Saturday, March 31, 2007

Van Ornum, Why Government at All? - Part III, Chapter 10




We are now prepared to sum up the results of our inquiry. We have made an exhaustive examination of the character and functions of government, covering the nature of its corporate organization, and actual workings. We have found that all governments are precisely alike in all essential particulars; that popular governments are a total failure so far as the people’ s exercising any real power and authority in legislation, or their ability to correct abuses or secure justice; that all governments are but the development of the ancient robbers and pirates who, in more barbarous ages, plundered the peaceful; that they have not changed one iota of their real character, although their methods have undergone steady changes to meet the changes in human society; and that the poverty of the poor, the vast wealth of the rich, the vice, the crime, the ignorance, and the brutality which still exist among men, notwithstanding the progress in the arts, sciences, general knowledge, and facility of production of wealth, all come from the law, as certainly as a stream flows from its fountain. We find human society built upon human subjection, in degrees like the markings upon a thermometer, all set up and maintained by the law. Instead of society being the free, natural and voluntary, association of equals, it is made by the law the association of master and slave. Instead of a garden of infinite variety of plants and flowers, where the rose, while maintaining all its distinction of fragrance and beauty, can claim no superiority over the lily; where each vies with the other in offering the utmost wealth of his own personal character and attainments for the admiration [286] of all others, it is made a wilderness of human passion, greed, and avarice in which honor, love, and sympathy are choked and obliterated.

We have found also, that the real functions of government are radically different from its ostensible one; but that the ostensible one is never realized,—that the state does not promote the security of the people at home or aboard; that it is a constant source of embroilment, exciting and inciting wars, invasions, and desolations, destroying and preventing civilization, instead of promoting it; and that it is not even necessary as a means of defense against invasions. The ambitions, jealousies and intrigues of politicians, statesmen, governments, and rival monopolies produce wars, and wars give excuse for increased taxes, offices, and public burdens. Man is not the enemy of man, and only becomes such through the meddling of governments. All his hopes and all his interests are in peace. The distrust of other men is preceded by ignorance of other men, and develops into hatred, thence into war against them. Rulers set up barriers to intercourse, keep men ignorant of their neighbors, excite distrust, provoke hatreds, and foment strife and war. A cause of war is inconceivable between free peoples. The history of governments, the history of law and politics, has been a record of wars abroad and intrigues at home, and of constant interference with the rights of other communities, and encroachments upon the rights of their own. Instead of giving security they have always laid the world in blood and ashes. By reason of them the trail of blood is across every page of human history.

Regarding the history of its civil administration we have found it, first, under the pretense of protecting the possession of property violating the natural conditions of property, by setting up artificial rights of property, and then. riveting the chains of industrial slavery upon the people through land [287] grants and laws relating to land tenure, through special privileges to favorites, franchises, joint stock companies, and bonded indebtednesses, until a few men without labor are able to absorb vast fortunes from the unrequited toil of those who do labor; and then we find it bringing the whole force of the law and the machinery of government to enforce the claims of these monopolies, and protect the rich in their ill-gotten possessions.

We have found that even in the exercise of those functions which have most to do with the public at large, such as the carrying of the mails, the management of railroads, and telegraphs, the law inevitably works to the advantage of the rich, and that its administration involves the same corruption, the same inefficiency, and the same wastefulness as manifest themselves in every other department of government. We have seen that an extension of the functions of government in this direction to include the ownership and management of the various means of communication would be but to transfer to the large monopoly those functions now performed by several small ones; that it would not in any respect free them; but that it would give opportunity for an enormous increase in the bondage of debt and taxation.

Coming to the consideration of crime, the prevention, detection, and punishment of which forms so large a part of the ostensible functions of government, we found that its prevalence depends upon the degree of prosperity or adversity of the people; and that inasmuch as the expenses of maintaining the machinery of government imposes burdens upon the people which reduce the degree of prosperity, they directly increase the volume of crime. We found more: we found that governments in all civilized countries are in possession of the most abundant and conclusive evidence that all their efforts in this direction are utterly useless; and that crime [288] continues to be committed with unvarying regularity notwithstanding all their efforts to suppress it; and yet they continue to amuse the people with pretended attempts to suppress or punish crime, knowing full well that is useless.

So far there is no room for a difference of opinion. The proof is conclusive beyond all possibility of question or cavil. But the facts all point to still more startling conclusions, conclusions which will be slow at first of general acceptance, but which rest upon all the facts of the nature of man, the principles which govern his actions, and all that is known of the laws of nature. In time it must come to be recognized that criminals are exactly like other men, and that their crimes are only the natural and justifiable resistance induced by the repressions of the law against their natural liberty. The crime is only the pressure of resistance against the pressure of unjustifiable force; so that an increase in the force of the law must always increase exactly by so much that resistance, or crime. And, on the contrary, a decrease, even to extinction, of the force of the law must decrease, even to extinction, the resistance, or crime.

Proceeding then to the treatment of crime, we have found that all attempts at punishment are merely the exercise of brutal vengeance, and must continue to be, so long as punishment is attempted at all. When human knowledge has become extended and expanded as it is destined to be extended and expanded, it will be found that there are no bad men or women no bad plants or herbs, and no bad lands: that all things in nature are good; and that our condemnations only express our own ignorance of their uses an adaptabilities.

Public education also, as practiced in the public schools, we found to be false in theory and pernicious in practice; suppressing individuality, super-inducing uniformity, in cultivating a spirit of submission [289] and obedience wholly at variance with the spirit of independence and self-reliance which are the sure marks of a free people.

Then passing to the consideration of the way in which laws are made, we found that the conditions attending the making of all laws are such as preclude the possibility of obtaining just or equal results; and that the evils of legislation are inherent in the principle of law-making itself, and cannot be remedied by any improvement in administration. This exactly agrees with what we were led to infer from the analysis of man himself in Part II of this work, as well as with all the known laws of nature. The course of human progress from the slavery and barbarism of ignorance to the freedom of light, of knowledge, of science, and of civilization must be as free as possible from the impediments of one man, or of some men, placed in the way of other :men. Those impediments are always expressed in legal regulations and restrictions, and can never accelerate the current of that progress but must always retard it.

Men embark upon the sea of life full of hopes and aspirations. They spread their sails to catch the breeze of opportunity, never doubting that the voyage before them will be a prosperous and happy one. With timbers sound and staunch, and every rope taut, they speed gaily over the waves, never fearing for storms and tempests which may come. Carrying a rich freight of joyous anticipations, of brightest hopes and yearnings of loved ones, self stands at the helm to guide the good ship safely on her course. But across that course pirates have built a huge sea wall against which bark after bark in endless succession are wrecked, until the sea itself is covered with the debris. Every profession, calling, or walk in life presents many times more wrecks than of anything else.

Our merchant of limited means, carrying on a [290] small retail business, sees his trade steadily slipping away from him, going down town to the great department stores. He finds on investigation that he is being undersold. With almost unlimited resources of cash; buying in large quantities, their goods cost them less; nearly every item of their expenses are much less in proportion to the business done; their taxes are far less in proportion; they are able to present greater attractions of every kind; and finally, they sell for cash, and of course have no bad debts. Against this, the small merchant buys comparatively little and must pay a high price. His expenses and taxes are comparatively high. If he receives credit he must pay interest. And then he must charge a high price. The only trade he can hold is the most undesirable trade, that which requires credit. If he does not fail altogether he is soon driven out of business, and there is another man looking for a job. Conditions remaining as they are the small trader, just like the small artizan, will soon be a thing of the past. The department stores will completely supersede them. Our merchant will be fortunate if he is able to get a situation at a small salary in the big store.

These department stores are yet in their infancy. They are constantly perfecting their organization; making new arrangements by which they can obtain greater results with less expenditure; and perfecting their systems. Just in proportion to their efficiency is their power increased; and we may look for their rapid extension to smaller and still smaller country places.

Farmers, workingmen, and small manufacturers are all going the same way. They are being wrecked upon this same rock,—the law.

Reader, how do you like the prospect? These are the cold unvarnished facts. They stare us; and not only us, but our children, and our children’s children squarely in the face. Notwithstanding it [291] is almost infinitely easier to bring wealth into being to-day than it was twenty years ago; yet it is harder for a poor man to get a living. And it is growing harder. You may not yet have struck the rock; but it is only a question of time when you get there. The salvation of the people rests wholly with themselves. It is the madness of folly to expect relief either from changes in the law, or in the administration of it. I have before me a circular of “The World’s Congress Auxilliary, of the World’s Columbian Exposition,” inviting those interested in labor problems to hold a labor congress under the auspices of the World’s Fair authorities in Chicago, during the time of the World’s Fair; which is like inviting the sheep to hold a congress under the auspices of the wolves. The circular specifies seven general topics for discussion, none of which are of the least practical value. None of them reach the root of the evil. Nor would a question that did be permitted before a congress held under such auspices. Victor Hugo says: “The last thing owls wish is a candle.”

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