The Advisability of Violence.

The Advisability of Violence.

To the Editor of Liberty:(21 ¶ 1)

When you preach passive resistance, is it not precisely the same thing as what is commonly called non-resistance?(21 ¶ 2)

When William Penn (or was it Fox?) refused to take off his hat for the king it was certainly passive resistance; but, as he made no attempt to punch the king’s head, it is accounted as quite compatible with the Friends’ non-resistance tenets. (1)(21 ¶ 3)

I do not think that any practical difference exists between passive resistance and non-resistance. Yet you urge that in emergency violence must be resorted to. Why? In what emergency? If violence is as a matter of principle advisable in certain cases, why not in other cases? Why not embrace the advocacy of violence of the Communists throughout? (2)(21 ¶ 4)

Intelligible enough as a political measure, Anarchism halts as a system of philosophy as long as it includes violence at all. To people who think government exists to suppress robbery, it is sufficient to point out that government exists by robbery, and to enlarge upon the advantages that might be expected to follow the establishment of freedom of membership in political societies. (3)(21 ¶ 5)

But all this involves no question as to what constitutes invasion. It is simply stated that each shall take such measures as he prefers to protect himself, and that each shall determine for himself what protection is.(21 ¶ 6)

If, however, we go further, and lay down a formula, however defensible the formula may be; and say that we will by violence enforce that formula, whether it be the formula of equal liberty or any other formula, I must maintain that the action is precisely parallel to the course of everybody in the past and present who have compelled others to regulate their conduct in accordance with other formulas, alleged to be moral, and held to be as irrefragable as you now hold the formula of equal liberty to be. (4)(21 ¶ 7)

Do not pick people’s pockets to make them pay for protection they don’t want, is good enough as far as it goes.(21 ¶ 8)

It may perhaps be well to go no further.(21 ¶ 9)

But if we have to go further and ask, What is protection? or, What is invasion? the complement of protection, the only reply you can give is that invasion is infringing upon equal liberty.(21 ¶ 10)

Until some method is devised by which we can tell whether a given act does infringe upon equal liberty the definition is vain. (5)(21 ¶ 11)

For instance, in a state of Mr. Yarros prints a book. You copy it. He organizes a society for the suppression of pirates and imprisons you. Your friends organize and a battle ensues.(21 ¶ 12)

You will doubtless say that you would not advocate violence under such circumstances to either side. I again ask, Why not? (6)(21 ¶ 13)

Investigate your own principles and you will find that the recognition of equal liberty rests upon the recognition of contract as supplanting violence. Although we may think it wise among cannibals to become cannibals ourselves; although when forced to it we may degrade ourselves to use violence; let us at least recognize that the state of affairs when every one shall do as he pleases can only occur when all lay aside violence and appeal only to reason. Let us at least recognize that it is for us to totally abjure violence as a principle of action; and if we at any time deem ourselves compelled to do violence let us admit that we do it under protest and not from principle. (7)(21 ¶ 14)

John Beverly Robinson.

(1) The chief difference between passive resistance and non-resistance is this: passive resistance is regarded by its champions as a mere policy, while non-resistance is viewed by those who favor it as a principle or universal rule. Believers in passive resistance consider it as generally more effective than active resistance, but think that there are certain cases in which the opposite is true; believers in non-resistance consider either that it is immoral to actively resist or else that it is always unwise to do so.(21 ¶ 15)

(2) Because violence, like every other policy, is advisable when it will accomplish the desired end and inadvisable when it will not.(21 ¶ 16)

(3) Anarchism is philosophical, but it is not a system of philosophy. It is simply the fundamental principle in the science of political and social life. The believers in government are not as easily to be satisfied as Mr. Robinson thinks, and it is well that they are not. The considerations upon which he relies may convince them that government does not exist to suppress robbery, but will not convince them that the abolition of the State will obviate the necessity of dealing violently with the other and more ordinary kinds of government of which common robbery is one. For, even though they be led to admit that the disappearance of the robber State must eventually induce the disappearance of all other robbers, they will remember that effects, however certain, are not always immediate, and that, pending the consummation, there are often serious difficulties that must be confronted.(21 ¶ 17)

(4) If Mr. Robinson still maintains that doing violence to those who let us alone is precisely parallel to doing violence to those who assault us, I can only modestly hint once more that I have a better eye for an angle than he has.(21 ¶ 18)

(5) Not so, by any means. As long as nearly all people are agreed in their identification of the great majority of actions as harmonious with or counter to equal liberty, and as long as an increasing number of people are extending this agreement in identification over a still larger field of conduct, the definition of invasion as the infringement of equal liberty, far from being vain, will remain an important factor in political progress.(21 ¶ 19)

(6) Because we see no imperative and overwhelming necessity for an immediate settlement of the question of copyright, and because we think that the verdict of reason is preferable to the verdict of violence in all doubtful cases where we can afford to wait.(21 ¶ 20)

(7) It seems that there are cases in which, according to Mr. Robinson, we may resort to violence. It is now my turn to ask, Why? If he favors violence in one case, why not in all? I can see why, but not from his standpoint. For my part, I don’t care a straw whether, when Mr. Robinson sees fit to use violence, he acts under protest or from principle. The main question is: Does he think it wise under some circumstances to use violence, or is he so much of a practical Archist that he would not save his child from otherwise inevitable murder by splitting open the murderer’s head?(21 ¶ 21)