Where We Stand

Where We Stand

Mr. B. W. Ball writes the best articles that appear in the Index, which is not saying much, and among the best that appear in any of the weeklies, which is saying a good deal. We were the more gratified, therefore, to find him treating in a recent number the incipient, but increasing, opposition to the existence of the State. He at least is clear-sighted enough not to underrate the importance of the advent into social and political agitation of so straightforward, consistent, unterrified, determined, and, withal, philosophically rooted a factor as modern Anarchism, although his editorial chief, Mr. Underwood, declares that the issue which the Anarchists present admits of no discussion.(11 ¶ 1)

But even Mr. Ball shows, by his article on Anti-State Theorists, that, despite his promptness to discover and be impressed by the appearance of this new movement, he has as yet studied it too superficially to know anything of the groundwork of the thought which produced, animates, and guides it. Indeed this first shot of his flies so wide of the mark that certain incidental phrases indicative of the object of his aim were needed to reassure us that Anarchism really was his target. In a word, he has opened fire on the Anarchists without inquiring where we stand.(11 ¶ 2)

Where, then, does he suppose we stand? His central argument against us, stated briefly, is this: Where crime exists, force must exist to repress it. Who denies it? Certainly not Liberty; certainly not the Anarchists. Anarchism is not a revival of non-resistance, although there may be non-resistants in its ranks. The direction of Mr. Ball’s attack implies that we would let robbery, rape, and murder make havoc in the community without lifting a finger to stay their brutal, bloody work. On the contrary, we are the sternest enemies of invasion of person and property, and, although chiefly busy in destroying the causes thereof, have no scruples against such heroic treatment of its immediate manifestations as circumstances and wisdom may dictate. It is true that we look forward to the ultimate disappearance of the necessity of force even for the purpose of repressing crime, but this, though involved in it as a necessary result, is by no means a necessary condition of the abolition of the State.(11 ¶ 3)

In opposing the State, therefore, we do not deny Mr. Ball’s proposition, but distinctly affirm and emphasize it. We make war upon the State as the chief invader of person and property, as the cause of substantially all the crime and misery that exist, as itself the most gigantic criminal extant. In manufactures criminals much faster than it punishes them. It exists to create and sustain the privileges which produce economic and social chaos. It is the sole support of the monopolies which concentrate wealth and learning in the hands of a few and disperse poverty and ignorance among the masses, to the increase of which inequality the increase of crime is directly proportional. It protects a minority in plundering the majority by methods too subtle to be understood by the victims, and then punishes such unruly members of the majority as attempt to plunder others by methods too simple and straightforward to be recognized by the State as legitimate, crowning its outrages by deluding scholars and philosophers of Mr. Ball’s stamp into pleading, as an excuse for its infamous existence, the necessity of repressing the crime which it steadily creates.(11 ¶ 4)

Mr. Ball,—to his honor be it said,—during anti-slavery days, was a steadfast abolitionist. He earnestly desired the abolition of slavery. Doubtless he remembers how often he was met with the argument that slavery was necessary to keep the unlettered blacks out of mischief, and that it would be unsafe to give freedom to such a mass of ignorance. Mr. Ball in those days saw through the sophistry of such reasoning, and knew that those who urged it did so to give some color of moral justification to their conduct in living in luxury on the enforced toil of slaves. He probably was wont to answer them something after this fashion: It is the institution of slavery that keeps the blacks in ignorance, and to justify slavery on the ground of their ignorance is to reason in a circle and beg the very question at issue.(11 ¶ 5)

To-day Mr. Ball—again to his honor be it said—is a religious abolitionist. He earnestly desires the abolition, or at least the disappearance, of the Church. How frequently he must meet or hear of priests who, while willing to privately admit that the doctrines of the Church are a bundle of delusions, argue that the Church is necessary to keep the superstition-ridden masses in order, and that their release from the mental subjection in which it holds them would be equivalent to their precipitation into unbridled dissipation, libertinism, and ultimate ruin. Mr. Ball sees clearly through the fallacy of all such logic, and knows that those who use it do so to gain a moral footing on which to stand while collecting their fees from the poor fools who know no better than to pay them. We can fancy him replying with pardonable indignation: Cunning knaves, you know very well that it is your Church that saturates the people with superstition, and that to justify its existence on the ground that their superstition is to put the cart before the horse and assume the very point in dispute.(11 ¶ 6)

Now, we Anarchists are political abolitionists. We earnestly desire the abolition of the State. Our position on this question is parallel in most respects to those of the Church abolitionists and slavery abolitionists. But in this case Mr. Ball—to his disgrace be it said—takes the side of the tyrants against the abolitionists, and raises the cry so frequently raised against him: The State is necessary to keep thieves and murderers in subjection, and, were it not for the State, we should all be garroted in the streets and have our throats cut in our beds. As Mr. Ball saw through the sophistry of his opponents, so we see through his, precisely similar to theirs, though we know that not he, but the capitalists use it to blind the people to the real object of the institution by which they are able to extort from labor the bulk of its products. We answer him as he did them, and in no very patient mood: Can you not see that it is the State that creates the conditions which give birth to thieves and murderers, and that to justify its existence on the ground of the prevalence of theft and murder is a logical process every whit as absurd as those used to defeat your efforts to abolish slavery and the Church?(11 ¶ 7)

Once and for all, then, we are not opposed to the punishment of thieves and murderers; we are opposed to their manufacture. Right here Mr. Ball must attack us, or not at all. When next he writes on Anarchism, let him answer these questions:(11 ¶ 8)

Are not the laboring classes deprived of their earnings by usury in its three forms,—interest, rent, and profit?(11 ¶ 9)

Is not such deprivation the principal cause of poverty?(11 ¶ 10)

Is not poverty, directly or indirectly, the principal cause of illegal crime?(11 ¶ 11)

Is not usury dependent upon monopoly, and especially upon the land and money monopolies?(11 ¶ 12)

Could these monopolies exist without the State at their back?(11 ¶ 13)

Does not by far the larger part of the work of the State consist in establishing and sustaining these monopolies and other results of special legislation?(11 ¶ 14)

Would not the abolition of these invasive functions of the State lead gradually to the disappearance of crime?(11 ¶ 15)

If so, would not the disappearance of crime render the protective functions of the State superfluous?(11 ¶ 16)

In that case, would not the State have been entirely abolished?[5](11 ¶ 17)

Would not this be the realization of Anarchy and the fulfilment of Proudhon’s prophecy of the dissolution of government into the economic organism?(11 ¶ 18)

To each of these questions we answer: Yes. That answer constitutes the ground on which we stand and from which we refuse to be drawn away. We invite Mr. Ball to meet us on it and whip us if he can.(11 ¶ 19)

11 n. 1. In this series of questions the word State is used in a sense inclusive of voluntary protective associations, whereas in all other parts of this volume it is used in a sense exclusive thereof. Attention is called to this inconsistency in terminology, in order to prevent misunderstanding.