Individual Sovereignty Our Goal.

Individual Sovereignty Our Goal.

[Liberty, June 7, 1890.]

In an unsigned article in the Open Court (written, I suspect by the editor) I find the following:(38 ¶ 1)

When Anarchists teach the sovereignty of the individual, we have to inform them that society is an organized whole. The individual is what he is through the community only, and he must obey the laws that govern the growth of communal life. The more voluntary this obedience is, the better it is for the community as well as for the individual himself. But if the individual does not voluntarily obey the laws of the community, society has a right to enforce them. There is no such thing as sovereignty of the individual.(38 ¶ 2)

True, there is no such thing; and we Anarchists mean that there shall be such a thing. The criticism of the Open Court writer is doubtless valid against those Anarchists who premise the sovereignty of the individual as a natural right to which society has no right to do violence. But I cannot understand its force at all when offered, as it is, in comment on the declaration of a leading Anarchist of Chicago that the goal of progress is individual sovereignty.(38 ¶ 3)

Anarchism of the natural right type is out of date. The Anarchism of to-day affirms the right of society to coerce the individual and of the individual to coerce society so far as either has the requisite power. It is ready to admit all that the Open Court writer claims in behalf of society, and then go so far beyond him that it will take his breath away.(38 ¶ 4)

But, while admitting and affirming all this, Anarchism also maintains (and this is its special mission) that an increasing familiarity with sociology will convince both society and the individual that practical individual sovereignty—that is, the greatest amount of liberty compatible with equality of liberty—is the law of social life, the only condition upon which human beings can live in harmony. When this truth is ascertained and acted upon, then we shall have individual sovereignty in reality,—not as sacred natural right vindicated, but as a social expedient agreed upon, or we will even say as a privilege conferred, if the Open Court writer prefers the word as tending to tickle the vanity of his god, Society. It is in this sense that Liberty champions individual sovereignty. The motto on our flag is not Liberty a Natural Right, but Liberty the Mother of Order.(38 ¶ 5)

It is to be hoped that the Open Court writer will note this before again giving voice to the commonplace twaddle about Nationalism and Anarchism as extreme opposites both of which are right and both wrong. Anarchism is exactly as extreme, exactly as right, and exactly as wrong, as that ideal state of society which the Open Court writer pictures,—a state in which there is as much order as possible and at the same time as much individual liberty as possible. In fact, Anarchism finds itself exactly coextensive with the idea which its critic thus expresses: Wherever a nation is developing in the line of progress, we shall always notice an increasing realization of these two apparently antagonistic principles,—liberty and order.(38 ¶ 6)