Friday, March 23, 2007

Van Ornum, Why Government at All? - Preface

William Henry Van Ornum
Why Government at All?
Chicago: Charles H. Kerr & Company, 1892.

Why Government at All?

A Philosophical Examination of the Principles of Human Government,
Involving an Analysis of the Constituents of Society, and
a Consideration of the Principles and Purposes
of all Human Association.


During the summer of 1890 became impressed with the difficulties to be overcome in winning adherents to the single tax, in sufficient numbers to make it fulfill the high expectations which had been formed for it, not yet perceiving its inherent weakness, nor doubting its efficiency. Still, I looked forward to the coming General Conference of Single Tax men, to be held at New York in the fall of that year, with high anticipations, in the full belief that something would be done to push forward the work, and bring it more generally to public attention. The outcome of that Conference was disappointing to the last degree. It fulfilled none of the anticipations I had formed for it; and I publicly criticised its action before the Chicago Single Tax Club soon afterwards. From a criticism of the Conference, it was very natural to pass to a criticism of the Single Tax itself; and the moment I began to look at it from the standpoint of a critic, instead of that of an advocate, the aspect changed. I could understand why its progress was slow, and why it must, in the future, move with a still slower step, when its first impetus had been expended. My thought was still directed to devising some scheme of agitation which would force the whole social question to the front, and bring relief to those who so urgently need relief. As early as March, 1891, I became convinced that a plan nearly similar to that outlined in Part IV of this [vi] work, would be the most effective one to adopt; but I knew that to secure any general action it would require, not only to be fortified with abundant reasons, but it must secure the co-operation of all schools of social reformers. To put forward such a plan without meeting every reasonable objection would but submit it to ridicule; and to ignore or antagonize any single school of reform would be to incur its hostility instead of its needed co-operation. And yet, how could we reconcile the socialists with the single-taxers; the anarchists with the socialists; or the farmers with the trades unionists? I already understood the essential weakness of compromises; but I concluded that somewhere would be found a common standing ground which would require no compromise, unless truth proved inconsistent with itself.

I then determined to undertake a solution of the perplexing problems before me; and formed the first imperfect outline of the present work. I did not doubt that in four or five months, at most, I would have it ready for the press. But I at once began as thorough a survey of the whole field to be covered as my circumstances permitted, taking notes as I progressed. I soon found the subject was much larger than I had anticipated; and that I was only just beginning to learn. My views have undergone constant change with each new fact I have obtained, and every comparison I have made. Those things that at first I supposed were fundamental, have often proved to be secondary, or even of still less importance; but in it all, I have not found one single fact or principle which is not in harmony with the general plan of relief with [vii] which I started. On the contrary, its practicability and justice have been more than confirmed in every particular.

I have been compelled, in many cases of great importance, even where principles are laid down differing widely from those commonly accepted, to confine my self to a single illustration in order to keep the work rigidly within the limits I had set to it; but it has not been for want of other illustrations which were ready at hand. In fact, it has been harder to determine what to leave out, than what to include. I have endeavored however, not to put forward any proposition merely to startle by its novelty, and only to advance such as were capable of the most conclusive proof. But where that proof has appeared to me sufficient, I have not hesitated to set forth the truth notwithstanding its seeming novelty, and notwithstanding it may conflict with acknowledged authorities.

There is another reason why I have not deemed it best to present too great an array of proof of the propositions I have laid down. The value of a book of this kind lies more in its suggestions, which the reader will take up, and by his own thought work out to their conclusion, than in the finished argument which leaves nothing to be desired. If I have given enough to stimulate the reader to work out the problem largely for himself, my purpose has been accomplished. Such a reader will find no dearth of illustrations. They will offer themselves everywhere and in the most unexpected ways.

From the first I have labored under a serious disadvantage in not being able to obtain proper [viii] criticism. I have frequently sought it from various sources, but always, partly from the great labor involved, labor which few could give it, and partly from the fact that those who kindly undertook it at first were unable to overcome the notion that it was their approval or disapproval I wanted, they soon abandoned it. As I look back, I can see how this must necessarily have been the case. I was exploring a new field; or, at least, exploring it in a new way, frequently reaching conclusions wholly at variance with accepted authorities. It was impossible for others to understand those conclusions unless they had traveled the same field, in the same way; or without having before them the finished work to enable them to judge of the parts.

It was only after it had been finished, except the final revision, that I was able to secure such a criticism; and I desire to express my sincere acknowledgements to those kind friends, Mr. George J. Schilling, Mr. A. B. Westrup, Mrs. Sarah V. Westrup, Mrs. L. D. White, Mr. William Holmes, Mrs. Lizzie M. Holmes, Mr. Joseph Harris and Mr. H. A. Jaxon, who, at great personal discomfort, and often in the most inclement of weather, met with me night after night for review and criticism, and to whom I am indebted for many valuable suggestions which have enabled me to bring out in a stronger manner some of the most vital points of the work. I shall not expect the public critics however, to deal with me so leniently and kindly as they have done.

I shall issue this book without copyright. In so doing I claim no superior virtue over those authors [ix] who avail themselves of that advantage. If the people permit of special privileges by law, no blame can attach to those who accept them. The beneficiary of the copyright law is exactly like the beneficiary of any other legal privilege. He is no more entitled to it than the patentee is to his patent, or the landlord is to the land. They are privileges which exist by virtue of the statute, and will expire with the statute. But copyright cannot possibly help me. I am writing this book just as other men write books, mainly for whatever distinction or honor it may bring me; and secondly, to obtain a present subsistence. For the first, if every publisher in America would reprint it, it would increase that honor, to secure which I need no copyright; and for the second, it is certain that none will reprint it unless it shall prove sufficiently popular to insure a large demand, in which case I shall obtain enough from the earlier editions to fairly compensate me for the labor of writing it, and provide for present needs.


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