Is the State an Organism?

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Is the State an Organism?

Free Life, July 1898.
Auberon Herbert responds to a letter from a reader:

The State is an organism, and members of the State are dependent parts of the organism, says Mr. Peterson. The analogy, however, is an imperfect one' and must be seriously qualified. In an organism of high development each part of the organism has no use or function outside the organism. Cut off a man's leg, or cut a muscle out of his body, and the use and life of that limb or muscle are over. In the case of the organism, the organism is greater than its parts, and they exist only for its use and service. The organism by a certain marvellous power that is in it creates its own parts; it apportions just what is required to form bone, muscle, sinew, nerve, skin, and every other form of tissue.

It is just the opposite with the State. The State is created by the individuals. It is fashioned and re-fashioned by them at their own will and pleasure. It is fashioned by them for their use and service, and when it does not satisfy their requirements, they pull it to pieces and reconstruct it. Men throughout their lives are included in many wholes, which resemble the whole represented by the State--or organisms, as Mr. Peterson would probably call them. Schools, colleges, clubs, associations, joint stock companies, co-operative companies, political parties, village or town organisations, and then lastly comes national organisation or the State; but in all these cases, the organisation is created by the individuals themselves, it is created by them for their own use and service, and as I have said, whenever the organisation--whatever it may be--fails in its purpose, they quietly do away with it, or take it to pieces or construct it, thus supplying the evidence, if it were wanted, that man is in himself higher and greater than any of his creations, that they exist for him, not he for them. Indeed how is it possible for any constructed and reconstructed things to be greater than those who construct it and reconstruct it? To indulge in any such imagination is to imitate the carver of idols, who, when with his own hands he has fashioned the log of wood, falls on his knees before it and calls it his god.

The individual is part of the Government and must not be opposed to it, says Mr. Peterson. But that is a wholly indefensible proposition. You can only govern by majorities and minorities; you can only govern through the mechanism of parties; you can only govern through the illusive methods of representation--20,000 persons, or perhaps 80,000, who differ in the widest fashion amongst themselves, who hardly think the same on, say, 5 or 8 or 10 great subjects out of a hundred, which have to be dealt with; you can only govern by constructing great machines which pass out of public control and place power in the hands of an official class--how is it possible to speak with any tolerable exactness of the individual as the same as his government? Government in most countries represents internecine war between different classes; in all countries it represents acute tension and ceaseless opposition. Are we not therefore simply living in the land of phrases, when we talk of the individual as being "one" with his Government?

It is necessary, says Mr. Peterson, for the individuals to amalgamate for the sake of liberty. The very defence of liberty depends upon the amalgamation. Probably it does. But that is no reason why they should amalgamate for arbitrary limitations and repressions of liberty. Mr. Peterson uses the plea of liberty as a reason why we should amalgamate into a State and then having once got his amalgamation completed, would treat poor liberty--who has served his turn--in very summary fashion. That is not, I think, quite straight reasoning. If we are to amalgamate for the sake of liberty, let us respect liberty when we have amalgamated; if we are to amalgamate to repress liberty, let our Socialist friends say so plainly at the outset, and justify in such was as they can amalgamation for the repression of liberty.

Lastly there come the confusion between the sweater [sweatshop owner] and the ordinary men of force such as the thief or murders. Because it is right to use State force to restrain the force of the thief and murderer, therefore it is right to use force against the force of the sweater [says Peterson]. But this again is not straight thinking. The sweater may or may not be a very evil person, but he has no power to compel those he employs to accept his terms. He is not a user of force. You have therefore no moral right to employ force against him. If you do, you are establishing a kingdom of universal and unlimited force.

But apart from the moral argument, it is stupid in such a case to use force. As Mr. Peterson himself confesses, it is the circumstances that compel those in the sweater's employment to accept the hard conditions. Is there not then something very left-handed in employing force against the sweater himself, who, as is confessed, is not the cause of the evil. The cause of the evil is in the circumstances, and it is in the circumstances that a remedy must be found. But the circumstances depend on economic causes and it is nearly as hopeful and reasonable to apply force to economic causes as it is to apply force to solve moral and religious difficulties, or to oppose the working methods of nature. Indeed the pressure of economic forces almost always arises from the existing use of force somewhere. Employment is depressed because free trade exists in an imperfect manner; because enterprise is restricted or interfered with; because officialism is in a rampant condition; because rates and taxes confiscate a considerable portion of successful enterprise; because labour and capital are quarrelling; because labour is looking to force...and political methods for its salvation instead of to the improvement of conditions through peaceful constructive acts of its own...It is an old story. By force you create a mass of evils; and then plunging deeper into the hopeless morass you cry for new forms of force to reform the evils that you have created.

Why should you ask for unanimity on the part of the State, asks Mr. Peterson? Because if there is no unanimity (as there is not), you have simply a part divided against a part, and that is what you always will have and must have in State matters. There is no unity possible. The Socialist, like the Catholic talking of his Church, talks of the State, as if it could be a Unity. It never can be. The law of differences is supreme. State or Church—they can only present a section—nothing greater, nothing more.

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