The Plumb-Line at New Haven.
To the Editor of Liberty:
Miss Gertrude B. Kelly's paper on
Anarchism and Expediency is certainly a remarkable production and a very valuable work for Anarchistic propaganda. The Equal Rights Debating Club of New Haven did not fail to do justice to the bright lecturer, whom every intelligent person in the room declared to be a rising star. Not always can we tell a good thing when we see it, the degree to which we are impressed by a thing being dependent not only upon the nature of the thing itself, but upon the state of our own susceptibility and readiness to receive such impressions. The Club is not ignorant of the teachings of the Anarchical school. Knowing just so much of it as to admire its ideal, admit the truth and beauty of its basic principles, the questioning, the doubt, and the opposition mainly lay on the practical side of the issue. The question was:
Is it practicable? can it be realized here and now? Thus Miss Kelly's lecture was well calculated to supply a want strongly felt by her auditors.
Miss Kelly maintained that strict adherence to principle is not only a good policy for social reformers to adopt, but the only policy that can bring them any nearer to their goal or make future progress at all possible. She argued that in this question of Right versus Expediency, or Principle versus Policy, the first is really the easier to ascertain, and, therefore, the wiser to follow. The light of Expediency is treacherous, misleading, and unsteady. Trying to be
practical, we become mentally confused, and lose all means of controlling our actions. We never know where we stand and how near we are to the promised land. On the other hand, adopting a principle for our guide and keeping straight on through calm and storm, we are sure to reach our destination sooner or later. The man of principle is the true leader, the mover and saviour of the blind and unhappy masses, while the time-server, though called a leader and enjoying for a time popular favor, is actually a slave to the prejudices and passions of the multitude and is led and used by them.
Supporting her à priori arguments by facts and experience, she took up one by one the practical remedies, the expedient solutions of the burning questions of the day, as proposed by our popular leaders, and mercilessly destroyed them, showing most conclusively that, instead of relieving the patient, these quack remedies would still more endanger his condition. The eight-hour movement, the union label, coöperative schemes, Malthusianism, and other remedies severally advanced as immediate solutions of the labor problem were minutely examined, and the striking and evident conclusion was that these palliatives would never effect any change at all, and that, after much time, labor, and suspense, we would find ourselves near our starting point, more perplexed and despairing than ever.
I warn you, said Miss Kelly earnestly,
practical philosophers who profess contempt for abstract principles, who denounce every radical reformer as a dreamer and crank, and who claim to have invented self-operating patent reform machines. A
practical reformer is a short-sighted and dull-headed person, incapable of deep insight or wide generalization. Seeing only immediate causes and results, he cannot be trusted or relied upon in the task of working out our social salvation.
If you understand the truth and logic of Liberty-the-mother-of-order philosophy, you will readily conceive the folly of those who want to solve social problems by methods of coercion, legislative enactments, or forcible measures. Tyranny is a two-edged sword. The strong are brutalized and degraded in the exercise of the tyranny, while the weak become slaves, cowards, and nobodies under its yoke. Only free individuals can live in harmony, and only under diseased conditions can their interests be antagonistic.
At the close of her speech no one manifested a desire to take issue with her or attempt to refute her logic. A reporter of a local paper wittily said that Miss Kelly made a wholesale conquest of the Equal Rights Debating Club. But for more than two hours she was kept answering questions and giving explanations. The meeting lasted three hours, and Miss Kelly practically did all the talking. Encouraging the cross-examiners, she said that we Anarchists are not like the State Socialists, who are afraid of Liberty and seek to crush the spirit of opposition, or like the Christians, who fear Mormon competition. We invite criticism and want to be tested. And I am proud to say that the questions and points raised were not of that frivolous character to which we have been accustomed in like cases, as
How would you build railways under Anarchy? or
What if a highwayman should knock you down? but such as gave credit to the auditors and good working material to the lecturer.
If farther proof is needed to settle this vexed question of Right versus Expediency, the two New Haven meetings addressed by Miss Kelly and Mr. Appleton afford it. The esteem, the admiration, the influence that they had in New Haven,—to what are these due if not to their plumb-line radicalism? After all, in truth there is a magical power which is sure to work on everybody of moral worth and brains. When the Club wanted a man of brains and courage to speak on labor organization, it did not go to the every-day labor reformers, but chose Mr. Appleton, because they know him to be an uncompromising, plumb-line champion of truth, popular or unpopular. His whole speech then was an attack on the Expediency philosophy, and yet he was not only respectfully treated by his un-Anarchistic listeners, but admired and openly praised to such a degree that he confessed on his way to the depot to being very proud of it. It was, he said, one of the best moments of his life! Truly, virtue is its own reward! His latest, you may well imagine, was a surprise to me.