To the Editor of Liberty:
Mr. Labadie’s letter in Liberty a few months ago, in
answer to a doubting friend, was of peculiar interest to me. I also have a very
good friend who objects to the so-called
extreme deductions which we draw
from the principle of equal freedom. This friend, I am sorry to say, is
George A. Schilling, who needs no introduction to Liberty. He has tried
to convince me of the unsoundness of our position on certain questions.
I am very anxious that some of the ablest representatives should throw more light on this subject, for Mr. Schilling’s benefit, as well as for the benefit of others, who seem to stop short in their deductions, for some strange reason. I hope that it is due only to the lack of logic.
Let me state the substance of some of our discussions in the form of a dialogue between two friends.
Failure number one.
First Friend. I can’t go as far as some of you Anarchists do. I don’t see my way clear, I don’t believe a person has a right to constitute himself sheriff and executioner, as some of you assert.
Second Friend. Why not?
First Friend. Because it is dangerous to allow an interested person to perform such functions. At one time, in the early period of civilization, there prevailed such arrangements, and the result was that a great many outrageous injustices were committed.
Second Friend. Who, then, is to perform these functions? A voluntary organization? I don’t think any Anarchist will object to that. In fact, they recognize the necessity of such organization in order to economize time and labor. Still, if any person insist on performing those functions for himself, he must be given the right, or rather, he must not be prevented under the law of equal freedom. When you realize that present societies demand compensation for these services and usually fix their own prices too, allowing no competition in the market, I don’t see how you fail to perceive the gross violation of the law of equal freedom.
First Friend. I don’t see my way clear. I think we shall require some form of compulsory organization as long as people are not perfect. We cannot trust human nature.
Second Friend. And so you admit that you believe in violating the law in this case? [If I am not mistaken, my friend once admitted it.] I think that you exaggerate the gravity of the alleged evil of a person constituting himself sheriff and executioner. What does it really mean? It simply means that a person can, if he chooses, protect himself and his property, and, if necessary, take the punishment of trespassers on his person or property into his own hands.
You must not forget that, as the principles of justice are becoming clearer, and the law of equal freedom more intelligently recognized as the right basis of society, the number of citizens who are ever ready to protect the rights of others as well as their own and to enforce justice is constantly increasing. The invader, no matter whether he assumes the form of a sheriff and executioner or any other form, will be quickly recognized and punished. The necessity of carefully refraining from invasion will be felt greatly in such society, and this will go far to prevent invasion. To say that
in the early period of civilization we had such an arrangement is absurd. How much did those people know about equal freedom or justice?
Failure number two.
My friend, too, seems to be troubled about the banana-peeling on the sidewalk. He does not think that persuasion, public opinion, or the boycott would do any good in this case. He, too, insists that we must have a law against it. And yet you should hear how ably he argues that the most complex social relations can be regulated without laws; how he shuns what an important part public opinion and the boycott will play in the future when we shall have fewer laws!
Failure number three.
First Friend. Either our children belong to us or they belong to society.
Second Friend. The children certainly don’t belong to society. As long as parents support children, they have certain rights over them, and to a certain extent they belong to them.
First Friend. Have parents a right to prevent a child from reading vile books?
Second Friend. Yes.
First Friend. And, since all fathers have a right to prohibit or prevent their children from reading such books, have not all fathers a right to come together and pass a law prohibiting the sale of such books?
Second Friend. Not at all. The conclusion does not follow from the premises. To prohibit the sale would be an invasion. The person selling the book does not compel your child to buy it, and still less to read it. He is therefore not an invader.
First Friend. He is invading my child’s mind. You give me the right to protect my child, but deny me the proper means. To my mind it is a clear case of invasion, and I believe in prohibiting the sale of such books.
Second Friend. You are confused. Don’t you see that by trying to sell any book a person exercises no compulsion? Where is the invasion and the crime.
First Friend. I know that you, too, will some day see these points as I do.
Second Friend. I shall be sorry for myself, because I shall then be as illogical as you are.
I hope that T. or some other competent writer will give another explanation of these peculiar phenomena than the one T. has already given in the case of the Politician’s Doubts. I should dislike to have to apply it to my friend’s case.