Voluntary Socialism

A SKETCH (1896)

by Francis Dashwood Tandy (1867-1913)

Chapter IV.

Equal Freedom.

VS-4.1 The doctrine of evolution teaches us that progress is due to the most relentless competition, which, by destroying those indiv[i]duals who possess u[n]favorable characteristics and preserving those whose characteristics are better adapted to their environments, ultimately develops in the species those favorable characteristics. So the progress of the species is dependent upon the progress of the individuals. The existence of different characteristics pre-supposes variation. The greater the amount of variation, the better chance has the species of adapting itself to its environments and of surviving in the struggle for existence.
VS-4.2 Permanent improvement in human society can only be found under conditions which are in harmony with these principles; that is to say, in a state of society which is favorable to the development of different characteristics among its members, which recognizes the welfare of the individual to be of paramount importance and which permits the freest competition among its members, in order that that welfare may become general.
VS-4.3 The philosophy of Egoism, which is merely the doctrine of evolution applied to psychology, teaches us that each individual always seeks his own greatest happiness. Any interference with an individual in the pursuit of his happiness is unwarranted, as no one can know better than the person himself in what direction his happiness lies. Individual freedom is necessary to the attainment of individual happiness.
VS-4.4 Any restraint of the free activities of the individual are [sic] certain to violate the conditions of social progress.
VS-4.5 Every activity is either beneficial or detrimental. Surely there can be no sense in restraining beneficial activity, so the only excuse for restraint is that the activities restrained are detrimental, either to the person himself, to some other person, or to society.
VS-4.6 We have already seen that no one can be a better judge of whether a certain course of action will result in happiness or pain to the actor, than is that person himself. But even supposing greater experience enables another to forsee the misery that will result from certain actions, while the actor is blind to those results and sees only the bright side. Shall we not permit the older and more experienced man to restrain the impetuous youth? By no means. Apart from the possibility of the older man being mistaken, restraint will only make the youth more impetuous still. Even if his actions are curbed for the moment, they are not suppressed, but will break out with greater violence as soon as an opportunity arises. Meanwhile the youth has been fretting and chafing under the restraint, and has probably suffered more pain from this cause than he would have from doing as he wished. Such restraint can teach a man nothing. If absolutely successful it stultifies his character, if unsuccessful it only adds fuel to the fire. On the other hand, if permitted to have his own way, at worst a man can but fail in his attempt to gain happiness. This failure will teach him to try better next time. Success is only achieved by constant failure. By these means alone can men be taught to bear the responsibility of their actions, for responsibility is ever the cost of freedom. If a man is left alone to pursue a seemingly foolish course of action, he may succeed in making himself happy, in which case he adds to the sum total of human wisdom. A man of experience may often advise an impetuous youth, but he will never restrain him, for the desire to restrain is born of inexperience.
VS-4.7 If a man is not to be restrained for his own good, why should he be restrained on account of another. If the happiness of one results in the unhappiness of the other, who is to judge between then? Nearly every action results in unhappiness to some one. Are all actions therefore to be restrained? The success of one man depends upon the defeat of another. To protect the weak from defeat is to prohibit success. Such a denial of competition is at variance with our guiding principles, and is absolutely absurd and untenable.
VS-4.8 Now we come to those actions which are said to be detrimental to society. How do we know that they are detrimental? With every new development of social growth, ideas which before were considered detrimental are found to be beneficial. The heretic of yesterday is the hero of to-day. An infallible power might be able to tell what action s are detrimental and what are not, but no one else can. This excuse of social utility is invalid, because it makes the welfare of the individual subservient to that of Society. This is contrary to the higher law of social utility, the law of progress. Any restraint of the activities of the individual denies free competition, is inimical to the development of different characteristics and is consequently in direct violation of the teachings of evolution and Egoism.
VS-4.9 If freedom is the condition of progress, all invasion of that freedom is bad and should be resisted, whether it is practiced by one upon another, by one upon many, or by many upon one. In other words, individual freedom pre-supposes the suppression of the invader, whether that invader appears as an individual criminal or as the corporate criminal – the State, – and whether as the Republican or as the Imperial form of State.
VS-4.10 The freedom of each individual denies all the freedom to invade. For when one individual invades, the activities of another are restrained. “If men have like claims to that freedom which is needed for the exercise of their faculties, then must the freedom of each be bounded by the similar freedom of all. ... Wherefore we arrive at the general preposition, that every man may claim the fullest liberty to exercise his faculties compatible with the possession of like liberty by every other man.” (Spencer, Social Statics, p. 36, revd. Ed.) This is the principle of Equal Freedom, which, being derived from the conclusions of biology and psychology, must be observed if good results are to be expected in human society.1
VS-4.11 While everyone is willing to endorse the principle of Equal Freedom, not more than one per cent. of those individuals knows what it means. They daily advocate measures which are diametrically opposed to it and expect to attain good results.
VS-4.12 The only way a man can invade the liberty of another is by doing something. A man cannot violate another’s liberty by remaining passive, unless by so doing he breaks the terms of a contract. So any form of compulsion to act, or as Spencer calls it, “positive regulation,” is contrary to Equal Freedom. “Negative regulation” is the only form which is permissible. Nor are all acts to be subject to this negative regulation. All our acts are either self-regarding, as Mill terms it, or social. Self-regarding acts are those which directly concern ourselves alone. Social acts are those which directly concern others. Eating, drinking, sleeping, personal habits, etc., are included in the first class, commercial and professional transactions in the second. To assume that self-regarding acts can interfere with the liberty of others, is ti deny that those acts are self-regarding. If an act violates the liberty of another, it cannot concern the actor alone. Such a proposition is absolutely absurd. This narrows the field of regulation to social acts. It would be absurd to say that all social acts shall be regulated, for this would certainly not be the greatest freedom compatible with equality of freedom. Where then shall the line be drawn? Clearly only those actions which directly interfere with the freedom of others are to be subject to regulation. Anything short of this is less than the maximum of freedom. If all actions which indirectly result in the invasion of the liberty of another are to be regulated, nearly all social acts and many which are considered as self-regarding will be included. For example; A purchases $100 worth of goods from B instead of from C. C is in consequence unable to dispose of his goods, and so cannot pay his creditors. Is A to be compelled to purchase from C instead of from B? Even if this were done, B might now be no better off than C was before. This seems to be an extreme case, but surely it is not half as absurd as many propositions that are heard daily. How often has it been said, that a man should not be allowed to drink intoxicating liquors for fear that his example would corrupt others, that these others might drink to excess and, while in a state of intoxication, commit some overt act? The Prohibitionists reconcile their theory with Equal Freedom by arguments which have far less basis than this. The reason usually given for the suppression of vice is, that if it goes unchecked, others will become vicious from example. If the vice in the first man is not a direct violation of Equal Freedom, how does it become so in the case of the second? If we are not justified in protecting the first man from the result of his folly, why are we justified in protecting the second? If a vice does directly violate the freedom of others, it ceases to be a vice and becomes a crime. Vices are a man’s personal property and all interference with them is impertinent.
VS-4.13 Every act of our lives has an indirect effect upon a very large number of people, producing happiness in some individuals and pain in others. These acts have a tendency to discourage one and to drive another to despair, to accuse one to help his fellows and to produce lawlessness to another. If any acts are to be regulated because they produce unhappiness and often indirectly result in a violation of Equal Liberty, then all our acts must be subject to official supervision and the principle of Equal Freedom is but the nightmare of a disordered brain. But even if this is admitted, it is equally fatal to this theory of regulation, for its adherents only attempt to justify their interference by an attempt to gain that Equal Liberty which they now deny.
VS-4.14 The fact that an act directly, in and of itself, invades the liberty of another is the only excuse for interference with that act. At no other place can the line be drawn. While this line is often indefinite, it gives us a good working basis. The experience we will gain from applying it, will gradually teach us to discriminate in all doubtful cases. Obscure, though it sometimes is, it is infinitely better than no guide at all, or than any less definite, and these are all that are offered in its stead.
VS-4.15 The first essentials of freedom are, of course, the freedom to live unmolested and the freedom of the producer to retain unrestricted the full product of his toil. While there may be serious differences of opinion in regard to the definitions of “producer” and “product,” I think no one will deny that crimes against person and property – murder, assault, theft, etc. – are violations of Equal Freedom.
VS-4.16 If a man voluntarily contracts to perform certain actions, a failure on his part to fulfil the contract must be considered in the light of an invasion. He made the contract expecting to receive some benefit in return for his services. If, after receiving that supposed benefit, he refuses to pay the price agreed upon – that is what a breach of contract virtually means – he is receiving something for nothing. To say that it is inconsistent with Equal Freedom to compel a man to act, is, under these circumstances, about as sensible as to say that the liberty of the thief is invaded when he is compelled to return his plunder to its rightful owner. If a man finds that the benefit he derives from a contract is not as great as he supposed it would be, this is no excuse for any violation of the contract. He should have known what he was doing in the first place. Any mistake of his must be borne by himself. The other party has performed his part and is justified in claiming his reward. Even the demands of Shylock, though merciless, must be considered as perfectly just. If Antonio was such a fool as to sign the contract, it was the most disreputable sculduggery on his part to take advantage of unjust and tyrannical legal technicalities. The only things that can justify the violation of a contract are the use of force or fraud by the other party in the procuring or execution of the contract.
VS-4.17 These are some of the violations of liberty which are punished by our laws. Now let us see the violations which the law commits.
VS-4.18 Since the State is founded in aggression, and is inimical to individual liberty, it is but natural to suppose that its very existence is threatened by the principle of Equal Freedom. This is actually the case. If all forms of compulsion are tyrannical, the enforced payments of taxes is no less so. Men who pay all debts cheerfully will lie like Waterbury watches to evade the tax collector. Why is this? Simply because they think they gain no adequate return for the money so invested. Whether they are right in this assumption or not is immaterial. To compel a man to buy that which he does not want is the grossest tyranny. If he finds that it is necessary to his happiness, he will buy it without compulsion. If he does not find it necessary, by what right can anyone compel him to pay for it? But taxes are the source from which the State derives its life’s blood. So it is, as its history would lead us to believe, essentially a tyrannical institution.
VS-4.19 The ways in which this tyranny is exercised are too numerous to mention, but it will be advisable to point out a few of the most important. Prominent among these are the laws which relate to the issuance of money. To tell a man that he shall accept a certain coin or piece of paper in payment of all debts due to him is in the nature of positive regulation. The laws which base the circulating medium of the country on one or two commodities, place a premium on those commodities and consequently destroy the possibility of free competition. A man cannot invade the liberty of another by issuing a note or circulating medium, provided he compels no one to accept it, or misrepresents its value. Yet this is practically prohibited by the United States Government by the imposition of a ten per cent. tax, and is a criminal offense in nearly every State. By these means competition is restricted, the freedom of contract is violated and the individual who possesses certain characteristics is fostered at the expense of all the rest of the community. The remedy for this cannot be given here, but will be found in subsequent chapters.
VS-4.20 Since labor cannot be thought of, except in connection with something to which it can be applied, there can be no free competition in labor unless the natural sources of wealth are free. If they are not free to all, those who are debarred from access to them, must either starve or pay such tribute as the other more fortunate members of the community may demand. On these two monopolies most of the important social evils depend.
VS-4.21 In spite of all our vaunted freedom we are still enslaved by the State. Even the freedoms of speech and press, which we hear glorified on every hand, are but shams after all. You doubt it? Then go into any court room and criticize a decision of the Judge, and see how much freedom of speech you are allowed. Tell a lot of strikers that they will never gain anything by peaceful methods. Publish a paper for the promotion of suicide. Expose certain of the evils that result from the present marriage system. Then you will see how much the liberty of the press is respected in this “land of the free and home of the brave.” “But these are dangerous doctrines,” it is said. How do you know they are dangerous? Christianity was considered dangerous once. Protestantism was considered dangerous. Free-thought was considered dangerous. That is why stringent laws against the promulgation of such doctrines were passed. The only freedom of speech that is worth having is the freedom to preach dangerous doctrines. In no age, no matter how benighted, in no country, no matter how tyrannical its form of government, has the freedom to preach harmless doctrines ever been denied. It was for preaching dangerous doctrines that Jesus of Nazareth was crucified, that Bruno was burnt, that the Chicago Communists were hanged. Thousands of others have been tortured and out to death for a similar reason. Nothing but the freedom to preach all doctrines, no matter how dangerous they seem, is worthy of the name of liberty.
VS-4.22 Evidences of the tyranny of the State abound on every hand. In spite of all our progress we have far to travel before the goal of Equal Freedom can be reached. All the laws, which prohibit or restrict the free exchange of commodities, or services, between individuals of the same or different countries, are inconsistent with the fundamental law of progress. The protective tariff, then laws prohibiting private individuals from carrying the mails, those compelling a man to pay for the education of another’s children, or to supply gratuitous novel-reading for gum-chewing school girls, copyrights, patents, the laws regulating intercourse between the sexes, all these and many other similar forms of coercion will be found on close analysis to be reversions to the militant type of society. But bad though such things undoubtedly are, their removal will benefit us but little until the freedom to issue money and to use land is gained.
VS-4.23 The invasive acts of individual transgressors are comparatively insignificant beside those of the State. The power of the individual for harm is at worst limited to a short term of years. His acts are isolated and temporary. But those of the State are organized, systematic, universal and well nigh eternal.
VS-4.24 In the last chapter it was shown that the State has ever been [an] engine of militancy, and that progress towards Industrialism has been gained only by restricting its powers. We have just seen how it violates Equal Freedom in almost every way. So we are inevitably forced to the conclusion that its entire abolition is necessary before a perfect system of Industrialism is possible. “This century’s battle then is with the State: the State, that debases man; the State, that prostitutes woman; the State, that corrupts children; the State, that trammels love; the State, that stifles thought; the State, that monopolizes land; the State, that limits credit; the State, that restricts exchange; the State, that gives idle capital the power of increase, and, through interest, rent, profit and taxes robs industrious labor of its product.[”] (Tucker, Instead of a Book, p. 31.) This is the Philosophy of Anarchism – the absence of all coercion of the non-invasive individual.
VS-4.25 To many this doctrine will seem absurd. The idea of the State is so firmly rooted in men’s mind that it is no light task to overthrow it. Most people look upon it as a necessity – a necessary evil, some will even say. The sane was said of a supreme church some 300 years ago. But compulsion has given place to voluntary association in religion. Why may not such a change be possible in civil affairs?
VS-4.26 The possibility of dispensing with State interference in a few of the most important matters is discussed in the following chapters. If we can protect life and property, effect exchanges and carry on public business without compulsion, the necessity for State interference in our more personal affairs is surely disproved by implication.

VS-4.n1.1 1 It should not be forgotten that Sociology is not an exact science, and consequently any generalizations that may be made for the guidance of society, cannot be absolutely perfect. Human happiness is the aim of all social reform. Such generalizations as may be made to guide us on the road to happiness, are valuable only insofar as they contribute to that end. This is true of the principle of Equal Freedom. Exceptional cases may arise, when a strict adherence to this principle would result in greater misery than would a violation of it. For example, it may be necessary to violate the right of property by blowing up houses to prevent the spread of a conflagration, as was done at the Chicago fire, or it may be advisable to violate the personal liberty of infected persons to prevent the spread of cholera. But these cases are very exceptional, and, under such circumstances, a violation of Equal Freedom is fully justified. Yet so trustworthy a guide is this principle, that unless the wisdom of violating it is almost absolutely certain, it would be better to follow it wherever it may lead us. As a general working principle it cannot be too strongly insisted on. In spite of such exceptions as those above cited, I believe that an unflinching adherence to the principle in all cases, no matter who might suffer, would, in the long run, be less harmful than a very lax application of it. If we start in to follow it blindly, the few exceptions that are necessary will become apparent as they arise, and as there is nothing sacred about any such generalization, we should soon learn how to adapt it to such emergencies. But to say that it is an absolute law, which all individuals and associations of individuals are bound to observe, whatever may befall, is to deny that self-preservation is the first law of nature.

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