That Article on Laws

That Article on Laws.

To the Editor of Liberty:

So far as I can see, my propositions about laws will survive being demolished at the rate you begin. Do you mean, in your first sentence, that it is desirable to have no laws? If so, the proposition has some novelty, and would be worth expanding and aruging. If by some laws can be enforced only by violence, it does not follow that keeping certain laws, and not thus enforcing them is an impossibility; it is only necessary that the some and the certain be not the same laws. Mr. Byington’s proposal to make the enforcement of law by violence itself a violation of the law seems to complicate matters unnecessarily, you say; but this is what has always been the proposal of all who have called themselves Anarchists, though they have differed as to whether the sense should be enforcement of any law or enforcement of some law. You say that I have not proved the necessity for a law that ought not to be enforced—by violence, if necessary. Nor have I asserted it; so I don’t have to prove it. I wouldn’t much mind saying it, perhaps, but I would rather find out what is thought of what I did say before I complicate the matter by bringing in other issues. You say that my simplest and clearest solution (which was stated thus: to say, We will hold it legitimate for the attacked party to use force in resistance to force, but not for the assailant to use force against the defensive force of the attacked; and we will not countenance any use of force on either side when we find much difference of opinion as to which side our rule would favor) is not simplest and clearest, and you prefer saying at once that we shall not hold it legitimate for any one to agress, the right of self-defence following as a corollary. You will see that your statement and the first half of mine are practically identical; the difference is that you omit to mention the case where it is debatable who is the aggressor. This omission doubtless makes it simpler, but hardly clearer, at least to one who remembers the existence of differences of opinion. But, since in your next sentence you defend the Anarchist jury system, you must be in practical agreement with me on this point that you leave unexpressed. As to the clumsiness of the jury system, that was not part of my case; I mentioned it by the way as a fact not disputed; I do not yet see the grounds for hoping that it will be got rid of. The reason why juries are so much used now, I take it, is in great measure the dominance of red tape and conservatism. Anarchism will of course weave its own new red tape, but it will begin by cutting a lot of the old, and it will give great opportunity to future cutters whenever cutting is profitable; so there will surely be much more opportunity to avoid the expense and trouble of juries than now. As to the abolition of all oppressive laws, I was not disputing the prospect of such abolition, but asking how we were then to prevent the growth of new oppressive laws; this question you leave unanswered, except so far as you imply that you agree with me. But your agreement with me doesn’t go far when you say, Thus the anomaly of being obliged to use violence in preventing a man from enforcing a law is one that will probably never be witnessed. It is witnessed almost daily now at least; a large part of the duty of sheriffs and police is to use violence in preventing people from enforcing such laws as the government does not like. Your happy time coming, when nobody feels tempted to regulate some one else’s affairs and has to be restrained by the thought of what will probably be done to him, is evidently a sort of millennium. I always insist that I know nothing about millenial men; all my plans are for such men as we now have around us, with the familiar brand of human nature.

Let me add a word about typographical errors. In the footnote at the bottom of the first column on page 4, it is printed are not to end where I wrote are wont to end or something like that, giving a directly contrary sense. In the first footnote of the same column, the sentence will read more smoothly if the word anywhere is changed to the two words any where. At the bottom of the third column on that page, automobile will seem more like what I had in mind if corrected to abominable. The second line of the last column of my article seems to belong somewhere else—apparently between the second and third lines of the first column on the next page, in Comrade Labadie’s article.

Steven T. Byington