Instead of A Book (1893/1897)

by Benjamin R. Tucker (1854-1939)

[II.] The Individual, Society, and the State.

[II.8] A Puppet for a God.

[Liberty, April 9, 1887.]

To the Editor of Liberty:

IOB-II-8.1 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.
IOB-II-8.2 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.
IOB-II-8.3 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.
IOB-II-8.4 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.
IOB-II-8.5 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.
IOB-II-8.6 The other night I attended a meeting of the Commonwealth Club of New York City, and there listened to the reading and discussion of a paper by Mr. Bishop, of the Post, on the effects of bribery at elections, concerning the amount of which Mr. Wm. M. Ivins had given so many startling figures at an earlier meeting. Mr. Bishop recited the long list of party leaders, and characterized them in their professions and practices.
IOB-II-8.7 The whole unsavory story, only too familiar to us all, did not daunt him in his belief that the government is a part of the true curve of development, but only incited the proposal of a remedy, which consisted in substituting the State for the party machine in the distribution of the ballots and in the enactment of more stringent bribery and undue influence acts, – in fact, a series of laws similar to those English laws of Sir Henry James, which are in force there at the present time and which seem to act to a certain extent beneficially.
IOB-II-8.8 In closing, after recognizing the difficulty in passing any reform measures, he quoted Gladstone’s memorable appeal to the future for his vindication, claiming a common cause with all reformers and with Time, which is fighting for them.
IOB-II-8.9 The reading of this paper was followed by an address from Mr. Simon Sterne, advocating the minority representation of Mill, and one by Mr. Turner, who appealed for an open ballot.
IOB-II-8.10 Immediately Mr. Ivins rose, and, after showing that no open ballot could be free, as even asking a man for his vote is a form of coercion, proceeded on the lines of Mr. Bishop’s closing quotation to show that the reform then proposed was but a link in the long chain which is leading us irresistibly onward; that not in State supervision, or in minority representation, or in any measure at present proposed, was there an adequate solution of the problem, but that they were each logical steps in progress, – progress which may end in a State Socialism or in Anarchy or in what not, but at any rate in The End which is right and inevitable. We cannot any of us turn far aside the course of this progress, however we may act. We can but put our shoulder to the wheel and give a little push onwards according to our little strength. Except at great epochs, the extremists diminish their effect by diminishing their leverage; the steady, every-day workers who strive for the right along the existing lines purify the moral tone of the times and pave the way for those great revolutions when the world seems to advance by great bounds into the future.
IOB-II-8.11 Should we not, then, strike hands with these men of the Commonwealth Club, and, burying our differences of ultimate aims, if differences exist, work in and for the present?
IOB-II-8.12 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.
IOB-II-8.13 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.
7 ATLANTIC STREET, NEWARK, N. J., April 1, 1887.
IOB-II-8.14 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. [Online editor’s note: See also, of course, Spooner’s No Treason No. VI: The Constitution of No Authority. – RTL] 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.

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