A Retrospect

“Follow your logic out,” says Voltairine de Cleyre, can you not see that true economy lies in liberty? Ah! when will they see, and why do they fail to see, a principle of which the whole course of civilization has been a continued demonstration? Is it not because man's logic from the beginning has had for its major premise a falsehood? In turning back the pages of my humble history, I find I very early came to the conclusion that, if certain things were true, certain other things must of necessity follow. I was taught that the world and all it contained was created by a being infinite in wisdom, power, and goodness. And I said man's free will is impossible: with an infinite being foreordination and foreknowledge are synonymous. And when I dwelt on the miseries of man and the tendency of things to go wrong in general, just how infinite goodness could have arranged it I was at a loss to know. A screw seemed loose somewhere. I could entertain no other belief; surely creation required infinite wisdom and power, and was it possible that such could be devoid of goodness? I had never received any religious training in particular. Our folks were Universalists from way back. Still I was impressed with the belief that morality depended upon religion, that infidelity led to vice and crime. I remember how the assertion of our orthodox friends that Universalism was a species of infidelity or a step in that direction bothered me, and hence I was the more bitter against men of Ingersoll's stamp; and, as for the advocate of free love, I thought hanging was too good for him. When I read in one of our daily papers of a certain S. P. Andrews welcoming home a convict from Auburn penitentiary — who had been arrested for scattering obscene literature — with language of such a vile nature that many ladies whose love of freethought had not carried them beyond decency left the hall, I wondered at such depravity. Now it happened that a sister of mine, the wife of a western postmaster, was in the habit of sending me the sample copies of papers sent to the office, and so it was that a copy of Dr. Foote’s Health Monthly came into my possession, containing a notice of this very meeting and advising its readers to purchase a copy of the New York Truth Seeker containing a full account. Of course a different aspect was given the affair. My curiosity was aroused. I sent for a copy; I read Mr. Andrews’s address; I saw that in his zeal for religion our daily editor had colored his account. Free thought was antagonistic to religion; any obloquy he could throw upon its advocates would be a credit to the Lord. But I saw something in the infidel paper that more powerfully asserted my attention, — an essay on the philosophy of evolution. I was more than interested. I sent for various pamphlets on the subject, and sat down to an investigation of its merits. It took me some time, but I finally arose, if not as elated, certainly as convinced as the old philosopher who sprang from his bath tub and ran naked through the streets shouting Eureka! Eureka! I had found it, — an answer to the problems of the universe. And I said: There is no God; matter, force, and law (or necessity) being the all-in-all. There is no power to temper the wind to the shorn lamb the lamb must become adapted to the winds, or die. The miseries of man are not designed for some wise end, but are the effect of certain causes which his intelligence may study and reform or abolish. And religion, being the result of ignorance, has played a prominent part in those causes. I had no use for religion now, except as a sign over a dangerous quagmire. My standard of morality now I labeled utility. And in the new light I turned to political economy. If my worthy sire had been careless with my religious training, he had never missed an opportunity to impress upon my mind the importance of voting the straight Republican ticket. I remember how grieved he was on one occasion when I substituted the name of a Democrat for one of his candidates, and how he argued that a bad man on a good ticket was preferable to a good man on a bad ticket. While I believed our party was all right and the Democratic party all wrong, still I could see no other way of entering my protest against the nomination of a drunkard and a gambler. But he was popular in his district, and father felt confident of his election, despite such quixotic notions as mine; and the election proved the truth of his prediction. The lesson impressed upon my mind was that our party was not infallible. But the true inwardness of the g. o. p. was brought out when my sympathy led me to believe in temperance legislation and we sought to obtain the aid of the party of great moral ideas. Their fast-and-loose game soon sent me into the prohibition party, but alas! I soon found that political trickery was not confined to the old parties, but met me here, not only subordinating principle to party success, but showing a dearth of sympathy for the struggling mass of humanity. And I dropped out of the ranks, even while believing prohibition was necessary.

Then the Greenback craze interested me, and in studying the financial question I was brought to see that drunkenness was the result of poverty, and as long as the inequality existed between capital and labor, poverty, vice, and crime would result, and prohibitory legislation was an aggravation rather than a remedy. To remove the inequality by destroying the special privileges granted wealth seemed to me the true solution, and I turned to the labor party. I soon found that it was not equality that this party wanted, but special privileges for its own members. I looked into the single tax idea; would this do it? No; the advantages of wealth would remain. I left politics, determined never to associate with another party, unless it was a party of repeal.

Then came the new light. I had about concluded that God meant it unto good perhaps, and my duty in the premises was not clear. As the superhuman deity fades slowly away from before us, we perceive with greater clearness the shape of a grander and nobler figure—of him who made all gods and shall unmake them. Man was not made to mourn, but owing to those laws so essential in bringing out and developing the strong and the capable, the struggle for existence and the survival of the fittest result in proud man dressed in brief authority and the many slavish poor. I had looked upon competition as holding the nose of humanity to the grindstone of fate, spoiling its beauty and demoralizing its soul, while monopoly was slowly but surely drawing to itself the wealth of the world. Then the motherly face of Communism beamed upon me; the gospel of plenty and brotherly love charmed me. But when I turned from the

Cold dull strife that makes men mad,
The tug for wealth and power,

and engaged in a search for the causes and certain principles governing those causes, saying to prejudice, Get thee behind me, Satan, I was soon convinced that the evil was not in competition itself, but in that power which shaped competition and made it the fierce struggle so unequal. Special privilege it was that made countless thousands mourn. Competition freed from this would be a blessing. Competition is but the cat’s paw by which the monkey, monopoly, gets the chestnuts out of the fire. Love and sympathy did not prevent me from seeing that there was a greater evil than poverty,—dependence,—and it seemed to me the principle was the same, whether the power that made one dependent emanated from the State. Is monopoly any less monopoly when called government? Is not monopoly the child of privilege? And is not privilege the very essence of the State? The more I dwelt on political economy, the more inconsistent it appeared. Everywhere men seemed striving to abate one evil by establishing another. I followed Herbert Spencer in his genesis of government, and found it conceived of man’s endeavor to plunder and enslave. The robber and the pirate have travelled down the ages donning the garb of respectability, and now pose as the sovereigns of the State. Is he any the less a robber who presents his warrant of the State demanding my money, than the highwayman who presents a loaded pistol? Every action accounted wrong between man and man becomes a virtue in the State.

That’s in the Captain but a choleric word
Which in the solder’s flat blasphemy.

What are you going to do about it? Is there no balm in Gilead? Every prescription I had examined was but a different mixture of the same compound, Invasion. Shall we fight the Devil with his own weapons? What makes him Devil but his weapons? I had heard of Anarchy,—the no government idea,—and read some of its literature, but I was unfortunate in the selection. I got the popular idea expressed by Ingersoll,—a reaction from tyranny. I could see that the evils of society might be traced to government as their fountain head. But to abolish government as an evil in itself and to fly to others we know not of,—I hesitated. And thus I stood, letting I-dare-not wait upon I would, when there came to me a newspaper article credited to Liberty, Boston, Mass. A new idea was suggested. I sent for a sample copy. I became a subscriber, and carefully studied what Liberty taught,—passive resistance. Gradually, one by one, the seeming necessities for government disappeared. I could see how the citizen grown strong in self-reliance was perfectly able to take care of himself, and it needed no figures to tell me the vast amount of wealth that would be thus saved. And I could see how even a comparatively few, by pooling their issues in friendly coöperation, pursuing self-interest, would be able to get and hold their own, asking no favors of any power, and, by quietly ignoring the existence of government, successfully resist its invasions. And I said, passive resistance means a quiet determination to mind one’s own business. But I learned another truth, — that liberty was something more than a name. Again I could have shouted Eureka! As Archimedes discovered in water a principle whereby he could determine the pure metal in Hiero’s crown, I had found in liberty a principle governing the right action of men. Liberty eulogized by sages and sung by poets, but always shouted in the interest of some particular line of thought. All reformers from Martin Luther down have placed it on their banners, but never advocated it. They simply demand it to promulgate the truth. The truth and nothing but the truth should be free. Thus every school or individual idea claims for itself the right of thought and action. Still liberty has had no basic meaning such as other words have that are used in reference to the actions of men. It always has depended and always must depend upon individual interpretation. Here is where the grand philosophy of Anarchism comes in. It regards the individual as supreme. It stands upon the predicate that all men are born free and equal. The right of authority over his fellows is vested in none. And Anarchy is the proper word. It took me some time to find that out, for Webster said it meant confusion, and Webster was an honorable man. But with this principle of liberty a new aspect was given things. Absence of government was no longer synonymous with confusion. True order and harmony are found in Liberty alone. Confusion results from contending forces, chiefs, and rulers. I saw clearly that, as there was but one meaning, — absence of all authority, — there could be but one form of Anarchism. As authority is only possible by the aid of force, Anarchism rejects all force that would enforce or coerce. As liberty is only possible by an absence of invasion or aggression, Anarchism rejects all invasion or aggression. It is in vain for the revolutionist who hopes by forceof ballots or bullets to abolish government to call himself an Anarchist, for, whatever he may become, he is now the enemy and not the friend of Anarchy. It is not the end hoped for, but the means employed that makes the Anarchist. Employing the forces of slavery to gain liberty is a delusion. To call such an Anarchist is like calling a lamb’s tail a leg. It may be in the course of evolution develop into a leg, but there is no practical benefit in calling it a leg now. Follow your logic out. Horace Greeley struck the true chord when he showed the uselessness of law and lawyers in the collection of debts. Had he but followed his logic out, it would have proved that true economy lies in liberty. To paraphrase Tupper:

I follow economy through the world
And find her home in Anarchy.

A. L. Ballou.