The Principles of Voluntaryism and Free Life
This essay is included in the collection published under the title The
Right and Wrong of Compulsion by the State. In this text Auberon Herbert presents the main tenets of the philosophy and life practice known as voluntaryism.
The essence of voluntaryism is that "... each man asks no more for himself than to go to his own way, while he in turn concedes the same perfect liberty to his neighbour ...."
It is only when the voluntary state replaces the compulsory state that "men can befriend each other, or work for the public good; for under the compulsory state all such services are tainted by the compulsion of those who compel, and the submission of those who submit."
What We Voluntaryists Believe
The Self-Owner Is Owner of His Own Mind and Body and His Own Property
We voluntaryists believe that no true progress can be made until we frankly recognize the great truth that every individual, who lives within the sphere of his own rights, as a self-owner, and has not himself first aggressed upon others by employing force or fraud in his dealings with them [and thus deprived himself of his own rights of self-ownership by aggressing upon these same rights of others], is the only one true owner of his own faculties, and his own property. We claim that the individual is not only the one true owner of his faculties, but also of his property, because property is directly or indirectly the product of faculties, is inseparable from faculties, and therefore must rest on the same moral basis, and fall under the same moral law, as faculties. Personal ownership of our own selves and of our own faculties, necessarily includes personal ownership of property. As property is created by faculties, it would be idle, it would be a mere illusion, to speak of an individual as owner of his own faculties, and at same time to withhold from him the fullest and most perfect rights over his property, if such property has been rightfully acquired (by “rightfully” we mean acquired without force or fraud), or inherited from those who have rightfully acquired it.
No Peaceful Nonaggressive Citizen Can Be Submitted to the Control of Others,
Apart from His Own Consent
We hold that the one and only one true basis of society is the frank recognition of these rights of self-ownership; that is to say, of the rights of control and direction by the individual, as he himself chooses, over his own mind, his own body, and his own property, always provided, that he respects the same universal rights in others. We hold that so long as he lives within the sphere of his own rights, so long as he respects these rights in others, not aggressing by force or fraud upon the person or property of his neighbors, he cannot be made subject, apart from his own consent, to the control and direction of others, and he cannot be rightfully compelled under any public pretext, by the force of others, to perform any services, to pay any contributions, or to act or not to act in any manner contrary to his own desires or to his own sense of right. He is by moral right a free man, self-owning and self-directing; and has done nothing which justifies others, for any convenience of their own, in taking from him any part, small or great, of his self-ownership.
The Moral Rights of a Delegated Body, Such as a Government, Can Never Be
Greater than the Moral Rights of the Individuals Who Delegated to It Its
Force Can Only Be Used (Whether by an Individual or by a Government Makes No Difference) for Defensive Purposes — Never for Aggressive Purposes
Nature is on the side of self-ownership, self-guidance. We see that each man and each woman is individually endowed by nature with a separate, complete, and perfect machinery for self-guidance — the mind to guide, the body to act under its guidance; and we hold, as a great natural fact as well as a great moral truth — probably from a human point of view the greatest of all facts and the greatest of all truths — that each man owns his own body and mind, and thus cannot rightfully own the body and mind of another man. We hold that what one man cannot morally do, a million of men cannot morally do, and government, representing many millions of men, cannot do. Governments are only machines, created by the individuals of a nation for their own convenience; they are only delegated bodies, delegated by the individuals, and therefore they cannot possibly have larger moral rights of using force, or, indeed, larger moral rights of any kind, than the individuals who delegated them. We may reasonably believe that an individual, as a self-owner, is morally justified in defending the rights he possesses in himself and in his own property — by force, if necessary, against force (and fraud), but he cannot be justified in using force for any other purpose whatsoever. He cannot morally use force to further his own interests, to further his own opinions, to further any cause, however excellent in itself, for in all these cases he would be stepping outside his own rights of self-ownership, and taking away from others some part of their rights of self-ownership. All such actions would imply that he was the owner of the bodies and minds of others, and this he cannot be, for all ownership of others is forever precluded by each person's right of self-ownership. It is impossible at one and the same time for men to be self-owners and owners of others. Self-ownership leaves no place for some men to own others or to be owned by them. If we are self-owners (and it is absurd, it is doing violence to reason, to suppose that we are not), neither an individual, nor a majority, nor a government can have rights of ownership in other men.
It is plain, then, that there is no moral function in the whole world for force to perform except to maintain the rights of self-ownership; for whenever it is employed on any other service, it must be employed in taking away or lessening the rights of self-ownership, and thus destroying the moral basis on which all true society rests. It is plain that force does not belong to a civilized world, that it is a mere remnant of barbarism, and (except as a defense against force) that we must allow it to find no place in our organization of society.
Against whom, then, you will ask, may force be used? Simply against users of force (and fraud) as the murderer, the thief, the common swindler, and the aggressive foreign enemy. And what are we to say if a government should use force for other purposes than the protection of self-ownership? We can only say that those who use force, whoever they are, by that very act justify the use of force against themselves. In a free country, where reason and discussion are not strangled by the authorities, and where in the end we may be sure that these moral forces will destroy force, it is in almost every case our duty to trust to reason and discussion and not to use force; but it is necessary that the moral position of all concerned should be clearly understood; and that position is: that no individual, no majority, no government, holds any true commission to use force so as to take away the rights of self-ownership from any “unaggressive” citizen; and that all those, who do so use force, justify the use of force against themselves. Haters of force, just because of their hatred of force, may not, probably will not, avail themselves in a moderately free country of this right to reply to force by force; but it is best that every majority and every government should clearly understand that when they use force (except for purposes of restraining force) they make force the law of the world, and that then force is open to everybody, since it cannot remain the moral privilege of some persons and not of others. (Note: This statement affords no defense for the dynamiting anarchist; for he uses the privileges of peace to carry on his warfare. Society rightly judges all secret treacherous force to be infinitely worse than open force.)
Voluntaryists Believe in Government, Strictly Limited as Regards Its Authority;
and See in It, So Limited, a True Organ of Society
Last, while we hold that government, the delegated body, the machine created by the individuals for their own convenience, and clothed with such moral authority as the individuals are competent to confer upon it, cannot possibly be anything more than this delegated body, this machine, this creature of our own making, this servant of our daily wants, while we utterly repudiate the pagan doctrine of those power worshipers, who see in the state a sort of god, a something bigger and holier than the individuals who nevertheless create and carve and change this god of their own handiwork according to their own changing ideas, a something possessed of unbounded authority, derived nobody knows whence, and holding a roving and limitless commission to subject and crush any one set of men, if less in number, at the dictation of another set of men, if more in number — at the same time we hold that there are real duties and functions for government to perform. We hold that it is a social duty for all of us, acting freely and without compulsion, to join in organizing, and, as far as possible, perfecting government for several purposes. First of all, the common force machine, for protecting self-ownership, for resisting and restraining all acts of force directed against the life, person, and property of any citizen. We hold that for many grave reasons the individual should not attempt to exercise his own inherent rights of restraining force by force — since to do so would be to make him act as his own judge and executioner; and we hold that he chooses wisely and well in delegating these rights to a body constituted, as a government should be, in the most public, formal, careful, and deliberate manner. We believe the anarchist ideal of no fixed and regularly organized machinery for repression of crime to be founded on a mistake; and we are governmentalists, in the sense that we believe that the common instrument for the repression of ordinary aggressive crime should be formally constituted by the nation, employing in this matter of force the majority method.
Once again, in distinguishing between the illegitimate and the legitimate forms of government, we wish to point out that the forces of government can only be rightly directed against one class of persons; that is against those who are “aggressives” upon others; never against the “nonaggressives.” We ought not to direct our attacks — as the anarchists do — against all government, against government in itself, as the national force machine, against government strictly limited to its legitimate duties in defense of self-ownership and individual rights, but only against the overgrown, the exaggerated, the insolent, unreasonable and indefensible forms of government, which are found everywhere today, and under which, those who govern, usurp powers of all kinds, that do not and cannot belong to them, laboring under the ludicrous mistake that they are owners of the nation, owners of the bodies and minds of those very individuals, who called them into existence.
Government as the Agent of the Nation in International Matters
Second, we would employ government as the mouthpiece of the nation (under carefully guarded conditions) in its relation with other nations. While we would steadily refuse to allow the government to forget its true position of being an instrument and a servant, while we would refuse to allow it to place itself in any way above the individuals of the nation, while we would withhold from it its present most dangerous powers of declaring war, or of making alliances and treaties, while we would require in these great matters individuals to come forward and declare individually their approval and support of, and their personal responsibility for, great national steps of so serious a character, while we would insist that no person should be compelled to support any war, or to perform any service, or pay any tax, either for national defense or for carrying on war, against his own will, while we would insist that the rightful supremacy of the individual as regards his own actions, should never be taken from him on any false plea of national interest or safety, yet we hold that, just as it is a patriotic duty to support the government in the suppression of ordinary crime, so also it is a patriotic duty to support the government in all measures, that seem just and reasonable to the individual, for ensuring the independence and safety of the country. We believe in patriotism — not compulsory, but voluntary patriotism. We believe that patriotism will be carried to far higher, nobler and purer levels by free men, than by those who have fallen to the level of being as the sheep of the political drover, or as simple state material, with which governments may deal and traffic at will. We believe that only as men cease to be looked upon by their governments as convenient material for taxation and fighting purposes; only as each unit in a nation gains his full and perfect right to act as a free man, and comes into full possession of his own conscience and his own sense of right, will patriotism cease to burn with its present gross and clouded flame, and become a real and true force on the side of peace and happiness.
Government as the Useful Friend, Advising and Instructing, Not Compelling
Third, we believe that government might play the part of useful friend to the people, and perform many valuable services on their behalf, provided that it renounced all use of compulsion, and never attempted to impose either compulsory services or compulsory contributions upon unaggressive citizens. Freely competing with all voluntary bodies, it might become the most valuable center, during many future years, of knowledge and help and direction in such matters as education and sanitation. It is most urgent that the great work of sanitation in all its important developments should rest on voluntary methods, should be deofficialized — that is, should be divorced from compulsion; though at the same time, it should be remembered that, if necessary, men may be rightfully restrained from polluting all earth, water, or air, that does not belong to them; or from disseminating germs of disease in public places, since all such acts are acts of aggression on the person or property of others. So, also, the government might play the part of useful friend in matters of labor and trade. It might offer to all who required it, skilled advice in such matters as the safety and healthfulness of buildings, the cultivation of land, or the management of animals: it might undertake many useful experiments of various kinds, so long as it always acted on the one condition, that it would help as a friend, and never seek to play the part of the compelling and regulating authority, or the owner of bodies and minds, of the little god supreme above rights. All force (not employed in restraining force) disturbs peaceful effort, and prevents progress. We want none of it. Our true ideal is a nation at peace within itself, developing every form of industrial energy and friendly cooperation, making many experiments in social life, with every citizen acting in the line of his own convictions, spending his energies and his resources in such causes as seem to him the truest and best, and with no citizen engaged in the old miserable and profitless trade of placing fetters on the hands of other citizens or of being empowered to use others against their own beliefs and desires, just because the political party, to which the A's and the B's belong, had gained its victory at the polls, and the party to which the C's and the D's belong, had suffered defeat. The rights of men are too sacred to be voted away in any contests of our political parties. Let us then once more repeat our voluntaryist principle: the rights of liberty always in the first place; the authority of government always in the second place. When once a government had accepted this limitation, and held its authority subject to the rights of the individual, it would be, we believe, loyally and generously supported by the freely given services of free men, who would no longer be called upon either to lay conscience and will at its feet, or forced to struggle with their fellowmen for the possession of that evil thing — power—over each other. Where the conscience, the will, the self-direction of every citizen were frankly respected, there the foolish, wasteful and mischievous rivalries of our political parties would disappear, for power would cease to be the highest prize of life, inviting all men to snatch it by any and every weapon from the hands of each other. Where governments simply protected life and property for all without difference, international jealousies, hatreds, and wars, would die out, for Americans, Germans, or Frenchmen in Great Britain, and the British in America, Germany, or France, would fare alike. Each would be protected; none would receive privileges and favors in the one country more than in the other; but all men everywhere would be left free to exercise their faculties so as to work out their own development in their own fashion. The great causes of strife and hatred would pass away. Perfect free trade and friendly cooperation would satisfy all wants, and the world at last would begin to fulfill its destiny — as the free and peaceful meeting place of all opinions, all desires and all energies.
Miracles of State Socialism
State socialism is the refusal to others and the abandonment for oneself of all true human rights. Under it a man would have no rights over his own property, over his own labor, over his own amusements, over his own home and family — in a word, either over himself, or all that naturally and reasonably belonged to him, but he would have as his compensation (if there were 10,000,000 electors in his country) the one-tenth millionth share in the ownership of all his fellow-men (including himself) and of all that naturally and reasonably belonged to them and not to him. It is the flinging away of natural and reasonable rights in exchange for unnatural and unreasonable rights; it is the giving up of what a man ought not to give up, and the taking of what he ought not to take. State socialism is the last shortcut, which men have invented, to Magicland. The nation is to get there without any labor, effort, or sacrifice on its own part, without any improvement in character, or development of moral qualities. Magicland is to be won tomorrow, or today if you like, by the easy method of dropping papers in a ballot box. The winning of it will cost every elector only the trouble of marking a cross on half a sheet of paper — he is not expected or desired to do anything more for himself. He may then go home quite satisfied. All the rest will be done for him by the new patent machinery of the state, while he eats, sleeps, and is directed by the officials as to all the details of his life. Happy electors! Wonder-working ballot box! Omnipotent machinery! Supernatural results!
Under state socialism the minimum of work would be done, for the energies of one-half of the nation would be always spent in compelling the other half to do what they did not want to do. This political pull devil, pull balam, would be the principal national occupation. We should talk much, work little, and probably eat still less. Under state socialism we shall have three choices of profession. We may be either a state hand, or a state official, or a state spy and informer. The last two professions will be very much crowded; but there will probably be room for us all, since the state will be much like a German colony, principally made up of its officials.
State socialism exists as an instructive mirror for the politician in which he may study his own future developments. It shows him the superstitions and defects of his political system in their most exaggerated form; it caricatures the blunders that men make in trying to govern each other on the principle of unlimited force. Our common everyday superstition of supposing that we can represent 25,000 persons on all the great subjects of life, by one marvelous person in some congress or parliament, of supposing that it is reasonable to give all the rights to three persons, because they are three, and no rights of any kind to two persons, because they are two; of supposing that numbers create moral rights; our common and everyday mistake of constructing huge machines, that nobody understands or controls, and that govern men as much as they are governed by them; of handing the nation over in a lump sum to the officials; of turning the officials into sacred persons, and turning the public into dead material, without will, conscience and intelligence of its own; of giving every individual, say, the one-ten millionth voice in the affairs of all his neighbors, and no practical authority over his own affairs; of thus allowing men who don't own themselves to own the selves of others; of destroying differences and consecrating uniformity; of massing the good, the bad, and the indifferent all together under one system, and therefore making regulations that apply to the criminal and half-criminal, apply also to the good citizen, and thus reducing the best and ablest citizens to systems fitted to the least intelligent and the least civilized citizens, as a cavalry charge is regulated by the pace of the slowest horse; of multiplying regulations till they become as the grains of the sand of the sea, and require libraries to contain them, and a professional class to expound them; of supplying the nation during every day of the year with the utmost possible material of every kind for quarreling over, of destroying those natural rewards of ability and industry, and those natural penalties of faults which belong to free life, and replacing them with every sort of artificial contrivance which can suggest itself to the perverted political imagination; of trying to dodge the great natural law of progress by making the able and industrious carry on their backs, as their compulsory burden, the less able and the less industrious; of making the workers of all kinds subject to the talkers — all these superstitions and mistakes, and many more, are the common property of the politician and the socialist, between whom there is only a difference of degree. The socialist is only the politician kept a little longer in the oven and hard-baked; the politician is only the immatured socialist.
Anarchy Does Not Understand Itself
Although we voluntaryists see with pleasure that there exists a sane, peaceful and reasonable section of anarchists — quite distinct from the reckless and criminal sections, who traffic in violence — yet we are constrained to express our belief that all anarchy, or “no government,” is founded on a fatal mistake.
Anarchy, in the form in which it is often expounded, seems to us not to understand itself. It is not in reality anarchy or “no government.” When it destroys the central and regularly constituted government, and proposes to leave every group to make its own arrangements for the repression of ordinary crime, it merely decentralizes government to the furthest point, splintering it up into minute fragments of all sizes and shapes. As long as there is ordinary crime, as long as there are aggressions by one man upon the life and property of another man, and as long as the mass of men are resolved to defend life and property, there cannot be anarchy or no government. By the necessity of things, we are obliged to choose between regularly constituted government, generally accepted by all citizens for the protection of the individual, and irregularly constituted government, irregularly accepted, and taking its shape just according to the pattern of each group. Neither in the one case nor in the other case is government got rid of. The more true anarchist, the man who actually gets rid of government, is Tolstoy, who preaches as Christ did, that we should bear all injuries without returning them. In that way, it is true, government can be got rid of — but then how many of us are prepared to follow Tolstoy? There still remains, as anarchists might urge, another method of dealing with ordinary crimes. Under the theory of “no government,” the defense of person and property, and the punishment of crime might be left absolutely to the individual; and this method, like Tolstoy's method, would be quite consistent with the true anarchistic theory. I have heard an able anarchist defend it on the ground that men would exercise force with more scrupulousness, when obliged to act in their own persons, than when acting through a judge and policeman. But here again how many of us on the one hand are prepared to judge and to act for ourselves as regards our own wrongs; or on the other hand to consent to the self-made appointment of those — who believe themselves to be injured by us — as our judges and executioners? To most of us such a system could be described only by the word — pandemonium.
The Land Nationalizer
The land nationalizer has a touch of the old pagan worshiper about him. He turns the land into a sort of god, into something greater than men. A man can't own land, he says, exalting the mere thing, the dead material, into the first place; and degrading the man, for whom all world material exists, into the second place. It is a strange inversion of parts.
The ordinary politician is not as consistent as the land nationalizer; the land nationalizer is not as consistent as the state socialist. The politician steals with two or three fingers, and thinks it would be wrong to steal with the whole hand; the land nationalizer steals with one hand, and thinks it would be wrong to steal with both hands; the state socialist steals with both hands, and boldly glorifies the whole business. If you steal pence, why not steal pounds, we ask the politician? If you steal the land, we ask the land nationalizer, why not steal all that grows upon and comes from the land — all wool, cotton, grain, fruit and animals? In the name of reason, let us either leave stealing altogether alone, or else preach the whole gospel of stealing, pure and undefiled! The land nationalizer would take from men one of their greatest and deepest sources of happiness. He says to them: “You shall never possess your own home. You shall never possess as your own one single square yard of soil. You shall plant nothing on the face of the earth, which shall be truly yours; you shall plant no tree, and in planting it know that the fruit it bears shall belong to you and those who come after you, so long as such tree has life in it; you shall be only as a nomad race, encamped for a season, as long as it pleases those who govern, to leave you in your hired houses.” Why? On what grounds does the land nationalizer venture to cut off this great source of human enjoyment from the human race? Simply, because he has not yet cleared his mental vision; simply, because he does not see, first, that if the land of the country really belongs to the whole nation, it cannot belong to that mere part of it, called a majority, and that no majority, therefore, can be competent to deal with it; and second, that if John Smith cannot morally own land, then ten million John Smiths cannot morally own land. The land nationalizer has not yet discovered that a government or state can only possess exactly the same moral rights of possessing and enjoying as the individuals who create it. Land nationalizers also forget that happiness of life largely depends upon security of conditions. They forget that under land nationalism we shall all be merely as tenants at will. At present, if we do not wish to own land, we can make such agreements for a term of months or years, or for life, as we may arrange with our landlord, and we have the protection of the courts as regards these agreements; but with government as our landlord, we should only occupy at the pleasure of those who constitute the government. No agreements bind governments. What one administration creates today, another administration a few years hence will undo and repeal. Under land nationalization it would be the constant amusement of governments to reorganize the existing system of land tenure. No question would open up such pretty opportunities for the quarrels of our politicians, or for their courageous experiments with what does not belong to them.
The Aim of the Voluntaryist
What is the work of the voluntaryist? It is to destroy the love of power; to destroy alike in himself and in his fellow-men the desire to force opinions or interests — whatever they may be — upon others; to be content to be a self-ruler, not a ruler of others; to strengthen belief in the moral weapons of reason, discussion and example; to bear patiently many evils rather than to weaken at any point the principle of self-ownership and self-direction; and to live in the faith that there is no evil which cannot be overcome by courage and resolution, no moral failure that cannot be remedied, except the one evil, the one moral failure, of abandoning self-ownership and self-direction. To abandon self-ownership is to become corrupt and servile in spirit, and for the servile and corrupt there are no great things possible. You cannot carve in rotten wood; you cannot lead to greatness those who have renounced the essence of their own manhood or womanhood.
Let the voluntaryist boldly preach the doctrine of self-ownership everywhere. Let him seek to persuade the socialist that he has no right to offer comfort and advantage at the price of the sacrifice of personal liberty; that it is quite vain to try to destroy one kind of bondage by building up another in its place; let him persuade the capitalist that all wealth, founded on any kind of state favour or privilege and opposed to free trade, is wealth taken by force from others, and rests on wrong and unjust foundations; let him persuade the members of all churches that it is a travesty and a mockery of their own creed — rightly and simply understood — to attack any kind of moral evil with state punishments; that all such persecutions are in direct conflict with the principles of the Sermon on the Mount, and that Christians, above all men, are bound to fight with the weapons of reason, discussion and persuasion; let him seek to persuade all men, whether rich or poor, employers or employed, men of this country or other countries, that the organization of any kind of material force against each other is a barren and pitiful waste of life — that a victory gained over unwilling bodies and minds is a defeat, and not a victory, that in peace, friendly cooperation, unrestricted experiment, constant difference, almost unlimited toleration as regards the actions of others, free trade in every direction, the increased mobility, life experience and self-protection of the individual, the removal of all compulsory burdens and services, the abandonment of the evil power of mortgaging the faculties of future generations by the present generation, the abandonment of great political inducements for men to struggle with each other, which inducements to war must exist so long as each man desires the possession of power for himself and dreads to see it in the hands of his neighbor, and lastly in the perfect security of person and property, so that the conditions of successful effort may be recognized as constant and persisting—that in these things are the true watchwords of progress, to which it is our duty under every temptation to be faithful. Let us sum up what voluntaryism is—in a few words:
Voluntaryism is the reconciler of differences.
It is the system of liberty, peace, and friendliness.
Under voluntaryism the state employs force only to repel force — to protect the person and the property of the individual against force and fraud; under voluntaryism the state would defend the rights of liberty, never aggress upon them.
It takes part with no sect; it belongs to no faction.
It persecutes nobody, and, except in the defense of self-ownership, restricts nobody, regulates nobody.
It refuses to force the opinions or interests of any one part of the people upon another part.
It refuses to fight for any moral view with the immoral weapons of force.
It compels no services, confiscates no property, takes no compulsory payments.
It refuses to be the instrument of any part in any country that places the power of the state above the rights of the individual.
It is opposed to all privileges, monopolies, and restrictions, and seeks to leave men free to shape their own lives in a free world.
It protests against all forms of salvation by force.
It believes that vast sums are annually wasted in constructing the great force machines of the state and in governing by force; it believes that if human faculties were universally set free, if men were emancipated from the burdens of taxation and official interference, and if they once deliberately resolved not to struggle for power over each other, a new world of peace, friendliness, and prosperity would take the place of the world as it is today, defaced by jealousies and strife and hatred, and saddened by much unnecessary suffering.
Principles of the Voluntary State
1. To recognize all points and under all circumstances the self-ownership of men and women, and their full right to direct their faculties and employ their own property (within the one limit of nonaggression by force or fraud upon others) as they choose.
2. To recognize that the state should compel no services and exact no payments by force, but should depend entirely upon voluntary services and voluntary payments.
a. That it should be free to conduct many useful undertakings, in connection with education, sanitary matters, poor relief, insurance, post office business, trade, inspection of buildings, machinery, etc., and many other matters, but that it should do so in competition with all voluntary agencies, without employment of force, in dependence on voluntary payments, and acting with the consent of those concerned, simply as their friend and their adviser;
b. That it should use force only to restrain the force of the murderer, of the thief and of violent persons, and certain coarse forms of fraud — thus guaranteeing the self-ownership of the individual by protecting him in person and property;
c. That it should take no property of any kind from any citizen by force; nor regulate any part of his life; nor interfere with any exercise of faculties by force (within the nonaggressive limit); nor seek to obtain any moral purpose by force.
3. To get rid of all public debt, central or local, by selling and mortgaging public property and by organizing a great system of voluntary contribution — certain days in the year being specially observed as holidays for the raising of voluntary revenue, local and central.
4. To extend the voluntary defenses of the country and to place them on a much broader basis and more permanent foundation than that on which they now stand; to depend in war as in peace solely on voluntary contributions; and to renounce absolutely the flagrant wrong of compelling those who are opposed to war to give any support to it.
5. Without abandoning in panic any duty toward those connected with us or depending upon us in other countries, to press forward the peaceful and friendly settlement of all unsettled external questions; to narrow responsibilities; to resolutely give up an aggressive and grasping policy; and to seek to establish international friendly agreements as regards all questions in dispute.
6. By thus removing all burdens, all restrictions and interferences with personal activities, by cutting down officialism, by getting rid of the mischievous interference of the politician with private property, and his constant bribing of the people, only too often for the sake of his own advancement, by destroying the reckless rivalry of political parties for place and power, and by steadily creating free trade in everything, to allow the free development not only of the almost infinite capacities and intellectual resources possessed by every intelligent nation, but also of the friendliness and natural desire of all classes to work together for common ends. By these methods to give to the world an example of the happiness and prosperity that can be won by all nations alike, where the natural right of every person to direct his own faculties and to deal with his own property according to his own desires, and not at the dictation of others, is universally respected, and all undertakings and all services are founded upon persuasion of each other, not upon force.
Some Reasons Why Voluntaryists
Object to Compulsory Taxation in All Its Forms
1. Because it rests on certain intellectual contradictions and absurdities. It requires that wealth should be created by individual energy and enterprise, and then spent collectively; that is, spent under a system which reduces the individual almost to insignificance. It tends to place the owner and the nonowner on a false equality — the nonowner, if he choose to use his power, becoming the virtual master of the property of the owner. For every service conferred it imposes a burden — direct or indirect — and yet gives the individual no choice as to whether he will accept the service and the burden, or decline both.
2. Because it is essentially opposed to a state of true liberty. It is impossible to look upon a man as free, so long as others have unlimited command over his property. It is impossible to separate the rights of action from the rights of acquiring and possessing. A man acts through and by means of the various substances of the world, and if he is not free to acquire and own these substances as an individual, neither is he free to act as an individual.
3. Because it builds up the belief that one man and his property may be used by another man against his own convictions and his own interests. It therefore divides us into those who are only tools and those who are the users of tools; and perpetuates a modern form — though more subtle and concealed than the old forms — of slave owning.
4. Because it builds up and strengthens a number of revolting superstitions. It teaches men that they belong, body and mind, to the uncounted, unknown, voting crowd called the state; for if their property belongs to the state, then we must presume that their physical and mental faculties, through which they earned their property, also belong to the state. In the same way it teaches the cowardly and contemptible doctrine that in presence of any supposed public danger or on behalf of any supposed public good, there is no longer any appeal to the conscience and self-responsibility of the individual, but that all persons are made subject to the decisions — often rash, heedless, and taken in panic — of those who exercise political power over them.
5. Because in strengthening these superstitions it degrades the view of human existence. It destroys the general perception that the judgment and the will are the highest parts of human nature, and therefore sacred beyond all other things; and it leads men to look on each other as mere material to be dealt with wholesale and in accordance with the expediency of the moment.
6. Because free countries have affirmed many years ago that a compulsory church rate is immoral and oppressive, for the sake of the burden laid upon individual consciences; and in affirming this truth they have unconsciously affirmed the wider truth, that every tax or rate, forcibly taken from an unwilling person, is immoral and oppressive. The human conscience knows no distinction between church rates and other compulsory rates and taxes. The sin lies in the disregarding of each other's convictions, and is not affected by the subject matter of the tax.
7. Because it makes absolutely certain in the end a hateful war between classes. It accustoms the mass of voters to the belief that all their wants may be satisfied out of the common compulsory fund; it makes the fight to obtain possession of this common compulsory fund of supreme importance; and thus the nation is split up into two struggling factions — those who strive to take, and those who strive to keep.
8. Because it gives to the politician a very undue and undeserved importance. It places in his hands, often as the reward of mere successful speechmaking, the hard-won resources of large classes of his countrymen; and confers upon him a position which could only be won ordinarily through a much more laborious process and in return for qualities of a much higher order. In this way it may be a satisfactory system for the politician, endowing him with many pleasant things in return for his facile profession of certain opinions; but it is not so good for those who are made the instruments of providing, willingly or unwillingly, these pleasant things.
9. Because it favours the rank growth of a very evil form of bribery. Out of the common compulsory fund that is raised by means of taxes, the politician promises what will please his supporters; and by means of burdens laid upon the nation buys his own way into the legislative body and into office.
10. Because it tends to produce a habit of misty, confused thought and unreal generosity — generosity at the expense of others — in our leading men, corrupting all clear sense of justice, and making them traffickers in phrases and servile to their own party interests; in other words, because in this imperfect world, no class of men, rich or poor, is to be found with sufficient honesty or impartiality to be entrusted with the compulsory taking and spending of the money of others.
11. Because its gives every legislature — bodies which are elected under the influence of passion and strife, and by means of not very scrupulously managed party organizations — far too great power over the movements of the human mind. It gives them power to force certain forms of thought upon the nation; to crush other forms out — at least temporarily; and makes of them little gods, who dispose — but without the knowledge, judgment, or impartiality of gods — of the gravest questions of human existence.
12. Because it makes universal suffrage an entirely unworkable arrangement. Man for man, the whole people should be on a footing of perfect equality as regards certain great national questions (e.g., questions of civil and criminal code, peace and war, monarchy or republicanism, etc.), but as regards property compulsorily taken. In all matters relating to property, it is clear sense and just sense that the opinions and desires of those to whom such property belongs, should count for far more than the opinions and desires of those to whom it does not belong. Compulsory taking of property and universal suffrage cannot reasonably be united under one system. Each makes the other ridiculous when forced to keep company. We may fairly ask — How can the nonowner preserve a sense of justice or of self-respect, while he votes away the property of the owner?
3. Because it inevitably leads to the curse of bureaucratic government. The departments of administration, ever extending and absorbing more public money, become independent of all real control, become a separate solid nation within the nation, create — often for the benefit of parents with unmarketable sons — innumerable places and immense vested interests, and turn out second-rate work, just because such work is exposed to no competition, and is relieved from the danger of the bankruptcy court — all official mistakes being covered over by larger and larger takings from the public.
14. Because — notwithstanding the high character of many permanent officials — it increases the danger of harsh, arbitrary, and occasionally cruel things being done by these uncontrolled and irresponsible public departments, that work very much in the darkness. As their operations grow, and the authority of their agents becomes greater, the resistance of the public to their interference necessarily becomes less, both because the public cannot watch with carefulness the large area which falls under official regulation, and because the sense of public helplessness rapidly increases in the presence of these powerfully organized bodies, possessed, in far greater degree than the public can ever be, of the technical knowledge which is connected with their own class of work and their own methods. Moreover, in almost all cases, the departments are able to count upon the silent support of the government, which is in office and which has to work through them.
15. Because in its practical consequences it is endangering the prosperity and even the existence of old and young countries. The rich and the promising countries of South America have been already nearly wrecked by their mad financial management; at this moment, it is doubtful if the United States can adopt a free trade policy, however strongly desired by a large part of the people, on account of the extravagant expenditure to which the country has been committed, and which, once incurred, necessitates a tariff; New Zealand has for many years been struggling to repair the frightful mistakes into which she was led by allowing a few men the power of compulsory dealing with the property of others; some of the Australasian colonies are suffering acutely from past extravagance, and fortunately for themselves have experienced a difficulty in borrowing; India is in a condition that should cause the gravest anxiety as regards her future; in Europe, Spain, Portugal and Greece are apparently nearly outside the possibilities of financial salvation; France has large chronic yearly deficits; Germany, Austria, and Italy — the last country in an almost ruinous condition — stagger along under burdens which they cannot bear, and which will, if persisted in, drive them over the abyss; and Russia lives in a state of constant financial difficulty, which is only partially concealed by official statements that do not err on the side of candour. Here and there are to be found some examples of saner management; but even in Great Britain, where the national debt is diminishing, municipal debt and expenditure are increasing with alarming rapidity, in Mr. Albert Pell's words, “with very little to show for it,” and are now threatening the industrial prosperity of the provincial cities. In other countries, the municipal governments of Paris, Vienna, Florence, Rome and Madrid, repeat in each instance the story of excessive expenditure, excessive burdens, and, in some instances, of grave corruption; in the United States the “boodleism” of New York has become a by-word in most parts of the world, and Boston and other cities have been removed from the hands of their municipal authorities, and placed under commissioners.
16. Because it gives great and undue facility for engaging a whole nation in war. If it were necessary to raise the sum required from those who individually agreed in the necessity of war, we should have the strongest guarantee for the preservation of peace. Once given the power of compulsorily taking the property of others, then a minister “with a light heart,” a general on a black horse, a jingo press, or the shouting crowd of a capital, may turn the scale in favour of war. If neither the French nor the German governments had the power to take such property as they liked from the two nations, it would seem almost certain they would before now have arrived at a peaceful solution of their differences. Compulsory taxation means everywhere the persistent probability of a war made by the ambitions or passions of politicians.
17. Because it is unfitted — as a system — to supply the new wants of an active and expanding civilization. Where in a simple type of community there exist only a few constant wants, it is conceivable that a compulsory system — however unwise and indefensible in itself — might for a time produce no serious inconveniences. In a progressive condition, where new wants discover themselves from day to day, these inconveniences take an acute form. When a certain point of taxation is reached, the hurtfulness of taxes and the friction caused in collecting them advance almost in geometrical ratio, until at last a tax may be increased without producing any greater return of revenue — indeed sometimes producing a smaller return. When, therefore, taxation has once been made the principal instrument of supplying the wants of a people, a stage must presently be reached where each new want can only be satisfied with much greater difficulty and at much greater cost than in the case of preceding wants. In this way civilization — when made dependent on compulsory payments — arrests itself.
18. Because it cannot be arranged on any system that has not far-reaching hurtful effects. It passes “the wit of man” to render the compulsory taking of property harmless. Each system of taxation has its own peculiar group of evils. To take but one example: Income taxes necessitate inquisition and odious interferences; they create a system of government spies; lead to action being taken very improperly and upon questionable guesses by officials whose one view is likely to be to increase their takings; under every imaginable system must be unequal in their incidence; cannot from their nature be decided in cases of dispute either in an open court or in a secret court without much annoyance to the taxpayer; strike all visible property more severely than the less visible forms, lead to much evasion and untruthfulness: become complicated to the last degree owing to the innumerable methods of earning income in modern life; involve metaphysical questions which recall the dialectics of the middle ages; tend to drive capital into risky employments outside the country; whenever much raised, are likely to cause the corruption of officials on whom the returns depend; are a standing menace, [owing to the ease — a mere stroke of the pen — with which they can be increased] to traders and owners of property; are infinitely hurtful to the small men, but tend to be unremunerative, as Leroy Beaulieu has so well shown, except when they are applied to the mass of small properties, since the larger properties, when singled out for attack, even if they do not disappear, are comparatively unfruitful as a field for taxation (thus defeating by a natural check the unwisdom and injustice of trying to make any special class supply the common compulsory fund); destroy the advantage of free trade, even in a country which allows imports to enter freely, since they raise the price of articles produced in an almost excessive degree, owing to the fact that each class of producers necessarily adds his own rate of profit to the tax that he himself pays, and to the tax paid by all those who have preceded him as manufacturers of the same article in the earlier stages of its manufacture — with the consequence that each product of the market that passes through the hands of several producers and distributors, pays the tax several times over before it becomes a finished article, as well as in each case the special rate of profit added to the tax by each producer and each distributor; are therefore unfair to traders who themselves pay income tax and may have to compete with traders in other countries not burdened with income tax (though, it should be said, probably burdened in other ways); and commit the capital crime of making property less desirable, and of weakening the public desire to save and invest. Death duties — a peculiarly mean form of property tax — assessed taxes, custom duties, stamp duties, all have their own special far-reaching consequences of mischief. One reason stands out preëminent; industrial or commercial life is free life, where men adapt themselves in their own way to changing circumstances, and are called on to display infinite tact and mental resource in their efforts to surmount difficulties and to do away with or reduce the various sources of outlay which surround production; but state compulsory payments form a solid unyielding obstacle, which cannot be got rid of or lessened except by fraud, and therefore defy all such exercise of ingenuity or invention or improvement of method. They are as irreconcilable with the free movements of the human mind and the many varied adaptations which make up the delicate process of industrial life, as a rigid iron bar would be, if thrust from the outside and without any other connection, into a complicated machinery made up of joints and flexible parts.
19. Because it introduces hopeless confusion and uncertainty — where all should be most clear, certain, and stable — into the conditions under which property is to be acquired and owned. It tends to weaken the free open market, as the great center of acquisition and distribution of property, the center through which all industrial efforts are set in motion, and through which all industrial efforts are rewarded, and to set up in its place the changing harum-scarum fancies of every set of politicians who make their way to office.
20. Because all taxes, even those placed upon the rich, injure those who are poor. They disturb the course of production and trade; they make traders timid, and so contract industrial enterprise and depress wages; they make considerable payments in ready money necessary, and thus favour a few large houses as against the small traders, and thus again facilitate “corners” and monopolies; they disturb natural values, depreciating the property which is specially taxed; when heavy, they discourage a useful service, which the rich perform unconsciously, of encouraging those inventions which must at first pass through an expensive stage before they can be widely produced in cheap forms; they spoil markets, which in great measure depend for their cheapness and excellence upon their extent; but above all, they misdirect the efforts of the working part of the people. Grasping greedily at the common compulsory fund, out of which every sort of thing is provided, the people lose their faith in free enterprise and their natural inclination to form voluntary societies of their own in order to provide for all the growing wants of life; and instead of setting themselves to build up with their own hands a new civilization — the real work which cries aloud to be done — they waste priceless time and energy in struggling for miserable handfuls out of the devil's quarreling fund — as it has been well called — thus playing the politician's game to his heart's content.
21. Because it injures the working class in another deadly manner, bribing them to give up all real management of their affairs and to accept a purely fictitious management in its place. No better example exists than education. The simplest form of school, really managed and paid for by the working classes, would be worth far more to them and to their children, than the present tawdry and pretentious official systems, in which everybody interferes, and over which no individual parent has the least real control. If they desire endowments — of which, however, be it said, they generally spoil education — the workmen should claim their share of the old charitable endowments, which have been absorbed by all sorts of institutions, and kick tax, rate, central department, and all compulsory management and all compulsory attendance into the dust hole.
22. Because one form of our highest education in life is the practical education which results from our wants and our voluntary efforts to satisfy these wants; and because as long as we satisfy these wants by the use of official compulsory machinery we can never learn to work in friendly voluntary fashion with each other, and to help each other, out of a true public spirit. Thus, the richer classes are being constantly cut off by the effects of compulsion from learning to work with those less well off than themselves for public ends, and in this way their lives become less useful to others, and less happy for themselves.
23. Because when the common fund is placed before the poor man — living a hard and struggling life — as his great hope of salvation, is it reasonable to expect him to forbear from making full use of the tempting resources thus placed under his hand? If taxation or taking from others is in itself a good, true method, why not employ it to its very furthest extent?
24. Because, from the very fact of being compulsory, it is accompanied by great practical inconveniences, inseparable from it. We hear much of the official checks and counterchecks, the expensive, dilatory though unsuccessful safeguards, with which the spending of public money is surrounded; and yet these irritating arrangements are necessary and cannot be dispensed with. The system under which the money of all individuals is compulsorily taken and spent in the name of the nation by a few persons is in itself so unnatural, so topsy-turvy, so opposed to common sense (since the natural safeguard which consists in a man looking after his own interest, doing what he thinks is best with his own property, and refusing to contribute to undertakings which he thinks are expensively, insufficiently, or corruptly managed, is swept away) that no imaginable reform can make any public service satisfactory, as long as it is kept on a compulsory basis. To set aside at the outset and treat as of no consequence the free agency of the individual is to commit an error of so vital a nature that everything falling under the influence of such an error is predestined to go wrong.
25. Because it is an enormous distraction as regards the work of the best workers. Where money is compulsorily taken for all sorts of objects, the most capable men must either frequently detach themselves from their own work in order to form a judgment upon any undertaking which the politicians choose to bring forward, or they must simply allow themselves to be robbed of money, which they neither consent nor desire to give, because it is a smaller loss to be robbed of money, than it is to be robbed of time.
26. Because it tends to turn us all, whether members of legislatures, journalists, or electors, into persons who think superficially and act in a hurry on very imperfect knowledge. The enormous number of undertakings which pass under the hands of legislative bodies, and the enormous number of questions which are submitted to their decision, oblige all those who are concerned with political life to possess innumerable smatterings of piecemeal knowledge of various sorts, to form their judgments in the imperfect light of such smatterings, and to make the best show that is possible with such hastily gathered knowledge. Every member of a legislature ought to be a trained scientist in all branches of human knowledge, in order to perform the duties that everyday are thrown upon him. It has been said by some defenders of competitive examinations that their merit consists in developing the faculties that are specially required for the rapidly changing struggles of afterlife. As regards political life the plea is perfectly just; and the brilliant use of limited intellectual furniture, joined to an intrepid judgment on all subjects on the spur of the moment, is likely to be equally useful to the politician and the successful prize student. But neither the politician nor the prize student represent the best elements in the nation.
27. Because it is essentially socialistic in principle, and offers the easiest and surest means of advance to state socialism. So long as we admit that the property of individuals lies at the mercy of the largest number of votes, we are intellectually and morally committed to state socialism, and it is only certain accidents, liable to disappear at any crisis, which stand between us and the practical realization of state socialism. To put the same truth in the simplest terms — if what is called the state may forcibly take one dollar or one shilling out of what a man owns, it may take what it likes up to the last dollar or last shilling. Once admit the right of the state to take, and the state becomes the real owner of all property.
28. Because this question of compulsory taking offers a decisive battleground between state socialists and those opposed to state socialism. It raises the question of the state existing for the individual, or the individual existing for the state, at once in the clearest and most comprehensive manner. Moreover, it places the combatants on more equal terms. At present, state socialists have the advantage of attacking at any point, and often win, because their solid column is rapidly thrown upon some skillfully selected spot in the widely dispersed line of defense. To a contest persistently fought on such terms there must be only one ending. The fortress that cannot attack is destined to fall; and the defense of liberty by staying behind parapets and bastions is hopeless. Henceforward, we act on the offensive. We admit of no lost or decided causes where liberty is concerned. We care nothing for the many small victories which socialists have won in the last few years. We now invade the territory of the enemy, and attack the point which is the key to his position, confident, that when once men begin to refuse to the state its evil power of taking property by force, socialism will drop into its place amongst the shadows of the past. Socialism lives and thrives upon the principle of compulsory taking.
29. Last, because compulsory taxation is the great typical enemy of all voluntary action. We see in it the very citadel of compulsion, the chief instrument with which every encroachment is carried out, the chief bribe by which men are induced to submit to these encroachments, and an institution which by its very existence preaches to men every day and every hour that they are not really sovereign over themselves, their faculties, and their property, but are subject to the will of others — placed at the mercy of these others to be used or not used, according to their caprices, their superstitions, or their selfishness. We see in it one of the last remaining but one of the most stubbornly defended strongholds of the dominion of men over men. To us, voluntary action stands for the good genius of the human race, as compulsory action, stands for its evil genius. We contrast what the free individual has done, with what the compulsory organization, called government, has done and is doing; we see on the one side all that the human mind has achieved in industry, in commerce, in art, in science, in literature: we count enterprise after enterprise, invention after invention; we see that not only the food, the clothing, the houses, the comforts and refinements which we possess, but that our mental selves, the very thoughts that we think, the very beings that we are, are the outcome of the individual forces that surround us — the outcome of the perpetual action and reaction of the spoken word, the written page, the social intercourse, the outcome of mind acting freely upon mind. How small, how beggarly in comparison, is the sum to be placed to the account of the compulsory association that is directed by the politicians!
We affirm, then, that voluntaryism in everything is the true law of progress and happiness, and that compulsion, or the brute force of law, should be simply retained to hold in check brute force, to protect the individual from the murderer, the thief, and the swindler, to protect him in person and property from injurious acts, done to him in disregard of his consent. Except for such universal and simple purposes of protection, we deny that the brute force of law can ever form a true or moral basis for social relations. We affirm that the brute force of law can never be used to set aside a man's consent as regards his own actions without condemning that man permanently to a lower existence. We affirm that only as men learn to be self-directing, to take their lives and actions into their own charge, to practice and perfect the instrument of voluntary combination for all the growing wants of life, to fight their battles with the weapons of discussion and reason, rejecting all intimidation and coercion of each other, to undertake public duties and services for each other gladly, as free individuals, not driven into any path, however good it may be, by penalties and persecutions — is it possible to look forward to happier and friendlier forms of society. We affirm that there is no such hope to be found at the end of the dreary vista of organized compulsion; of new compulsions resting upon old compulsions, and again buttressed by still newer compulsions; of endless regulations, becoming year after year more minute, and penetrating more deeply into social life and home life — each action of the habit, being more and more jealously scrutinized, for fear that if freedom should be allowed to exist at any point, like a ray of light entering the gloom of a dungeon, it might prove the source from which danger at other points should arise to the huge, unstable, badly cemented fabric of universal regulation. We affirm that all such systems of compulsion are as mere wanderings in the desert, and can lead nowhere. In the breast of every person, however dimly he may recognize it, there is a moral feeling telling him that he has a right to freedom of action and freedom of thought, that he is meant to be self-guiding, and that no organization outside him, on any plea — whether the plea of his own good or of the good of others — can take these rights from him. It is because of the existence of this feeling, which, if often perverted and obscured, yet is deep as human nature itself, and is spread over every region of the world, that we who believe in liberty and hate compulsion, hold the conviction that the victory, whatever yet may be the battles to fight, must at length belong to us. You cannot build upon compulsion — human nature is in eternal revolt against it; every building you rest upon it will prove a building of strife and confusion; every seeming victory will turn against you, and in the end come to naught.
Labour Advised to Reject All Help from Coercion and Restriction
As regards the labour question, recognizing to the full the right of any
and all labourers peacefully to withhold their labour, if so they choose,
at every hour of every day of every year, and even — should they so elect
— to starve into submission — if they can — any number of their fellow-men
by such withholding of their labour, free life yet urges them to seek their
ends through peace instead of war, and to do away with the terrible waste
and other evils that result from employing their savings as a war fund. Believing
that it is most hurtful to the true interests of labour, as well as morally
unjust, to attempt to prevent any fellow labourer from taking the place which
another labourer has thought right to resign; believing that each man has
the right to give or withhold his own labour, as he chooses, but not in any
way to interfere with the bargain which some other man may make about himself,
it urges upon all workmen:
(1) Where they are discontented with their conditions of employment not to strike in a body (which means almost necessarily the compulsion of some of their own number, means acting upon the instincts of a crowd instead of acting as reasonable individuals, means the danger of acquiescing — when once a struggle is entered upon — in some form of violence and intimidation), but to assist in removing those, who individually wish to be removed, to other factories and workshops, thus peacefully draining away, where the terms of employment are unsatisfactory, the best and most adventurous hands, while as a matter of right and justice they offer no impediment of any kind to the taking on of new hands by the employer;
(2) To trust in such cases far more than at present to friendly negotiation, and to the increasing power of publicity and free discussion for the improvement of the conditions under which they give their labour;
(3) To make their unions instruments for amassing large corporate property, to turn them from fighting machines into organizations for constructive purposes, such as the establishing of courses of education during periods when trade is depressed, the investing of their savings fund in solid bricks and mortar, in homes, which might become the property of the individual members, in lodging houses, halls, reading and recreation rooms, farms in the country, which would be held collectively, in shares of existing productive enterprises, and, as opportunity arose, in trade enterprises conducted by themselves;
(4) To cultivate far more friendly and intimate relations with employers; to place employers under no vexatious rules or restrictions, especially restrictions invented by a central body; to make their conduct of business as easy as possible; to get rid of factory laws, and in their place to cooperate with employers to promote far better sanitary conditions and other conditions affecting the comfort of those who labour than those existing at present; to encourage every system under which they would become partners in the concerns in which they work; and instead of placing themselves under any universal discipline of limited hours, to favour differences as regards time and manner of work at different factories or mines, so that each class of workers — the youngest and strongest, the oldest and least strong — may gradually find that which suits them best;
(5) To abandon every attempt to enforce one fixed rate of payment throughout a trade, as necessarily driving out of employment old, young, and second-rate workers, and as certain to prolong the existence of great war organizations and great war funds on the part both of employers and workmen — each side wasting more and more of its resources in the effort to be stronger than its rival, and thus imitating on a small scale the disastrous example of Germany and France; and in the same way to abandon every attempt to restrict the number of those who enter their own trade, or to turn their trade into a monopoly.
Prices Raised by Restriction Mean a Tax
Imposed by One Worker upon Another
Every trade restriction is war declared upon other trades. All attempts
of one class of workers to restrict their own special industry are treason
against their fellow workers, because every restricted trade implies the
effort to get an artificial or heightened price for the product of such trade,
while the workers in it enjoy the product of other unrestricted trades at
free trade (or unrestricted) prices. They are, therefore, guilty in the great
exchange of the world of taking more and giving less, and so far as they
temporarily benefit themselves — and it can only be temporarily — they do
it by placing a tax upon all their fellow workers in the unrestricted trades.
Nor is the universal restriction of all trades less hurtful than the partial
restriction of some trades. Where all professions and trades are restricted,
everybody alike — worker or non-worker — is injured, because:
(1) everybody has to pay the higher price that results indirectly as well as directly from such restriction;
(2) all production is rendered sickly by losing the vitalizing effects which accompany free trade — the constant introduction of new methods, the constant inflow of capital brains and energy;
(3) each set of restrictions in turn fails and is then succeeded by a new set of restrictions, created to make the first set more effective, and thus a state of hopeless entanglement presently results; and
(4) the workers and their children cannot readily pass to the trades for which they have an aptitude or liking, and a great mass, owing to such impeded movement, is slowly formed of unemployed, incapable and indigent, who under free trade would be healthily absorbed.
Such restriction, like restriction in every other matter, prevents the true solution of labour questions. The true solution can only come, as in international affairs, through friendly disarmament of opposed forces; through making the individual the pivot of all action; through creating that freedom of action, which on the one hand allows capital to work in the easiest manner, to adapt itself to new circumstances, to develop new branches of production, and, just because it is unharassed and secure, to take the lowest profit; and on the other hand allows labour not only to improve its own position constructively through its own associations — its energies being no longer misdirected and its savings no longer wasted in useless warfare — but to obtain the highest wage possible, because such highest wage depends upon the following factors:
(a) peaceful, continuous production with increased amount of products for distribution;
(b) improved methods, economizing labour and material;
(c) the constant inflow of new capital, and the competition of capital against capital to obtain labourers — this competition being at its keenest, and the employer's profit being at the lowest, where capital enjoys perfect security.
High wages and security for capital go together. Whenever an employer feels insecure he recoups himself by a higher rate of profit. At the same time it should be remembered that under a state of free trade and free movement there cannot be successful combination amongst employers to maintain profit at the expense of wages; since a high rate of profit must lead to the formation of cooperative and joint-stock companies and to the increased bidding for labour with raised wages.
The Fruits of Liberty and the Fruits of Compulsion
The Free Life asks of every human being to distrust coercion as a bad instrument, morally and materially for achieving progress and supplying wants. It asks them to recognize the great truth that progress abhors the dull spiritless uniformity which follows upon every form of coercion. It asks them to have faith in the all-creating power of the intellectual and moral forces, and to believe that no true living development of these forces can take place until men set themselves to reason and persuade instead of coercing, until each man asks no more for himself than to go to his own way, while he in turn concedes the same perfect liberty to his neighbour, and until every variety of thought, experiment, and system are allowed to compete freely with each other. It bids those who are of Anglo-Saxon blood to remember and cherish the special genius that belongs to their race — the personal initiative, the spirit of adventure, the steadiness in danger, the power to stand alone and resist adverse opinion. It bids them not to exchange these things for the nerveless abject life of an administered crowd. It bids them not to grasp at passing material advantages at the price of injuring themselves mentally and morally. It bids them reject all huge universal systems, not only as discouraging freshness and vigour of thought, but as necessarily fatal to the best classes of citizens, because they place these best classes under conditions framed to meet the requirements of the lowest class of citizens, and, therefore, pedantically sacrifice all the soundest and worthiest part of the people, on whom progress depends, for the sake of the least worthy — who indeed are very slightly, probably not at all, improved by the restrictions upon them. Free Life then calls upon the people to end the bitter strife, and the false state of progress, which must continue to exist, as long as men struggle to rule over each other. It calls upon them to get rid of the compulsory state, and replace it by the voluntary state. It holds that it is only under the voluntary state that in any true sense men can befriend each other, or work for the public good; for under the compulsory state all such services are tainted by the compulsion of those who compel, and the submission of those who submit.
The Work That Is Waiting to Be Done
It is no selfish spirit that Free Life preaches voluntaryism. It wishes no individual to wrap himself up in his own special interests, and to dismiss all sense of the public good; it wishes no part of a nation to retreat from any true duties which fall upon it, either within or without the borders its own country. But it denies that any good or lasting work can be built upon the compulsion of others, be they poor or rich; it denies that either by those who compel, or upon these who are compelled, can the peaceful and happy society of the future be founded. It invites all men to think out the special problems of liberty and friendly cooperation: to join in considering — while first and foremost we give to the individual these full rights over himself, his faculties and his property, without which all efforts are vain — how far we can usefully carry on a common life; how best and with the greatest respect for minorities we can manage common property; how we can work together in the perfecting of education, in the spreading of sanitary knowledge, in improving the conditions of labour, in attacking poverty, in purifying and beautifying the life of our towns, in organizing voluntary defense, in helping distant communities that are related to us or partly dependent on us—how we can do all these things, without at any point touching with the least of our fingers the hateful instrument of an aggressive and unjustifiable compulsion. With all state compulsion, that exceeds the defense of individual rights, Free Life makes and will make no terms. To the voluntary state it bids men offer their best gifts of body and mind; to the compulsory state it can bid men oppose their steady but and uncompromising resistance.