Problems of Anarchism


6.—Liberty and Its Law.

In tracing the comparative economic effects of capitalism my purpose was to bring out the fact that the conditions favorable to the growth of individual liberty have unmistakably improved. And as every phase of progress, including moral, religious, and political freedom, is dependent on economic conditions, the ideas and aspirations expanding in proportion to the opportunity for growth which these conditions afford, it requires but to bring together and sum up the results of our inquiry in order to see that they converge toward the same result.

Setting out with the axiomatic principle that free individual development is a primary need of man, we saw that his progress in the social state has been from the negation of freedom toward individual liberty in all its aspects,—that in this path ever more surely moves the trend of civilization.

Then, after tracing the lines of economic development prior to modern times, we came to the question as to whether liberty has advanced commensurately with industrial progress. The general recognition of existing evils was pointed out, and also the universal disagreement as to their cause.

Next was discussed the relation between political authority and personal freedom, the origin and growth of the former shown, its persistent character under different forms brought out, and throughout all the widening of the principle of liberty notwithstanding the prevalent confusion of ideas upon the subject.

After which the nature of individualism was ethically considered preparatory to the question of how far and in what way capitalism has evolved the conditions which give individual liberty fuller opportunity of development. We have already seen that ideas grow in accordance with the extension of opportunities for their fulfilment. Hence it becomes clear that modern economic conditions are those in which liberty has advanced, in theory and in fact, by reason of the wider scope and freer field they afford it. Such I claim to be the effects of the capitalist system. Let us demonstrate this point more plainly. Where this system has grown to the greatest extent is where progress and liberty have made the biggest strides. And where it is least developed or has not yet arisen is just where they are most backward.

According to Herbert Spencer, liberty increases with the growth of industrialism, which brings peace and progress. The point I wish to establish is quite different. I believe that this theory can be proved only of that form of industrialism which is modern capitalism. In England and the United States today we see the latter in its most evolved form. But alongside of it we also observe individual liberty in its highest state. On the other hand, we find in Russia that capitalism is as yet in its most elementary phase, that industrialism has not yet left the stage of communal or non-capitalistic agriculture. The position of liberty and progress there is needless to mention. Now if between these extremes we range civilized nations classified in relation to the development in each of the capitalist system of industry, we shall find that the advance of liberty is directly proportional to the stage of economic progress.

The extraordinary civilization of ancient Peru rested on a most perfect system, according to some modern Socialist ideals, of differentiated industrialism. It was, however, non-capitalistic. Supply and demand did not operate and money was not required. Paternalism reached a point scarcely to be paralleled even in a utopian romance. Individualism had no place in that system. But with the absence of capitalism there was also the absence of all liberty. Personal freedom and progress there were none. Civilization stood still.

China today shows us another stagnant civilization. Industrialism there was in a forward stage before any existing European nation had emerged from savagery. But it stopped short before it evolved as high as the economic state of modern capitalism and has remained there ever since. Here again have we industrialism, but not liberty.

The view I wish to emphasize is more special in its application than Spencer’s theory upon the relations between militancy and industrialism as social types, which is a broad generalization. But my position is in no way opposed to it, though I believe the considerations which I have pointed out show cause for restricting the application of that theory.

I will now put the result of this discussion into a formula which will render it both clearer and more useful.

The modern capitalist system is the only industrial type which has established the predominance of industrialism—man’s economic activities—over all other factors in society.

This formula explains why liberty in all directions has followed the growth of capitalism; because personal freedom, the prime condition to individualism, is indispensable to the development of that voluntary co-operation and unconscious mutual aid characteristic of man’s industrial activity, and especially arising out of the latest economic forms. The bourgeois struggles against aristocracy and autocracy, against military and religious domination, of which Socialistic and other historians say so much and understand so little, now become perfectly clear in their origin and ultimate effects. The classes profiting most directly by the rise of capitalism were the first to feel the need for economic freedom, which, being the basis of freedom in all other aspects, led to the struggle for and acquirement of man’s rights in general, and lastly to the assertion of individual sovereignty as the complete formula of social justice.

The study of natural phenomena in the light of Evolution leading to the investigation of Man in relation to life in general,—to the scientific study of all the forces, internal and external, by which he is conditioned and in accordance with which he exists, develops, and continues to achieve a larger and larger amount of satisfaction out of life, both for each individual and for the race,—this method has disclosed an order or continuity in the phenomena which our reason is able to sift and classify, and from the seeming chaos we can formulate principles which guide us both in comprehending the nature of things and in further extending our knowledge. More than this, such formulated experience helps man to understand his own nature and further his welfare, and guides him in his social relations.

Principles thus established we term scientific laws. They are simply descriptions, easily intelligible to the intellect, of the sequences and relations which observation makes known to us. This explanation I trust will at once make clear just what is conveyed by the phrases natural law and scientific formula and indicate precisely their value.

According to the above method and in the sense just indicated has the law of equal freedom been laid down. When Herbert Spencer defines Justice to mean the liberty of each limited only by the like liberties of all and expresses it in the formula known as the law of equal freedom: Every man is free to do that which he wills, qualified thus, provided he infringes not the equal freedom of any other man, we are not, I apprehend, expected to find a new doctrine, but that the facts of evolution scientifically and philosophically interpreted justify us in accepting this brief description (law) as a necessary condition of social growth. Hence to observe it is to be guided by natural law.

The same principle, it is needless to remark, has often been laid down by the apostles of liberty and other advanced thinkers, both from intuitive reasoning and empirical generalizations, but it has been left to the builders of scientific evolution to give it the force it now commands when established as a scientific demonstration.

Our inquiry up to this point has been to exhibit the tendency of civilization, and especially in its relation to economic development, as a movement toward individual liberty. It needed but the above conclusion from the philosophy of evolution to complete this part of the work. In the light thus obtained we can go on with the inquiry in the belief that we shall be the more able to unravel the difficulties that overcome the obstacles which so thickly bestrew our path.

Wm. Bailie

This article is part of a serial: Problems of Anarchism.