Theoretical Methods.

Theoretical Methods.

[Liberty, July 16, 1887.]

From the raw recruit in the Salvation Army up to the Theoretical Anarchist, none are lacking in methods whereby man may be saved. The religious recruit who, perhaps, has just heard of Jesus is filled with sublime faith. In his exuberant optimism earth and heaven seem about to unite, peace is to reign everywhere, and happiness fill every soul. But one thing is lacking,—faith. So he sets out, like Bunyan’s Christian, steadfast in purpose to convince the world that the vade mecum of temporal and eternal success is but this one thing: Think as I do, and you will be saved! But alas! men have listened to the old song for centuries, and heaven has not descended nor earth ascended to supernal bliss. Here, as elsewhere, difference of views is a constant factor. What Proudhon calls the force of events has led to wider and wider differentiation of character, and consequently of methods. We will leave the religionist to his theoretical method, and sadly smile as we pass by.(138 ¶ 1)

The statesman—from the public minister to the itinerant demagogue—also has a method, a Morrison’s Pill for all social ills. Having outgrown the delusion of the Fifth Monarchy men, who sought to intersect the parallel lines of religion and politics, keeping one eye on earth and the other wildly staring at the hollow vault that but re-echoed back their loud appeals, the statesman sees but one method,—the ballot! Eureka! let workmen adopt political methods for economic ills, put We, Us & Co. in office, and the problem is solved! But again the constant factor appears; in spite of harangues, preaching, and able editors, men will not think alike. Here and there are those who assert that this mingling of political and economic methods is but a repetition of the former folly.(138 ¶ 2)

The Prohibitionists see the world redeemed when all men abjure rum or are unable to obtain it. If they perversely refuse to be virtuous, it is proposed to inject virtue into them. The Socialists of the orthodox stripe have been persistent, in season and out of season, in demonstrating to the world that, when their propaganda has brought all men to one way of thinking, incompetency will be able to select competency, or capacity, to run the social machine. The Co-operator also turns his little crank, and, in haste to realize results, gathers himself together and starts a society in the South or West, where he proposes to socialize Millerism within the State. But, again, to all these schemes the constant factor remains that the Apostle is only an apostle to the few.(138 ¶ 3)

And last, though not least, appears the Theoretical Anarchist, who, while abjuring systems, still as vociferously asserts the validity of his unpatented method, whereby the Millennium is to be inaugurated. True, it has failed hitherto,—in Ireland, for instance; but there the method, not system, when it came to the test, found that existing political methods had far greater attractions. Strange! but ‘twas ever thus, and so it will be again while the State remains. Let us listen and see if we do not catch the old, time-worn cadence, so long familiar to our ears:(138 ¶ 4)

Had the people realized the power they were exercising, and understood the economic situation, they would not have resumed the payment of rent at Parnell’s bidding, and to-day they might have been free.(138 ¶ 5)

Salvation Army hymn again! The force of events within the State will ever lead the attraction of State methods to predominate. The State must go! How? I neither know nor care; I have no patented nor unpatented method to foist upon a long-suffering community. Let the inevitable come as it will; I can protest then as now. If the brutal Communists of Chicago, as Liberty called them, had been more theoretical in their methods, they would not now be lying under the shadow of the gallows for conspiracy to resist invasion of individual rights.(138 ¶ 6)

In fact, to realize the method of Anarchy, I am forcibly reminded of an incident which occurred when I risked my life to spread cheap labor over the South. A young lieutenant was sent out with a platoon to make a reconnaissance, and on his march came to a river which was not fordable. Drilled in army methods, he followed his instructions to make a requisition on the quartermaster if he needed anything. Realizing the power he was exercising and understanding the military situation, he sent in a requisition for a platoon of men eighteen feet high! If he had waited till the water had run by, he might have crossed easily, but then, as now, nature and men remained constant factors.(138 ¶ 7)


Dyer D. Lum.

It is no wonder that Mr. Lum feels sad. I should feel not only sad, but ashamed, if the responsibility of the above article rested on my shoulders. It is such a bundle of absurdities, such a labyrinth of analogies that cross each other at every turn, such an unmethodical mass of errors, that it is impossible to pursue any method in answering it. There is so little about it that is structural or organic that it must be dealt with more or less at random. Perhaps I shall strike in a not altogether wrong direction if I point out to Mr. Lum that the State which he is trying to abolish is not the State as institution, but simply the existing State. He is like the slave who is so utterly destitute of an idea, so thoroughly incapable of a generalization, in short, so entirely and exclusively practical, that he cannot appreciate the remoter fact that his oppression rests upon an almost universal belief in mastership, but can see no further than the concrete master whose lash he feels. If one of his fellows were to reason from the latter back to the former and seek some method of striking at the foundation of the tyranny, this slave would sneer at him, as Mr. Lum sneers at the Theoretical Anarchist; but to one of his fellows who should snatch the lash from the master’s hand and beat him to death, though with no other thought than of straightway kneeling to another master, this slave would lift his hat, as Mr. Lum lifted his hat to the thrower of the Chicago bomb. I care as little as Mr. Lum how the State goes, but I insist that it shall really go,—that it shall be abolished, not reformed. That it cannot be abolished until there shall exist some considerable measure and solid weight of absolute and well-grounded disbelief in it as an institution is a truth too nearly axiomatic for demonstration. In the absence of such disbelief the existing State might be destroyed by the blindly rebellious or might fall through its own rottenness, but another would at once arise in its stead. Why should it not, how could it be otherwise, when all believe in the necessity of the State? Now, it is to create this measure and weight of disbelief that the Theoretical Anarchist is working. He is not trying, like the religionist, to convert the whole world to his way of thinking by a never-ending series of individual conversions, or, like the politician, Prohibitionist, and Socialist, to get a majority upon his side, or yet, like the Co-operator (whom I am surprised to see cited as theoretical), to retire from the busy world to build a play-house in the wilderness; he is simply addressing himself to such persons as are amenable to reason to the end that these may united and here and now enter upon the work of laying the foundations of Liberty, knowing that, these foundations once laid, the structure must rise upon them, the work of all men’s hands, as a matter of economic necessity. This is a work that must be done sooner or later, and the sooner the better. If, as Mr. Lum conceives, the destruction of the existing State by force is inevitable, no fact more than this should incite the Theoretical Anarchist to immediately concentrate all his energies upon the work which he has laid out. If ruin is to confront us so soon and surely, all the greater need of seeing to it that Liberty, and not Authority, shall be the architect of the succeeding social structure. If Mr. Lum and his friends, the Communists of Chicago (whose characterization as brutal Mr. Lum in the past, when less anxious to score a point against me, has carefully and correctly attributed to X instead of to Liberty), had devoted one half the energy to his theoretical work that they have expended in preaching the gospel of dynamite and proclaiming the logic of events, not only would none of them now be lying under the shadow of the gallows (the desirability of which position I do not perceive as clearly as Mr. Lum), but very likely there would now be enough Theoretical Anarchists to begin some work similar to that which C. T. Fowler is outlining in his luminous Sun. If Mr. Lum can demonstrate the impossibility of creating such a force as this, he will not only knock the bottom out of Theoretical Anarchism, but he will reduce every species of Socialism to a utopian dream. But until he can, it will be futile for him to fight Theoretical Anarchism with analogies based on such impossibilities as the recruiting of men eighteen feet high. The two methods must be proved equally impossible before the analogy will hold. I have not touched all the weak points, but perhaps I have said enough. At any rate, as Proudhon has been referred to, I cannot close more aptly than with these words from his What is Property? There is one truth of which I am profoundly convinced,—nations live by absolute ideas, not by approximate and partial conceptions; therefore, men are needed who define principles, or at least test them in the fire of controversy. Such is the law,—the idea first, the pure idea, the understanding of the laws of God, the theory: practice follows with slow steps, cautious, attentive to the succession of events; sure to seize, towards this eternal meridian, the indications of supreme reason. The co-operation of theory and practice produces in humanity the realization of order,—the absolute truth. All of us, as long as we live, are called, each in proportion to his strength, to this sublime work. The only duty which it imposes upon us is to refrain from appropriating the truth to ourselves, either by concealing it, or by accommodating it to the temper of the century, or by using it for our own interests.(138 ¶ 8)