Against All Reason  

PROPOSED ROADS TO FREEDOM

BY

BERTRAND RUSSELL, F.R.S.

CHAPTER V

GOVERNMENT AND LAW

GOVERNMENT and Law, in their very essence, consist of restrictions on freedom, and freedom is the greatest of political goods.[46] A hasty reasoner might conclude without further ado that Law and government are evils which must be abolished if freedom is our goal. But this consequence, true or false, cannot be proved so simply. In this chapter we shall examine the arguments of Anarchists against law and the State. We shall proceed on the assumption that freedom is the supreme aim of a good social system; but on this very basis we shall find the Anarchist contentions very questionable.

[46] I do not say freedom is the greatest of ALL goods: the best things come from within—they are such things as creative art, and love, and thought. Such things can be helped or hindered by political conditions, but not actually produced by them; and freedom is, both in itself and in its relation to these other goods the best thing that political and economic conditions can secure.

Respect for the liberty of others is not a natural impulse with most men: envy and love of power lead ordinary human nature to find pleasure in interferences with the lives of others. If all men’s actions were wholly unchecked by external authority, we should not obtain a world in which all men would be free. The strong would oppress the weak, or the majority would oppress the minority, or the lovers of violence would oppress the more peaceable people. I fear it cannot be said that these bad impulses are WHOLLY due to a bad social system, though it must be conceded that the present competitive organization of society does a great deal to foster the worst elements in human nature. The love of power is an impulse which, though innate in very ambitious men, is chiefly promoted as a rule by the actual experience of power. In a world where none could acquire much power, the desire to tyrannize would be much less strong than it is at present. Nevertheless, I cannot think that it would be wholly absent, and those in whom it would exist would often be men of unusual energy and executive capacity. Such men, if they are not restrained by the organized will of the community, may either succeed in establishing a despotism, or, at any rate, make such a vigorous attempt as can only be defeated through a period of prolonged disturbance. And apart from the love or political power, there is the love of power over individuals. If threats and terrorism were not prevented by law, it can hardly be doubted that cruelty would be rife in the relations of men and women, and of parents and children. It is true that the habits of a community can make such cruelty rare, but these habits, I fear, are only to be produced through the prolonged reign of law. Experience of backwoods communities, mining camps and other such places seems to show that under new conditions men easily revert to a more barbarous attitude and practice. It would seem, therefore, that, while human nature remains as it is, there will be more liberty for all in a community where some acts of tyranny by individuals are forbidden, than in a community where the law leaves each individual free to follow his every impulse. But, although the necessity of some form of government and law must for the present be conceded, it is important to remember that all law and government is in itself in some degree an evil, only justifiable when it prevents other and greater evils. Every use of the power of the State needs, therefore, to be very closely scrutinized, and every possibility of diminishing its power is to be welcomed provided it does not lead to a reign of private tyranny.

The power of the State is partly legal, partly economic: acts of a kind which the State dislikes can be punished by the criminal law, and individuals who incur the displeasure of the State may find it hard to earn a livelihood.

The views of Marx on the State are not very clear. On the one hand he seems willing,, like the modern State Socialists, to allow great power to the State, but on the other hand he suggests that when the Socialist revolution has been consummated, the State, as we know it, will disappear. Among the measures which are advocated in the Communist Manifesto as immediately desirable, there are several which would very greatly increase the power of the existing State. For example, "Centralization of credit in the hands of the State, by means of a national bank with State capital and an exclusive monopoly;" and again, "Centralization of the means of communication and transport in the hands of the State." But the Manifesto goes on to say:

When, in the course of development, class distinctions have disappeared, and all production has been concentrated in the hands of a vast association of the whole nation, the public power will lose its political character. Political power, properly so called, is merely the organised power of one class for oppressing another. If the proletariat during its contest with the bourgeoisie is compelled, by the force of circumstances, to organize itself as a class, if, by means of a revolution, it makes itself the ruling class, and, as such, sweeps away by force the old conditions of production, then it will, along with these conditions, have swept away the conditions for the existence of class antagonisms, and of classes generally, and will thereby have abolished its own supremacy as a class.

In place of the old bourgeois society, with its classes and class antagonisms, we shall have an association, in which; the free development of each is the condition for the free development of all.[47]

[47] Communist Manifesto, p. 22.

This attitude Marx preserved in essentials throughout his life. Accordingly, it is not to be wondered at that his followers, so far as regards their immediate aims, have in the main become out-and-out State Socialists. On the other hand, the Syndicalists, who accept from Marx the doctrine of the class war, which they regard as what is really vital in his teaching, reject the State with abhorrence and wish to abolish it wholly, in which respect they are at one with the Anarchists. The Guild Socialists, though some persons in this country regard them as extremists, really represent the English love of compromise. The Syndicalist arguments as to the dangers inherent in the power of the State have made them dissatisfied with the old State Socialism, but they are unable to accept the Anarchist view that society can dispense altogether with a central authority. Accordingly they propose that there should be two co-equal instruments of Government in a community, the one geographical, representing the consumers, and essentially the continuation of the democratic State; the other representing the producers, organized, not geographically, but in guilds, after the manner of industrial unionism. These two author-ities will deal with different classes of questions. Guild Socialists do not regard the industrial authority as forming part of the State, for they contend that it is the essence of the State to be geographical; but the industrial authority will resemble the present State in the fact that it will have coercive powers, and that its decrees will be enforced, when necessary. It is to be suspected that Syndicalists also, much as they object to the existing State, would not object to coercion of individuals in an industry by the Trade Union in that industry. Government within the Trade Union would probably be quite as strict as State government is now. In saying this we are assuming that the theoretical Anarchism of Syndicalist leaders would not survive accession to power, but I am afraid experience shows that this is not a very hazardous assumption.

Among all these different views, the one which raises the deepest issue is the Anarchist contention that all coercion by the community is unnecessary. Like most of the things that Anarchists say, there is much more to be urged in support of this view than most people would suppose at first sight. Kropotkin, who is its ablest exponent, points out how much has been achieved already by the method of free agreement. He does not wish to abolish government in the sense of collective decisions: what he does wish to abolish is the system by which a decision is en-forced upon those who oppose it.[48] The whole system of representative government and majority rule is to him a bad thing.[49] He points to such instances as the agreements among the different railway systems of the Continent for the running of through expresses and for co-operation generally. He points out that in such cases the different companies or authorities concerned each appoint a delegate, and that the delegates suggest a basis of agreement, which has to be subsequently ratified by each of the bodies ap-pointing them. The assembly of delegates has no coercive power whatever, and a majority can do nothing against a recalcitrant minority. Yet this has not prevented the conclusion of very elaborate systems of agreements. By such methods, so Anarchists contend, the USEFUL functions of government can be carried out without any coercion. They maintain that the usefulness of agreement is so patent as to make co-operation certain if once the predatory motives associated with the present system of private property were removed.

[48] "On the other hand, the STATE has also been confused with GOVERNMENT. As there can be no State without government, it has been sometimes said that it is the absence of government, and not the abolition of the State, that should be the aim.

"It seems to me, however, that State and government represent two ideas of a different kind. The State idea implies quite another idea to that of government. It not only includes the existence of a power placed above society, but also a territorial concentration and a concentration of many functions of the life of society in the hands of a few or even of all. It implies new relations among the members of society.

"This characteristic distinction, which perhaps escapes notice at first sight, appears clearly when the origin of the State is studied." Kropotkin, "The State." p. 4.

[49] Representative government has accomplished its historical mission; it has given a mortal blow to Court-rule; and by its debates it has awakened public interest in public questions. But, to see in it the government of the future Socialist society, is to commit a gross error. Each economical phase of life implies its own political phase; and it is impossible to touch the very basis of the present economical life—private property— without a corresponding change in the very basis of the political organization. Life already shows in which direction the change will be made. Not in increasing the powers of the State, but in resorting to free organization and free federation in all those branches which are now considered as attributes of the State." Kropotkin, "Anarchist Communism," pp. 28-29.

Attractive as this view is, I cannot resist the conclusion that it results from impatience and represents the attempt to find a short-cut toward the ideal which all humane people desire.

Let us begin with the question of private crime.[50] Anarchists maintain that the criminal is manufactured by bad social conditions and would disappear in such a world as they aim at creating.[51] No doubt there is a great measure of truth in this view. There would be little motive to robbery, for example, in an Anarchist world, unless it were organized on a large scale by a body of men bent on upsetting the Anarchist regime. It may also be conceded that impulses toward criminal violence could be very largely eliminated by a better education. But all such contentions, it seems to me, have their limitations. To take an extreme case, we cannot suppose that there would be no lunatics in an Anarchist community, and some of these lunatics would, no doubt, be homicidal. Probably no one would argue that they ought to be left at liberty. But there are no sharp lines in nature; from the homicidal lunatic to the sane man of violent passions there is a continuous gradation. Even in the most perfect community there will be men and women, otherwise sane, who will feel an impulse to commit murder from jealousy. These are now usually restrained by the fear of punishment, but if this fear were removed, such murders would probably become much more common, as may be seen from the present behavior of certain soldiers on leave. Moreover, certain kinds of conduct arouse public hostility, and would almost inevitably lead to lynching, if no other recognized method of punishment existed. There is in most men a certain natural vindictiveness, not always directed against the worst members of the community. For example, Spinoza was very nearly murdered by the mob because he was suspected of undue friendliness to France at a time when Holland was at war with that country. Apart from such cases, there would be the very real danger of an organized attempt to destroy Anarchism and revive ancient oppressions. Is it to be supposed, for example, that Napoleon, if he had been born into such a community as Kropotkin advocates, would have acquiesced tamely in a world where his genius could find no scope? I cannot see what should prevent a combination of ambitious men forming themselves into a private army, manufacturing their own munitions, and at last enslaving the defenseless citizens, who had relied upon the inherent attractiveness of liberty. It would not be consistent with the principles of Anarchism for the community to interfere with the drilling of a private army, no matter what its objects might be (though, of course, an opposing private army might be formed by men with different views). Indeed, Kropotkin instances the old volunteers in Great Britain as an example of a movement on Anarchist lines.[52] Even if a predatory army were not formed from within, it might easily come from a neighboring nation, or from races on the borderland of civilization. So long as the love of power exists, I do not see how it can be prevented from finding an outlet in oppression except by means of the organized force of the community.

[50] On this subject there is an excellent discussion in the before-mentioned work of Monsieur Naquet.

[51] "As to the third—the chief—objection, which maintains the necessity of a government for punishing those who break the law of society, there is so much to say about it that it hardly can be touched incidentally. The more we study the question, the more we are brought to the conclusion that society itself is responsible for the anti-social deeds perpetrated in its midst, and that no punishment, no prisons, and no hangmen can diminish the numbers of such deeds; nothing short of a reorganization of society itself. Three-quarters of all the acts which are brought every year before our courts have their origin, either directly or indirectly, in the present disorganized state of society with regard to the production and distribution of wealth—not in the perversity of human nature. As to the relatively few anti-social deeds which result from anti-social inclinations of separate individuals, it is not by prisons, nor even by resorting to the hangmen, that we can diminish their numbers. By our prisons, we merely multiply them and render them worse. By our detectives, our ‘price of blood,’ our executions, and our jails, we spread in society such a terrible flow of basest passions and habits, that he who should realize the effects of these institutions to their full extent, would be frightened by what society is doing under the pretext of maintaining morality. We must search for other remedies, and the remedies have been indicated long since." Kropotkin, "Anarchist Communism," pp. 31-32.

[52] "Anarchist Communism," p. 27.

The conclusion, which appears to be forced upon us, is that the Anarchist ideal of a community in which no acts are forbidden by law is not, at any rate for the present, compatible with the stability of such a world as the Anarchists desire. In order to obtain and preserve a world resembling as closely as possible that at which they aim, it will still be necessary that some acts should be forbidden by law. We may put the chief of these under three heads:

1. Theft.

2. Crimes of violence.

3. The creation of organizations intended to subvert the Anarchist regime by force.

We will briefly recapitulate what has been said already as to the necessity of these prohibitions.

1. Theft.—It is true that in an Anarchist world there will be no destitution, and therefore no thefts motivated by starvation. But such thefts are at present by no means the most considerable or the most harmful. The system of rationing, which is to be applied to luxuries, will leave many men with fewer luxuries than they might desire. It will give opportunities for peculation by those who are in control of the public stores, and it will leave the possibility of appropriating such valuable objects of art as would naturally be preserved in public museums. It may be contended that such forms of theft would be prevented by public opinion. But public opinion is not greatly operative upon an individual unless it is the opinion of his own group. A group of men combined for purposes of theft might readily defy the public opinion of the majority unless that public opinion made itself effective by the use of force against them. Probably, in fact, such force would be applied through popular indignation, but in that case we should revive the evils of the criminal law with the added evils of uncertainty, haste and passion, which are inseparable from the practice of lynching. If, as we have suggested, it were found necessary to provide an economic stimulus to work by allowing fewer luxuries to idlers, this would afford a new motive for theft on their part and a new necessity for some form of criminal law.

2. Crimes of Violence.—Cruelty to children, crimes of jealousy, rape, and so forth, are almost certain to occur in any society to some extent. The prevention of such acts is essential to the existence of freedom for the weak. If nothing were done to hinder them, it is to be feared that the customs of a society would gradually become rougher, and that acts which are now rare would cease to be so. If Anarchists are right in maintaining that the existence of such an economic system as they desire would prevent the commission of crimes of this kind, the laws forbidding them would no longer come into operation, and would do no harm to liberty. If, on the other hand, the impulse to such actions persisted, it would be necessary that steps should be taken to restrain men from indulging it.

3. The third class of difficulties is much the most serious and involves much the most drastic interference with liberty. I do not see how a private army could be tolerated within an Anarchist community, and I do not see how it could be prevented except by a general prohibition of carrying arms. If there were no such prohibition, rival parties would organize rival forces, and civil war would result. Yet, if there is such a prohibition, it cannot well be carried out without a very considerable interference with individual liberty. No doubt, after a time, the idea of using violence to achieve a political object might die down, as the practice of duelling has done. But such changes of habit and outlook are facilitated by legal prohibition, and would hardly come about without it. I shall not speak yet of the international aspect of this same problem, for I propose to deal with that in the next chapter, but it is clear that the same considerations apply with even greater force to the relations between nations.

If we admit, however reluctantly, that a criminal law is necessary and that the force of the community must be brought to bear to prevent certain kinds of actions, a further question arises: How is crime to be treated? What is the greatest measure of humanity and respect for freedom that is compatible with the recognition of such a thing as crime? The first thing to recognize is that the whole conception of guilt or sin should be utterly swept away. At present, the criminal is visited with the displeasure of the community: the sole method applied to prevent the occurrence of crime is the infliction of pain upon the criminal. Everything possible is done to break his spirit and destroy his self-respect. Even those pleasures which would be most likely to have a civilizing effect are forbidden to him, merely on the ground that they are pleasures, while much of the suffering inflicted is of a kind which can only brutalize and degrade still further. I am not speaking, of course, of those few penal institutions which have made a serious study of reforming the criminal. Such institutions, especially in America, have been proved capable of achieving the most remarkable results, but they remain everywhere exceptional. The broad rule is still that the criminal is made to feel the displeasure of society. He must emerge from such a treatment either defiant and hostile, or submissive and cringing, with a broken spirit and a loss of self-respect. Neither of these results is anything but evil. Nor can any good result be achieved by a method of treatment which embodies reprobation.

When a man is suffering from an infectious disease he is a danger to the community, and it is necessary to restrict his liberty of movement. But no one associates any idea of guilt with such a situation. On the contrary, he is an object of commiseration to his friends. Such steps as science recommends are taken to cure him of his disease, and he submits as a rule without reluctance to the curtailment of liberty involved meanwhile. The same method in spirit ought to be shown in the treatment of what is called "crime." It is supposed, of course, that the criminal is actuated by calculations of self-interest, and that the fear of punishment, by supplying a contrary motive of self-interest affords the best deterrent,

The dog, to gain some private end,

Went mad and bit the man.

This is the popular view of crime; yet no dog goes mad from choice, and probably the same is true of the great majority of criminals, certainly in the case of crimes of passion. Even in cases where self-interest is the motive, the important thing is to prevent the crime, not to make the criminal suffer. Any suffering which may be entailed by the process of prevention ought to be regarded as regrettable, like the pain involved in a surgical operation. The man who commits a crime from an impulse to violence ought to be subjected to a scientific psychological treatment, designed to elicit more beneficial impulses. The man who commits a crime from calculations of self-interest ought to be made to feel that self-interest itself, when it is fully understood, can be better served by a life which is useful to the community than by one which is harmful. For this purpose it is chiefly necessary to widen his outlook and increase the scope of his desires. At present, when a man suffers from insufficient love for his fellow-creatures, the method of curing him which is commonly adopted seems scarcely designed to succeed, being, indeed, in essentials, the same as his attitude toward them. The object of the prison administration is to save trouble, not to study the individual case. He is kept in captivity in a cell from which all sight of the earth is shut out: he is subjected to harshness by warders, who have too often become brutalized by their occupation.[53] He is solemnly denounced as an enemy to society. He is compelled to perform mechanical tasks, chosen for their wearisomeness. He is given no education and no incentive to self-improvement. Is it to be wondered at if, at the end of such a course of treatment, his feelings toward the community are no more friendly than they were at the beginning?

[53] This was written before the author had any personal experience of the prison system. He personally met with nothing but kindness at the hands of the prison officials.

Severity of punishment arose through vindictiveness and fear in an age when many criminals escaped justice altogether, and it was hoped that savage sentences would outweigh the chance of escape in the mind of the criminal. At present a very large part of the criminal law is concerned in safeguarding the rights of property, that is to say—as things are now—the unjust privileges of the rich. Those whose principles lead them into conflict with government, like Anarchists, bring a most formidable indictment against the law and the authorities for the unjust manner in which they support the status quo. Many of the actions by which men have become rich are far more harmful to the community than the obscure crimes of poor men, yet they go unpunished because they do not interfere with the existing order. If the power of the community is to be brought to bear to prevent certain classes of actions through the agency of the criminal law, it is as necessary that these actions should really be those which are harmful to the community, as it is that the treatment of "criminals" should be freed from the conception of guilt and inspired by the same spirit as is shown in the treatment of disease. But, if these two conditions were fulfilled, I cannot help thinking that a society which preserved the existence of law would be preferable to one conducted on the unadulterated principles of Anarchism.

So far we have been considering the power which the State derives from the criminal law. We have every reason to think that this power cannot be entirely abolished, though it can be exercised in a wholly different spirit, without the vindictiveness and the moral reprobation which now form its essence.

We come next to the consideration of the economic power of the State and the influence which it can exert through its bureaucracy. State Socialists argue as if there would be no danger to liberty in a State not based upon capitalism. This seems to me an entire delusion. Given an official caste, however selected, there are bound to be a set of men whose whole instincts will drive them toward tyranny. Together with the natural love of power, they will have a rooted conviction (visible now in the higher ranks of the Civil Service) that they alone know enough to be able to judge what is for the good of the community. Like all men who administer a system, they will come to feel the system itself sacrosanct. The only changes they will desire will be changes in the direction of further regulations as to how the people are to enjoy the good things kindly granted to them by their benevolent despots. Whoever thinks this picture overdrawn must have failed to study the influence and methods of Civil Servants at present. On every matter that arises, they know far more than the general public about all the DEFINITE facts involved; the one thing they do not know is "where the shoe pinches." But those who know this are probably not skilled in stating their case, not able to say off-hand exactly how many shoes are pinching how many feet, or what is the precise remedy required. The answer prepared for Ministers by the Civil Service is accepted by the "respectable" public as impartial, and is regarded as disposing of the case of malcontents except on a first-class political question on which elections may be won or lost. That at least is the way in which things are managed in England. And there is every reason to fear that under State Socialism the power of officials would be vastly greater than it is at present.

Those who accept the orthodox doctrine of democracy contend that, if ever the power of capital were removed, representative institutions would suffice to undo the evils threatened by bureaucracy. Against this view, Anarchists and Syndicalists have directed a merciless criticism. French Syndicalists especially, living, as they do, in a highly democratized country, have had bitter experience of the way in which the power of the State can be employed against a progressive minority. This experience has led them to abandon altogether the belief in the divine right of majorities. The Constitution that they would desire would be one which allowed scope for vigorous minorities, conscious of their aims and prepared to work for them. It is undeniable that, to all who care for progress, actual experience of democratic representative Government is very disillusioning. Admitting— as I think we must—that it is preferable to any PREVIOUS form of Government, we must yet acknowledge that much of the criticism directed against it by Anarchists and Syndicalists is thoroughly justified.

Such criticism would have had more influence if any clear idea of an alternative to parliamentary democracy had been generally apprehended. But it must be confessed that Syndicalists have not presented their case in a way which is likely to attract the average citizen. Much of what they say amounts to this: that a minority, consisting of skilled workers in vital industries, can, by a strike, make the economic life of the whole community impossible, and can in this way force their will upon the nation. The action aimed at is compared to the seizure of a power station, by which a whole vast system can be paralyzed. Such a doctrine is an appeal to force, and is naturally met by an appeal to force on the other side. It is useless for the Syndicalists to protest that they only desire power in order to promote liberty: the world which they are seeking to establish does not, as yet, appeal to the effective will of the community, and cannot be stably inaugurated until it does do so. Persuasion is a slow process, and may sometimes be accelerated by violent methods; to this extent such methods may be justified. But the ultimate goal of any reformer who aims at liberty can only be reached through persuasion. The attempt to thrust liberty by force upon those who do not desire what we consider liberty must always prove a failure; and Syndicalists, like other reformers, must ultimately rely upon persuasion for success.

But it would be a mistake to confuse aims with methods: however little we may agree with the proposal to force the millennium on a reluctant community by starvation, we may yet agree that much of what the Syndicalists desire to achieve is desirable.

Let us dismiss from our minds such criticisms of parliamentary government as are bound up with the present system of private property, and consider only those which would remain true in a collectivist community. Certain defects seem inherent in the very nature of representative institutions. There is a sense of self-importance, inseparable from success in a contest for popular favor. There is an all-but unavoidable habit of hypocrisy, since experience shows that the democracy does not detect insincerity in an orator, and will, on the other hand, be shocked by things which even the most sincere men may think necessary. Hence arises a tone of cynicism among elected representatives, and a feeling that no man can retain his position in politics without deceit. This is as much the fault of the democracy as of the representatives, but it seems unavoidable so long as the main thing that all bodies of men demand of their champions is flattery. However the blame may be apportioned, the evil must be recognized as one which is bound to occur in the existing forms of democracy. Another evil, which is especially noticeable in large States, is the remoteness of the seat of government from many of the constituencies—a remoteness which is psychological even more than geographical. The legislators live in comfort, protected by thick walls and innumerable policemen from the voice of the mob; as time goes on they remember only dimly the passions and promises of their electoral campaign; they come to feel it an essential part of statesmanship to consider what are called the interests of the community as a whole, rather than those of some discontented group; but the interests of the community as a whole are sufficiently vague to be easily seen to coincide with self-interest. All these causes lead Parliaments to betray the people, consciously or unconsciously; and it is no wonder if they have produced a certain aloofness from democratic theory in the more vigorous champions of labor.

Majority rule, as it exists in large States, is subject to the fatal defect that, in a very great number of questions, only a fraction of the nation have any direct interest or knowledge, yet the others have an equal voice in their settlement. When people have no direct interest in a question they are very apt to be influenced by irrelevant considerations; this is shown in the extraordinary reluctance to grant autonomy to subordinate nations or groups. For this reason, it is very dangerous to allow the nation as a whole to decide on matters which concern only a small section, whether that section be geographical or industrial or defined in any other way. The best cure for this evil, so far as can be seen at present, lies in allowing self-government to every important group within a nation in all matters that affect that group much more than they affect the rest of the community. The government of a group, chosen by the group, will be far more in touch with its constituents, far more conscious of their interests, than a remote Parliament nominally representing the whole country. The most original idea in Syndicalism— adopted and developed by the Guild Socialists—is the idea of making industries self-governing units so far as their internal affairs are concerned. By this method, extended also to such other groups as have clearly separable interests, the evils which have shown themselves in representative democracy can, I believe, be largely overcome.

Guild Socialists, as we have seen, have another suggestion, growing naturally out of the autonomy of industrial guilds, by which they hope to limit the power of the State and help to preserve individual liberty. They propose that, in addition to Parliament, elected (as at present) on a territorial basis and representing the community as consumers, there shall also be a "Guild Congress," a glorified successor of the present Trade Union Congress, which shall consist of representatives chosen by the Guilds, and shall represent the community as producers.

This method of diminishing the excessive power of the State has been attractively set forth by Mr. G. D. H. Cole in his "Self-Government in Industry."[54] "Where now," he says, "the State passes a Factory Act, or a Coal Mines Regulation Act, the Guild Congress of the future will pass such Acts, and its power of enforcing them will be the same as that of the State" (p. 98). His ultimate ground for advocating this system is that, in his opinion, it will tend to preserve individual liberty: "The fundamental reason for the preservation, in a democratic Society, of both the industrial and the political forms of Social organization is, it seems to me, that only by dividing the vast power now wielded by industrial capitalism can the individual hope to be free" (p. 91).

[54] Bell, 1917.

Will the system suggested by Mr. Cole have this result? I think it is clear that it would, in this respect, be an improvement on the existing system. Representative government cannot but be improved by any method which brings the representatives into closer touch with the interests concerned in their legislation; and this advantage probably would be secured by handing over questions of production to the Guild Congress. But if, in spite of the safeguards proposed by the Guild Socialists, the Guild Congress became all-powerful in such questions, if resistance to its will by a Guild which felt ill-used became practically hopeless, I fear that the evils now connected with the omnipotence of the State would soon reappear. Trade Union officials, as soon as they become part of the governing forces in the country, tend to become autocratic and conservative; they lose touch with their constituents and gravitate, by a psychological sympathy, into co-operation with the powers that be. Their formal installation in authority through the Guilds Congress would accelerate this process. They would soon tend to combine, in effect if not obviously, with those who wield authority in Parliament. Apart from occasional conflicts, comparable to the rivalry of opposing financiers which now sometimes disturbs the harmony of the capitalist world, there would, at most times, be agreement between the dominant personalities in the two Houses. And such harmony would filch away from the individual the liberty which he had hoped to secure by the quarrels of his masters.

There is no method, if we are not mistaken, by which a body representing the whole community, whether as producers or consumers or both, can alone be a sufficient guardian of individual liberty. The only way of preserving sufficient liberty (and even this will be inadequate in the case of very small minorities) is the organization of citizens with special interests into groups, determined to preserve autonomy as regards their internal affairs, willing to resist interference by a strike if necessary, and sufficiently powerful (either in themselves or through their power of appealing to public sympathy) to be able to resist the organized forces of government successfully when their cause is such as many men think just. If this method is to be successful we must have not only suitable organizations but also a diffused respect for liberty, and an absence of submissiveness to government both in theory and practice. Some risk of disorder there must be in such a society, but this risk is as nothing compared to the danger of stagnation which is inseparable from an all-powerful central authority.

We may now sum up our discussion of the powers of Government.

The State, in spite of what Anarchists urge, seems a necessary institution for certain purposes. Peace and war, tariffs, regulation of sanitary conditions and of the sale of noxious drugs, the preservation of a just system of distribution: these, among others, are functions which could hardly be performed in a community in which there was no central government. Take, for example, the liquor traffic, or the opium traffic in China. If alcohol could be obtained at cost price without taxation, still more if it could be obtained for nothing, as Anarchists presumably desire, can we believe that there would not be a great and disastrous increase of drunkenness? China was brought to the verge of ruin by opium, and every patriotic Chinaman desired to see the traffic in opium restricted. In such matters freedom is not a panacea, and some degree of legal restriction seems imperative for the national health.

But granting that the State, in some form, must continue, we must also grant, I think, that its powers ought to be very strictly limited to what is absolutely necessary. There is no way of limiting its powers except by means of groups which are jealous of their privileges and determined to preserve their autonomy, even if this should involve resistance to laws decreed by the State, when these laws interfere in the internal affairs of a group in ways not warranted by the public interest. The glorification of the State, and the doctrine that it is every citizen’s duty to serve the State, are radically against progress and against liberty. The State, though at present a source of much evil, is also a means to certain good things, and will be needed so long as violent and destructive impulses remain common. But it is MERELY a means, and a means which needs to be very carefully and sparingly used if it is not to do more harm than good. It is not the State, but the community, the worldwide community of all human beings present and future, that we ought to serve. And a good community does not spring from the glory of the State, but from the unfettered development of individuals: from happiness in daily life, from congenial work giving opportunity for whatever constructiveness each man or woman may possess, from free personal relations embodying love and taking away the roots of envy in thwarted capacity from affection, and above all from the joy of life and its expression in the spontaneous creations of art and science. It is these things that make an age or a nation worthy of existence, and these things are not to be secured by bowing down before the State. It is the individual in whom all that is good must be realized, and the free growth of the individual must be the supreme end of a political system which is to re-fashion the world.

Contents - CHAPTER: - Introduction

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Ian Pitchford and Robert M. Young - Last updated: 28 May, 2005 02:29 PM

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