On the good of the greater number

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On the good of the greater number
Auberon Herbert responds to a correspondent
Free Life, July 1898

I hope Mr. Radnor...will reconsider the question of the good of the greatest number. There never was invented a more specious and misleading phrase. The Devil was in his most subtle and ingenious mood when he slipped this phrase into the brains of men. I hold it to be utterly false in essentials. It assumes that there are two opposed 'goods,' and that the one good is to be sacrificed to the other good--but in the first place this is not true, for liberty is the one good, open to all, and requiring no sacrifice of others; and secondly this false opposition (where no real opposition exists) of two different goods means perpetual war between men--the larger number being for ever incited to trample on the smaller number. I can only ask: Why are 2 men to be sacrificed to 3 men? We all agree that the 3 men are not to be sacrificed to the 2 men; but why--as a matter of moral right--are we to do what is almost as bad and immoral and short-sighted--sacrifice the 2 men to the 3 men? Why sacrifice any one set of men to another set, when liberty does away with all necessity of sacrifice?

Nothing can be worse for the 3 men. To be told that for your convenience the rights of others are not to count must corrupt and make a beast of you, It is an untrue exaltation of yourself that human nature cannot withstand. And see, as a consequence, what is taking place everywhere in politics. We have glorified and sanctified the vote--the omnipotence of the 3 men over the 2 men--until the people of every country believe that whatever the larger number choose to do is by that very fact made right. That is mere paganism--the paganism of numbers; and from it we must extricate ourselves as quickly as may be, if our people are not to live blindly worshiping force, and with as much peace and harmony in their lives as there is for two cats cruelly and wickedly tied together by their tails.

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