L’État Est Mort; Vive L’État!

L’État Est Mort; Vive L’État!

To the Editor of Liberty:(26 ¶ 1)

Hooks-and-eyes are very useful. Hooks are useless; eyes are useless. Yet in combination they are useful. This is co-operation. Where you have division of labor and consequent differentiation of function and, eventually, of structure, there is co-operation. Certain tribes of ants have working members and fighting members. The military caste are unable to collect food, which is provided for them by the other members of the community, in return for which they devote themselves to the defence of the whole society. But for these soldiers the society would perish. If either class perished, the other class would perish with it. It is the old fable of the belly and the limbs.(26 ¶ 2)

Division of labor does not always result in differentiation of structure. In the case of bees and many other insects we know that it does. Among mammals we have the well-marked structural division into males and females, but beyond this the tendency to fix structural changes is very slight. In races where caste prevails, the tendency is more marked. Even in England, where caste is extinct, it has been observed among the mining population of Northumbria. And the notorious short-sightedness of Germans has been set down to compulsory book-study.(26 ¶ 3)

As a general rule, we may neglect this effect of co-operation among human beings. The fact remains that the organized effort of 100 individuals is a very great deal more effective than the sum of the efforts of 100 unorganized individuals. Co-operation is an unmixed good. And the Ishmaelitic anarchy of the bumble-bee is uneconomic. Hostility to the principle of co-operation (upon which society is founded) is usually attributed by the ignorant to philosophical Anarchists. While Socialists never weary of pointing to the glorious triumphs of co-operation, and claiming them for Socialism. Wherever a number of persons join hands with the object of effecting a purpose otherwise unattainable, we have what is tantamount to a new force,—the force, of combination: and the persons so combining and regarded as a single body may be called by a name,—any name; a Union, an Association, a Society, a Club, a Company, a Corporation, a State. I do not say all these terms denote precisely the same thing, but they all connote co-operation. I prefer to use the word Club to denote all such associations of men for a common purpose.(26 ¶ 4)

Let the State be now abolished for the purposes of this discussion. How do we stand? We have by no means abolished all the clubs and companies in which citizens find themselves grouped and interbanded. There they all are, just as before. Let us examine some of them. Stay; there are a number of new ones, suddenly sprung up out of the débris of the old State.(26 ¶ 5)

Here are some eighty men organized in the form of a cricket-club. They may not pitch the ball as they like, but only in accordance with rigid laws. They elect a king or captain, and they bind themselves to obey him in the field. A member is told off to field at long-on, although he may wish to field at point. He must obey the despot.(26 ¶ 6)

Here is a ring of horsemen. They ride races. They back their own horses. disputes arise about fouling, or perhaps the course is a curve and some rider takes a short cut. Or the weights of the riders are unequal, and the heavier rider claims to equalize the weights. All such matters are laid before a committee, and rules are drawn up by which all the members of the little racing club pledge themselves to be bound. The club grows; other riding or racing men join it or adopt its rules. At last so good are its laws that they are adopted by all the racing fraternity in the island, and all racing disputes are settled by the rules of the Jockey Club. And even the judges of the land defer to them, and refer points of racing law to the Club.(26 ¶ 7)

Here again is a knot of whalers chatting on the beach of a stormy sea. Each trembles for the safety of his own vessel. He would give something to be rid of his uneasiness. All his eggs are in one basket. He would willingly distribute them over many baskets. He offers to take long odds that his own vessel is lost. He repeats the offer till the long odds cover the value of his ship and cargo, and perhaps profits and time. Now, says he, I am comfortable. It is true I forfeit a small percentage; but if my whole craft goes to the bottom, I lose nothing. He laughs and sings while the others go croaking about the sands, shaking their heads and looking fearfully at the breakers. At last they all follow his example, and the net result is a Mutual Marine Insurance Society. After a while they lay the odds, not with their own members only, but with others; and the risk being over-estimated (naturally at first), they make large dividends. But now difficulties arise. The captain of a whaler has thrown cargo overboard in a heavy sea. The owner claims for the loss. The company declines to pay, on the ground that the loss was voluntarily caused by the captain and not by the hand o God or the king’s enemies; and that there would be no limit to jettison, if the claim were allowed. Other members meet with similar difficulties, and finally Rules are made which provide for all known contingencies. And when any dispute arises, the chosen Umpire, whether it be a mutual friend, or an agora-full of citizens, or a department of State, or any other person or body of persons, refers to the common practice and precedents so far as they apply. In other words, the Rules of the Insurance Society are the law of the land. In spite of the State, this is so to-day to a considerable extent: I may say, in all matters which have not been botched and cobbled by statute.(26 ¶ 8)

There is another class of club springing out of the altruistic sentiment. An old lady takes compassion on a starving cat (no uncommon sight in the West End of London after the Season). She puts a saucer of milk and some liver on the doorstep. She is soon recognized as a benefactress and the cats for a mile round swarm to her household. The saucers increase and multiply, and the liver is an item in her butcher’s bill. The strain is too great to be borne single-handed. She issues a circular appeal, and she is surprised to find how many are willing to contribute a fair share, although their sympathy shrivels up before an unfair demand. They are willing to be taxed pro rata, but they will not bear the burden of other people’s stinginess. Let the poor cats bear it rather, say they. What is everybody’s business is nobody’s business. It is very sad, but it cannot be helped. If we keep one cat, hundreds will starve; so what’s the use? But when once the club is started, nobody feels the burden; the Cats’ Home is built and endowed, and all goes well. Hospitals, infirmaries, alms-houses, orphanages, spring up all round. At first they are reckless and indiscriminate, and become the prey of impostors and able-bodied vagrants. Then Rules are framed; the Charity Organization Society co-ordinates and directs public benevolence. And these rules of prudence and economy are copied and adopted in many respects by those who administer the State Poor Law.(26 ¶ 9)

Then we have associations of persons who agree on important points of science or politics. They wish to make others think with them, in order that society may be pleasanter and more congenial for themselves. They would button-hole every man in the street and argue the question out with him; but the process is to lengthy and wearisome. They club together and form such institutions as the British and Foreign Bible Society, which has spent seven million pounds in disseminating untruths all over the world. We have the Cobden Club, which is slowly and sadly dying of inconsistency after a career of merited success. We have scientific societies of all descriptions that never ask or expect a penny reward for all their outlay, beyond making other people wiser and pleasanter neighbors.(26 ¶ 10)

Finally, we have societies banded together to do battle against rivals on the principle of Union is strength. These clubs are defensive or aggressive. The latter class includes all trading associations, the object of which is to make profits by out-manœuvring competitors. The former or defensive class includes all the political societies formed for the purpose of resisting the State,—the most aggressive club in existence. Over one hundred of these protection societies of one sort and another are now federated under the hegemony of the Liberty and Property Defence League.(26 ¶ 11)

Now we have agreed that the State is to be abolished. What is the result? Here are Watch Committees formed in the great towns to prevent and to insure against burglars, thieves, and like marauders. How they are to be constituted I do not clearly know; neither do I know the limits of their functions. Here again is a Mutual Inquest Society to provide for the examination of dead persons before burial or cremation, in order to make murder as unprofitable a business as possible. Here is a Vigilance Association sending out detectives for the purpose of discovering and lynching the unsocial wretches who knowingly travel in public conveyances with infectious diseases on them. Here is a journal supported by consumers for the advertisement of adulterating dealers. And here again is a Filibustering Company got up by adventurous traders of the old East India Company stamp for the purposes of carrying trade into foreign countries with or without the consent of the invaded parties. Here is a Statistical Society devising Rules to make it unpleasant for those who evade registration and the census, and offering inducement to all who furnish the required information. What sort of organization (if any) will be formed for the enforcement (not necessarily by brute-force) of contract? Or will there be many such organizations dealing with different classes of contract? Will there be a Woman’s League to boycott any man who has abused the confidence of a woman and violated his pledges? How will it try and sanction cases of breach of promise?(26 ¶ 12)

Above all, how is this powerful Company for the defence of the country against foreign invaders to be constituted? And what safeguards will its members provide against the tyranny of the officials? When a Senator proposed to limit the standing army of the United States to three thousand, George Washington agreed, on condition that the honorable member would arrange that the country should never be invaded by more than two thousand. Frankenstein created a Monster he could not lay. This will be a nut for Anarchists of the future to crack.(26 ¶ 13)

And now, to revert to the Vigilance Society formed for lynching persons who travel about in public places with small-pox and scarletina, what rules will they make for their own guidance? Suppose they dub every unvaccinated person a focus of infection, shall we witness the establishment of an Anti-Vigilance Society to punch the heads of the detectives who punch the heads of the foci of infection? Remember, we have both these societies in full working order to-day. One is called the State, and the other is the Anti-Vaccination Society.(26 ¶ 14)

The questions which I should wish to ask, and which I should wish Mr. Herbert Spencer, Mr. Auberon Herbert, Mr. Benjamin Tucker, and Mr. Victor Yarros to answer, are chiefly these two:(26 ¶ 15)

  1. How far may voluntary co-operators invade the liberty of others? And what is to prevent such invasion under a system of Anarchy?(26 ¶ 16)

  2. Is compulsory co-operation ever desirable? And what form (if any) should such compulsion take?(26 ¶ 17)

The existing State is obviously only a conglomeration of several large societies which would exist separately or collectively in its absence: if the State were abolished, these associations would necessarily spring up out of its ruins, just as the nations of Europe sprang out of the ruins of the Roman Empire. They would apparently lack the power of compulsion. No one would be compelled to join against his will. Take the ordinary case of a gas-lit street. Would a voluntary gas-committee be willing to light the street without somehow taxing all the dwellers in the street? If yes, then there is inequity. The generous and public-spirited pay for the stingy and mean. But if no, then how is the taxing to be accomplished? And where is the line to be drawn? If you compel A to pay for lighting the street when he swears he prefers it dark (a householder may really prefer a dark street to a light one, if he goes to bed at sunset and wants the traffic to be diverted into other streets to insure his peace); then you will compel him to subscribe to the Watch fund, though his house is burglar-proof; and to the fire brigade, though his house is fire-proof; and to the prisons as part of the plant and tools of the Watch Committee; and, it may logically be urged, to the churches and the schools as part also of such plant and tools for the prevention of certain crimes.(26 ¶ 18)

Moreover, if you compel him to subscribe for the gas in the street, you must make him pay his share of the street itself (paving, repairing, and cleansing); and if the street, then the highway; and if the highway, then the railway, and the canal, and the bridges, and even the harbors and lighthouses and other common apparatus of transport and locomotion.(26 ¶ 19)

Personally, as an individualist, I would not compel a citizen to subscribe to common benefits, even though he necessarily shares them. But what I want the four lights of Anarchy above-named to tell me is: How are we to remove the injustice of allowing one man to enjoy what another has earned? My questions are quite distinct. Thus an army under the system of conscription is a case of compulsory co-operation: a band of brigands is a case of voluntary co-operation. I hate both. I would join a voluntary association directed against either or both. Neither do I put these questions in order to cast doubts on the feasibility of Anarchy at the present time. I ask merely for information from those who are, in my opinion, best able to give it.(26 ¶ 20)

Wordsworth Donisthorpe.

London, England.