essays

This is part of a series

1897

After Nestor: A Puppet for a God

Instead of a Book, By a Man Too Busy to Write One

In these four short pieces, Tucker takes on readers and radicals alike, contending that abolition of the state is one of humanity’s pressing concerns.

Instead of a Book, By a Man Too Busy to Write One

Part Two: The Individual, Society, and the State

 

Resistance to Taxation

(published first in Liberty, March 26, 1887)

“To the Editor of Liberty:

“I have lately been involved in several discussions leading out of your refusal to pay your poll-tax, and I would like to get from you your reasons, so far as they are public property, for that action. It seems to me that any good object could have been better and more easily obtained by compromising with the law, except the object of propagandism, and that in attaining that object you were going beyond the right into paths where you could not bid any one follow who was trying to live square with the truth, so far as we may know it.

“It seems to me that we owe our taxes to the State, whether we believe in it or not, so long as we remain within its borders, for the benefits which we willingly or unwillingly derive from it; that the only right course to be pursued is to leave any State whose laws we can no longer obey without violence to our own reason, and, if necessary, people a desert island for ourselves; for in staying in it and refusing to obey its authority, we are denying the right of others to combine on any system which they may deem right, and in trying to compel them to give up their contract, we are as far from the right as they in trying to compel us to pay the taxes in which we do not believe.

“I think that you neglect the grand race experience [i.e. racially- or ethnically-conceived history; historical experience thought peculiar to certain typologies of human being] which has given us our present governments when you wage war upon them all, and that a compromise with existing circumstances is as much a part of the right as following our own reason, for the existent is the induction of the race, and so long as our individual reasons are not all concordant it is entitled to its share of consideration, and those who leave it out do, in so far, wrong.

“Even granting strict individualism to be the ultimate goal of the race development, still you seem to me positively on a false path when you attempt – as your emphatic denial of all authority of existing government implies – to violently substitute the end of development for its beginning…

“Yours truly,

“Frederic A. C. Perrine”

(7 ATLANTIC ST., NEWARK, N. J., November 11, 1886.)

Mr. Perrine’s criticism is an entirely pertinent one, and of the sort that I like to answer, though in this instance circumstances have delayed the appearance of his letter. The gist of his position – in fact, the whole of his argument – is contained in his second paragraph, and is based on the assumption that the State is precisely the thing which the Anarchists say it is not, – namely, a voluntary association of contracting individuals. Were it really such, I should have no quarrel with it, and I should admit the truth of Mr. Perrine’s remarks. For certainly such voluntary association would be entitled to enforce whatever regulations the contracting parties might agree upon within the limits of whatever territory, or divisions of territory, had been brought into the association by these parties as individual occupiers thereof, and no non-contracting party would have a right to enter or remain in this domain except upon such terms as the association might impose. But if, somewhere between these divisions of territory, had lived, prior to the formation of the association, some individual on his homestead, who for any reason, wise or foolish, had declined to join in forming the association, the contracting parties would have had no right to evict him, compel him to join, make him pay for any incidental benefits that he might derive from proximity to their association, or restrict him in the exercise of any previously-enjoyed right to prevent him from reaping these benefits. Now, voluntary association necessarily involving the right of secession, any seceding member would naturally fall back into the position and upon the rights of the individual above described, who refused to join at all. So much, then, for the attitude of the individual toward any voluntary association surrounding him, his support thereof evidently depending upon his approval or disapproval of its objects, his view of its efficiency in attaining them, and his estimate of the advantages and disadvantages involved in joining, seceding, or abstaining. But no individual to-day finds himself under any such circumstances. The States in the midst of which he lives cover all the ground there is, affording him no escape, and are not voluntary associations, but gigantic usurpations. There is not one of them which did not result from the agreement of a larger or smaller number of individuals, inspired sometimes no doubt by kindly, but oftener by malevolent, designs, to declare all the territory and persons within certain boundaries a nation which every one of these persons must support, and to whose will, expressed through its sovereign legislators and administrators no matter how chosen, every one of them must submit. Such an institution is sheer tyranny, and has no rights which any individual is bound to respect; on the contrary, every individual who understands his rights and values his liberties will do his best to overthrow it. I think it must now be plain to Mr. Perrine why I do not feel bound either to pay taxes or to emigrate. Whether I will pay them or not is another question, – one of expediency. My object in refusing has been, as Mr. Perrine suggests, propagandism, and in the receipt of Mr. Perrine’s letter I find evidence of the adaptation of this policy to that end. Propagandism is the only motive that I can urge for isolated individual resistance to taxation. But out of propagandism by this and many other methods I expect there ultimately will develop the organization of a determined body of men and women who will effectively, though passively, resist taxation, not simply for propagandism, but to directly cripple their oppressors. This is the extent of the only “violent substitution of end for beginning” which I can plead guilty of advocating, and, if the end can “better and more easily obtained” in any other way, I should like to have it pointed out. The “grand race experience” which Mr. Perrine thinks I neglect is a very imposing phrase, on hearing which one is moved to lie down in prostrate submission; but whoever first chances to take a closer look will see that it is but one of those spooks of which Tak Kak [pseudonym for James L. Walker, who regularly wrote to Liberty] tells us. Nearly all the evils with which mankind was ever afflicted were products of this “grand race experience,” and I am not aware that any were ever abolished by showing it any unnecessary reverence. We will bow to it when we must; we will “compromise with existing circumstances” when we have to; but at all other times we will follow our reason and the plumb-line.

 

A Puppet for a God

(published first in Liberty, April 9, 1887)

“To the Editor of Liberty:

“Please accept my thanks for your candid answer to my letter of November 11, 1886. It contains, however, some points which do not seem to me conclusive. The first statement to which I object is your statement that voluntary association necessarily involves the right of secession; hereby you deny the right of any people to combine on a constitution which denies that right of secession, and in doing so attempt to force upon them your own idea of right. You assume the case of a new State attempting to enforce its laws upon a former settler in the country, and say that they have no right to do so; I agree with you, but have I not as much reason for assuming a State including no previous settler’s homestead and voluntarily agreeing to waive all right of secession from the vote of the majority? In any such State I claim, then, that any member becoming an Anarchist, or holding any views differing from those of the general body, is only right in applying them within the laws of the majority.

“Such seems to me to represent the condition of these United States; there is very little, if any, record of any man denying the right of the majority at their foundation, and, in the absence of any such denial, we are forced to the conclusion that the association and the passage of the majority rules were voluntary, and, as I said before, resistance to their government beyond the legal means by an inhabitant is practically denying the right of the others to waive the right of secession on entering into a contract. The denial of any such right seems to me to be irrational.

“Of course, none of this applies to the Indians, who never did and never will come into the government. I do not, however, think that their case invalidates the argument.

“In the second place, I object to your quotation of my phrase, “grand race experience,” as grandiloquent. If we have anything grand, it is this “race experience”; denying its grandeur, you either deny the grandeur and dignity of Man, or else, as you seem to do, you look back fondly to some past happy state in some “Happy Valley” of Eden from which man has been falling till now he can say, “All the evils with which mankind was ever afflicted were products of this ‘grand race experience.’” It does indeed seem to me to be to you a “spook” and more: an ogre, The Devil going about devouring all good, rather than, as it seems to me, the manifestation of Divinity, – the divinity of Man, which has produced, not alone the evil in us, but has produced us as we are, with all our good and ill combined.

“It is the force which is as surely leading us up to Anarchy and beyond as it has led us from the star-dust into manhood. It is the personification of our evolution, and, while no man may either advance or retard that evolution to any considerable extent, still it seems to me that much more can be accomplished by acting with it than across its path, even though we may seem to be steering straight towards the harbor for which it is tacking…

 “I sat at that dinner with Republicans and Democrats, Free Traders and Protectionists, all absorbed with the one idea of advancement and working for that idea with heart and soul. Their influence will be felt, felt not only now, but in the future, even the future of a happy Anarchy; reaching out after and touching that state before some of its more uncompromising adherents.

“When the days are ripe for a revolution, then let there be no more compromise; the compromise will come in spite of us. But to fly against the wall of an indolent public sentiment is folly, while each man, Anarchist or not, can do something towards the purification of the existent order of things, or at least should withhold the hand of hindrance from earnest workers in the field.

“Frederic A. C. Perrine”

When I said, in my previous reply to Mr. Perrine, that voluntary association necessarily involves the right of secession, I did not deny the right of any individuals to go through the form of constituting themselves an association in a which each member waives the right of secession. My assertion was simply meant to carry the idea that such a constitution, if any should be so idle as to adopt it, would be a mere form, which every decent man who was a party to it would hasten to violate and tread under foot as soon as he appreciated the enormity of his folly. Contract is a very serviceable and most important tool, but its usefulness has its limits; no man can employ it for the abdication of his manhood. To indefinitely waive one’s right of secession is to make one’s self a slave. Now, no man can make himself so much a slave as to forfeit the right to issue his own emancipation proclamation. Individuality and its right of assertion are indestructible except by death. Hence any signer of such a constitution as that supposed who should afterwards become an Anarchist would be fully justified in the use of any means that would protect him from attempts to coerce him in the name of that constitution. But even if this were not so; if men were really under obligation to keep impossible contracts, – there would still be no inference to be drawn therefrom regarding the relations of the United States to its so-called citizens. To assert that the United States constitution is similar to that of the hypothesis is an extremely wild remark. Mr. Perrine can readily find this out by reading Lysander Spooner’s “Letter to Grover Cleveland.” That masterly document will tell him what the United States constitution is and just how binding it is on anybody. But if the United States constitution were a voluntary contract of the nature described above, it would still remain for Mr. Perrine to tell us why those who failed to repudiate it are bound, by such failure, to comply with it, or why the assent of those who entered into it is binding upon people who were then unborn, or what right the contracting parties, if there were any, had to claim jurisdiction and sovereign power over that vast section of the planet which has since been known as the United States of America and over all the persons contained therein, instead of over themselves simply and such lands as they personally occupied and used. These are points which he utterly ignores. His reasoning consists of independent propositions between which there are no logical links. Now, as to the “grand race experience” It is perfectly true that, if we have anything grand, it is this, but it is no less true that, if we have anything base, it is this. It is all we have, and, being all, includes all, both grand and base. I do not deny man’s grandeur, neither do I deny his degradation; consequently I neither accept nor reject all that he has been and done. I try to use my reason for the purpose of discrimination, instead of blindly obeying any divinity, even that of man. We should not worship this race experience by imitation and repetition, but should strive to profit by its mistakes and avoid them in future. Far from believing in any Edenic state, I yield to no man in my strict adherence to the theory of evolution, but evolution is “leading us up to Anarchy” simply because it has already led us in nearly every other direction and made a failure of it. Evolution like nature, of which it is the instrument or process, is extremely wasteful and short-sighted. Let us not imitate its wastefulness or even tolerate it if we can help it; let us rather use our brains for the guidance of evolution in the path of economy. Evolution left to itself will sooner or later eliminate every other social form and leave us Anarchy. But evolution guided will try to discover the common element in its past failures, summarily reject everything having this element, and straightway accept Anarchy, which has it not. Because we are the products of evolution we are not therefore to be its puppets. On the contrary, as our intelligence grows, we are to be more and more its masters. It is just because we let it master us, just because we strive to act with it rather than across its path, just because we dilly-dally and shilly-shally and fritter away our time, for instance, over secret ballots, open ballots, and the like, instead of treating the whole matter of the suffrage from the standpoint of principle, that we do indeed “pave the way,” much to our sorrow, “for those great revolutions” and “great epochs” when extremists suddenly get the upper hand. Great epochs, indeed! Great disasters rather, which it behooves us vigilantly to avoid. But how? By being extremists now. If there were more extremists in evolutionary periods, there would be no revolutionary periods. There is no lesson more important for mankind to learn than that. Until it is learned, Mr. Perrine will talk in vain about the divinity of man, for every day will make it more patent that his god is but a jumping-jack.

 

Mr. Perrine’s Difficulties

(published first in Liberty, July 16, 1887)

“To the Editor of Liberty:

“I suppose I should feel completely swamped by the great waves of satire which have rolled over my head from all directions but the front.

“Still I feel able to lift my hand, and make the motion of scissors.

“I have had the fallacy of a part of my argument so clearly pointed out to me by another than Liberty that I did not think it would be necessary for its editor to go so far around my position as to deny the sanctity of contract in order to refute me.

“Indeed, my only hope of Liberty now is that it will define some of its own positions.

“I have heard as great deal of “spooks” and “plumb-lines,” but I cannot clearly see the reason that contract has ceased being a “plumb-line” and become a “spook,” unless we have to allow that much liberty for an argument.

“Will you please explain what safety there may be in an individualistic community where it becomes each man’s duty to break all contracts as soon as he has become convinced that they were made foolishly?

“Again, it being the duty of the individuals to break contracts made with each other, I cannot clearly see how it becomes an act of despicable despotism for the Republic to break contracts made with the Crow Indians, unless the ideal community is that in which we all become despicable despots and where we amuse ourselves by calling each other hard names.

“Indeed, as I have said twice before, you seem to me to deny to others the right to make and carry out their own contracts unless these contracts meet with your approval.

“I am aware now of my error in assuming that the authority of the State rested historically on any social contract, and those points which were brought in in your reply as secondary are the main objection to my position.

“The true authority of the State rests, as Hearn shows in his “Aryan Household,” not on contract, but on its development; a point at which I hinted, but did not clearly develop.

“However, I do not feel warranted in entering with you into any discussion from that standpoint till I am able to find out more clearly what Liberty means by development. In your reply to me, you seem to think of it as a sort of cut-and-try process; this may be a Boston idea absorbed from the “Monday Lectures,” but I think that it is hardly warranted by either Darwin or Spencer.

“I tried in both of my letters to insist on the existence of a general line of development which is almost outside the power of individuals, and which is optimistic. By its being “optimistic” I mean that, on the principle of the survival of the fittest, our present condition is the best that it is possible for us to have attained. You do not deny man’s divinity, “neither do you deny his degradation”; from what has man been degraded? You do not accept an Edenic state; then what do you mean by “man’s degradation“?

“The idea of development which admits of a degradation and which expects Liberty’s followers to arrest the “wasteful process” which has already made trial of everything else, and is now in despair about to make the experiment of Anarchy is something so new to me that I must ask for a more complete exposition of the system.

“Frederic A. C. Perrine”

Mr. Perrine should read more carefully. I have never said that it is “each man’s duty to break all contracts as soon as he has become convinced that they were made foolishly.” What I said was that, if a man should sign a contract to part with his liberty forever, he would violate it as soon as he saw the enormity of his folly. Because I believe that some promises are better broken than kept, it does not follow that I think it wise always to break a foolish promise. On the contrary, I deem the keeping of promises such an important matter that only in the extremest cases would I approve their violation. It is of such vital consequence that associates should be able to rely upon each other that it is better never to do anything to weaken this confidence except when it can be maintained only at the expense of some consideration of even greater importance. I mean by evolution just what Darwin means by it, – namely, the process of selection by which, out of all the variations that occur from any cause whatever, only those are preserved which are best adapted to the environment. Inasmuch as the variations that perish vastly outnumber those that survive, this process is extremely wasteful, but human intelligence can greatly lessen the waste. I am perfectly willing to admit its optimism, if by optimism is meant the doctrine that everything is for the best under the circumstances. Optimism so defined is nothing more than the doctrine of necessity. As to the word “degradation,” evidently Mr. Perrine is unaware of all its meanings. By its derivation it implies descent from something higher, but it is also used by the best English writers to express a low condition regardless of what preceded it. It was in the latter sense that I used it.

 

Where We Stand

(published first in Liberty, August 19, 1882)

Mr. B. W. Ball writes the best articles that appear in the “Index,” which is not saying much, and among the best that appear in the weeklies, which is saying a good deal. We were the more gratified, therefore, to find him treating in a recent number the incipient, but increasing, opposition to the existence of the State. He at least is clear-sighted enough not to underrate the importance of the advent into social and political agitation of so straightforward, consistent, unterrified, determined, and, withal, philosophically rooted a factor as modern Anarchism, although his editorial chief, Mr. Underwood, declares that the issue which the Anarchists present “admits of no discussion.”

But even Mr. Ball shows, by his article on “Anti-State Theorists,” that, despite his promptness to discover and be impressed by the appearance of this new movement, he has as yet studied it too superficially to know anything of the groundwork of the thought which produced, animates, and guides it. Indeed this first shot of his flies so wide of the mark that certain incidental phrases indicative of the object of his aim were needed to reassure us that Anarchism really was his target. In a word, he has opened fire on the Anarchists without inquiring where we stand.

Where, then, does he suppose us to stand? His central argument against us, stated briefly, is this: Where crime exists, force must exist to repress it. Who denies it? Certainly not Liberty; certainly not the Anarchists. Anarchism is not a revival of non-resistance, though there may be non-resistants in its ranks. The direction of Mr. Ball’s attack implies that we would let robbery, rape, and murder make havoc in the community without lifting a finger to stay their brutal, bloody work. On the contrary, we are the sternest enemies of invasion of person and property, and, although chiefly busy in destroying the causes thereof, have no scruples against such heroic treatment of its immediate manifestations as circumstances and wisdom may dictate. It is true that we look forward to the ultimate disappearance of the necessity of force even for the purpose of repressing crime, but this, though involved in it as a necessary result, is by no means a necessary condition of the abolition of the State.

In opposing the State, therefore, we do not deny Mr. Ball’s proposition, but distinctly affirm and emphasize it. We make war upon the State as the chief invader of person and property, as the cause of substantially all the crime and misery that exist, as itself the most gigantic criminal extant. It manufactures criminals much faster than it punishes them. It exists to create and sustain the privileges which produce economic and social chaos. It is the sole support of the monopolies which concentrate wealth and learning in the hands of a few and disperse poverty and ignorance among the masses, to the increase of which inequality the increase of crime is directly proportional. It protects a minority in plundering the majority by methods too subtle to be understood by the victims, and then punishes such unruly members of the majority as attempt to plunder others by methods too simple and straightforward to be recognized by the State as legitimate, crowning its outrages by deluding scholars and philosophers of Mr. Ball’s stamp into pleading, as an excuse for its infamous existence, the necessity of repressing the crime which it steadily creates.

Mr. Ball, – to his honor be it said, – during anti-slavery days, was a steadfast abolitionist. He earnestly desired the abolition of slavery. Doubtless he remembers how often he was met with the argument that slavery was necessary to keep the unlettered blacks out of mischief, and that it would be unsafe to give freedom to such a mass of ignorance. Mr. Ball in those days saw through the sophistry of such reasoning, and knew that those who urged it did so to give some color of moral justification to their conduct in living in luxury on the enforced toil of slaves. He probably was wont to answer them something after this fashion: “It is the institution of slavery that keeps the blacks in ignorance, and to justify slavery on the ground of their ignorance is to reason in a circle and beg the very question at issue.”

Today Mr. Ball – again to his honor be it said – is a religious abolitionist. He earnestly desires the abolition, or at least the disappearance, of the Church. How frequently he must meet or hear of priests who, while willing to privately admit that the doctrines of the Church are a bundle of delusions, argue that the Church is necessary to keep the superstition-ridden masses in order, and that their release from the mental subjection in which it holds them would be equivalent to their precipitation into unbridled dissipation, libertinism, and ultimate ruin. Mr. Ball sees clearly through the fallacy of all such logic, and knows that those who use it do so to gain a moral footing on which to stand while collecting their fees from the poor fools who know no better than to pay them. We can fancy him replying with pardonable indignation: “Cunning knaves, you know very well that it is your Church that saturates the people with superstition, and that to justify its existence on the ground of their superstition is to put the cart before the horse and assume the very point in dispute.”

Now, we Anarchists are political abolitionists. We earnestly desire the abolition of the State. Our position on this question is parallel in most respects to those of the Church abolitionists and the slavery abolitionists. But in this case Mr. Ball – to his disgrace be it said – takes the side of the tyrants against the abolitionists, and raises the cry so frequently raised against him: The State is necessary to keep thieves and murderers in subjection, and, were it not for the State, we should all be garroted in the streets and have our throats cut in our beds. As Mr. Ball saw through the sophistry of his opponents, so we all see through his, precisely similar to theirs, though we know that not he, but the capitalists use it to blind the people to the real object of the institution by which they are able to extort from labor the bulk of its products. We answer him as he did them, and in no very patient mood: Can you not see that it is the State that creates the conditions which give birth to thieves and murderers, and that to justify its existence on the ground of the prevalence of theft and murder is a logical process every whit as absurd as those used to defeat your efforts to abolish slavery and the Church?

Once for all, then, we are not opposed to the punishment of thieves and murderers; we are opposed to their manufacture. Right here Mr. Ball must attack us, or not at all. When next he writes on Anarchism, let him answer these questions:

Are not the laboring classes deprived of their earnings by usury in its three forms, – interest, rent, and profit?

Is not such deprivation the principal cause of poverty?

Is not poverty, directly or indirectly, the principal cause of illegal crime?

Is not usury dependent upon monopoly, and especially upon the land and money monopolies?

Could these monopolies exist without the State at their back?

Does not by far the larger part of the work of the State consist in establishing and sustaining these monopolies and other results of special legislation?

Would not the abolition of these invasive functions of the State lead gradually to the disappearance of crime?

If so, would not the disappearance of crime render the protective functions of the State superfluous?

In that case, would not the State have been entirely abolished?

Would not this be the realization of Anarchy and the fulfilment of Proudhon’s prophecy of “the dissolution of government in the economic organism”?

To each of these questions we answer: Yes. That answer constitutes the ground on which we stand and from which we refuse to be drawn away. We invite Mr. Ball to meet us on it, and whip us if he can.

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