Plumb-Line or Cork-Screw, Which?

Plumb-Line or Cork-Screw, Which?

I have no wish to discuss the personality of the writer of the foregoing article; in fact, I am decidedly averse to doing so. But if he publicly disputes a position taken by me upon a question of ethics and policy, and so interweaves his personality therewith that I cannot escape its discussion except by that silence which he almost insists that I shall not persist in, there is no alternative for me. Compelling this discussion, then, he must take the responsibility of its results. If he finds that it involves the saying of things to him unpleasant, harsh, and severe, the blame will rest with him for forcing me, his friend, to speak of him in public with that frankness of characterization which neither he nor I have ever hesitated to employ when addressing each other in private.

He champions the policy of compromise which I assail, and offers in defence thereof nothing except his personal career as a compromiser and its results. Therefore I am obliged to examine that personal career and those results, to see what they are and what they might have been. And in view of this necessary personality, I shall disregard the pseudonyms, X and Honorius, and deal, in my direct, plumb-line fashion, with Henry Appleton.

Mr. Appleton's chief claim appears to be that by his expediency tactics in the Irish World he succeeded in making a great many Irish Anarchists. Against this assertion I put the counter-assertion that by his articles in Liberty, which have always—until very lately, at any rate—been of the uncompromising order, though addressing a constituency only one-fiftieth as large as the Irish World's, he has helped to make at least twenty times as many Anarchists as were ever made by his Honorius letters. My assertion is as susceptible of proof as his, and if it be true, it is fair to presume that, if all the work of his life had been of a similarly uncompromising character, it would have had similarly important results.

And after all how many staunch Irish Anarchists, with a deep-rooted comprehension of Anarchism, did the Honorius letters ever make? I doubt if Mr. Appleton could name over half a dozen. But whether half a dozen or a dozen or more, how many of the number were made Anarchists by the expediency tactics rather than in spite of them? Not one, in my judgment. Certainly not Gertrude Kelly, or any person of her type. She was never wheedled or cajoled into an acceptance of Anarchy by the insinuating methods which Mr. Appleton describes so proudly. She became an Anarchist principally because she had brains in her head and was bound to become one in very short order. She very likely found the seed-thought in some of the many flat-footed Anarchistic sentences contained in the Honorius letters; but, if she had not found it there, she would have found it elsewhere, and, Honorius or no Honorius, she would by this time have been in New Era Hall or somewhere else spreading the light thus acquired. Certainly her conversion cannot be placed to the credit of expediency. Nor can those of the few other brainy people to whom the Honorius letters gave a start and who have landed on solid Anarchistic ground.

It is undoubtedly true that these letters, by their author's great capacity for illustration, by his fund of anecdote, by his habit of connecting his thought with daily life, and by his faculty of concretely presenting abstract ideas, did greatly charm and captivate a multitude of readers; and it is not unlikely that over many of them any other than expediency tactics would have made it impossible to exercise this charm. But these people were simply charmed; they never got any adequate idea of the meaning of liberty from the letters and were incapable of getting any. Their mental calibre may be estimated by the fact of which Miss Kelly assures me that some of the most intelligent of [5] them, who were loud in their praise of the Honorius letters, as loudly denounced Mr. Appleton's unsigned editorials appearing at the same time in Liberty, supposing them to be written by me. Upon such minds as these plumb-line reasoning has no effect, and the only effect that cork-screw insinuation has upon them is to insert itself into the yielding fibre called their brains only to find, when the attempt is made to exercise the supposed grip, that the fibre simply tears away, and that the convert is no convert at all.

Again, in apportioning the credit for whatever Irish Anarchists have been made, it must not be forgotten that, at the time when the Honorius letters were appearing in the Irish World, another Anarchist was doing some pretty tall writing for that paper,—a certain Phillip, now known to readers of Liberty as H, a man who is no compromiser, who abides by the plumb-line, and who nevertheless possesses, to a degree which only the most favored mortals attain, that warmth and abundance of heart and depth and breadth of human love which Mr. Appleton seems to think consistent with nothing save expediency and the cork-screw. True, he doesn't have so much to say about his heart and love as Mr. Appleton. the latter's praiseworthy hatred of Pharisaism clearly does not extend to the I-am-heartier-than-thou form of it, and in consequence of this limitation loses much of tis force.

I am quite willing to admit that Patrick Ford would have kicked Mr. Appleton down the back stairs much sooner than he did, if it had not been for the expediency tactics. But I add that in such case Mr. Appleton, if he is the zealous missionary that he professes to be, would have expended the same amount of effort in a less compromising form of propagandism, with more benefit to the cause, though possibly with less profit to himself.

Mr. Appleton seems to be under the delusion that Miss Kelly and I object to his going to a Knights of Labor meeting and there emphasizing Anarchistic doctrines. Not at all! I, for one, only wish he would. It is because he goes to such meetings and does not emphasize Anarchistic doctrines, but on the contrary emphasizes Knights of Labor doctrines as superior to Anarchistic doctrines, that I condemn him. I find fault, not that he uses the Knights of Labor, but that the Knights of Labor use him. My complaint is that, when Mr. Appleton goes to Rome, he does as the Romans do. Does he call for proof of this assertion? I have it under my hand. In the foregoing article, writing as an Anarchist, he says that the eight-hour movement is no settlement of the labor question at all. At Faneuil Hall on Tuesday evening, March 30, he said that the eight-hour movement is the most rational, most justifiable, most defensible, of all the methods conceived for the amelioration of the condition of the working men and women. I take it that Anarchism is a method conceived for the amelioration of the condition of the working men and women. And yet Mr. Appleton, an Anarchist, goes to Faneuil Hall and virtually admits its inferiority to eight hours. This may be an instance of the true scientific principle of compromise which I have not yet learned; I certainly do not recognize it by that title; when I have met it heretofore, it has borne the name dishonesty. This is the sort of thing that I find sickening in Mr. Appleton, just as I used to find it sickening to read in his Honorius letters all kinds of pious phrases about God and the Almighty when I knew that his real views about God were just what he has so often expressed in these columns.

Were it not that an Anarchist can hold nothing sacred, I should pronounce rank blasphemy Mr. Appleton's citation of Thomas Paine in support of the policy of compromise; as it is, I pronounce it an outrage upon the memory of one of the most uncompromising men that ever lived. Thomas Paine said: Where liberty is not, there is my country; but, when he went to where liberty is not, he did not go there to affiliate with slavery all it would let him, or to speak for slavery upon slavery's platform, or to write for slavery, or to work for slavery, or to love slavery; he went there to smite slavery hip and thigh. When Mr. Appleton follows Thomas Paine's example, he and I will be at peace on this point.

Or, if he will rise to the level of Jesus and Socrates, I will be equally well satisfied, for both of them were severely organized on the plumb-line principle. Mr. Appleton is indeed unfortunate in the types he selects. Socrates a compromiser! Jesus a compromiser! And, because he was a compromiser, he left the Pharisees! Why, I had fancied hitherto that it was Jesus's hatred of compromise, indirection, and hypocrisy that led him to separate himself from the Pharisees. If Mr. Appleton takes a similar view of the Anarchists, by all means let him do likewise. If he thinks that the Anarchists shut up the kingdom of heaven against men, neither going in themselves nor suffering them that are entering to go in; if he thinks they devour widows' houses and for a pretence make long prayer; if he thinks they compass sea and land to make one proselyte, and when he is made, make him twofold more the child of hell than themselves; if he thinks that they pay tithe of mint, and anise, and cummin, and omit the weightier matters of the law; if he thinks that they are blind guides who strain at a gnat and swallow a camel; if he thinks that they make clean the outside of the cup and of the platter, but within are full of extortion and excess; if he thinks that they are like unto whited sepulchres, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead men's bones and of all uncleanness,—if he thinks all these things of the Anarchists, as Jesus thought them of the Pharisees, then let him be a man, as Jesus was, and say so; let him leave them, as Jesus did, and no longer pretend to be one of them; and as he goes, let him leave these parting words ringing in their ears: Ye serpents, ye generation of vipers, how can ye escape the damnation of hell? Then he will be as uncompromising as Jesus. Jesus did not dodge about from Pharisee to publican and from publican back to Pharisee. He did not champion the one today and coquet with the other tomorrow. He took his stand definitely with the one and against the other, and there was never any doubt about his attitude.

If, on second thought, Mr. Appleton finds these standards selected by himself—Paine, Socrates, Jesus—too high for him, I will then simply ask him to rise once more to the standard which he set in his recent New Haven speech. He can read it in another column, as reported by Comrade Yarros. Perhaps a little reflection will suffice to once more make it clear to him that all those who ignore first principles and engage in practical work—meaning by it temporary relief, compromise, etc.—are in reality wasting time and labor, and are engaged in a most ridiculous and fruitless work. That is near enough to the plumb-line to suit me.

Apart from the unpleasant task which it has imposed upon me, there is cause for rejoicing in the fact that Mr. Appleton has been forced into an apologetic attitude. Even if Miss Kelly's Boston lecture had done no other good, she might still find ample cause for self-congratulation in having so skilfully cut the coat of compromise that Mr. Appleton cannot help seeing that it fits him, has put it on, and is now trying as hard as he can to find some ground for feeling a pride in his garment. When she has further shown him, as I have no doubt she soon will in these columns, that this coat cannot be worn by upright human beings and only fits him because of his deformity, it is to be hoped that he will try equally hard to wriggle himself out of his cork-screw shape and become a plumb-line Anarchist.