The Limits of Governmental Interference
The Limits of Governmental Interference by J. B. Robinson
Before I can express any opinion upon the limits of governmental interference, I must explain to you my views upon what constitutes a government.
In doing so I shall place before you, to the best of my ability, what is commonly called the Anarchistic view.
It has been objected that each one who calls himself an Anarchist holds a different opinion from the next one who calls himself by the same name; and that consequently the name of Anarchism conveys no definite meanings. The assertion that there are wide differences among Anarchists is true: the inference that there is no coherent group of opinions corresponding to the name is, I think, mistaken.
At this time there are a dozen different sets of people who are thinking about the pressing questions of the day, - the Socialists, the George men, the Ethical Culturists, the Christian Socialists, the Anarchists,- and each of these there are sub-divisions. Take any branch you may, and you will scareely find two members of it of entirely the same opinion. It is as true of any one of them as it is true of the Anarchists.
Indeed, in such a time of fervent though, when the most marked intellectual feature of the day is the almost universal anticipation impeding change, what could we expect among those who think at all but striking divergences of opinion? How could we expect that among Anarchists most of all there would not be strongly declared individual differences, being as they are undoubtedly the most advanced, whether they are the most correct in their conclusions or not?
Would not anything approaching unanimity mean fixity and death?
But it may be roughly said that, whatever their internal differences, all Anarchists think that progress and the attainment of economic comfort is possible without and relinquishment of liberty, while most other schools are of the opinion that meat is more than life and that ? prosperity must be purchased at the cost of some liberty.
No time need be spent upon theological questions. Theology has retired from the battle. It would be as becoming for a man to kick his grandmother as to revile theology nowadays. By sheer inertia the Churches still exist, as the train runs on with speed scarcely perceptibly slackened, after the locomotive is detached; but their warmth has cooled, the infernal fires that force them on are drawn, and all men can see that they are now but dead ashes.
What is the meaning of this retirement of theology? Few suspect the importance of its bearing upon practical affairs. It means more than the mere exchanging church going for Coney Island going on Sundays. It means more even than the final removal from man’s life of a mass of hopes and dears that have seemed to many the most important part of life. Beyond all that, it means that a new way of looking at things must arise, to influence each most trivial action, and throw a new and different glory upon life.
Those who regret the fallings of the leaves, but have not yet learned to look forward to their coming again, despair as they see the breaking-up of the old beliefs. We are left without moral standard, they explain.
How can men, left “without hope” in the world, find any rule of action by which they can regulate their conduct?
Their complaint is just. We are indeed left without a moral standard. To take its place there has developed the egoistic philosophy, the outcome of the utilitarian doctrine, and bearing much the same relation to it that Anarchism bears to Democracy.
“Do what you think is most to your interest” is the Egoistic principle.
Antagonistic as such a phrase sounds to the codes of the past, impossible as it seems that what we have been accustomed to call “lofty” or “noble” actions can spring from such a source, it will be found upon consideration that, so far from forbidding a high ideal of conduct a high ideal is possible upon no other basis.
To the Christian the notion that it can be directly profitable to be honest is a very painful nothing. His notion is that the directly profitable and pleasant course is the dishonest one; and that nobody would submit to the distasteful requirement of honest except with the reward hereafter in view in consideration of his self-denial in abstaining from dishonesty.
So with all other virtues and vices. The vices are esteemed by the ascetic code that is evanescent to be essentially pleasant; the virtues essentially painful. There is nothing for it, according to that code, but for us to bear with the discomforts attaching to a virtuous life. Lest a worse thing befall us in a hypothetical future existence.
The scientific view, on the other hand, is that virtue is virtue only because it is productive of happiness; and that vice is vice because it is productive of unhappiness. At the bottom moreover each one is unable to determine what is for the advantage or happiness of another; while each one knows, better than anybody else, what is for his own happiness. Therefor at the bottom each action must be judged by the individual, as to whether it is conductive to his own happiness, not as to whether it will make somebody else happy.
And this applies in its fullest force even to those actions commonly called altruistic, which give pleasure to the doer indirectly, although directly they may give pain to the doer and pleasure to somebody else.
A king action preformed without any sense of gratification to the doer, loses its character as a king action. If the other who is benefited even suspects that his benefactor is loath to do him the king act, his appreciation of it gives place to reluctance, or even to resentment.
Benevolence is hypocrisy, when prompted by any feeling but personal delight in benevolence.
Such, most briefly and inadequately sketched, is Egoism. Does it surprise you that I should that I should connect such wifely separated matters as the immediate economic distress, and such wide-drawn ethical formulas? That I should deserve social progress from the elimination of the hell-fire theory? Just this connection I wish to accentuate. Just so intimately, in fact, are our every-day actions based upon our underneath philosophy.
“Do what seems to your advantage,” says Egoism, “in fact, you cannot do otherwise.”
Why then exhort people to do what they cannot help doing? Simply for this reason, - that, although each always does what seems to him most to his advantage, there may be a wife variation in the accuracy of his estimate of what is most to his advantage.
It is to the development of the intellect as a guide to conduct that Science exhorts, not as in the past to an emotion subjection to cut-and-dried moral formulas.
Test your actions, not by formulas, but test both formulas and actions continually as you test other things, by observing whether they fulfill their purpose, whether they accord with other facts, whether they are just and true.
But, when once you are sure that a give course of action will conduce to your happiness, follow it.
If you are sure that you enjoy quarrelling and tumult among those about you, by all means bull and rage and tyrannize until, no matter how much pain other may suffer you yourself have achieved happiness for far.
If, on the other hand, you enjoy a peaceful life, notice particularly that your bullying and so on directly diminishes your happiness. Perhaps you will find that you stir up a tumult, not because you like a tumult, but because you are urged by some old-fashioned talk of duty.
“It is for a man to be master in his own house.” “Little children must do as they are told” “it is proper for servants to remember their station.” These are the superstitious formulas which we sacrifice our happiness. Science intervenes and says: “In giving precedence in a formula you commit an error of judgment. Let the formula go. If you want peace and quiet, do what is directly necessary to procure peace and quiet, and do not sacrifice your happiness to a superstition.”
There are no such things as right and wrong; there are very certainly such things as good judgment and bad judgment. A man cannot be wicked, he may be foolish. “Forsake the foolish and live.” “Wisdom is the principal thing; therefor get wisdom: and with all thy getting get understanding.”
Applying this principle to affairs political, Anarchists observe to main facts. First: That, for the procurement of happiness, freedom of action for each individual is indispensable.
So various are the tastes of men that each must be happy, if at all, in his own way. To be in a position to obtain happiness men must be independent, and men must be free.
Secondly, they observe that in all past times a large part of men’s activities have been unnecessary; having been directed, not toward gratifying their desires, but toward logically carrying out certain inaccurate inferences as to the sequences of phenomena which we commonly all superstitions.
Thus men, in all ages, have heavily taxed themselves, owing to a mistaken estimate of ability of certain men to predict, and by means of prayers and incantations to control the future. So too, men still tax themselves heavily out of deference to a superstitious reverence for a creature of the imagination called the State – sometimes called our country, - and they do things detrimental to their welfare for what they call the honor of the country, lofty patriotism, and so forth.
Often, too, men sacrifice their happiness in the interest of what they call “morality,” as all periods humane and kindly men have suffered their impulses to be quenched by an insane deference for the established bloodthirsty methods, from the Roman cross to the American gallows, justifying what they know is barbarous by the name of morality.
Seeing all this, Anarchists say: We will no longer acquiesce this. As soon as possible entirely, and now to the extent of our abilities, we will do only what gives us happiness.
We demand the fullest liberty possible to exercise our faculties, and we are willing to concede the same liberty to others. We may object if anybody enjoys his Sunday by making such a racket as to disturb us; but we object, distinctly, because we do not like to be disturbed, not because it is Sunday. On any other day the same disturbance we would object to as much.
This view of it urges that for the attainment of happiness all must have entire liberty to do anything; but that where there liberties extinguishes the other. I have the right to aggress, but, if the society of men gives me more pleasure than Ishmael’s life, I will abstain from aggression. That it is advisable that each should exercise all liberties, save such as limit the exercise of the liberties of others, is called the law of equal liberty, and is a simply formulated statement of the necessary relations of individuals in a perfect society, as derived from mechanical and biological data.
Nor need anybody stagger over the question of what constitutes aggression, although it is a frequent staggering point for the inquirer.
In the nature of things what constitutes aggression is a variable quantity. Each one must estimate whether it is not easier for him to put up with a given action on the part of another, rather than take the trouble to suppress it by force. The other must judge whether it is for his interest to abstain upon request, or to court forcible encounter. Upon the degree in which force and fighting are pleasurable occupations at any given stage of development, will depend on the solution.
Although Anarchism maintains the right of each individual to compel action upon the part of others by any means be may choose, it announces that as a matter of policy it is not advisable for anyone to compel any action from others, except in restrain of aggression up their part. This may still seem too vague, but Anarchism goes a step farther.
In suppressing attacks, it says, we will do what we can ourselves, and we will invite others to aid us; we, however, pledge ourselves not to compel anybody to help us suppress an action of which he does not desire the suppression. This would appear to us aggression on our part – and we will not indulge in it.
Here we touch bottom
The essence of government is that is permits no secession.
Men may long for the abolition of political abuses of the present; - they are compelled to support them. Men may regard war as murder; they pay each his quota to support it.
Men may regard churches as deleterious in their influence and immoral in their teachings, - by the exemption of churches from taxation we are all assessed to support them.
And so on. The intelligent, the progressive must retire until they can find a majority to agree with them.
Therefor it is that Anarchists abjure and denounce the system of compulsory taxation, which is the essence of government.
In denying compulsory taxation we deny government in any proper sense of the word.
A protective association, protection only those who wish to pay for protection, and refraining from territorial dominiou, is not a government.
It its nature a government compels adhesion, forces financial support, where it is not yielded willingly, and is essentially, not a protective, but an aggressive association.
With a voluntary defensive association the Anarchists has no quarrel as for the compulsory association, he looks forward to its speedy death, from natural causes.
So that we can at last answer the question to the limits of governmental interference, by answering that when men are influenced by their reason rather than by their superstitions they will not permit and interference at all with their actions by the organized system of aggression called government.
Observer, now, how directly the abolition of the governmental monster will conduce out happiness.
In the next place the currency will be free permitting men to exchange their products to the best advantage.
These two freedoms alone mean much. They mean the end of rent and interest, the two most potent agents in the process which we see going on, the transferring of wealth from the pocket of the worker to that of the idler.
They mean the end of commercial profits and dividends of all kings, which are but other forms of rent and interest.
Further than this, Anarchism means the cessation of all taxes save such as free people indge to be for their advantage to play, - the total cessation of the present practice of bonding towns, not so much for the benefit of improvements as to afford another investment for those who are seeking more opportunities to profit without labor.
Anarchism means too, no indirect taxation, no secret filching of what the authorities far not grasp openly, no robber import-duties, no spying Comstock and Sunday laws, no suppression, repression and perpetual compression of our energies.
Inequalities, truly; but such only as are inborn. Artificial inequalities no longer.
With such freedom to associate freely, with the burdens of compulsory association removed, Anarchists thing that human society will evolve toward a more perfect and complete happiness, economics, physical, and intellectual than any Fourier or Bellamy can predict, added to the priceless joys of liberty.