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Free Life, February, 1898. Auberon Herbert reprinted and answered an intriguing question posed by a reader...
Should We Wait for a Perfect World to get Rid of Force?
by Auberon Herbert,
The reader writes:--It seems to me that the Voluntary State--taking human nature as it is and has been for centuries past--will not be possible of realization for a long time to come. Until men are very much nearer perfection would not Voluntaryism mean something like communism--each individual contributing voluntarily to the common fund according to his means, each taking according to his needs? Would there not be the possibility of the few conscientious citizens being left to bear the burdens of all, while the mean and sordid escaped?...If the principles of Voluntaryism are extended beyond the question of taxation and cover the whole ground of industry and commerce, do you think that, at the present time, work would be done, services rendered voluntarily? I mean national services, etc. as I presume you do not propose to interfere with the regulations affecting labour and capital in their individual relations. Perhaps I don't understand your theory....
Herbert replies: So many friends cry with the writer of this interesting letter,-- "Ah! If it were only possible! Blessed Voluntaryism! only we must be perfect first" -- that I am tempted to point out that it is just because of our imperfections that Voluntaryism is so excellent for me. In the first place, being so far from perfection, we cannot do a more dangerous thing than to hold up power as a prize to be scrambled for by imperfect people. We may be surrounded by imperfect men and women, but so long as our own free actions and free life are guaranteed, so long as the great scramble of property is restrained, so long we may all bear patiently each other's imperfections.
The moral field for improving each other lies open to us, and in that field the truest teachers, with the greater gift of energy, will at last prevail. But to reject and throw away this protecting barrier whilst the imperfect world remains what it is; to tell masses of imperfect men and women that liberty and the secure possession of property are not inviolable principles or are not principles at all, but to preach instead that everything is in a state of moral flux, that everything may be dealt with, as a vote may direct,--this seems to me not an escape from the lion's den but a direct and most hazardous entering into it. The more imperfect the world is, the more need for voluntaryism with its inviolable limits, restraining the desire for power and our greed for the possessions of each other. The more imperfect the world is, the more danger there is in all undefined and unlimited power, and the more safety in clearly defined liberty.
Secondly: Voluntaryism, or a condition in which men act on each other by moral influences, not by brute force, is the one great way of making the world better. Force does not make us better. It makes us brutal, unscrupulous, and stupid. If the imperfect world is to become the perfect world, it can only become so by the practice of Voluntaryism. We do good by discussing and reasoning with each other; we don't do good by knocking each other down.
There lies the whole truth in a nutshell, and now notice one thing which throws a useful light on the whole matter. Why is popular government better than Emperor government? Force is force; and the force of the people is brutal and evil just as is the force of the Emperor. But under popular government you have the means to question force, to oppose it, to bring it into the daylight, to point out how badly it works, to curtail it and mitigate it,--which blessed opportunities you have not under Emperor's rule. Under Emperor's rule, under bureaucratic rule, you must pretty nearly accept what comes. Force rules, more or less unquestioned. But for the sake of this advantage (great as it is) , which belongs to popular government, don't let us fall into the mistake of supposing that one man's force is good and another man's force is bad. The nature of force is evil, and by whomever it is applied, it can only be evil. The only advantage we get in having majority rule instead of Emperor's rule, is that we have the machinery put into our hands first for cutting down, then for getting rid altogether of force. That is the good of popular government. That and that only; but for all that, though it may seem small when put into words, it is a good the very first and highest importance.
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