptian Bonds, and therefore no interest whatever in the quarrel, would be set to slaughtering each other; and those who were not so engaged in mutual slaughter would be called upon to pay the cost of the slaughter, although they could not possibly be benefited by it whatever the result. I say Mr. Gladstone knew all this, and yet, at the risk of all the misery and desolation his course was liable to bring upon the people of his own country and others, he did not hesitate to pounce upon a weak and practically defenseless people, bombard their chief city, and destroy lives and property of innocent persons in order to support the pretensions of a lot of men whose only purpose was to plunder the people of Egypt through a grinding bondage of debt dishonestly imposed upon them.

No! A liberal government is a humbug. The English government is precisely the same whether administered by a D’ Israeli, a Gladstone, or a Lord Salisbury. The government is the lineal descendant of the ancient robbers and pirates; and it has not abated one iota of its robberies and piracies. On the other hand they are carried on, on a grander scale, though with more refined methods, than ever before.

Our civil war between the states differed in no respect from a foreign war, in the causes which led to it, the characteristics attending it, or in its results. One class of politicians endeavored to take [215] advantage of the popular prejudice which had been aroused against another class of politicians, who desired to extend the territory over which they could exercise a peculiar monopoly which they enjoyed. These monopolists had been closely watching the growth of the popular sentiment against them, and knew that sooner or later they would have to meet the issue in some form. Believing themselves stronger than they really were, they deliberately broke up the democratic party, ensuring the election of a republican president; and then made the danger to their privilege the pretext for withdrawing from the union. The other politicians undertook to coerce them back again. First and last it was purely a quarrel between the politicians, on sectional lines, in which the people had not the slightest interest. The questions involved had nothing whatever to do with the abolition of slavery. The abolitionists, who had aroused all the popular antipathy to slavery, took no hand in the quarrel at its inception. The idea was distinctly and emphatically disclaimed that the war was waged for the abolition of slavery, or in fact, for anything else but to coerce the southerners back again into the union. That the abolitionists were afterward drawn into it, and finally made common cause with the north, was because they foresaw that sooner or later the exigencies of war would lead to the abolition of slavery.

After the war was started it was characterized on both sides with the same vandalism, the same disregard for the rights of the common people, the same oppressive burdens of taxation, the same favoritism, the same jobbery, the same corruption in public office, the same brutality among the people resulting from familiarity with scenes of blood, and the same advantages to the original parties to the quarrel.

And its results have been exactly what might have [216] been expected of a foreign war. Hatreds have been intensified; the spirit of patriotism, which is only a spirit of blind subservience to political rulers, has been fostered; the slavery of bonded debt has been increased enormously, and the whole country placed under its yoke; offices have been multiplied; taxes imposed; monopolies established; the rich have been made rich beyond their wildest anticipations; while the poor have been reduced to a condition of abject and desperate dependence and poverty.

The essential thing is that, like all other wars, it was a politicians’ war for the benefit of politicians and monopolists, but in which the people on both sides who were neither politicians nor monopolists were the sufferers. But the meanest thing of all is that more than twenty-five years afterward those same people should be taxed more than one hundred millions of dollars annually to buy votes for the party in power, under the pretext of pensions to disabled soldiers. Here again, instead of maintaining the security of the persons and property of the citizens, it was, and continues to be, a violation of that security.

Watch the performances of the politicians,—statesmen, they call themselves, who are persistently trying to embroil us in quarrels with our neighbors. We are treated to a fisheries dispute with England and Canada; which, for a time, serves its purpose in winning political support for the party, especially from the Irish, whose animosities are already strong against an old enemy. Then we have a Behring Sea question to enforce the exclusive privileges of a pet corporation to kill seals; and again an acrimonious quarrel with the politicians of Chile, over a drunken spree while on shore of a lot of sailors from an United States man-of-war. In each case the prejudices, passions, and vanities of the people are played upon through the press to see [217] how far they can be aroused to sustain still more aggressive acts on the part of their politicians. If they can only hoodwink the people into the belief that their honor is at stake, and that they ought to fight, then the politicians can reasonably count upon a continuance in power. Just to the extent that a political party which is already in power becomes discredited at home, and its supremacy is threatened, will it endeavor to foment disturbances abroad, in order to regain the support which it has forfeited. The exigencies of politics in a republic, exactly as in a monarchy, lead politicians to plunge a country into foreign wars to bolster up their own declining hold upon the people. It is a trick which has been played time without number, and will continue to be played until the people become intelligent enough to dispense with the whole political humbug of governing. They will continue to be exposed to this danger to their security, from those who profess to protect that security, just as long as they worship the fetish of government.

[Since writing the above, the truth of these deductions has received a most vivid and unexpected illustration in the unseemly anxiety of the President of the United States to dragoon this country into making war upon Chile, on account of that same drunken spree of the sailors. But the sensational developments which placed him in such an unsavory light were not different from what would be liable to any other politician under similar circumstances. Both he and his party need a foreign war to bolster up their declining hold upon the people. That is what wars are for.]

Talk about maintaining the honor of a people! What is that honor? How can a slight, or even a studied insult, to an officer, or representative of a government, reflect discredit upon a people over whom the government assumes to reign? What have the people to do with the honor of their rulers? [218] Just this, and no more; that is, the interest the slave has in the honor of his master. The spectacle of a people fighting for the honor of their rulers is precisely like that of slaves fighting for the honor of their respective masters. That slave is entitled to the greatest respect, the greatest honor, who has become sufficiently imbued with the spirit of liberty to let his master look out for his own honor; one who has learned that the honor of the master is the disgrace of the slave. Just to the extent to which a government is discredited, brought into contempt, disgraced, is that government weakened, and the people strengthened.

Of course, when one government is dealing with another, it must maintain what it terms its honor. And if it can convince that other that its own people are so devoted as to fight for its honor, it is able to command respect according to the fighting strength of that people. But if it cannot convince the other that it enjoys that support, it is held in contempt. That is why it is vital to all governments to maintain their dignity, and enforce respect. From this comes all the flummery of court etiquette, salutes, apologies for insults, “honor to the flag,” etc. It is from this same necessity that we have judicial punishments for “contempt of court,” and for ‘resistance to officers.” When the slaves are most respectful to their masters, most ready to fight for their honor, and most obedient and submissive, they are manifestly the most valuable as slaves. These are qualities that are just as desirable to the rulers in their citizens, as to the masters in their slaves; but they are wholly in. consistent in freemen. Self-reliance, independence, and insubordination are the qualities of freemen; but they utterly destroy the value of slaves.

Look at it in any aspect we may, instead of being a protection, government is always the exciting cause of war, of insecurity, and of spoliation. It [219] invites the very disasters it pretends to ward off. It has precisely the same effect in the intercourse of nations, and peoples, that the law does in the intercourse of individuals. It builds walls of separation between them. It prevents intercourse, hinders association, cripples commerce, and retards civilization.

Some one will ask me how a people who has discarded any organized government can resist invasion from neighbors who still maintain such an organization. Would it not be at the mercy of the first piratical government which chose to take possession? I say, no. The discovery of gunpowder rendered possible, and actually did destroy, in form at least, the institution known as the feudal system. Until then, mailed knights rode the country at will, and plundered whom they would. The people had no adequate means of resistance. They were practically powerless. But after the advent of gunpowder, coats of mail were no protection against powder and ball. I presume those who used this new agent were roundly denounced as resorting to

uncivilized warfare. But who ever heard of civilized warfare? There is none. War is essentially uncivilized, and barbaric. It can never be justified on any ground but that of defense. And where violent defense is necessary at all, it is proper to use a sufficient degree of violence to make the defense effective. Science has recently placed in the hands of the people new agencies against which the old methods are as ineffectual as the knight’s armour was against gun-powder. No invading army can possibly make head against them. It would be annihilated. Nor would it require any government organization to make use of them; or any other organization to speak of. A few intelligent, resolute men can utterly destroy any army of invasion; and that too without levying a tax, or creating a bonded debt.

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