essays

This is part of a series

1897

After Nestor: Mr. Blodgett’s Questions

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

Tucker engages a reader with Q&A on all things anarchist, meeting a long series of challenges to society without the state.

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

Part Two: The Individual, Society, and the State

 

 Tu-Whit! Tu-Whoo! 

(first published in Liberty, October 24, 1885)

“To the editor of Liberty:

“Will you give direct and explicit answers to the following questions?”

I certainly will, wherever the questions are direct and explicit.

“Does Anarchism recognize the right of one individual or any number of individuals to determine what course of action is just or unjust for others?”

Yes, if by the word unjust is meant invasive; otherwise, no. Anarchism recognizes the right of one individual or any number of individuals to determine that no man shall invade the equal liberty of his fellow; beyond this it recognizes no right of control over individual conduct.

“Does it recognize the right to restrain or control their actions, whatever they may be?”

See previous answer.

“Does it recognize the right to arrest, try, convict, and punish for wrong doing?”

Yes, if by the words wrong doing is meant invasion; otherwise, no.

“Does it believe in jury trial?”

Anarchism, as such, neither believes nor disbelieves in jury trial; it is a matter of expediency. For myself, I am inclined to favor it.

“If so, how is the jury to be selected?”

Another matter of expediency. Speaking for myself again, I think the jury should be selected by drawing twelve names by lot from a wheel containing the names of all the citizens in the community,—jury service, of course, not to be compulsory, though it may rightfully be made, if it should seem best, a condition of membership in a voluntary association.

“Does it propose prisons, or other places of confinement, for such as prove unsafe?”

Another matter of expediency. If it can find no better instrument of resistance to invasion, Anarchism will use prisons.

“Does it propose taxation to support the tribunals of justice, and these places of confinement and restraint?”

Anarchism proposes to deprive no individual of his property, or any portion of it, without his consent, unless the individual is an invader, in which case Anarchism will take enough of his property from him to repair the damage done by his invasion. Contribution to the support of certain things may, like jury service, rightfully be made a condition of membership in a voluntary association.

“How is justice to be determined in a given case?”

This question not being explicit, I cannot answer it explicitly. I can only say that justice is to be determined on the principle of equal liberty of all, and by such mechanism as may prove best fitted to secure its object.

“Will Anarchism wait till all who know anything about it are agreed?”

This question is grammatically defective. It is not clear what “it” refers to. It may refer to justice in the previous question, or it may refer to Anarchism, or it may refer to some conception hidden in the recesses of the writer’s brain. At a venture I will make this assertion, hoping it may hit the mark. When Anarchists are agreed in numbers sufficient to enable them to accomplish whatever special work lies before them, they will probably go about it.

“Will they take the majority rule? Or will they sustain a small fraction in their findings?”

Inasmuch as Anarchistic associations recognize the right of secession, they may utilize the ballot, if they see fit to do so. If the question decided by ballot is so vital that the minority thinks it more important to carry out its own views than to preserve common action, the minority can withdraw. In no case can a minority, however small, be governed against its consent.

“Does Anarchism mean the observance and enforcement of natural law, so far as can be discovered, or does it mean the opposite or something else?”

Anarchism does mean exactly the observance and enforcement of the natural law of Liberty, and it does not mean the opposite or anything else.

“If it means that all such as do not conform to the natural law, as understood by the masses, shall be made to suffer through the machinery of organized authority, no matter what name it goes, it is human government as really as anything we now have.”

Anarchism knows nothing about “natural law as understood by the masses.” It means the observance and enforcement by each individual of the natural law of Liberty as understood by himself. When a number of individuals who understand this natural law to mean the equal liberty of all organize on a voluntary basis to resist the invasion of this liberty, they form a very different thing from any human government we now have. They do not form a government at all; they organize a rebellion against government. For government is invasion, and nothing else; and resistance to invasion is the antithesis of government. All the organized governments of to day are such because they are invasive. In the first place, all their acts are indirectly invasive, because dependent upon the primary invasion called taxation; and in the second place, by far the greater number of their acts are directly invasive, because directed, not to the restraint of invaders, but to the denial of freedom to the people in their industrial, commercial, social, domestic, and individual lives. No man with brains in his head can honestly say that such institutions are identical in their nature with voluntary associations, supported by voluntary contributions, which confine themselves to resisting invasion.

“If it means that the undeveloped and vicious shall not be interfered with, it means that the world shall suffer all the disorder and crime that depravity unhindered can consummate.

“S. Blodgett,

Grahamville, Florida.”

I hope that my readers will take in Mr. Blodgett’s final assertion in all its length and breadth and depth. Just see what it says. It says that penal institutions are the only promoters of virtue. Education goes for nothing; example goes for nothing; public opinion goes for nothing; social ostracism goes for nothing; freedom goes for nothing; competition goes for nothing; increase of material welfare goes for nothing; decrease of temptation goes for nothing; health goes for nothing; approximate equality of conditions goes for nothing: all these are utterly powerless as preventives or curatives of immorality. The only forces on earth that tend to develop the undeveloped and to make the vicious virtuous are our judges, our jails, and our gibbets. Mr. Blodgett, I believe, repudiates the Christian doctrine that hell is the only safeguard of religious morality, but he re-creates it by affirming that a hell upon earth is the only safeguard of natural morality.

Why do Mr. Blodgett and all those who agree with him so persistently disregard the constructive side of Anarchism? The chief claim of Anarchism for its principles is that the abolition of legal monopoly will so transform social conditions that ignorance, vice, and crime will gradually disappear. However often this may be stated and however definitely it may be elaborated, the Blodgetts will approach you, apparently gravely unconscious that any remark has been made, and say: “If there are no policemen, the criminal classes will run riot.” Tell them that, when the system of commercial cannibalism which rests on legal privilege disappears, cutthroats will disappear with it, and they will not deny it or attempt to disprove it, but they will first blink at you a moment with their owl-like eyes, and then from out their mouths will come the old, familiar hoot: “Tu-whit! tu-whoo! If a ruffian tries to cut your throat, what are you going to do about it? Tu-whit! tu-whoo!”

 

Rights and Duties Under Anarchy. 

(first published in Liberty, December 31, 1887)

Old readers of this paper will remember the appearance in its columns, about two years ago, of a series of questions propounded by the writer of the following letter and accompanied by editorial answers. To-day my interrogator questions me further; this time, however, no longer as a confident combatant, but as an earnest inquirer. As I replied to him then according to his pugnacity, so I reply to him now according to his friendliness.

                “To the Editor of Liberty:

“Will you please insert the following questions in your paper with your answers thereto, and oblige an ethical, political, and humanitarian student?

“1. Do you, as an Anarchist, believe any one human being ever has the right to judge for another what he ought or ought not to do?”

The terms of this question need definition. Assuming, however, the word “right” to be used in the sense of the limit which the principle of equal liberty logically places upon might, and the phrase “judge for another” to include not only the formation of judgment but the enforcement thereof, and the word “ought” to be equivalent to must or shall, I answer: Yes. But the only cases in which a human being ever has such right over another are those in which the other’s doing or failure to do involves an overstepping of the limit upon might just referred to. That is what was meant when it was said in an early number of Liberty that “man’s only duty is to respect others’ rights.” It might well have been added that man’s only right over others is to enforce that duty.

“2. Do you believe any number combined ever have such a right?”

Yes. The right of any number combined is whatever right the individuals combining possess and voluntarily delegate to it. It follows from this, and from the previous answer, that, as individuals sometimes have the right in question, so a number combined may have it.

“3. Do you believe one, or any number, ever have the right to prevent one another from doing as he pleases?”

Yes. This question is answered by the two previous answers taken together.

“4. Do you believe it admissible, as an Anarchist, to use what influence can be exerted without the aid of brute force to induce one to live as seems to you best?

“Please explain what influence, if any, you think might be employed in harmony with Anarchistic principles.”

Yes. The influence of reason; the influence of persuasion; the influence of attraction; the influence of education; the influence of example; the influence of public opinion; the influence of social ostracism; the influence of unhampered economic forces; the influence of better prospects; and doubtless other influences which do not now occur to me.

“5. Do you believe there is such a thing as private ownership of property, viewed from an Anarchistic standpoint? If so, please give a way or rule to determine whether one owns a thing or not.”

Yes. Anarchism being neither more nor less than hte principle of equal liberty, property, in an Anarchistic society, must accord with this principle. The only form of property which meets this condition is that which secures each in the possession of his own products, or of such products of others as he may have obtained unconditionally without the use of fraud or force, and in the realization of all titles to such products which he may hold by virtue of free contract with others. Possession, unvitiated by fraud or force, of values to which no one else holds a title unvitiated by fraud or force, and the possession of similarly unvitiated titles to values, constitute the Anarchistic criterion of ownership. By fraud I do not mean that which is simply contrary to equity, but deceit and false pretence in all their forms.

“6. Is it right to confine such as injure others and prove themselves unsafe to be at large? If so, is there a way consistent with Anarchy to determine the nature of the confinement, and how long it shall continue?”

Yes. Such confinement is sometimes right because it is sometimes the wisest way of vindicating the right asserted in the answer to the first question. There are many ways consistent with Anarchy of determining the nature and duration of such confinement. Jury trial, in its original form, is one way, and in my judgment the best way yet devised.

“7. Are the good people under obligations to feed, clothe, and make comfortable such as they find it necessary to confine?”

No. In other words, it is allowable to punish invaders by torture. But, if the “good” people are not fiends, they are not likely to defend themselves by torture until the penalties of death and tolerable confinement have shown themselves destitute of efficacy.

“I ask these questions partly for myself, and partly because I believe many others have met “difficulties on the road to Anarchism which a rational, lucid answer wold remove.

“Perhaps you have been over this ground many times, and may feel impatient to find any one as much in the dark as I, but all would-be reformers have to keep reiterating their position to all new-comers, and I trust you will try and make everything clear to me, and to others who may be as unfortunate as myself.

“S. Blodgett.

“Grahamville, Florida.”

Time and space are the only limits to my willingness to answer intelligent questions regarding that science whose rudiments I profess to teach, and I trust that my efforts, on this occasion, may not prove entirely inadequate to the commendable end which my very welcome correspondent has in view.

 

More Questions. 

(first published in Liberty, January 28, 1888)

“To the Editor of Liberty:

“I thank you for your courteous treatment of my questions in your issue of December 31, and as you express a willingness in this direction, I will follow in the same line, and trust you will still think my questions are pertinent and proper.

“Do you think property rights can inhere in anything not produced by the labor or aid of man?

“You say, Anarchism being neither more nor less than the principle of equal liberty, etc. Now, if government were so reformed as to confine its operation to the protection of equal liberty, would you have any quarrel with it? If so, what and why?

“Will you please explain what jury trial in its original form was? I never knew that it was ever essentially different from what it is now.

“S. Blodgett.”

I do not believe in any inherent right of property. Property is a social convention, and may assume many forms. Only that form of property can endure, however, which is based on the principle of equal liberty. All other forms must result in misery, crime, and conflict. The Anarchistic form of property has already been defined, in the previous answers to Mr. Blodgett, as “that which secures each in the possession of his own products, or of such products of others as he may have obtained unconditionally without the use of fraud or force, and in the realization of all titles to such products which he may hold by virtue of free contract with others.” It will be seen from this definition that Anarchistic property concerns only products. But anything is a product upon which human labor has been expended, whether it be a piece of iron or a piece of land.1

If “government” confined itself to the protection of equal liberty, Anarchists would have no quarrel with it; but such protection they do not call government. Criticism of the Anarchistic idea which does not consider Anarchistic definitions is futile. The Anarchist defines government as invasion, nothing more or less. Protection against invasion, then, is the opposite of government. Anarchists, in favoring the abolition of government, favor the abolition of invasion, not of protection against invasion. It may tend to a clearer understanding if I add that all States, to become non-invasive, must abandon first the primary act of invasion upon which all of them rest,—the collection of taxes by force,—and that Anarchists look upon the change in social conditions which will result when economic freedom is allowed as far more efficiently protective against invasion than any machinery of restraint, in the absence of economic freedom, possibly can be.

Jury trial in its original form differed from its present form both in the manner of selecting the jury and in the powers of the jury selected. It was originally selected by drawing twelve names from a wheel containing the names of the whole body of citizens, instead of by putting a special panel of jurors through a sifting process of examination; and by its original powers it was judge, not of the facts alone, as is generally the case now, but of the law and the justice of the law and the extent and nature of the penalty. More information regarding this manner may be found in Lysander Spooner’s pamphlet, Free Political Institutions.

 

Mr. Blodgett’s Final Question. 

(first published in Liberty, April 28, 1888)

“To the Editor of Liberty:

“I have one more question, and it does not occur to me now that I shall want to trouble you further in this way.

“You say: I do not believe in any inherent right of property. Property is a social convention.

“‘Now, does Anarchism recognize the propriety of compelling individuals to regard social conventionalities?

“S. Blodgett.

“Grahamville, Florida.”

Readers who desire to refresh their minds regarding the series of questions which the above includes should consult Nos. 115 and 117. The answer to the first question in No. 115 is really an answer to the question now put. There I said that the only compulsion of individuals the propriety of which Anarchism recognizes is that which compels invasive individuals to refrain from overstepping the principle of equal liberty. Now, equal liberty itself being a social convention (for there are no natural rights), it is obvious that Anarchism recognizes the propriety of compelling individuals to regard one social convention. But it does not follow from this that it recognizes the propriety of compelling individuals to regard any and all social conventions. Anarchism protects equal liberty (of which property based on labor is simply an expression in a particular sphere), not because it is a social convention, but because it is equal liberty,—that is, because it is Anarchism itself. Anarchism may properly protect itself, but there its mission ends. This self-protection it must effect through voluntary association, and not through government; for to protect equal liberty through government is to invade equal liberty.

 

Trying to Be and Not to Be. 

(published first in Liberty, June 9, 1888)

“To the Editor of Liberty:

“I do not write this with the idea that you will publish it, for the tardiness with which you inserted my last question indicates that you do not care for any more of me in your paper. You are too good a reasoner to not know that, if it is proper to interfere to compel people “to regard one social convention,” it is not improper to force another, or all, providing there is any satisfaction in doing so. If “there are no natural rights,” there is no occasion for conscientious or other scruples, providing the power exists. Therefore, there is no guarantee that there will be even as much individuality permitted under Anarchistic rule as under the present plan, for the principle of human rights is now recognized, however far removed we may be from giving the true application. The “equal liberty” “social convention” catch-phrase can be stamped out as coolly as any other. There are but two views to take of any proposed action,—that of right and that of expediency,—and as you have knocked the idea of right out, the thing is narrowed to the lowest form of selfishness. There certainly can be no more reason why Anarchists, who deny every obligation on the ground of right, should be consistent in standing by the platform put forward when weak, than that ordinary political parties should stand by their promises made when out of power.

“I called “equal liberty” a catch-phrase. It sounds nice, but when we criticise it, it is hollow. For instance, “equal liberty” may give every one the same opportunity to take freely from the same cabbage patch, the same meat barrel, and the same grain-bin. So long as no one interferes with another, he is not overstepping the principle of “equal liberty,” but when one undertakes to keep others away, he is, and you can only justify the proscription by saying that one ought to have liberty there, and the others had not,—that those who did nothing in the production ought not to have “equal liberty” to appopriate. But if nobody has any “natural rights,” then the thief not only does not interfere with the “equal liberty” of others, but he does them no wrong. You have done well, considering your opportunity, but your cause is weak. You are mired and tangled in the web you have been weaving beyond material help. Still, I see a ray of hope for Anarchism. Just unite with the Christian Science metaphysicians, and the amalgamation will be an improvement. As I have looked it over, I am sure the chemical combination will be perfect, and the result will be the most pleasing nectar ever imbibed by suffering humanity.

“S. Blodgett.”

As Mr. Blodgett says, it is as proper to enforce one social convention as another “providing there is any satisfaction in doing so.” But Anarchists, from the very fact that they are Anarchists, take no satisfaction in enforcing any social convention except that of equal liberty, that being the essence of their creed. Now, Mr. Blodgett asked me to define the sphere of force as viewed by Anarchism; he did not ask me to define any other view of it. To say that an Anarchist is entitled to enforce all social conventions is to say that he is entitled to cease to be an Anarchist, which nobody denies. But if he should cease to be an Anarchist, the remaining Anarchists would still be entitled to stop him from invading them. I hope that Mr. Blodgett is a good enough reasoner to perceive this distinction, but I fear that he is not.

It is true, also, that, if there are no natural rights, there is no occasion for conscientious scruples. But it is not true that there is no occasion for “other scruples.” A scruple, according to Webster, is “hesitation as to action from the difficulty of determining what is right or expedient.” Why should not disbelievers in natural rights hesitate on grounds of expediency? In other words, why should they be unscrupulous?

It is true, again, that Anarchism does not recognize the principle of human rights. But it recognizes human equality as a necessity of stable society. How, then, can it be charged with failing to guarantee individuality?

It is true, further, that equal liberty can be stamped out as coolly as anything else. But people who believe in it will not be likely to stamp it out. And Anarchists believe in it.

It is true, still further, that there are only two standards of conduct,—right and expediency. But why does elimination of right narrow the thing down to the lowest form of selfishness? Is expediency exclusive of the higher forms of selfishness? I deem it expedient to be honest. Shall I not be honest, then, regardless of any idea of right? Or is honesty the lowest form of selfishness?

It is far from true, however, that Anarchists have no more reason to stand by their platform than ordinary politicians have to stand by theirs. Anarchists desire the advantages of harmonious society and know that consistent adherence to their platform is the only way to get them, while ordinary politicians desire only offices and “boodle,” and make platforms simply to catch votes. Even if it were conceivable that hypocrites should step upon the Anarchistic platform simply for their temporary convenience, would that invalidate the principle of Anarchism? Does Mr. Blodgett reject all good principles the moment they are embodied in party platforms by political tricksters?

General opportunity for all to take freely from the same cabbage patch is not equal liberty. As was happily pointed out some time ago by a writer for the New York Truth Seeker, whose article was copied into Liberty, equal liberty does not mean equal slavery or equal invasion. It means the largest amount of liberty compatible with equality and mutuality of respect, on the part of individuals living in society, for their respective spheres of action. To appropriate the cabbages which another has grown is not to respect his sphere of action. Hence equal liberty would recognize no such conduct as proper.

The sobriety with which Mr. Blodgett recently renewed his questions led me to believe that he did not relish the admixture of satire with argument. But the exquisite touch of irony with which he concludes the present letter seems to indicate the contrary. If so, let him say the word, and he shall be accommodated. The author of Tu-Whit! Tu-Whoo! is not yet at his wits’ end.

 

Mr. Blodgett’s Explanation. 

(first published in Liberty August 4, 1888)

“To the Editor of Liberty:

“I was honest in the questions I asked concerning the foundation on which Anarchism is aiming to build. I had thought considerably on the matter, and read in Liberty as it came in my way, and while the ideal was fair to look upon, it seemed to me one must have a loose method of reasoning to suppose its practical realization possible. I also found that those of my acquaintance who favored the idea reasoned from the standpoint of an imaginary, instead of a real, humanity, which left their arguments on the subject of no practical value.

“I desired to see what showing you could give, if put to the test. I was ready to become an Anarchist, if Anarchism could be made to appear sensible, though I own I believed you would make the failure you have. In one thing I have been disappointed and pleased. You have had the manliness to face the dilemma in which you found yourself, and published my last question, and my summing-up, subsequently. I will give you credit for straight work, and this is more than I expected to be able to do.

“When I wrote my last, I thought I was done, whether you published it or not, and I should have stopped there, if you had not published it, or, if you had published it, and simply made comments thereon, no matter what those comments might have been; but the challenge and threat bring me out once more. I will say on that, that I never thought of finding fault or being displeased with your Tu-Whit! Tu-Whoo! and that I do “relish the admixture of satire with argument” on fitting occasions. I am as much at home in a sea of controversy and irony as a fish is in water, so there is no occasion for your holding up out of sympathy for me. Just give me the intellectual thumps when you feel like it and can, and you need take no pains to have them sugar-coated.

“And now for a few words on your last remarks. You accept my statement that it is as proper to enforce one social convention as another, provided there is any satisfaction in doing so. I find the difference between an Anarchist and a Governmentalist is nothing here. If there is any difference in the action of the two, it is not a difference in the principles which control it. There might be a difference in method, and a difference in the kind of social conventions which they wish to enforce. On both these points I suppose I should have some sympathy with the Anarchists like you. But when we prevent another from doing as he otherwise would, we govern him in that particular, and I see no advantage in denying it, or in trying to find another term to express the fact. In my judgment it is better to not attempt to beat around the bush, but to state plainly the social conventions and rights (for such as me who believe in rights) we wish to enforce, and such restrictions as we wish to free the world from, and fight it out above board and on that line.

“You say “opportunity for all to take freely from the same cabbage patch is not equal liberty.” If all have opportunity to take freely, I do not know how any one can have any greater liberty, and if all have all there is, it looks to me “equal.” And further; I maintain that “equal slavery” is equal liberty. It is impossible to make one’s slavery complete; and no matter how small an amount of liberty is left, if the same amount is left for all, it is “equal liberty.” Equal does not mean much or little, but to be on a par with others. “Equal liberty” is not the phrase to express what you are after, and you will have to try again, or let it go that your ideas are either muddled or inexpressible.

“It is also puzzling to know what you mean by “invasion.” It cannot be you mean invasion of rights, because you claim there are no rights to invade. But perhaps you are having in view some social convention to be invaded. In any case, “equal invasion” is “equal liberty.” Suppose you do not “respect another’s sphere of action,” that want of respect does not limit his liberty; it is not necessary for him to respect yours, and that leaves “equal liberty” in that direction.

“I am glad I opened this question as I did, for I think I get from what you have written a clue to your bottom feelings on it; and if I do, we are not so far apart in aim as would appear, and I recognize that you may be of value in the reform world. I certainly hope that you may assist in loosening the grip of Government prerogatives relating to matters purely personal. Here we can work together.

“S. Blodgett.”

I am not conscious to have shown any special courage or honesty in my discussion with Mr. Blodgett; perhaps this is because I am unconscious of having been confronted with any dilemma. I have been as badly worsted as he seems to suppose, it is fortunate for my pride and mental peace that I do not know it. The “difference in the kind of social conventions which they wish to enforce” is the only difference I claim between Anarchists and Governmentalists; it is quite difference enough,—in fact, exactly equal to the difference between liberty and authority. To use the word government as meaning the enforcement of such social conventions as are unnecessary to the preservation of equal liberty seems to me, not beating around the bush, but a clear definition of terms. Others may use the word differently, and I have no quarrel with them for doing so as long as they refrain from interpreting my statements by their definitions. “Opportunity for all to take freely from the same cabbage patch is not equal liberty,” because it is incompatible with another liberty,—the liberty to keep. Equal liberty, in the property sphere, is such a balance between the liberty to take and the liberty to keep that the two liberties may coexist without conflict or invasion. In a certain verbal sense it may be claimed that equal slavery is equal liberty; but nearly every one except Mr. Blodgett realizes that he who favors equal slavery favors the greatest amount of slavery compatible with equality, while he who favors equal liberty favors the greatest amount of liberty compatible with equality. This is a case in which emphasis is everything. By “invasion” I mean the invasion of the individual sphere, which is bounded by the line inside of which liberty of action does not conflict with others’ liberty of action. The upshot of this discussion seems to be, by his own confession, that heretofore Mr. Blodgett has misconceived the position of the Anarchists, whereas now he understands it. In that view of the matter I concede his victory; for in all intellectual controversy he is the real victor who gains the most light.

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