Trying to Be and Not to Be.

Trying to Be and Not to Be.

To the Editor of Liberty:(16 ¶ 1)

I do not write this with the idea that you will publish it, for the tardiness with which you inserted my last question indicates that you do not care for any more of me in your paper. You are too good a reasoner to not know that, if it is proper to interfere to compel people to regard one social convention, it is not improper to force another, or all, providing there is any satisfaction in doing so. If there are no natural rights, there is no occasion for conscientious or other scruples, providing the power exists. Therefore, therei s no guarantee that there will be even as much individuality permitted under Anarchistic rule as under the present plan, for the principle of human rights is now recognized, however far removed we may be from giving the true application. The equal liberty social convention catch-phrase can be stamped out as coolly as any other. There are but two views to take of any proposed action,—that of right and that of expediency,—and as you have knocked the idea of right out, the thing is narrowed to the lowest form of selfishness. There certainly can be no more reason why Anarchists, who deny every obligation on the ground of right, should be consistent in standing by the platform put forward when weak, than that ordinary political parties should stand by their promises made when out of power.(16 ¶ 2)

I called equal liberty a catch-phrase. It sounds nice, but when we criticise it, it is hollow. For instance, equal liberty may give every one the same opportunity to take freely from the same cabbage patch, the same meat barrel, and the same grain-bin. So long as no one interferes with another, he is not overstepping the principle of equal liberty, but when one undertakes to keep others away, he is, and you can only justify the proscription by saying that one ought to have liberty there, and the others had not,—that those who did nothing in the production ought not to have equal liberty to appopriate. But if nobody has any natural rights, then the thief not only does not interfere with the equal liberty of others, but he does them no wrong. You have done well, considering your opportunity, but your cause is weak. You are mired and tangled in the web you have been weaving beyond material help. Still, I see a ray of hope for Anarchism. Just unite with the Christian Science metaphysicians, and the amalgamation will be an improvement. As I have looked it over, I am sure the chemical combination will be perfect, and the result will be the most pleasing nectar ever imbibed by suffering humanity.(16 ¶ 3)

S. Blodgett

As Mr. Blodgett says, it is as proper to enforce one social convention as another providing there is any satisfaction in doing so. But Anarchists, from the very fact that they are Anarchists, take no satisfaction in enforcing any social convention except that of equal liberty, that being the essence of their creed. Now, Mr. Blodgett asked me to define the sphere of force as viewed by Anarchism; he did not ask me to define any other view of it. To say that an Anarchist is entitled to enforce all social conventions is to say that he is entitled to cease to be an Anarchist, which nobody denies. But if he should cease to be an Anarchist, the remaining Anarchists would still be entitled to stop him from invading them. I hope that Mr. Blodgett is a good enough reasoner to perceive this distinction, but I fear that he is not.(16 ¶ 4)

It is true, also, that, if there are no natural rights, there is no occasion for conscientious scruples. But it is not true that there is no occasion for other scruples. A scruple, according to Webster, is hesitation as to action from the difficulty of determining what is right or expedient. Why should not disbelievers in natural rights hesitate on grounds of expediency? In other words, why should they be unscrupulous?(16 ¶ 5)

It is true, again, that Anarchism does not recognize the principle of human rights. But it recognizes human equality as a necessity of stable society. How, then, can it be charged with failing to guarantee individuality?(16 ¶ 6)

It is true, further, that equal liberty can be stamped out as coolly as anything else. But people who believe in it will not be likely to stamp it out. And Anarchists believe in it.(16 ¶ 7)

It is true, still further, that there are only two standards of conduct,—right and expediency. But why does elimination of right narrow the thing down to the lowest form of selfishness? Is expediency exclusive of the higher forms of selfishness? I deem it expedient to be honest. Shall I not be honest, then, regardless of any idea of right? Or is honesty the lowest form of selfishness?(16 ¶ 8)

It is far from true, however, that Anarchists have no more reason to stand by their platform than ordinary politicians have to stand by theirs. Anarchists desire the advantages of harmonious society and know that consistent adherence to their platform is the only way to get them, while ordinary politicians desire only offices and boodle, and make platforms simply to catch votes. Even if it were conceivable that hypocrites should step upon the Anarchistic platform simply for their temporary convenience, would that invalidate the principle of Anarchism? Does Mr. Blodgett reject all good principles the moment they are embodied in party platforms by political tricksters?(16 ¶ 9)

General opportunity for all to take freely from the same cabbage patch is not equal liberty. As was happily pointed out some time ago by a writer for hte New York Truth Seeker, whose article was copied into Liberty, equal liberty does not mean equal slavery or equal invasion. It means the largest amount of liberty compatible with equality and mutuality of respect, on the part of individuals living in society, for their respective spheres of action. To appropriate the cabbages which another has grown is not to respect his sphere of action. Hence equal liberty would recognize no such conduct as proper.(16 ¶ 10)

The sobriety with which Mr. Blodgett recently renewed his questions led me to believe that he did not relish the admixture of satire with argument. But the exquisite touch of irony with which he concludes the present letter seems to indicate the contrary. If so, let him say the word, and he shall be accommodated. The author of Tu-Whit! Tu-Whoo! is not yet at his wits’ end.(16 ¶ 11)