Mr. Perrine’s Difficulties

Mr. Perrine’s Difficulties

To the Editor of Liberty:(10 ¶ 1)

I suppose I should feel completely swamped by the great waves of satire which have rolled over my head from all directions but the front.(10 ¶ 2)

Still I feel able to lift my hand, and make the motion of scissors.(10 ¶ 3)

I have had the fallacy of a part of my argument so clearly pointed out to me by another than Liberty that I did not think it would be necessary for its editor to go so far around my position as to deny the sanctity of contract in order to refute me.(10 ¶ 4)

Indeed, my only hope of Liberty now is that it will define some of its own positions.(10 ¶ 5)

I have heard a great deal of spooks and plumb-lines, but I cannot clearly see the reason that contract has ceased being a plumb-line and become a spook, unless we have to allow that much liberty for an argument.(10 ¶ 6)

Will you please explain what safety there may be in an individualistic community where it becomes each man’s duty to break all contracts as soon as he has become convinced that they were made foolishly?(10 ¶ 7)

Again, it being the duty of the individuals to break contracts made with each other, I cannot clearly see how it becomes an act of despicable despotism for the Republic to break contracts made with the Crow Indians, unless the ideal community is that in which we all become despicable despots and where we amuse ourselves by calling each other hard names.(10 ¶ 8)

Indeed, as I have said twice before, you seem to me to deny to others the right to make and carry out their own contracts unless these contracts meet with your approval.(10 ¶ 9)

I am aware now of my error in assuming that the authority of the State rested historically on any social contract, and those points which were brought in in your reply as secondary are the main objections to my position.(10 ¶ 10)

The true authority of the State rests, as Hearn shows in his Aryan Household, not on contract, but on its development; a point at which I hinted, but did not clearly develop.(10 ¶ 11)

However, I do not feel warranted in entering with you into any discussion from that standpoint till I am able to find out more clearly what Liberty means by development. In your reply to me, you seem to think of it as a sort of cut-and-try process; this may be a Boston idea absorbed from the Monday Lectures, but I think that it is hardly warranted by either Darwin or Spencer.(10 ¶ 12)

I tried in both my letters to insist on the existence of a general line of development which is almost outside the power of individuals, and which is optimistic. By its being optimistic I mean that, on the principle of the survival of the fittest, our present condition is the best thta it is possible for us to have attained. You do not deny man’s divinity, neither do you deny his degradation; from what has man been degraded? You do not accept an Edenic state; then what do you mean by man’s degradation?(10 ¶ 13)

The idea of development which admits of a degradation, and which expects Liberty’s followers to arrest the wasteful process which has already made trial of everything else, and is now in despair about to make the experiment of Anarchy is something so new to me that I must ask for a more complete exposition of the system.(10 ¶ 14)

Frederic A. C. Perrine

Newark, N. J.

Mr. Perrine should read more carefully. I have never said that it is each man’s duty to break all contracts as soon as he has become convinced that they were made foolishly. What I said was that, if a man should sign a contract to part with his liberty forever, he would violate it as soon as he saw the enormity of his folly. Because I believe that some promises are better broken than kept, it does not follow that I think it wise always to break a foolish promise. On the contrary, I deem the keeping of promises such an important matter that only in the extremest cases would I approve their violation. It is of such vital consequence that associates should be able to rely upon each other that it is better never to do anything to weaken this confidence except when it can be maintained only at the expense of some consideration of even greater importance. I mean by evolution just what Darwin means by it,—namely, the process of selection by which, out of all the variations that occur from any cause whatever, only those are preserved which are best adapted to the environment. Inasmuch as the variations that perish vastly outnumber those that survive, this process is extremely wasteful, but human intelligence can greatly lessen the waste. I am perfectly willing to admit its optimism, if by optimism is meant the doctrine that everything is for the best under the circumstances. Optimism so defined is nothing more than the doctrine of necessity. As to the word degradation, evidently Mr. Perrine is unaware of all its meanings. By its derivation it implies descent from something higher, but it is also used by the best English writers to express a low condition regardless of what preceded it. It was in the latter sense that I used it.(10 ¶ 15)