Steven T. Byington

Beginning Anarchy Now

(1904)

 



Note

Liberty, July 1904 (XIV:22, #384), pp. 2-4

 


 

There can be few things more useful to our cause than that men should live by its principles.
In the first place, there is nothing like practice for producing belief, whether in one's self or in his neighbors.
In the second place, there is nothing like practice for giving a correct understanding.
In the third place, whenever the time comes for giving general effect to our ideas, and we begin to live under the new conditions and to make the mistakes that are natural to beginners and to see Anarchism getting discredited by the mistakes that are associated with its realization, it will then be of the highest importance that there be as many as possible who have had, in advance, such experience of Anarchic life as has been possible.
And, finally, it seems as if it must be pleasanter for us to live as citizens of the society we desire, subjugated by an alien conqueror, following his fashions as much as we must and our own as much as we may while we hope and plan for liberation, rather than as citizens of a society which we hate and desire to destroy.

What, then, will be a reasonable life under the domination of government, for an Anarchist patriotically loyal to his free society in embryo?

He will avoid governing. He will not accept the office of sheriff; he will not protect his licensed business by prosecuting the unlicensed competitor in the next block; he will not, as a striker, call in the anti-trust law against his employer. The reasons against doing these things hereafter are reasons against doing them now, and have no validity for the future that they have not for the present. The argument that the world is now run on a basis of violence and dishonesty, and therefore one must take care of himself by being as unscrupulous as the rest in order not to be trodden under foot, is a compound falsehood .... The man who uses this argument becomes a worse rascal than those whom he set out to equal, and is consequently an especially pernicious factor in making the general situation worse.

It is a different case when governmental methods are used in a purely defensive way against an aggressor. The anti-trust law is like a club: its use in general is anti-social, but when a man comes at you with a club it is hard to set limits to your dangerous liberty of hitting back. So, in what I said just now about strikers, it is to be assumed that the employer in question has not got out an injunction against the paying of strike benefits. But, if you say that the social order gives the employer a general unfair advantage, and that this employer as a republican voter is responsible for the social order; therefore it is all right to apply the anti-trust law to him,-then you fall back into the fallacy I spoke of just now ...

Our Anarchist will disregard the laws of the State, so far as they are not forced upon him: he will do what he thinks best, no matter whether it is legal or illegal, as far as his fear of prosecution permits-and, on the average, a little bit further ...

He will disfellowship the State in thought and language. He will not feel or talk as if he and his had won or lost a battle when it is the United States that has won or lost. He will not speak of the government's doings with a first person plural pronoun, but with a third person. He will not talk of "our" troops in the Philippines, though he may speak of "our government" in the same sense as he speaks of "our climate," "our mosquitoes," "our tramps." This is harder than it looks, but it is useful. It is all right that he should sympathize with the United States in an international dispute in the same way as he may perhaps sympathize with Japan against Russia, but he should throw up his hat for them as a looker-on and not as a member. He will discriminate between nations and States, as do the best text-books of international law. He will not say "nation" when he means "government" or ·union," nor "national" when he means "governmental" or "federal" ...

He will boycott the government when he can. He will prefer not to hold a government office and draw his pay from stolen money. He will employ the express rather than the post-office when the expense and the convenience are the same. But an all-around boycott of government is doubtless as impossible as an absolute disregard of the government's laws.

When he sees a thing to be done, he will try to get it done without the government's help. Here is a difficult point, but one of cardinal importance. It is a weak point of ours at present. They ask us, "What substitute will you put in the place of government?" and we answer, "What substitute would you give a man for a disease when you cured him of it?" which is apt to seem to our critics more epigrammatic than convincing. Reformers of the Riis (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jacob_Riis) type scoff at "scientific" sociologists who oppose the positive action demanded by the Riises. "The science of doing nothing!" they cry; and we are among those who get hit by the sarcasm.

. . . . Our attitude in public affairs is purely that of obstructionists. This is a cheap, conspicuously cheap, attitude. Everybody knows that it is easy to sit back and refuse to help, and find fault with those who are at work; and, however just the fault-finding and however sound the reasons for disapproving the work, there will be no general impulse to respect those who are doing nothing but this. The world will overlook our being eccentrics, extremists, doctrinaires, Utopians; it will not pardon our being inactive talkers.

There is a great future for the man who will set the Anarchists to work as such. An energetic push for the actual establishment of a private currency, or a private post-office, or even a large and successful smuggling agency, would put a wholly new face on our propaganda. But it is not only in defying or evading legal restrictions on commerce that there ought to be opportunities. Because government is such a big, overgrown, complicated mass, we do want "substitutes for government" in many respects. We shall still want not only mails, but a census, weather reports, and lots of other things that the government is now furnishing. We shall still want boards of health. Doubtless "care for the public health is the favorite excuse just now for tyranny." A favorite excuse for tyranny is likely to be something useful; for useless things do not serve well as excuses. The purity of the milk supply, the plumbing of tenements, the adequacy of fire-escapes in hotels, -these are things that it pays to have somebody in the middle to look after; it does not pay to leave it to each individual to look out separately for his own safety, nor to leave it to the self-interest of the trader in a commercial society, or to the carefulness and intelligence of the producers in a communistic society. Now do not go off with the notion that I want to give somebody the powers of the present boards of health. I am talking Anarchism. Within the sphere of purely voluntary action there is a great field for the kind of work I speak of. The work has been so largely left to government that the possibilities of non-governmental action in these lines has not been explored. And public utilities of this sort ought to offer a fine field for Anarchist activity, because some of them are being done miserably, and none are being done without the characteristic inelasticity which hobbles all governmental action. We ought to be able to step in while the governmentalists are waiting to get an act through the legislature; we should go right to work, put ourselves in the lead, get these Riises - whose only care is to see something done - to help us, and have the laugh on the public authorities who were practising "the science of doing nothing" ...

To displace the government from its useful functions by doing these things better, is surely very nearly the ideal way of establishing Anarchy.

 


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