Rule or Resistance—Which?

Rule or Resistance—Which?

To the Editor of Liberty:(20 ¶ 1)

Do you think that it is accurate to say, as Liberty has said recently, that Anarchism contemplates the use of police, jails, and other forms of force? Is it not rather that Anarchism contemplates that those who wish these means of protection shall pay for them themselves; while those who prefer other means shall only pay for what they want? (1)(20 ¶ 2)

Indeed, the whole teaching that it is expedient to use force against the invader, which, as you know, I have always had doubts about, seems to me to fall when Egoism is adopted as the basis of our thought. To describe a man as an invader seems a reminiscence of the doctrine of natural depravity. It fails to recognize that all dsires stand upon a par, morally, and that it is for us to find the most convenient way of gratifying as much of everybody’s desires as possible. To say that a certain formula proposed by us to this end is justice, and that all who do not conform to it—all who are unjust—will be suppressed by us by violence, is precisely parallel to the course of those who say that their formula for the regulation of conduct is the measure of righteousness,and that they will suppress the unrighteous by violence. (2)(20 ¶ 3)

As I absorb the Egoistic sentiment, it begins to appear that the fundamental demand is not liberty, but the cessation of violence in the obtaining of gratification for desires.(20 ¶ 4)

By the cessation of violence we shall obtain liberty, but liberty is the end rather than the means. (3)(20 ¶ 5)

We demand liberty, say the Anarchists. Yes, but we see no reason why we should forego our desire to control you, by your own canons, if you are Egoists, replies the majority. Truly, we answer, but we point out to you that it is for your advantage to give us liberty. At present we are satisfied of the contrary; we are satisfied that you wish to upset institutions that we wish to preserve, say they. We do, indeed, we reply, but we will not invade you, we will not prevent you from doing anything you wish, provided it does not tend to deter us from uninvasive activities. We think, concludes the majority, that in attempting to destroy what we wish to preserve you are invading us; and how are we to establish the contrary except by laying down a practicable definition of invasion—one by which it can be demonstrated that using unoccupied but claimed land, for instance, is not invasive. (4)(20 ¶ 6)

No, it seems to me that no definition of invasion can be made; that it is a variable quantity, like liberty itself.(20 ¶ 7)

When you said, some time ago, that liberty was not a natural right, but a social contract, I think you covered the case. If, however, liberty is a matter of contract, is not invasion, which is the limit of liberty, also a matter of contract? (5)(20 ¶ 8)

What Anarchism really means is the demand for the rule of contract, rather than for the rule of violence.(20 ¶ 9)

As Egoists, we Anarchists point out to you, the majority, that the pleasure of mankind in fighting for the sake of fighting is rapidly declining from disuse. We point out further that from any other point of view fighting is not to the interest of anybody; that desires can be gratified and the harmonization of clashing interests attained much more pleasurably without fighting. That is true, the majority replies, for, though the majority really enjoys fighting for the fun of it, it has got to a point where it will not admit that it does, and to a point where it clearly perceives the costliness of the amusement.(20 ¶ 10)

We propose then, the Anarchists continue, not to settle differences by violence; but to reach the best agreement that we can without violence. We propose this with the more confidence that you will accept it, because you yourselves are beginning to admit that the condition of existence for men is not the former ascetic suppression, but the gratification of desires. We therefore propose that you shall at once cease to repress by violence conduct which is not against your interests and which you now suppress only on account of a surviving belief that you are called upon to suppress it for the interest of the doers. Following that, we shall make other demands for the cessation of violence.(20 ¶ 11)

But, of course, in proposing contract instead of violence, it follows that we abjure violence as a principle; we become what I think it is far to call non-resistants. That is to say that, although we do not guarantee our actions should our fellows refuse to accept our proposal of the system of contract, we do not for a moment suppose that such possible reversions to violence are a part of the new system of contract. (6)(20 ¶ 12)

We must hold, as Egoists, that the gratification of the desires of criminals is no more subject to moral condemnation than our own actions, though from our point of view it may be regrettable; and that by just as much as we permit ourselves to use violence to repress it, by just so much we fortify the continuation of the present reign of violence, and postpone the coming of the reign of contract. Therefore it is that I call myself a non-resistant and regard non-resistance as the necessary implication for an Egoist who prefers contract to violence.(20 ¶ 13)

When I say non-resistance, I must explain that, so to speak, I do not mean non-resistance,—that is to say, I mean resistance by every means except counter-violence.(20 ¶ 14)

The editorials that have recently appeared in Liberty signed by Mr. Yarros have had to me a strongly moralistic flavor, as indeed it is inevitable they should have, from his avowed views; I think Pentecost’s views more in conformity with Egoism. By the way, I should be glad if Mr. Yarros could explain the moralistic position more clearly in Liberty; or if you and he could have a discussion of the merits of the matter.(20 ¶ 15)

John Beverly Robinson

67 Liberty Street, New York, December 10, 1891.

(1) I think it accurate to say that Anarchism contemplates anything and everything that does not contradict Anarchism. The writer whom Liberty criticised had virtually made it appear that police and jails do contradict Anarchism. Liberty simply denies this, and in that sense contemplates police and jails. Of course it does not contemplate the compulsory support of such institutions by non-invasive persons.(20 ¶ 16)

(2) When I describe a man as an invader, I cast no reflection upon him; I simply state a fact. Nor do I assert for a moment the moral inferiority of the invader’s desire. I only declare the impossibility of simultaneously gratifying the invader’s desire to invade and my desire to be let alone. That these desires are morally equal I cheerfully admit, but they cannot be equally realized. Since one must be subordinated to the other, I naturally prefer the subordination of the invader’s, and am ready to co-operate with non-invasive persons to achieve that result. I am not wedded to the term justice, nor have I any objection to it. If Mr. Robinson doesn’t like it, let us say equal liberty instead. Does he maintain that the use of force to secure equal liberty is precisely parallel to the use of force to destroy equal liberty? If so, I can only hope, for the sake of those who live in the houses which he builds, that his appreciation of an angle is keener in architecture than it is in sociology.(20 ¶ 17)

(3) If the invader, instead of chaining me to a post, barricades the highway, do I any the less lose my liberty of locomotion? Yet he has ceased to be violent. We obtain liberty, not by the cessation of violence, but by the recognition, either voluntary or enforced, of equality of liberty.(20 ¶ 18)

(4) We are to establish the contrary by persistent inculcation of the doctrine of equality of liberty, whereby finally the majority will be made to see in regard to existing forms of invasion what they have already been made to see in regard to its obsolete forms,—namely, that they are not seeking equality of liberty at all, but simply the subjection of all others to themselves. Our sense of what constitutes invasion has been acquired by experience. Additional experience is continually sharpening that sense. Though we still draw the line by rule of thumb, we are drawing it more clearly every day. It would be an advantage if we could frame a clear-cut generalization whereby to accelerate our progress. But though we have it not, we still progress.(20 ¶ 19)

(5) Suppose it is; what then? Must I consent to be trampled upon simply because no contract has been made?(20 ¶ 20)

(6) So the position of the non-resistant is that, when nobody attacks him, he won’t resist. We are all Socialists now, said some Englishman not long ago. Clearly we are all non-resistants now, according to Mr. Robinson. I know of no one who proposes to resist when he isn’t attacked, of no one who proposes to enforce a contract which nobody desires to violate. I tell Mr. Robinson, as I have told Mr. Pentecost, that the believers in equal liberty ask nothing better than that all men should voluntarily act in accordance with the principle. But it is a melancholy fact that many men are not willing so to act. So far as our relations with such men are concerned, it is not a matter of contract, but of force. Shall we consent to be ruled, or shall we refuse to be ruled? If we consent, are we Anarchists? If we refuse, are we Archists? The whole question lies there, and Mr. Robinson fails to meet it.(20 ¶ 21)