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A freethought gem from Multatuli

Now available thanks to Shawn P. Wilbur at Out of the Libertarian Labyrinth:

Though personally I am (notoriously, in some circles) a radical neo-christian, a "regular thoroughgoing heretic" much on the same model as William B. Greene, I'm a equal-opportunity historian and translator, and certainly enjoy a well-written freethought piece. After all, the institutions of Christendom seem to have trouble keeping their own basic doctrines straight, and pretty much beg for a good rebuttal. This short piece by Multatuli (Eduard Douwes Dekker, 1820-1887) is a translation of a French translation of a posthumously published letter, but I think the sense comes through loud and clear.



I don’t know if we have been created with a specific aim, or if we are here by chance.

No more do we know if there is a God or Gods who takes pleasure in our anguishes and murmurs against the imperfection of our existence. If such was the case, it would be horrible.

Whose fault is it if the weak are weak, and the sick are sick, if the stupid are stupid?

If we are made with an aim, and yet, by our imperfection, we cannot reach it, then the blame does not fall on us, the creatures, but on the creator!

Call him Zeus or Jupiter, Jehovah, Baal, or Djou, it matters not. But if he exists, he must be good and he must also pardon us for not understanding him.

It was up to him to reveal himself, and he has not done it.

If he had done it, he would have done it in a manner that nobody could doubt and everyone would have said: I feel it, know it and understand it.

What others claim to know of this God, does not serve me at all. For myself, I do not understand! I ask why he has revealed himself to others and not to me?

Is one child more favored by the father than the other?

As long as this God is not known to the sons of men, it is a calumny to believe in this God.

The child who appeals to his father in vain does no evil; but the father who allows his child to ask in vain acts cruelly. And it is better to believe that there is no father, than to believe that he would be deaf to the voice of his child.

Perhaps one day we will be wiser; perhaps one day we will sense that he exists, that he observed us and that his silence had cause and reason.

Well, as soon as we know it, it will be time to give praise, but not sooner, not now.

It would displease God to see that we adore him without reason, and it is folly to try to illuminate the dark ignorance of today by a light that does not yet shine.

To serve him?


If he had desired that we serve him, he would have revealed to us the way.

And it is absurd that he awaits adoration and praise from men when he leaves us in darkness.

If we do no serve him according to his desires, then it is his fault; his fault and not our own.

Until we are wiser, I ask: “Are good and evil identical?”

I do not understand what can serve a God to distinguish good from evil; au contraire! He that does good so that God will reward him is selfish, and, therefore, just does good for something bad. He makes a trade of it. He who acts mean from fear of the disfavor of this God, is a coward!

Oh! My God, I do not know you!

I invoked you, sought you, and begged you to respond to me, and you have stubbornly kept to yourself!

I would love to conform myself to your will, not from fear of being punished, not in the hope of being rewarded, but as the child conforms himself to the will of his father solely from love!

You have kept your silence, always silence. I always wander and I ardently desire the hour when I will know that you exist indeed.

Then I will demand: Father, why have you only know shown to your child that he possesses a father, and that he is not alone in the midst of the fighting, in the harsh combat for humanity and justice!

Or were you certain that I would do your will without knowing you?

That not knowing of your existence, I would serve you as you wished to be served?

Is this true

Answer, father. If you are there, answer! Do not leave your child to despair! Father do not remain deaf to the bloody lama sabacthani.

It is thus that the innocent moans on the cross that he has chose himself, it is thus that he writhes in pain and laments his thirst, the thirst for truth!

The wise man, the one who has the knowledge of God, mocks the fool, holds out to him the sponge soaked in venom and says:

“Listen, he calls his father!”

And hisses between his teeth:

“I thank thee, O Lord, I'm not like that one!”

And he intones: “Happy the one who, from his early years, was kept from the counsels of the wicked, who flees the sinners’ way!”

And the sage sneaks off to the Bourse to stock-job.

And the father is silent.

Oh! God! There is no God!

[translation by Shawn P. Wilbur]

Read the whole thing at Out of the Libertarian Labyrinth.

Joseph Leroux, Your Nationalities (1892)

Now available thanks to Shawn P. Wilbur at Out of the Libertarian Labyrinth:

[Here is one of three essays from a pamphlet on nationalism, by Pierre Leroux's son, Joseph.]


Extract from a letter published in the the arbitrator, a journal of the friends of peace, appearing in London under the direction of W[illiam] R[andall] Cremer, chevalier of the Legion of Honor, member of the English Parliament.
My dear Cremer,

It is always with the most lively interest that I follow the efforts made to give a solution to the problem of peace. I see that at Rome, at the Inter-Parliamentary Congress, one has thrown at you the disorganizing principle of nationalities, and that it was not without malice, for that one thought with a blow to destroy all the peaceful work elaborated, especially in the last few yeats. That one has cast trouble in your ranks.

The question of peace is, indeed, like all things, a question of organization. Now, if one vous met a disorganizing principle, a principle negating or destructive of all organization, it becomes difficult to conceive how one can create a harmony.

One paper has even said that it was truly a shame to have this enormous paving stone cast at you; that he should have waited until we were stronger in order to crush us definitively; that we were so weak that it was not worth the trouble. Assuredly, though assisting at the Inter-Parliamentary Congress, are not friends of peace but those who advocate such arms. But I find it very useful that our adversaries show us the difficulties of the problem, difficulties that we know well besides. But they do not believe
that their argument for nationalities is an argument sans reply and that our peaceful ideas are only a sentiment of vain utopia. They take ephemeral appearances for eternal realities a bit too much.

We will begin by remarking to them that their nationalities are not from creation, that it is not nature which had created the nationalities, but that it is a human invention. When human beings, men or women, come to the light of this world, they are born men or women and not Germans, French, English or Italians. The nationalists have sought something which characterizes their nationalities, and they have cried: It is language! another devilishly shallow argument. The human being, when it is born, speaks no language: raised with goats, he would articulate only sounds.

You see, dear Cremer, nationalities are not, as they believe, such a big deal; they are built on a very fragile and shifting soil. If the creation produced some Italians, some English, some Germans, some French (1), etc., the struggle would probably be as durable as these various creations of men; but nature produces only men, that is Humanity.

They make us laugh with their firm confidence in the famous principle of nationalities. Mr. Hubbard and Mr. Imbriani — so imbued with this beautiful principle which makes all of the divisions of Europe look daggers at each other in that moment, forming so many separate and hostile worlds — should recall, the one, Mr. Imbriani, that the least of circumstances would have made, of an irredentist Italian patriot, a French patriot. Such was Gambetta: a small voyage of his parents from Genoa in Italy to Cahors in France, made him from a Genoese into what one calls a great French patriot; and for M. Hubbard, from a French patriot, he would have been able to become Italian like the general Pelloux, from French family, who is presently minister of war in Italy.

Indeed, dear Cremer, these obvious, elementary facts, continuously escape our thought, so much do we take the costume for the man, nationality for a solid basis, when it is only a creation of human agglomerations constituted by time, circumstances, interests and chance.

Take the first child to come, born in France to French parents; carry it to England; what language will it speak? English. He will take in growing not only the English turn of phrase, but the English spirit, mind, physiognomy, and type. It will be the same as an English child born in England, who, carried Paris at the age of one year, surrounded only by Parisians, will speak only French and would have all that which constitutes the most parisiennant of the Parisian. Take the exalted French patriot Mr. Déroulède at the age of one year; take that child to Berlin; let him be surrounded only by Berliners until the age of eight: Mr. Déroulède will only speak German and, following the tendency of his mind, would probably become the most chauvinistic of Prussians.

These obvious truths show us the fragility of nationalities, result of successive agglomerations stemming from the work of time, but having no other virtuality than what the man has given it. We are all born men and women, human beings, belonging to Humanity. Nature has created us in a homogeneous manner. The problem is thus feasible, for there is no cause of disunion on the basis of nature.

For us, the question of nationalities is tied indisputably to the question of war. Nationalities as they exist today, exclusives and separated like worlds separate from one another, are an evil; they are the cause of evil, and the cause of war. A modification is necessary to these human groupings: it is necessary to decentralize the nations, to establish in each province, in each town an activity of its own; it is necessary to decentralize and federalize the nation, then federalize the nations among themselves. Federation of the nation, federation of nations, federal union, Federal Humanity.
That federal union will lead to peace and harmony among men; each having his center, his home, being himself, while being linked by the federal link to the rest of the world.
It is the Swiss confederation, it is the United States of America, many in one, E pluribus unum, applied progressively to the rest of the world.

As soon as that very simple modification in achieved in the present nationalities, selfish, exclusives, jealous and hostile, the cause of evil will disappear and war will be destroyed.

One of the great minds of this century, Pierre Leroux, has expressed this truth by saying:

"Humanity existed virtually before the nations, and it will exist after them; for the nations have for aim to constitute it," and in 1827, he announced in his great work on the European Union the formation of the United States of Europe.
We, the friends of peace, we respond to the cry of Mr. Hubbard, Mr. Imbriani and so many others: Nationalities; we respond: Federation of Peoples, Federal Humanity.

January 1892.

La Pervenche, Mougins (Alpes-Maritimes)

(1) It is not even necessary to go back very far in history in order to find the moment when these different nationalities did not exist. We propose to take up the subject that we raise in this letter and to treat it from a historical point of view. 

[Translation by Shawn P. Wilbur]

Read the whole thing at Out of the Libertarian Labyrinth.

Diane Nash, the sit-in movement, and the grassroots desegregation of downtown Nashville. From Lynne Olson, FREEDOM’S DAUGHTERS (2001).

This is from Chapter 8, The Most Daring of [Our] Leaders, in Freedom’s Daughters, Lynne Olson’s history of women organizers’ role in the black Freedom struggle, in which she tells the story of Diane Nash, the campaign in 1960 to desegregate downtown Nashville through a direct-action campaign of nonviolent sit-ins and economic boycotts, and the protests that it helped inspire across the South.

[Diane] Nash’s moment of epiphany came at the Tennessee State Fair in 1959. She had gone to the fair on a date, and wanted to use the ladies’ room. She found two–one marked White Women, the other Colored Women–and for the first time in her life suffered the degradation of Jim Crow. This was no longer an intellectual exercise: She was being told in the most searing way imaginable that she was beyond the pale, unfit to use the same facilities as white women. Outraged by the experience, she was even more upset that her date, a Southerner, did not share her fury. Neither did most of her fellow Fisk students. They did not seem to care that they could shop at downtown stores but not eat the stores’ lunch counters, or that they had to sit in the balcony to see a movie. The more Nash found out about segregation in Nashville, the more she felt stifled and boxed in. In the rest of the country, Nashville had the reputation of being more racially progressive than most Southern cities. Blacks could vote in Nashville. The city’s schools and buses were integrated. Blacks served on the police force, fire department, City Council, and Board of Education. But segregation still firmly ruled in theaters, restaurants, hotels, and libraries, and Diane Nash, a deep-dyed moralist, decided then and there that Nashville was in a stage of sin. She couldn’t believe that the children of my classmates would have to be born into a society where they had to believe that they were inferior. Above all, she could not believe that her classmates were willing to let that happen.

Since they did not seem to share her anger, she looked elsewhere for support. Paul LaPrad, a white exchange student at Fisk, told her about a black minister named James Lawson, who was training college students in the use of nonviolence as the framework for an all-out attack on segregation. For Lawson, who had spent three years in India studying the principles of Gandhi, nonviolence was more than just a protest technique: It was the means by which he ordered his life. The young minister talked about the power of nonviolent confrontation with evil, about overcoming the forces of hate and transforming society through love and forgiveness. At first, Nash was skeptical. How could such high-flown idealism be harnessed as a weapon against gun-toting sheriffs and club-swinging racists? Even after attending several of Lawson’s workshops, she still was sure this stuff is never going to work. But since, as she said, it was the only game in town, she kept going back, and after weeks of studying theology and philosophy, of reading Thoreau and other advocates of passive resistance, of discussion and arguments with the workshop’s other participants, the intense young woman from Chicago was finally captured by Lawson’s vision. She was particularly drawn to his belief that to be effective, these young would-be activists would have to transcend self-hatred and a sense of inferiority, that they would have to learn to love themselves. Having been raised in a milieu that downplayed her blackness, she now found herself part of a group suddenly proud to be called black. Within the movement… we came to a realization of our own worth…

Many students at the workshops did not know what to make of Nash. She was one of only a handful who attended from Fisk, where the notion of protest was antithetical. So what was this beautiful, light-skinned, quintessentially Fisk type doing at the workshops? Whatever the reason for her being there, her presence entranced virtually every man in the group. Plenty of fellows attending those sessions gave a go at hitting on Diane, said John Lewis, an American Baptist College student who was one of the participants. You saw some resentment among some guys because they thought another guy was making an inroad with her. Several women in the group were jealous of the attention she was getting. Even so, sexual and romantic undercurrents remained generally in the background of the Nashville movement. In time, Lewis said, Nash came to be seen more as our sister than as an object of lust…. We all became brothers and sisters, a family.

In the late fall of 1959, the students at Lawson’s workshops formed a a central committee to act as the decision-making body for the group. Nash, who had impressed everyone with her clear-eyed thinking and the intensity of her developing commitment to nonviolence, was named to the committee. More and more, the students were turning to her as one of their main leaders.

The commitee had chosen the lunch counters and restaurants of Nashville’s downtown stores as the target of the students’ first protest, scheduled for February 1960. For the next several months, the students underwent rigorous training to prepare for the upcoming sit-ins, and on February 13, 124 students left a Nashville church and made their way to the lunch counters of several downtown stores. There, they took their seats and asked for service. The men wore suits and ties, the women, dresses, stockings, and high heels. They were poised and polite and gave little outward sign of the fear many of them felt. Diane Nash, for one, was terrified–a terror that would never leave her, no matter how many sit-ins and protests she would participate in afterward.

As frightened as the students were during that first sit-in, however, they had to struggle to keep from laughing at the stunned, panicky reactions of white store workers and patrons, who acted, Nash recalled, as if these well-dressed young people were some dreadful monster… about to devour them all. Waitresses dropped dishes, cashiers broke down in tears, an elderly white woman almost had a seizure when she opened the door of a store’s white ladies’ room and found two young black women inside. Throwing up her hands, she screamed, Oh! Nigras everywhere!

There were no arrests and no violence. After a couple of hours, the students left the stores, jubilant that their first foray had gone without a hitch. A second sit-in was planned for the following week. In the meantime, several members of the students’ Central Committee came to Nash and asked her to head the group. She was hardworking and outwardly fearless, and she did not seem to have the ego problems that a lot of the men had. Because she was a woman and not a man, I think Diane never had to go around and do any posturing, said Bernard Lafayette, an American Baptist College student and one of the Nashville movement’s leaders. But Nash had no desire to become the recognized head of this movement. Like most young women of that time, she had been raised to stay in the background. The men pressured her into accepting, however, and when she returned to her dorm room, she was so frightened by what she had done that she could hardly keep her legs from collapsing under her. This is Tennessee, and white people down here are mean, she told herself. Not only that, but we are going to be coming up against … white Southern men who are forty and fifty and sixty years old, who are politicians and judges and owners of businesses, and I am twenty-two years old. What am I doing? And how is this little group of students my age going to stand up to these powerful people?

Once again, she managed to damp down her fear. She joined the other students in the second sit-in, which was as quietly successful as the first. Nevertheless, the city was losing its patience. Nashville officials, deluged by complaints from store owners that the sit-ins were causing whites to stay away from downtown, warned the students not to continue. If the warning wasn’t heeded, they made clear, the kids could forget about being treated with kid gloves any longer. Worried about the possibility of violence and arrests, the ministers connected with the movement urged the students to reconsider their plans for another demonstration on February 27.

With their numbers swelling, the young people refused. In the middle of another snowstorm, more than three hundred of them poured into downtown Nashville. No sooner had some of them sat down at the Woolworth’s lunch counter than the ministers’ fears proved justified. The demonstrators were met with an opposing force of cursing young white toughs, who yanked them from their stools and threw them to the floor, beat them with fists and clubs, kicked them, spat on them, extinguished lighted cigarettes on their backs and in their hair. The police were nowhere in sight, and when they finally arrived, they approached not the white attackers, but the bruised and shaken demonstrators, who were spattered with mustard and ketchup, spit and blood. Okay, all you nigras, get up from the lunch counter or we’re going to arrest you, one of the cops barked. When no one obeyed, the students were ordered to their feet, arrested for disorderly conduct, and marched out, through a guantlet of hostile whites, to police paddy wagons. When they looked over their shoulders at the lunch counter, they saw a new wave of students quietly moving in to take their place.

As the police wagons pulled away, the demonstrators inside steeled themselves for an experience for which there was no adequate preparation. They had rehearsed the sit-ins, had tried to get a sense of what they would be like, how it would feel when someone beat them or called them nigger. But it was impossible to simulate how it felt to go to jail for the first time, to give themselves up voluntarily to this dreaded system, to risk incurring a stigma that would mark them forever. Like others in the wagons, Diane Nash was wrestling with an almost paralyzing fear. Only bad people went to jail, she had been taught, and bad things happened to them once they were there.

The eighty-one arrested students were released on bail that evening. Monday morning, they reported to the city courthouse for their trials. Nashville’s black community had been shocked by the arrests, and more than 2,500 blacks surged around the courthouse in an impressive show of solidarity. Inside the courtroom, the trials proceeded with bureaucratic efficiency–one after another, the students stood, were found guilty of disorderly conduct, and given fifty-five dollar fines. Then, suddenly, Diane Nash threw a monkey wrench into the works. Nash told the judge that she, John Lewis, and fourteen others had decided to go to jail instead of paying the fines. Drawing on the principles of Gandhi, Nash declared, We feel that if we pay these fines we would be contributing to and supporting injustice and immoral practices that have been performed in the arrest and conviction of the defendants. Stunned by Nash’s announcement, the students who already had agreed to pay their fines declared that they, too, would go to jail.

Until then, most students arrested in sit-ins nationwide had spent little, if any, time behind bars. The idea that young people who had done nothing more than politely demand their rights would be sentenced to jail for thirty-three days electrified Nashville’s blacks and touched off protests throughout the country. The city put the demonstrators to work, and the sight of the men shoveling snow and cleaning city streets and the women polishing the marble staircases of the courthouse threw the black community into even more of an uproar.

The jailing of the students had clearly backfired. Nashville’s mayor, Ben West, a political moderate who had courted black votes in his last election, proposed a compromise: He would let the jailed students go and appoint a biracial commission to consider steps to desegregate the downtown stores if the demonstrations stopped. Nash and the others agreed and were released. Nash, however, was not content to sit around and wait for the committee’s report. Two days after her release, she and three other students sat in at the city’s Greyhound bus terminal, which was not covered by the demonstration cease-fire that the mayor had arranged. To the astonishment of everyone, including the demonstrators themselves, they were served at the bus station without any problem. It was one of the first sit-in victories in the South.

But there was little time for celebration. When the mayor’s biracial committee failed to make any serious recommendations for desegregating downtown lunch counters and restaurants, the students resumed their sit-ins. At the same time they launched a boycott of downtown stores and picketed the city’s central square and courthouse. Racial tensions escalated, and this time the mayor seemed powerless to do anything about it.

On April 19, just two weeks after Nash and the other leaders of the Nashville movement attended SNCC’s organizing conference in Raleigh, a tremendous explosion ripped through the home of Alexander Looby, the students’ lawyer. The early-morning bombing was so powerful that it shattered more than a hundred windows in nearby Meharry Medical College, yet, miraculously, Looby and his wife were not injured. Outraged, the students called for a mass march to City Hall and sent a telegram to Mayor West, asking him to meet them. When the marchers, now numbering more than three thousand, reached City Hall, the mayor was waiting for them at the top of the steps. An activist minister named C. T. Vivian made a short speech, and the mayor began to reply, pointing out all that he had done for Nashville’s blacks and reminding them that he was mayor of all the community. Listening to him, Nash grew increasingly frustrated: He was making a political speech, and I remember feeling like, This is not getting us anywhere. What can I do? What can I say?

What she did was ask a simple question, one that would have far-reaching consequences in the city of Nashville. Mayor West, she said, do you feel it is wrong to discriminate against a person solely on the basis of their race or color? The question went to the heart of nonviolence, bypassing all the political boilerplate and appealing directly to West’s conscience. The mayor did not disappoint. He nodded–and then said yes. They asked me some pretty soul-searching questions–and one that was addressed to me as a man, West said years later. And I found that I had to answer it frankly and honestly–that I did not agree that it was morally right for someone to sell them merchandise and refuse them service. And I had to answer it just exactly like that.

Stunned by West’s honesty, the marchers burst into thunderous applause, and the next day, the Nashville Tennesseean ran a huge headline: Integrate Counters–Mayor. Three weeks later, six downtown stores targeted by demonstrators opened their lunch counters to blacks.

It was an enormous victory for the fledgling movement. The day after the march, Martin Luther King came to Nashville to honor the students. Calling their campaign the best organized and the most disciplined in the South, he said he had come not to bring inspiration but to gain inspiration from the great movement that has taken place in this community.

The Nashville students would become models for thousands of young people in the burgeoning Southern civil rights movement, and the Nashville leaders, including John Lewis, James Bevel, Bernard Lafayette, and Marion Barry, would be among the movement’s foremost activists. But in the early days, at least, no one was better known or more awe-inspiring than the intrepid Diane Nash. Lewis called her the most daring of [our] leaders. Demonstrators on trial in Nashville were often asked, Do you know Diane Nash? Suddenly, she was everywhere–on the cover of Jet, on television, on the front pages of the Nashville newspapers. Her fame was not much to her liking–she was not fond of personal publicity, and she was often singled out by racists who recognized her from her picture in the paper. Once, at a sit-in, she was terrified when one of the toughs surrounding the students spotted her and yelled, That’s Diane Nash! She’s the one to get!

But if that was the price that had to be paid, so be it. She had been transformed by her experiences, and now she was true believer, surrendering her heart and soul, in a way few people ever would, to nonviolence and the fight for freedom. In early 1961, her reputation as one of the most daring young firebrands in the movement would be burnished even further by a monthlong stint in jail. At the request of local college students, Nash and three other SNCC activists, including a Spelman College sophomore named Ruby Doris Smith, had joined a sit-in at a drugstore in Rock Hill, South Carolina. They were promptly arrested, but rather than post bond, they opted to go to jail for thirty days.

Not long after the four were released, Nash dropped out of Fisk. The Chaucer classes, she said, became unbearable after Rock Hill. She was hired by both SNCC and the local SCLC affiliate. Her combined salary was about twenty-five dollars a week, and she rented a room at Nashville’s [YWCA][]. When Jet magazine asked about her plans for the future, she said, I’ll be doing this for the rest of my life.

–Lynne Olson (2001). Freedom’s Daughters: The Unsung Heroines of the Civil Rights Movement from 1830 to 1970. 154-160.

Now online: Five articles from MOTHER EARTH Vol. VI., No. 11 (January, 1912)

I’m happy to announce that the Fair Use Repository now features five complete articles from the January, 1912 issue of Mother Earth:

  • Blaming the Fester, a poem by Rebekah E. Raney
  • Observations and Comments, a regular feature in many issues of Mother Earth; the format is much like Tucker’s On Picket Duty — a sort of ongoing polemical Anarchist three-dot column that ran near the beginning of each issue.

  • A Review of the Year by Harry Kelly — an overview and review of the upsurge in popular uprisings, general strikes and Anarchist revolutionary activity that broke out throughout the world in 1911.

  • The Mexican Revolution (Continued), by Voltairine de Cleyre, previously published separately here in the Fair Use Blog — part of a serialized discussion of the uprising against the Madero provisional government in Mexico, with discussions of the crimes of the Mexican government against the Yaquis, the revolution in the North (Baja California, Sinaloa, Chihuahua, and Sonora) and South (Morelos, Chiapas, Tabasco, San Luis Potosi, and Yucatan), the victories of Emiliano Zapata, and the extreme importance of the peasants’ efforts to ignore the machinery of paper land-holding and reclaim the land they work.

  • The Right to Live by M. B., on the hollowness and sham of political rights and the pivotal importance of the natural right to possess the means of existence.

These are the first set of articles to be put online from Mother Earth Volume VI. Number 11; more will come soon. I believe that the complete issue should be available online by the end of the next week.

Read, cite, and enjoy!

Proudhon on Property (1846) – Part 5

Now available thanks to Shawn P. Wilbur at Out of the Libertarian Labyrinth:



[continued from Part 4]

Thus property, which should consummate the holy union of man and nature, leads only to an odious prostitution. The sultan uses and abuses his slave: the earth is for him an instrument of luxury... I find here more than a metaphor; I discover a profound analogy.

What is it that, in the relations of the sexes, distinguishes marriage from concubinage? Everyone senses the difference between these two things; few people would be in a state to render an account of it, so obscure has the question become by the license of the custom and insolence of the Romans.

Is it the progeny? One sees some illicit affairs produce as much and as well as the most fecund of legitimate unions. — Is it the duration? Quite a number of bachelors keep for eighteen years a mistress, who, first humiliated and shamed, subjugates in her turn and demeans her disgraceful lover. Moreover, the perpetuity of the marriage can very well change from obligatory to optional by means of divorce, without the marriage losing any of its character. Perpetuity is doubtless the wish of love and the hope of the family: but it is not at all essential to the marriage; it can always, without offending the sacrament, be, for certain causes, interrupted. — Is it, finally, the wedding ceremony, four words pronounced in front of a deputy and a priest? What virtue can such a formality have for love, steadfastness, devotion? Marat, like Jean-Jacques, had married his governess in the woods, with the sun as his witness. The holy man had contracted in very good faith, and did not doubt that his alliance was as decent and respectable as if it had been counter-signed by the municipal clerk. Marat, in the most important act of his life, had judged it proper to do without the intervention of the Republic: he put, in accordance with the ideas of M. Louis Blanc, the natural fact above the convention. Who then prevents us from all doing as Marat did? And what is meant by this word marriage?

What constitutes marriage is the fact that society is present there, not only at the instant of the promises, but as long as the cohabitation of the spouses lasts. Society, I say, alone receives for each of the espoused the oath of the other; it alone gives them their rights, since it alone can make these rights authentic; and while seeming only to impose some mutual duties on the contracting parties, actually specifies for itself. “We are united in God,” said Tobias to Sarah, “before we are between ourselves; the children of the saints cannot be joined in the manner of the beasts and barbarians.” In that union consecrated by the magistrate, visible organ of society, and in the presence of witnesses who represent it, the love is supposed free and reciprocal, and the posterity predicted as in the accidental unions; the perpetuity of the love is wished for, evoked, but not guaranteed; even voluptuousness is permitted: the only difference, but that difference is an abyss, is that in concubinage egoism alone presides over the union, while in marriage the intervention of society purifies that egoism.

And see the consequences. Society, which takes revenge on the adulterer and punishes the perjurer, does not receive the plaint of the man against his concubine: it thinks no more of such amours than it does of the couplings of dogs, foris canes et impudici! It turns away in disgust. Society rejects his widow and orphan, and does not allow them the succession; in its eyes the mother is a prostitute; the child is a bastard. It is as if it said to the one: You have given birth without me; you can defend yourself and provide for yourself without me. To the other: Your father has sired you for his pleasure; it does not please me to adopt you. That which does injury to marriage cannot claim the guarantee of marriage: such is the social law, a law that is rigorous, but just, which it is only for the socialist hypocrisy,—to those who want a love that is at once chaste and lewd,—to calumniate.

This feeling for social intervention in the most personal and most self-willed act of man, this indefinable respect for a present God, which increases love by rending it chaste, is for the spouses a source of mysterious affections, unknown apart from it. In marriage, man is the lover of all women, because in marriage alone he feels the true love, which unites him sympathetically to all of the sex; but he knows only his spouse, and by knowing only her, he loves more, because without that carnal exclusion, the marriage would disappear, and love with it. The platonic community, asked for increasingly by contemporary reformers, does not give love, it only shows its caput mortuum; because, in this communism of bodies and souls, love, not determining itself, remains in a state of abstraction and dream.

Marriage is the true community of loves and the type of all individual possession. In all his relations with persons and things, man truly contracts only with society, which is to say, at the end of the day, with himself, with the ideal and holy being which lives in him. Destroy that respect of the self, of society, that fear of God, as the Bible says, which is present in all our actions, in all our thoughts; and man, abusing his soul, his mind, his faculties, abusing nature, man, sullied and polluted, becomes, by an irresistible degradation, libertine, tyrant, scoundrel.

Now, just as by the mystical intervention of society, impure love becomes chaste love, so that wild fornication is transformed into a peaceful and holy marriage; just so, in the economic order and in the forecasts of society, property, the prostitution of capital, is only the first moment of a social and legitimate possession. Until then the proprietor abuses rather than enjoys; his happiness is a lewd dream: he embraces, but does not possess. Property is always that abominable droit du seigneur which in times past stirred up the outraged serf, and which the French Revolution was not able to abolish. Under the empire of that right, all the products of labor are filthy: competition is a mutual incitement to debauchery; the privileges accorded to talent are the wage of prostitution. In vain, by its police, the State would like to oblige fathers to recognize their children, and to sign for the shameful fruits of their works. The stain is indelible: the bastard, conceived in iniquity, heralds the turpitude of his creator. Commerce is no longer anything but a traffic in slaves destined, these to the pleasure of the rich, those to the cult of the Vénus populaire; and society is a vast system of procuring where each, discouraged from love, the honest man because his love is betrayed, the man of good fortunes because the variety of intrigues is for him an appurtenance of love, dashes and rolls in the orgy.

Abuse! Cry the jurists, perversity of man. It is not property that makes us envious and greedy, which makes our passions spring up, and arms with its sophisms our bad faith. It is our passions, our vices, on the contrary, which sully and corrupt property.

I would like it as well if one says to me that it is not concubinage that sullies man, but that it is man who, by his passions and vices, sullies and corrupts concubinage. But, doctors, the facts that I denounce, are they, or are they not, of the essence of property? Are they not, from the legal point of view, irreprehensible, placed in the shelter of every judiciary action? Can I remand to the judge, summon to appear before the tribunals this journalist who prostitutes his pen for money? That advocate, that priest, who sells to iniquity, the one his speech, the other his prayers? This doctor who allows the poor man to perish, if he does not submit in advance the fee demanded? This old satyr who deprives his children for a courtesan? Can I prevent a licitation that will abolish the memory of my forefathers, and render their posterity without ancestors, as if it was of incestuous or adulterine stock? Can I restrain the proprietor, without compensating him beyond what he possesses, that is without wrecking society, for heeding the needs of society?...

Property, you say, is innocent of the crime of the proprietor; property is good and useful in itself: it is our passions and our vices which deprave it.

Thus, in order to save property, you distinguish it from morals! Why not distinguish it right away from society? That was precisely the reasoning of the economists. Political economy, said M. Rossi, is in itself good and useful; but it is not moral: it proceeds, setting aside all morality; it is for us not to abuse its theories, to profit from its teachings, according to the higher laws of morality. As if he said: Political economy, the economy of society is not society; the economy of society proceeds without regard to any society; it is up to us not to abuse its theories, to profit from its teachings, according to the higher laws of society! What chaos!

I not only maintain with the economists that property is neither morals nor society; but more that it is by its principle directly contrary to morals and to society, just as political economy is anti-social, because its theories are diametrically opposed to the social interest.

According to the definition, property is the right of use and abuse, which is to say the absolute, irresponsible domain, of man over his person and his goods. If property ceased to be the right of abuse, it would cease to be property. I have taken my examples from the category of abusive acts permitted to the proprietor: what happens here that is not of an unimpeachable legality and propriety? Hasn’t the proprietor the right to give his goods to whomever seems good to him, to leave his neighbor to burn without crying fire, to oppose himself to the public good, to squander his patrimony, to exploit and fleece the worker, to produce badly and sell badly? Can the proprietor be judicially constrained to use his property well? Can he be disturbed in the abuse? What am I saying? Isn’t property, precisely because it is abusive, that which is most sacred for the legislator? Can one conceive of a property for which police would determine the use, and suppress the abuse? And is it not evident, finally, that if one wanted to introduce justice into property, one would destroy property; as the law, by introducing honesty into concubinage, has destroyed concubinage?

Thus, property, in principle and in essence, is immoral: that proposition is soon reached by critique. Consequently the Code, which, in determining the right of the proprietor, has not reserved those of morals, is a code of immorality; jurisprudence, that alleged science of right, which is nothing other than the collection of the proprietary rubrics, is immoral, and justice, is instituted in order protect the free and peaceful abuse of property; justice, which orders us to come to the aid against those who would oppose themselves to that abuse; which afflicts and marks with infamy whoever is so daring as to claim to mend the outrages of property, justice is infamous. If child, supplanted in the paternal affection by an unworthy mistress, should destroy the document which disinherits and dishonors him, he would respond before justice. Accused, convicted, condemned, he would go to the penal colony to make honorable amends to property, while the prostitute will be sent off in possession. Where then is the immorality here? Where is the infamy? Is it not on the side of justice? Let us continue to unwind this chain, and we will soon know the whole truth that we seek. Not only is justice, instituted to protect property, itself abusive, itself immoral, infamous; but the penal sanction is infamous, the police are infamous, the executioner and the gallows, infamous, and property, which embraces that whole series, property, from which this odious lineage come, property is infamous.

Judges armed to defend it, magistrates whose zeal is a permanent threat to those accused by it, I question you. What have you seen in property which has been able in this way to subjugate your conscience and corrupt your judgment? What principle, superior without doubt to property, more worthy of your respect than property, makes it so precious to you? When its works declare it infamous, how do you proclaim it holy and sacred? What consideration, what prejudice affects you?

Is it the majestic order of human societies, that you do not understand, but of which you suppose that property is the unshakeable foundation?—No, since property, as it is, is for you order itself; since first it is proven that property is by nature abusive, that is to say disorderly and anti-social.

Is it Necessity or Providence, the laws of which we do not understand, but the designs of which we adore? —No, since, according to the analysis, property being contradictory and corruptible, it is for that very reason a negation of Necessity, an injury to Providence.

Is it a superior philosophy considering human miseries from on high, and seeking by evil to obtain the good? — No, since philosophy is the agreement of reason and experience, and in the judgment of reason as in that of experience, property is condemned.

Would this not be religion? — Perhaps!....

[to be continued...]

Read the whole thing at Out of the Libertarian Labyrinth.

Now online: two British labor manifestos on World War I

Continuing our collection of historical sources and political documents from the 1910s, especially those related to World War I, I’m happy to announce that the Fair Use Repository now features the complete text of two manifestos from British labor organizations taking on the outbreak of World War I.

  • On August 1, 1914, the British Section of the International Socialist Bureau published the Manifesto to the British People, written by J. Keir Hardie and [Arthur Henderson], arguing that Whatever may be the rights and wrongs of the sudden, crushing attack made by the militarist Empire of Austria upon Servia, it is certain that the workers of all countries likely to be drawn into the conflict must strain every nerve to prevent their Governments from committing them to war.

  • In September 1914, the Parliamentary Committee of the Trades Union Congress issued a Manifesto to the Trade Unionists of the Country, supporting the war, praising the Labour Party’s role in the government’s military enlistment campaign, urging working-class men to enlist voluntarily in order to demonstrate to the world that a free people can rise to the supreme heights of a great sacrifice without the whip of conscription, and calling on the government to ensure that enlisted men receive at the hands of the State a reasonable and assured recompense, not so much for themselves as for those who are dependent upon them, and to take a liberal and even a generous view of its responsibilities toward those citizens who come forward to assist in the defence of their country.

The manifestos are taken from versions reprinted in the wartime anthology, Labour in war time (1915), by George Douglas Howard Cole; I initially put them up in order to fill out the references made to each of the two manifesto’s in Guy Aldred’s That Economic Army, which refers to each of them in the course of Aldred’s analysis of economic conscription, and how it had turned virtually all of English politics and civil society towards support of the war machine.

The Man on Putney Hill

Now available thanks to bkmarcus at lowercase liberty:

War of the Worlds by H.G. WellsMy favorite chapter from War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells (1898) is chapter 7 of book 2. I think it can stand on its own as a short story:


I spent that night in the inn that stands at the top of Putney Hill, sleeping in a made bed for the first time since my flight to Leatherhead. I will not tell the needless trouble I had breaking into that house — afterwards I found the front door was on the latch — nor how I ransacked every room for food, until just on the verge of despair, in what seemed to me to be a servant’s bedroom, I found a rat-gnawed crust and two tins of pineapple. The place had been already searched and emptied. In the bar I afterwards found some biscuits and sandwiches that had been overlooked. The latter I could not eat, they were too rotten, but the former not only stayed my hunger, but filled my pockets. I lit no lamps, fearing some Martian might come beating that part of London for food in the night. Before I went to bed I had an interval of restlessness, and prowled from window to window, peering out for some sign of these monsters. I slept little. As I lay in bed I found myself thinking consecutively — a thing I do not remember to have done since my last argument with the curate. During all the intervening time my mental condition had been a hurrying succession of vague emotional states or a sort of stupid receptivity. But in the night my brain, reinforced, I suppose, by the food I had eaten, grew clear again, and I thought.

Three things struggled for possession of my mind: the killing of the curate, the whereabouts of the Martians, and the possible fate of my wife. The former gave me no sensation of horror or remorse to recall; I saw it simply as a thing done, a memory infinitely disagreeable but quite without the quality of remorse. I saw myself then as I see myself now, driven step by step towards that hasty blow, the creature of a sequence of accidents leading inevitably to that. I felt no condemnation; yet the memory, static, unprogressive, haunted me. In the silence of the night, with that sense of the nearness of God that sometimes comes into the stillness and the darkness, I stood my trial, my only trial, for that moment of wrath and fear. I retraced every step of our conversation from the moment when I had found him crouching beside me, heedless of my thirst, and pointing to the fire and smoke that streamed up from the ruins of Weybridge. We had been incapable of co-operation — grim chance had taken no heed of that. Had I foreseen, I should have left him at Halliford. But I did not foresee; and crime is to foresee and do. And I set this down as I have set all this story down, as it was. There were no witnesses — all these things I might have concealed. But I set it down, and the reader must form his judgment as he will.

And when, by an effort, I had set aside that picture of a prostrate body, I faced the problem of the Martians and the fate of my wife. For the former I had no data; I could imagine a hundred things, and so, unhappily, I could for the latter. And suddenly that night became terrible. I found myself sitting up in bed, staring at the dark. I found myself praying that the Heat-Ray might have suddenly and painlessly struck her out of being. Since the night of my return from Leatherhead I had not prayed. I had uttered prayers, fetish prayers, had prayed as heathens mutter charms when I was in extremity; but now I prayed indeed, pleading steadfastly and sanely, face to face with the darkness of God. Strange night! Strangest in this, that so soon as dawn had come, I, who had talked with God, crept out of the house like a rat leaving its hiding place — a creature scarcely larger, an inferior animal, a thing that for any passing whim of our masters might be hunted and killed. Perhaps they also prayed confidently to God. Surely, if we have learned nothing else, this war has taught us pity — pity for those witless souls that suffer our dominion.

The morning was bright and fine, and the eastern sky glowed pink, and was fretted with little golden clouds. In the road that runs from the top of Putney Hill to Wimbledon was a number of poor vestiges of the panic torrent that must have poured Londonward on the Sunday night after the fighting began. There was a little two-wheeled cart inscribed with the name of Thomas Lobb, Greengrocer, New Malden, with a smashed wheel and an abandoned tin trunk; there was a straw hat trampled into the now hardened mud, and at the top of West Hill a lot of blood-stained glass about the overturned water trough. My movements were languid, my plans of the vaguest. I had an idea of going to Leatherhead, though I knew that there I had the poorest chance of finding my wife. Certainly, unless death had overtaken them suddenly, my cousins and she would have fled thence; but it seemed to me I might find or learn there whither the Surrey people had fled. I knew I wanted to find my wife, that my heart ached for her and the world of men, but I had no clear idea how the finding might be done. I was also sharply aware now of my intense loneliness. From the corner I went, under cover of a thicket of trees and bushes, to the edge of Wimbledon Common, stretching wide and far.

That dark expanse was lit in patches by yellow gorse and broom; there was no red weed to be seen, and as I prowled, hesitating, on the verge of the open, the sun rose, flooding it all with light and vitality. I came upon a busy swarm of little frogs in a swampy place among the trees. I stopped to look at them, drawing a lesson from their stout resolve to live. And presently, turning suddenly, with an odd feeling of being watched, I beheld something crouching amid a clump of bushes. I stood regarding this. I made a step towards it, and it rose up and became a man armed with a cutlass. I approached him slowly. He stood silent and motionless, regarding me.

As I drew nearer I perceived he was dressed in clothes as dusty and filthy as my own; he looked, indeed, as though he had been dragged through a culvert. Nearer, I distinguished the green slime of ditches mixing with the pale drab of dried clay and shiny, coaly patches. His black hair fell over his eyes, and his face was dark and dirty and sunken, so that at first I did not recognise him. There was a red cut across the lower part of his face.

“Stop!” he cried, when I was within ten yards of him, and I stopped. His voice was hoarse. “Where do you come from?” he said.

I thought, surveying him.

“I come from Mortlake,” I said. “I was buried near the pit the Martians made about their cylinder. I have worked my way out and escaped.”

“There is no food about here,” he said. “This is my country. All this hill down to the river, and back to Clapham, and up to the edge of the common. There is only food for one. Which way are you going?”

I answered slowly.

“I don’t know,” I said. “I have been buried in the ruins of a house thirteen or fourteen days. I don’t know what has happened.”

He looked at me doubtfully, then started, and looked with a changed expression.

“I’ve no wish to stop about here,” said I. “I think I shall go to Leatherhead, for my wife was there.”

He shot out a pointing finger.

“It is you,” said he; “the man from Woking. And you weren’t killed at Weybridge?”

I recognised him at the same moment.

“You are the artilleryman who came into my garden.”

“Good luck!” he said. “We are lucky ones! Fancy you!” He put out a hand, and I took it. “I crawled up a drain,” he said. “But they didn’t kill everyone. And after they went away I got off towards Walton across the fields. But —— It’s not sixteen days altogether — and your hair is grey.” He looked over his shoulder suddenly. “Only a rook,” he said. “One gets to know that birds have shadows these days. This is a bit open. Let us crawl under those bushes and talk.”

“Have you seen any Martians?” I said. “Since I crawled out —— “

“They’ve gone away across London,” he said. “I guess they’ve got a bigger camp there. Of a night, all over there, Hampstead way, the sky is alive with their lights. It’s like a great city, and in the glare you can just see them moving. By daylight you can’t. But nearer — I haven’t seen them — ” (he counted on his fingers) “five days. Then I saw a couple across Hammersmith way carrying something big. And the night before last” — he stopped and spoke impressively — “it was just a matter of lights, but it was something up in the air. I believe they’ve built a flying-machine, and are learning to fly.”

I stopped, on hands and knees, for we had come to the bushes.


“Yes,” he said, “fly.”

I went on into a little bower, and sat down.

“It is all over with humanity,” I said. “If they can do that they will simply go round the world.”

He nodded.

“They will. But —— It will relieve things over here a bit. And besides —— ” He looked at me. “Aren’t you satisfied it is up with humanity? I am. We’re down; we’re beat.”

I stared. Strange as it may seem, I had not arrived at this fact — a fact perfectly obvious so soon as he spoke. I had still held a vague hope; rather, I had kept a lifelong habit of mind. He repeated his words, “We’re beat.” They carried absolute conviction.

“It’s all over,” he said. “They’ve lost one — just one. And they’ve made their footing good and crippled the greatest power in the world. They’ve walked over us. The death of that one at Weybridge was an accident. And these are only pioneers. They kept on coming. These green stars — I’ve seen none these five or six days, but I’ve no doubt they’re falling somewhere every night. Nothing’s to be done. We’re under! We’re beat!”

I made him no answer. I sat staring before me, trying in vain to devise some countervailing thought.

“This isn’t a war,” said the artilleryman. “It never was a war, any more than there’s war between man and ants.”

Suddenly I recalled the night in the observatory.

“After the tenth shot they fired no more — at least, until the first cylinder came.”

“How do you know?” said the artilleryman. I explained. He thought. “Something wrong with the gun,” he said. “But what if there is? They’ll get it right again. And even if there’s a delay, how can it alter the end? It’s just men and ants. There’s the ants builds their cities, live their lives, have wars, revolutions, until the men want them out of the way, and then they go out of the way. That’s what we are now — just ants. Only —— “

“Yes,” I said.

“We’re eatable ants.”

We sat looking at each other.

“And what will they do with us?” I said.

“That’s what I’ve been thinking,” he said; “that’s what I’ve been thinking. After Weybridge I went south — thinking. I saw what was up. Most of the people were hard at it squealing and exciting themselves. But I’m not so fond of squealing. I’ve been in sight of death once or twice; I’m not an ornamental soldier, and at the best and worst, death — it’s just death. And it’s the man that keeps on thinking comes through. I saw everyone tracking away south. Says I, ‘Food won’t last this way,’ and I turned right back. I went for the Martians like a sparrow goes for man. All round” — he waved a hand to the horizon — “they’re starving in heaps, bolting, treading on each other… .”

He saw my face, and halted awkwardly.

“No doubt lots who had money have gone away to France,” he said. He seemed to hesitate whether to apologise, met my eyes, and went on: “There’s food all about here. Canned things in shops; wines, spirits, mineral waters; and the water mains and drains are empty. Well, I was telling you what I was thinking. ‘Here’s intelligent things,’ I said, ‘and it seems they want us for food. First, they’ll smash us up — ships, machines, guns, cities, all the order and organisation. All that will go. If we were the size of ants we might pull through. But we’re not. It’s all too bulky to stop. That’s the first certainty.’ Eh?”

I assented.

“It is; I’ve thought it out. Very well, then — next; at present we’re caught as we’re wanted. A Martian has only to go a few miles to get a crowd on the run. And I saw one, one day, out by Wandsworth, picking houses to pieces and routing among the wreckage. But they won’t keep on doing that. So soon as they’ve settled all our guns and ships, and smashed our railways, and done all the things they are doing over there, they will begin catching us systematic, picking the best and storing us in cages and things. That’s what they will start doing in a bit. Lord! They haven’t begun on us yet. Don’t you see that?”

“Not begun!” I exclaimed.

“Not begun. All that’s happened so far is through our not having the sense to keep quiet — worrying them with guns and such foolery. And losing our heads, and rushing off in crowds to where there wasn’t any more safety than where we were. They don’t want to bother us yet. They’re making their things — making all the things they couldn’t bring with them, getting things ready for the rest of their people. Very likely that’s why the cylinders have stopped for a bit, for fear of hitting those who are here. And instead of our rushing about blind, on the howl, or getting dynamite on the chance of busting them up, we’ve got to fix ourselves up according to the new state of affairs. That’s how I figure it out. It isn’t quite according to what a man wants for his species, but it’s about what the facts point to. And that’s the principle I acted upon. Cities, nations, civilisation, progress — it’s all over. That game’s up. We’re beat.”

“But if that is so, what is there to live for?”

The artilleryman looked at me for a moment.

“There won’t be any more blessed concerts for a million years or so; there won’t be any Royal Academy of Arts, and no nice little feeds at restaurants. If it’s amusement you’re after, I reckon the game is up. If you’ve got any drawing-room manners or a dislike to eating peas with a knife or dropping aitches, you’d better chuck ‘em away. They ain’t no further use.”

“You mean —— “

“I mean that men like me are going on living — for the sake of the breed. I tell you, I’m grim set on living. And if I’m not mistaken, you’ll show what insides you’ve got, too, before long. We aren’t going to be exterminated. And I don’t mean to be caught either, and tamed and fattened and bred like a thundering ox. Ugh! Fancy those brown creepers!”

“You don’t mean to say —— “

“I do. I’m going on, under their feet. I’ve got it planned; I’ve thought it out. We men are beat. We don’t know enough. We’ve got to learn before we’ve got a chance. And we’ve got to live and keep independent while we learn. See! That’s what has to be done.”

I stared, astonished, and stirred profoundly by the man’s resolution.

“Great God!” cried I. “But you are a man indeed!” And suddenly I gripped his hand.

“Eh!” he said, with his eyes shining. “I’ve thought it out, eh?”

“Go on,” I said.

“Well, those who mean to escape their catching must get ready. I’m getting ready. Mind you, it isn’t all of us that are made for wild beasts; and that’s what it’s got to be. That’s why I watched you. I had my doubts. You’re slender. I didn’t know that it was you, you see, or just how you’d been buried. All these — the sort of people that lived in these houses, and all those damn little clerks that used to live down that way — they’d be no good. They haven’t any spirit in them — no proud dreams and no proud lusts; and a man who hasn’t one or the other — Lord! What is he but funk and precautions? They just used to skedaddle off to work — I’ve seen hundreds of ‘em, bit of breakfast in hand, running wild and shining to catch their little season-ticket train, for fear they’d get dismissed if they didn’t; working at businesses they were afraid to take the trouble to understand; skedaddling back for fear they wouldn’t be in time for dinner; keeping indoors after dinner for fear of the back streets, and sleeping with the wives they married, not because they wanted them, but because they had a bit of money that would make for safety in their one little miserable skedaddle through the world. Lives insured and a bit invested for fear of accidents. And on Sundays — fear of the hereafter. As if hell was built for rabbits! Well, the Martians will just be a godsend to these. Nice roomy cages, fattening food, careful breeding, no worry. After a week or so chasing about the fields and lands on empty stomachs, they’ll come and be caught cheerful. They’ll be quite glad after a bit. They’ll wonder what people did before there were Martians to take care of them. And the bar loafers, and mashers, and singers — I can imagine them. I can imagine them,” he said, with a sort of sombre gratification. “There’ll be any amount of sentiment and religion loose among them. There’s hundreds of things I saw with my eyes that I’ve only begun to see clearly these last few days. There’s lots will take things as they are — fat and stupid; and lots will be worried by a sort of feeling that it’s all wrong, and that they ought to be doing something. Now whenever things are so that a lot of people feel they ought to be doing something, the weak, and those who go weak with a lot of complicated thinking, always make for a sort of do-nothing religion, very pious and superior, and submit to persecution and the will of the Lord. Very likely you’ve seen the same thing. It’s energy in a gale of funk, and turned clean inside out. These cages will be full of psalms and hymns and piety. And those of a less simple sort will work in a bit of — what is it? — eroticism.”

He paused.

“Very likely these Martians will make pets of some of them; train them to do tricks — who knows? — get sentimental over the pet boy who grew up and had to be killed. And some, maybe, they will train to hunt us.”

“No,” I cried, “that’s impossible! No human being —— “

“What’s the good of going on with such lies?” said the artilleryman. “There’s men who’d do it cheerful. What nonsense to pretend there isn’t!”

And I succumbed to his conviction.

“If they come after me,” he said; “Lord, if they come after me!” and subsided into a grim meditation.

I sat contemplating these things. I could find nothing to bring against this man’s reasoning. In the days before the invasion no one would have questioned my intellectual superiority to his — I, a professed and recognised writer on philosophical themes, and he, a common soldier; and yet he had already formulated a situation that I had scarcely realised.

“What are you doing?” I said presently. “What plans have you made?”

He hesitated.

“Well, it’s like this,” he said. “What have we to do? We have to invent a sort of life where men can live and breed, and be sufficiently secure to bring the children up. Yes — wait a bit, and I’ll make it clearer what I think ought to be done. The tame ones will go like all tame beasts; in a few generations they’ll be big, beautiful, rich-blooded, stupid — rubbish! The risk is that we who keep wild will go savage — degenerate into a sort of big, savage rat… . You see, how I mean to live is underground. I’ve been thinking about the drains. Of course those who don’t know drains think horrible things; but under this London are miles and miles — hundreds of miles — and a few days rain and London empty will leave them sweet and clean. The main drains are big enough and airy enough for anyone. Then there’s cellars, vaults, stores, from which bolting passages may be made to the drains. And the railway tunnels and subways. Eh? You begin to see? And we form a band — able-bodied, clean-minded men. We’re not going to pick up any rubbish that drifts in. Weaklings go out again.”

“As you meant me to go?”

“Well — I parleyed, didn’t I?”

“We won’t quarrel about that. Go on.”

“Those who stop obey orders. Able-bodied, clean-minded women we want also — mothers and teachers. No lackadaisical ladies — no blasted rolling eyes. We can’t have any weak or silly. Life is real again, and the useless and cumbersome and mischievous have to die. They ought to die. They ought to be willing to die. It’s a sort of disloyalty, after all, to live and taint the race. And they can’t be happy. Moreover, dying’s none so dreadful; it’s the funking makes it bad. And in all those places we shall gather. Our district will be London. And we may even be able to keep a watch, and run about in the open when the Martians keep away. Play cricket, perhaps. That’s how we shall save the race. Eh? It’s a possible thing? But saving the race is nothing in itself. As I say, that’s only being rats. It’s saving our knowledge and adding to it is the thing. There men like you come in. There’s books, there’s models. We must make great safe places down deep, and get all the books we can; not novels and poetry swipes, but ideas, science books. That’s where men like you come in. We must go to the British Museum and pick all those books through. Especially we must keep up our science — learn more. We must watch these Martians. Some of us must go as spies. When it’s all working, perhaps I will. Get caught, I mean. And the great thing is, we must leave the Martians alone. We mustn’t even steal. If we get in their way, we clear out. We must show them we mean no harm. Yes, I know. But they’re intelligent things, and they won’t hunt us down if they have all they want, and think we’re just harmless vermin.”

The artilleryman paused and laid a brown hand upon my arm.

“After all, it may not be so much we may have to learn before — Just imagine this: four or five of their fighting machines suddenly starting off — Heat-Rays right and left, and not a Martian in ‘em. Not a Martian in ‘em, but men — men who have learned the way how. It may be in my time, even — those men. Fancy having one of them lovely things, with its Heat-Ray wide and free! Fancy having it in control! What would it matter if you smashed to smithereens at the end of the run, after a bust like that? I reckon the Martians’ll open their beautiful eyes! Can’t you see them, man? Can’t you see them hurrying, hurrying — puffing and blowing and hooting to their other mechanical affairs? Something out of gear in every case. And swish, bang, rattle, swish! Just as they are fumbling over it, swish comes the Heat-Ray, and, behold! man has come back to his own.”

For a while the imaginative daring of the artilleryman, and the tone of assurance and courage he assumed, completely dominated my mind. I believed unhesitatingly both in his forecast of human destiny and in the practicability of his astonishing scheme, and the reader who thinks me susceptible and foolish must contrast his position, reading steadily with all his thoughts about his subject, and mine, crouching fearfully in the bushes and listening, distracted by apprehension. We talked in this manner through the early morning time, and later crept out of the bushes, and, after scanning the sky for Martians, hurried precipitately to the house on Putney Hill where he had made his lair. It was the coal cellar of the place, and when I saw the work he had spent a week upon — it was a burrow scarcely ten yards long, which he designed to reach to the main drain on Putney Hill — I had my first inkling of the gulf between his dreams and his powers. Such a hole I could have dug in a day. But I believed in him sufficiently to work with him all that morning until past midday at his digging. We had a garden barrow and shot the earth we removed against the kitchen range. We refreshed ourselves with a tin of mock-turtle soup and wine from the neighbouring pantry. I found a curious relief from the aching strangeness of the world in this steady labour. As we worked, I turned his project over in my mind, and presently objections and doubts began to arise; but I worked there all the morning, so glad was I to find myself with a purpose again. After working an hour I began to speculate on the distance one had to go before the cloaca was reached, the chances we had of missing it altogether. My immediate trouble was why we should dig this long tunnel, when it was possible to get into the drain at once down one of the manholes, and work back to the house. It seemed to me, too, that the house was inconveniently chosen, and required a needless length of tunnel. And just as I was beginning to face these things, the artilleryman stopped digging, and looked at me.

“We’re working well,” he said. He put down his spade. “Let us knock off a bit” he said. “I think it’s time we reconnoitred from the roof of the house.”

I was for going on, and after a little hesitation he resumed his spade; and then suddenly I was struck by a thought. I stopped, and so did he at once.

“Why were you walking about the common,” I said, “instead of being here?”

“Taking the air,” he said. “I was coming back. It’s safer by night.”

“But the work?”

“Oh, one can’t always work,” he said, and in a flash I saw the man plain. He hesitated, holding his spade. “We ought to reconnoitre now,” he said, “because if any come near they may hear the spades and drop upon us unawares.”

I was no longer disposed to object. We went together to the roof and stood on a ladder peeping out of the roof door. No Martians were to be seen, and we ventured out on the tiles, and slipped down under shelter of the parapet.

From this position a shrubbery hid the greater portion of Putney, but we could see the river below, a bubbly mass of red weed, and the low parts of Lambeth flooded and red. The red creeper swarmed up the trees about the old palace, and their branches stretched gaunt and dead, and set with shrivelled leaves, from amid its clusters. It was strange how entirely dependent both these things were upon flowing water for their propagation. About us neither had gained a footing; laburnums, pink mays, snowballs, and trees of arbor-vitae, rose out of laurels and hydrangeas, green and brilliant into the sunlight. Beyond Kensington dense smoke was rising, and that and a blue haze hid the northward hills.

The artilleryman began to tell me of the sort of people who still remained in London.

“One night last week,” he said, “some fools got the electric light in order, and there was all Regent Street and the Circus ablaze, crowded with painted and ragged drunkards, men and women, dancing and shouting till dawn. A man who was there told me. And as the day came they became aware of a fighting-machine standing near by the Langham and looking down at them. Heaven knows how long he had been there. It must have given some of them a nasty turn. He came down the road towards them, and picked up nearly a hundred too drunk or frightened to run away.”

Grotesque gleam of a time no history will ever fully describe!

From that, in answer to my questions, he came round to his grandiose plans again. He grew enthusiastic. He talked so eloquently of the possibility of capturing a fighting-machine that I more than half believed in him again. But now that I was beginning to understand something of his quality, I could divine the stress he laid on doing nothing precipitately. And I noted that now there was no question that he personally was to capture and fight the great machine.

After a time we went down to the cellar. Neither of us seemed disposed to resume digging, and when he suggested a meal, I was nothing loath. He became suddenly very generous, and when we had eaten he went away and returned with some excellent cigars. We lit these, and his optimism glowed. He was inclined to regard my coming as a great occasion.

“There’s some champagne in the cellar,” he said.

“We can dig better on this Thames-side burgundy,” said I.

“No,” said he; “I am host today. Champagne! Great God! We’ve a heavy enough task before us! Let us take a rest and gather strength while we may. Look at these blistered hands!”

And pursuant to this idea of a holiday, he insisted upon playing cards after we had eaten. He taught me euchre, and after dividing London between us, I taking the northern side and he the southern, we played for parish points. Grotesque and foolish as this will seem to the sober reader, it is absolutely true, and what is more remarkable, I found the card game and several others we played extremely interesting.

Strange mind of man! that, with our species upon the edge of extermination or appalling degradation, with no clear prospect before us but the chance of a horrible death, we could sit following the chance of this painted pasteboard, and playing the “joker” with vivid delight. Afterwards he taught me poker, and I beat him at three tough chess games. When dark came we decided to take the risk, and lit a lamp.

After an interminable string of games, we supped, and the artilleryman finished the champagne. We went on smoking the cigars. He was no longer the energetic regenerator of his species I had encountered in the morning. He was still optimistic, but it was a less kinetic, a more thoughtful optimism. I remember he wound up with my health, proposed in a speech of small variety and considerable intermittence. I took a cigar, and went upstairs to look at the lights of which he had spoken that blazed so greenly along the Highgate hills.

At first I stared unintelligently across the London valley. The northern hills were shrouded in darkness; the fires near Kensington glowed redly, and now and then an orange-red tongue of flame flashed up and vanished in the deep blue night. All the rest of London was black. Then, nearer, I perceived a strange light, a pale, violet-purple fluorescent glow, quivering under the night breeze. For a space I could not understand it, and then I knew that it must be the red weed from which this faint irradiation proceeded. With that realisation my dormant sense of wonder, my sense of the proportion of things, awoke again. I glanced from that to Mars, red and clear, glowing high in the west, and then gazed long and earnestly at the darkness of Hampstead and Highgate.

I remained a very long time upon the roof, wondering at the grotesque changes of the day. I recalled my mental states from the midnight prayer to the foolish card-playing. I had a violent revulsion of feeling. I remember I flung away the cigar with a certain wasteful symbolism. My folly came to me with glaring exaggeration. I seemed a traitor to my wife and to my kind; I was filled with remorse. I resolved to leave this strange undisciplined dreamer of great things to his drink and gluttony, and to go on into London. There, it seemed to me, I had the best chance of learning what the Martians and my fellowmen were doing. I was still upon the roof when the late moon rose.

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Proudhon on Property (1846) – Part 1

Now available thanks to Shawn P. Wilbur at Out of the Libertarian Labyrinth:



1.—Property is inexplicable apart from the economic series.—Of the organization of common sense, or problem of certainty.

The problem of property is, after that of human destiny, the greatest that reason can propose, and the last that it will be able to resolve. Indeed, the theological problem, the enigma of religion, has been explicated; the philosophical problem, which treats the value and legitimacy of knowledge, is resolved: there remains the social problem, which simply joins these two, and the solution of which, as everyone believes, comes essentially from property.

I will set out in this chapter the theory of property in itself [en soi], that is, in its origin, its spirit, its tendency, and its relations with the other economy categories. As for determining property for itself, as it must be after the integral solution of the contradictions, and what it becomes every day, this is, as I have said, the last phase of the social constitution, the object of a new labor, of which this one aims to provide a glimpse of the design and to posit the bases.

In order to understand clearly the theory of property in itself, it is necessary to address the highest concerns, and to present in a new way the essential identity of philosophy and political economy.

As civilization, from the point of view of industry, aims to constitute the value of products and organize labor, and as society is nothing other than this constitution and this organization, the object is to found judgment by determining the value of knowledge and organizing the common sense; and what we call logic is nothing other than this determination and organization.

Logic, society, which is to say always reason: such is then the destiny here below of our species, considered in its generative faculties, activity and intelligence. Thus humanity, by its successive manifestations, is a living logic: it is this which made us say, at the beginning of this work, that each economic fact is the expression of a law of the mind, and that as there is nothing in the understanding that has not been previously in experience, neither is there anything in social practice which does not come from an abstraction of reason.

Thus, society, like logic, has as a primordial law the agreement of reason and experience. To bring reason and experience into accord, to advance theory and practice in unison, is what both the economist and the philosopher propose; it is the first and last commandment imposed on every man who acts and thinks. It is a simple condition, doubtless, if one only envisions it in that formula, seemingly so simple; but it involves a prodigious effort, if one considers all that man has done from the beginning, as much in order to escape from it as in order to comply.

But what do we mean by the agreement of reason and experience, or, as we have called it, the organization of common sense, which is itself only logic?

First, I call common sense judgment insofar as it applies to things that are intuitively and immediately evident, of which the perception requires neither deduction nor research. Common sense is more than instinct: instinct has no consciousness of its determinations, while common sense knows what it wants and why. Common sense is not faith, genius or habit, which are neither known nor judged, while common sense is known and judged, as it knows and judges all that surrounds it.

Common sense is equal in all men. This is what brings to ideas the highest degree of evidence and the most perfect certainty: it is not this which has aroused philosophical doubt.

Common sense is at once reason and experience synthetically united: it is, once more, judgment but without dialectic or calculation.

But common sense, by the very fact that it falls only on things that are immediately evident, rejects general ideas, and the linking of propositions, and consequently method and science: so that the more a man gives himself to speculation, the more he seems to depart from common sense, starting with certainty. How then do men, equal in common sense, become equal in science, which they naturally reject?

Common sense is susceptible to neither increase nor decrease: judgment considered in itself cannot cease to be always the same, always equal to itself and identical. How, once more, is it possible, not only to maintain equality of capacities apart from common sense, but also to raise knowledge in them above common sense?

That difficulty, so formidable at first glance, evaporates when we look at it closely. To organize the judiciary faculty, or common sense, is, properly speaking, to discover the general procedures by means of which the mind comes to know the unknown by a series of judgments which all, taken in isolation, are of an intuitive and immediate evidence, but taken together give a formula that one could not have obtained without that progression, a formula which, consequently, surpasses the ordinary scope of common sense.

Thus the entire system of our knowledge rests on common sense, but raises itself indefinitely above common sense, which, bound to the particular and the immediate, cannot embrace the general with its simple regard, and must, in order to achieve that, divide it: like a man who, covering in a step only the width of a furrow, by repeating the same movement a certain number of times, circles the globe. [1]

Agreement of reason and experience, organization of the common sense, discovery of the general procedures by which the judgment, always identical, raises itself to the most sublime contemplations: such is the major work of humanity, that which has given rise to the largest, most complicated and most dramatic incident which has been accomplished on the earth. Neither science, religion nor society had to go anywhere near so long and deploy so much power in order to be established: this great labor, begun thirty centuries ago, has hardly managed to define itself. Eight volumes would hardly suffice to tell the story: I am going, in a few pages, to retrace the principle phases. This summary is indispensable to us in order to explain the appearance of property.

[1] Dialectic is properly the advance of the mind from one idea to another, across a superior idea, a series.

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John Beverley Robinson on Building Laws (1891)

Now available thanks to Shawn P. Wilbur at Out of the Libertarian Labyrinth:


By John Beverley Robinson.

TO impugn the utility of any law is just now a delicate and thankless task. The blind deference that in the past was displayed to ecclesiastical rules, has in our day, lacking better things to worship, been transferred to the civil law. Our State-directed schools, as was inevitable, have become the nurseries of political superstitions, which display themselves in our Fourth-of-July self-gratulations and in the total unconsciousness, in ordinary minds, that anything better than our political arrangements can by any possibility evolve from present conditions. To these, there is no higher test of right than the vote of a legislature. That the majority can do no wrong, is as firmly grounded in their faith as was in the mediaeval mind the doctrine that the king can do no wrong. With them, to obey the law is the chief virtue. They have lost the sense of virtue that demands disobedience to law, where the instinctive sentiment of justice is not satisfied.

Yet a few are beginning to ask: What is the limit, in reason, to this power of the majority? Is it true that the majority has a right to force us—the minority—to anything it may please? If not, what is the limit to its authority? And the answer comes from the chief of the philosophers of recent years,—with all his faults, the prophet of the future, Herbert Spencer:

“‘No human laws are of any validity if contrary to the law of nature; and such of them as are valid, derive all their force and all their authority mediately or immediately from this original.’ Thus writes Blackstone, to whom let all honor be given for having so far outseen the ideas of his time; and indeed we may say of our time.

“A good antidote, this, for those political superstitions which so widely prevail. A good check upon that sentiment of power-worship which still misleads us by magnifying the prerogatives of constitutional governments as it once did those of monarchs. Let men learn that a legislature is not ‘our God upon earth,’ though, by the authority they ascribe to it and the things they expect from it, they would seem to think it is. Let them learn rather that it is an institution serving a purely temporary purpose, whose power, when not stolen, is at the best borrowed.” (Social Statics, p. 229.)

After a page or two devoted to pointing out the unavoidable final abolition of government, and the contradictions and absurdities involved in its present temporary existence, he continues:

“Of the political superstitions lately alluded to, none is so universally diffused as the notion that majorities are omnipotent. Under the impression that the preservation of order will ever require power to be wielded by some party, the moral sense of our time feels that such power cannot rightly be conferred on any but the largest moiety of society.

“It interprets literally the saying that the voice of the people is the voice of God,’ and transferring to the one the sacredness attached to the other, it concludes that from the will of the people, that is of the majority, there can be no appeal. Yet this belief is entirely erroneous.”

It is not my purpose to criticise present laws; but rather to deny the right of anybody,—of any majority, to undertake the control of the details of construction, or indeed to enforce any requirements, save possibly the barest and simplest for the avoidance of what manifestly threatens impending danger. Most cities have their building laws, and have suffered the ill effects of such short-sighted legislation. The subject presented for review is, therefore, so wide in its range that the limits of a magazine article require me to confine my observations to some one locality. Let us then note some of the points in the New York building law which are open to criticism.

The opening paragraphs lay down a series of rules for the various thicknesses of walls, which are, to say the least, inflexible and excessive. Moreover, they rarely touch the really critical points at all: the width of the piers between the openings. Provided your wall is as thick as the law requires, the amount of solid may be attenuated in the other direction without exciting comment. To substitute skilful arrangement for dead weight of masonry is sternly repressed by the provisions that hollow walls, or walls built with buttresses, must have the same amount of materials as straight walls; reducing those who wish to save material to the alternative of perforating the wall with many flues, or of filling the interior of the wall with sand, as one enterprising builder did.

Take again the requirement of bondstones, as they are called, in piers of a certain size, although the weight of opinion is that the pier is weakened rather than strengthened by the presence of bondstones. In the past the law required the use of bondstones in walls as well as in piers; and in old buildings strings of bondstones may be seen, serving no purpose but to render the wall less homogenous and more liable to crack at that point. This provision, with others requiring the use of bluestone, was long retained by the power of thebluestone dealers. Previous to that the law recognized and permitted the use of bond timbers in walls, a practice which has fallen into disuse from its inherent viciousness, but without discountenance while it continued from the law.

So, still, the custom of veneering the fronts of buildings with a thin scale of stone is recognized by the law of to-day, and the method for doing so is laid down simply confirming the usual practice; but the only method that can be called constructive, that by which the stone facing is bonded into and made a part of the wall, the devisers of the law seem never to have heard of.

One of the delusions of the law is the demand that all iron work shall be tested. What more reasonable, thinks the ordinary citizen, when cast-iron is known to be often affected by flaws than to make a law that it shall be tested? While we are about it, let us extend the law to cover the testing of wrought iron, too. Actually what does it amount to? There is not a machine on earth, nor is it practicable to apply a load, that will test a large iron girder or column, scarcely even a small one. The only testing machine used by the inspector is a small piece of chalk, wherewith, having calculated the strength by an unintelligible formula, he chalks the lintel or beam in question.

Many provisions of the law are simply superfluous, or related to matters which no inspector could control without being on the spot all the time. Among the first is the amusingly solemn paragraph to the effect that all floor beams shall be suited to the weight they have to sustain. In practice such a loose provision gives opportunity for tyranny and corruption. Even where these do not occur the strength required will depend upon the affability of the superintendent, perhaps upon the Welsh rarebit he had for supper.

The laying down of minute proportions of lime and cement in mortar is equally deceptive. Nobody can tell but in the most general way whether such instructions are complied with or not, unless he watches every shovelful that is mixed. As for the prescription of quality it is almost as useless. One contractor that I happen to know of kept a load or two of very good sand in front of the building, much to the gratification of the inspector, while the work was built with the most indescribably bad mixture of dust and vegetable mould, openly used for mortar in a pen at the rear of the lot.

Probably the crowning absurdity of the law is that part which orders a brick wall to be built around all elevators. Here again nothing could seem more reasonable to the people who are not intimately acquainted with details. A brick elevator shaft is supposed to act as a chimney and to conduct fire and smoke harmlessly out, through the skylight on top. Really, the necessary openings on each story, in spite of alleged fireproof doors, serve to conduct the flames, fanned to furnace heat by the draft of the brick-shaft, to each story of the building at the same moment. So great is the heat generated by the chimney-like shaft, that quite recently a fire was communicated to adjoining premises through an apparently perfect brick wall. A series of hatchways offers no such advantage to the fire, but permits it to be confined, for a while at least, to the story where it starts. Especially ridiculous is this demand for a brick wall about elevators when no such wall is required for hoistways. That is to say, you may hoist a barrel through trap doors by hooking it on the end of a rope; but if you hook a platform on the rope, and put the barrel on the platform you must build a brick shaft to hoist it in. I do not insist much upon such criticisms. What I do insist upon is the utter impossibility of framing any statute that can cover the multitudinous, complicated, various and ever-changing conditions of building operations.

Few people have any conception of the inventiveness that is required in all mechanical operations. From the village carpenter to the engineer, all are occupied with continually new problems, for which new solutions must be found.

For the architect not least is this inventiveness required. Indeed, more than most technical workers the architect must be an inventor, because he is called upon to solve, not only problems of construction, but continually to devise new designs to be constructed, of which the value is largely that they are new. The fundamental objection to such statute law is, that it hinders this process of invention and thereby necessarily retards progress in the art of building. The more perfect the law the more perfectly does it accomplish this result. An ideally perfect law would at once put an end to all progress, and render the possession of intellect an injury rather than an advantage to architects. The most that a law can do is to perpetuate the best known existing methods. In a few years of normal progress these would become obsolete. To give discretion to the authorities is virtually to place legislation in the hands of individuals; not to give them discretion makes it more and more difficult to modify the law. Ideal perfection has fortunately not yet been attained in the general building law. In the matter of plumbing, which is in charge of the Board of Health, with its autocratic powers, the regulations may be regarded as ideal. It is a mere waste of time nowadays for an architect to reflect upon the best method of doing the plumbing of a building; it is for him to ask humbly what the authorities will deign to prescribe. The law, as it stands, requires extravagantly costly plumbing, and has the earnest support of all of the ablest and most conscientious plumbers.

The converse side of this disparagement of high capacity and discouragement of new ideas, which the law necessarily involves, is the direct support to incapacity which the law affords. Many a man practices architecture on the strength of his permit from the Department of Buildings, when, not to speak of his client’s lack of confidence in him, his own knowledge of his weakness and fear of taking the responsibility involved would deter him from doing so, were it not for the false assurance conveyed to one and the false confidence to the other by the official seal. This function of bolstering up those whom natural selection would weed out, is sufficient in itself to condemn the law.

A very extraordinary instance of this process of the restriction by law of the competent and fortification by law of the incompetent is going on in Chicago. They have been building there a very remarkable series of buildings of excessive height, eighteen or twenty stories. These buildings have been constructed on an entirely new principle: a steel frame with a mere skin of masonry. They are put up with extraordinary rapidity and at comparatively small proportionate cost. In the grade of engineering ability required they are on a par with the big bridges and tunnels that engineers do. It would seem that the men who have thus successfully struck out a new line and successfully completed such buildings should be competent to do more of the same thing. Yet a proposal is on foot for the governmental regulation of such buildings. Especially does this seem grotesque when it is remembered that of all the large buildings in Chicago all are successful but the Government building recently completed: that is reported to be settling continuously and disastrously in spite of the millions lavished upon it.

To turn for a moment to the frequently advanced criticism, not only of the building laws, but of the excise and many other laws that attempt to control actions which mankind does not generally rank as criminal,—the fostering of underhand evasion and corruption. It would be possible for any one who was interested in doing so to collect a very startling list of the deliberate violations of the building law that occur every day.

It is a delicate matter with most people to charge evasion of the building law. As for myself, I regard such evasion as a virtue, and a charge to that effect from me is an encomium. Apart from proof—proof I cannot offer; I am not the one to tell tales out of school—it is an inevitable inference that evasion must occur, whether accompanied by corruption or not. In point of fact it occurs in both ways. To obtain a permit and to build a building in accordance with it, are two very different matters; and it is usually far easier to make any required concessions to get a permit, and then arrange to build the building as you please afterward, than to delay matters by trying to get a permit in the first place for every little thing you want to do. Corruption exists, but they who know the ropes rarely find it necessary to resort to it; besides its cost is to be avoided if possible.

At the bottom, we must dwell upon the fact that the popular opinion upon which the building law is based, is a mistaken opinion. This opinion is that people will not build well unless they are compelled to. The truth is that, while building laws impede progress, they do not advance the customary grade of work a single degree. It is the customary standard of work that is always made into law. If it were not customary it could not be enforced and is not enforced. What is customary and generally recognized as safe will be carried out as well without the aid of a law.

The old common law—the unwritten law of public opinion— which every transgression makes self-evident, and which all people instinctively respect and obey, is all-sufficient for all cases. Every attempt to make a statute law that will fit the ever-changing conditions is, in the nature of things, an impossibility.

“But why cite individual cases? * * * * What is the statute-book but a record of such unhappy guesses? or history but a narrative of their unsuccessful issues? And what forwarder are we now? Is not our government as busy still as though the work of law-making commenced but yesterday? Has it made any apparent progress towards a final settlements of social arrangements? Does it not rather each year entangle itself still further in the web of legislation, confounding the already heterogeneous mass of enactments into still greater confusion? Nearly every parliamentary proceeding is a tacit confession of incompetency. There is scarcely a bill introduced but is entitled ‘An Act to amend an Act.’ The ‘Whereas’ of almost every preamble heralds an account of the miscarriage of previous legislation. Alteration, explanation and repeal, form the staple employment of every session. All our great agitations are for the abolition of institutions purporting to be for the public good. The history of one scheme is the history of all. First comes enactment, then probation, then failure; next an amendment and another failure; and, after many alternate tinkerings and abortive trials, arrives at length repeal, followed by the substitution of some fresh plan, doomed to run the same course, and share a like fate.” {Social Statics, p. 21.)

“‘It is a gross delusion to believe in the sovereign power of political machinery,’ says M. Guizot. True: and it is not only a gross delusion, but a very dangerous one. Give a child exaggerated notions of its parent’s power, and it will by-and-by cry for the moon. Let a people believe in government-omnipotence, and they will be pretty certain to get up revolutions to achieve impossibilities. Between their exorbitant ideas of what the state ought to do for them on the one side, and its miserable performances on the other, there will surely be generated feelings extremely inimical to social order—feelings which, by adding to the dissatisfaction otherwise produced, may occasion outbreaks that would not else have occurred.” (Social Statics, p. 318.)

What, then, is the use of the Building Law? Beginning with a general laying down of a few important points, and backed in these points by public opinion, it has grown to be a large mass of minute rules with which public opinion has no acquaintance and no sympathy. From a handful of persons charged with enforcing the law the bureau has grown now to a hundred. Still the cry is for more laws, more and more minute and exacting regulations, more extravagant spending of other people’s money in costly construction. With each intensification of the law the demand is for more inspectors to carry it out, or at least to collect pay for carrying it out. The law has become a political engine. Its offices are valuable considerations. The power which the law created reacts to perpetuate and increase the law, for with every increase of the law comes an increase of power to the political party that has the administration of it. The use of the Building Law is to help the politicians.

SOURCE: Engineering Magazine. I, 5 (August, 1891) 656-662.


photo by Nathan Callahan.

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Transmutation of Virtues into Vices, Charles Erskine Scott Wood

Now available thanks to Shawn P. Wilbur at Out of the Libertarian Labyrinth:

Transmutation of Virtues into Vices

Charles Erskine Scott Wood

I believe a very tolerable essay could be written on the transmutation of virtues into vices—perhaps it has been done. There is no new thing under the sun—a saying I give little adherence to. Proverbs, maxims and such generalizations would find the lie every day, if it were looked for. There is much new under the sun—and it is not impossible that some day an editor may have a principle, and a great daily tell the truth. This old world Is ever new—that Is the fascination of it. Not only new to each of us who opens his eyes for the first time upon the panorama and frets across the stage his brief moment—but in truth new—new lands, new life, new thoughts. And there is the very core of the matter—new thoughts.

People talk of unchanging human nature—eternally the same. Human nature is changing as much as the human body did and probably much more and faster than the human body is now changing, though It is dangerous to speculate on evolution In which millions of years are minutes. The body has adapted itself to its present environment, and little change may be expected unless the environment changes; but the environment of mind and thought is constantly changing before our very eyes, and human nature is changing with it.

Does anyone fancy that we have the human nature of the cave dwellers? Gentlemen whose conception of justice was appetite and the might to gratify It; who did not on occasion hesitate to eke out the scant subsistence of a non-prosperous administration by devouring their grandmothers and other weak antiques; and quite right, too, from the view point of nature. We ourselves must admit that we would rather have the cave dwelling paterfamilias and his amiable mate preserve the divine spark for transmission to us, by recourse to grandpa or grandma as a larder rather than that by self-denial and literal self-sacrifice, all human life should become extinct and we ourselves be barred from our succession to this wonderful world of nickel-in-the-slot drama and tinhorn tragedy.

There Is no doubt that, as we picture the cave gentleman at his necessitous or perhaps diplomatic meal with bloody front gnawing the raw bones of his mother-in-law,—nephew, grandfather, or whichever relative his taste and an overruling providence decreed should be removed from their midst to his; we realize that we of to-day have progressed In our nature; even an editor has a somewhat different cannibalistic method, and presumably a different nature.

But those who cling to the absolute unchanging quality of human nature will say: Take an editor, even the greatest, and put him on a raft in mid-ocean—the reader will understand that this Is wholly hypothetical God forbid that any editor, even the greatest, should In fact be put on a raft in mid-ocean and the world left rocking In chaos—take an editor, the objector will say (as If the editor were a worm,) and put him on a raft In mid-ocean with one other and no food and he will devour his companion as relishfully as did our late lamented ancestor of the cave.

The world is full of the self-sacrifice of the strong for the weak. Common sailors have said good-bye to a comrade and let go the support too frail for both.

It was Greenwood, I think, who shut himself in the leaking air-lock of the Hudson river tunnel to drown rather than drown the four or five laborers he had put through to safety. It is a pity to forget the names of such heroes—greater than those of war—but after all the name is not so material; the important fact is that human nature furnishes such examples—many of them. Cave-dwelling human nature furnished not one.

The cave gentleman's effort at charity was doubtless to crush the skull of the sufferer with a stone-—a method having certainly some advantages over ours, but as a whole we have progressed in conception and intention.

But we need not harry too cruelly the shades of our cave ancestors who lived the truly simple life. The historic ancients of the really splendid civilizations of Greece and Rome did not have the emotions of pity for humanity and dumb brutes as we have them, nor the sense of duty toward the unfortunate as we have It. Nay, there are whole nations to-day who have not developed into their natures the sense of brotherhood of man and kinship with animals. ' Where we find but so much as one example of a new trait' in human nature, that gives us a right to claim it to our credit.

It is perfectly true that the evolution of a finer human nature or soul builds upon fundamentals. While the desire to live is a general human instinct, there will be the desire to eat and enjoy life, out of which must come the struggle for comfort and joy, and from this struggle, of necessity, selfishness. Selfishness is the most desirable thing in the world. It is the electrifying spark, the vital emotion. It Is a virtue and yet behold how the virtue of the cave-dweller, when the great essential was that life should not vanish from the planet and that the fittest should survive, becomes thw vice of our time when the mentally predatory and by no means fittest are crushing those who, because of loftier ideals or simpler honesty are open to exploitation.

Altruism, or thought for others, self-sacrifice, unselfishness has been developed by the Christian impulse into the chiefest of the virtues. If you have not this then are you but as sounding brass or tinkling cymbal.

Yet what a vice this virtue may become. How many unselfish wives do we see being devoured by selfish husbands, or husbands by wives; patient daughters wearing out their lives in subjection to demanding mothers. Lives of men and women literally sucked dry by good, virtuous, loving, selfish vampires. When what every life craves is freedom—free, free to live its own life in its own way, giving expression to all which bubbles up from within.

It matters nothing at all if there be a heaven where the selfish will be punished and the unselfish rewarded. Let heaven take care of itself. No one has a right to ask another to give up his individuality In this world, to lose his quota of present joy and trust to a heavenly reward. It is not a fair bargain.

I do not say to the leeches: Be less selfish. Do not suck dry these lives about you. It would be a useless appeal, for such is their nature; but I do say to the victims (in some hope that I may be heard because of the fundamental instinct" of selfishness within us all): Be more selfish—your life was given, to you to live. Live it. Draw the line between a just attention to others and your essential duty to yourself. Let living be reciprocal. Let the parasites upon you also give. If all cannot be unselfish, then let all be selfish.

The word has got an ugly meaning—people pretend to recoil from the trait it expresses—none recoil more than those very ones who are sucking the lives of others. My own irritation Is not so much with the selfish ones who rule, who master, who override, who demand, who receive and who absorb—they are at least following their natures—as with the unselfish ones who do not oppose to this selfishness an equal selfishness; who stifle because of what I think is a false Ideal, the natural desire to live their own lives. I do not believe, they are following their natures so much as their Ideals of duty. Whatever may come hereafter, this world is all we know. It stands upon its own footing, and no person has a right to absorb the life of another, and no person has a right to let his individuality and his life-expression and life-longings be absorbed by another. His highest duty, higher than any other possible, for it is to the race as well as to himself. Is to live his own life in his own way to the very fullness thereof.

The virtues as well as the vices have their root in selfishness. It is the parent stock; and what are virtues and what are vices will always be open to dispute. Pride is a virtue as self-respect; it is a vice as exaggerated self-esteem. Love may be a vice and hate a virtue, so these names go masquerading under different guises, according to the motive, the object and the degree. Of the primal instincts—offshoots from selfishness—jealousy is the one which I cannot find virtuous in any degree. In the form of parental solicitude it may be accepted, but the variety which we have developed in the sex relation is wholly bad.

It is brutal and unintellectual, prolific of much misery, narrowing to life and debasing to the soul.

I have heard people actually defend jealousy by saying it is common to the brutes, that the dog, the cat, the horse show jealousy. Curious recommendation. I have no doubt the late lamented cave-dweller, in his impulse to sex supremacy, slaughtered his rivals precisely as one Captain Hains has recently done, though the gallant Captain is additionally the victim of an artificial development called "Honor." The sense of ownership of his mate in the savage can be understood, especially as he bought her—but just how a man's honor is blotted by any act of another of which he had no knowledge, I cannot comprehend. My honor is in my own keeping; and to my way of thinking an unfaithful wife can be left to her choice with greater honor than to commit murder for her sake.

I write these impressions too hurriedly ever to be thorough (and by the way they are in no sense the editorials of this magazine, but my personal impressions for what they may be worth). What I intend to offer as food for better and deeper thought than mine is that selfishness, self-interest, measurement by the scale of self, self-gratification is the root of all impulses and human attributes, and unless we are to believe Nature (or God) all wrong, we cannot believe selfishness to be wrong. That in fact the same trait may be a virtue or a vice according to the circumstances of application, and that it is by no means a virtue to crush out ourselves idolatrously before the unchecked selfishness of another or others—rather it is the highest duty to live our lives according to the deep longings thereof—for the longings are of God and no man can say what great good may come to the world from their full and free expression.

The world is full of idols; we bow down to them and worship them, and though they are senseless images, we ourselves are not so, and it is by our own conceptions which we accept as coming from the idol that we enslave ourselves. Let our conceptions therefore be just. Measure them more by ourselves and our rights to life and in life, and we will find that much which we have called duty, honor, obedience, self-sacrifice, are fetiches, and the whole world will be juster and saner and happier—I truly believe far, far happier when they are overthrown.

SOURCE: The Pacific Monthly. XX (1908) 454-455.

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