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To most Englishmen, the word Anarchy is so evil-sounding that ordinary readers of the Contemporary Review will probably turn from these pages with aversion, wondering how anybody could have the audacity to write them. With the crowd of commonplace chatterers we are already past praying for; no reproach is too bitter for us, no epithet too insulting.
Public speakers on social and political subjects find that abuse of Anarchists is an unfailing passport to public favor. Every conceivable crime is laid to our charge, and opinion, too indolent to learn the truth, is easily persuaded that Anarchy is but another name for wickedness and chaos.
Overwhelmed with opprobrium and held up with hatred, we are treated on the principle that the surest way of hanging a dog is to give it a bad name. There is nothing surprising in all this.
The chorus of imprecations with which we are assailed is quite in the nature of things, for we speak in a tongue unhallowed by usage, and belong to none of the parties that dispute the possession of power. Like all innovators, whether they be violent of pacific, we bring not peace but a sword, and are nowise astonished to be received as enemies.
Yet it is not with light hearts that we incur so much ill-will, nor are we satisfied with merely knowing that it is undeserved. To risk the loss of so precious an advantage as popular sympathy without first patiently searching out the truth and carefully considering our duty would be an act of reckless folly.
To a degree never dreamt of by men who are born unresistingly on the great current of public opinion, are we bound to render to our conscience a reason for the faith that is in us, to strengthen our convictions by study of nature and mankind, and, above all, to compare them with that ideal justice which has been slowly elaborated by the untold generations of the human race.
This ideal is known to all, and is almost too trite to need repeating. It exists in the moral teaching of every people, civilized or savage; every religion has tried to adapt it to its dogmas and precepts, for it is the ideal of equality of rights and reciprocity of services.
Accepted in its integrity by simple souls, does not this principle seem to imply as a necessary consequence the social state formulated by modern socialists: Well, we are simple souls, and we hold firmly to this ideal of human morality.
Of a surety there is much dross mixed with the pure metal, and the personal and collective egoisms of families, cities, castes, peoples, and parties have wrought on this groundwork some startling variations. But we have not to do here with the ethics of selfish interests, it is enough to identify the central point of convergence towards which all partial ideas more or less tend.
This focus of gravitation is justice. If humanity be not a vain dream, if all our impressions, all our thoughts, are not pure hallucinations, one capital fact dominates the history of humanity — that every kindred and people yearns after justice. The very life of humanity is but one long cry for that fraternal equity which still remains unattained. Listen to the words, uttered nearly three thousand years ago, of old Hesiod, answering beforehand all those who contend that the struggle for existence dooms us to eternal strife.
Yet how vast is the distance that still separates us from the justice invoked by the poet in the very dawn of history! How great is the progress we have still to make before we may rightfully cease comparing ourselves with wild creatures fighting for a morsel of carrion!
It is in vain that we pretend to be civilized, if civilization be that which Mr. To repeat stale censures is to risk having called mere disclaimers, scatters of voices in the market-place.
And yet so long as the truth is not heard, is it not our duty to go on speaking it in season and out of season?
A sincere person owes it to themselves to expose the frightful barbarity which still prevails in the hidden depths of a society so outwardly well-ordered. And yet the wretched who cast longing and hungry eyes on those hoards of wealth may be counted by the hundred thousand; by the side of untold splendors, want is consuming the vitals of entire populations, and it is only at times that the fortunate for whom these treasures are amassed hear, as a muffled wailing, the bitter cry which rises eternally from those unseen depths.
Below the London of fashion is a London accursed, a London whose only food are dirt-stained fragments, whose only garments are filthy rags, and whose only dwellings are fetid dens. Have the disinherited the consolation of hope? There are some among them who live and die in dampness and gloom without once raising their eyes to the sun.
What boots it to the wretched outcast, burning with fever or craving for bread, that the Book of the Christians opens the doors of heaven more widely to them than to the rich! Besides their present misery, all these promises of happiness, even if they heard them, would seem the bitterest irony.
When ambition thus finds its account in piety, and hypocrites practice religion in order to give what they are pleased to call their conscience a higher mercantile value, is it surprising that the great army of the hopeless should forget the way to the church?
Without speaking here of churches whose sittings are sold at a price, where you may enter only purse in hand, is it nothing to the poor to feel themselves arrested on the threshold by the cold looks of well-clad men and the tightened lips of elegant women?
The impressions of my childhood surge back into my mind. I imagined that these words, repeated millions of times, were a cry of human brotherhood, and that each, in uttering them, thought of all.
With some, the prayer is sincere; with the greater part it is but an empty sound, a gust of wind like that which passes through the reeds. Governments at least talk not to the poor about fraternity; they do not torment them with so sorry a jest.
It is true that in some countries the jargon of courts compare the Sovereign to a father whose subjects are his children, and upon whom he pours the inexhaustible dews of his love; but this formula, which the hungry might abuse by asking for bread, is no longer taken seriously. So long as Governments were looked upon as direct representatives of a heavenly Sovereign, holding their powers by the grace of God, the comparison was legitimate; but there are very few now that make any claim to this quasi-divinity.
Shorn of the sanctions of religion, they no longer hold themselves answerable for the general weal, contenting themselves instead with promising good administration, impartial justice, and strict economy in the administration of public affairs. Let history tell how these promises have been kept. Nobody can study contemporary politics without being struck by the truth of the words attributed alike to Oxenstjerna and Lord Chesterfield: Raised above the crowd, whom they soon learn to despise, they end by considering themselves as essentially superior beings; solicited by ambition in a thousand forms, by vanity, greed, and caprice, they are all the more easily corrupted that a rabble of interested flatterers is ever on the watch to profit by their vices.
And possessing as they do a preponderant influence in all things, holding the powerful lever whereby is moved the immense mechanism of the State — functionaries, soldiers, and police — every one of their oversights, their faults, or their crimes repeats itself to infinity and magnifies as it grows.
It is only too true: English readers, brought up to a knowledge of Biblical lore, will remember the striking parable of the trees who wanted a king [Judges 9: But these depositaries of power who are charged, whether by right divine or universal suffrage, with the august mission of dispensing justice, can they be considered as in any eliseeo more infallible, or even impartial?
Can it be said that the laws and their interpreters shows towards all people the ideal equity as it exists in popular conception? Are the judges blind when recluw come before them the wealthy and the poor — Shylock, with his murderous knife, and the unfortunate who has sold beforehand pounds of their flesh or ounces of their blood? That these magistrates should firmly believe in their own impartiality and think themselves incarnate right in human shape, is quite natural; everyone puts on — sometimes without knowing it — the peculiar morality of their calling; yet, judges, no more than priests, can withstand the influence of their surroundings.
Their sense of what constitutes justice, derived from the average opinion of ekiseo age, is insensibly modified by the prejudices of their class.
How honest soever they may be, they cannot forget that they belong to the rich and powerful, or to those, less fortunate, who are still on the look-out for preferment and honor. They are moreover blindly teclus to precedent, and fancy that practices inherited from their forerunners must needs be right.
Yet when we examine official justice without prejudice, how many inequities do we find in legal procedures! Thus the English are scandalized — and rightly so — by the French fashion of examining prisoners, those sacred beings who are in strict probity ought to eliseoo held innocent until they are proven guilty; while the French are disgusted, and not without reason, to see English justice, through the English Government, publicly encourage treachery by offers of impunity and money to the betrayer, thereby deepening the degradation of the debased and provoking acts of shameful meanness which children in their schools, more moral than their elders, regard with unfeigned horror.
Nevertheless, law, like religion, plays only a secondary part in contemporary society. It is invoked but rarely to regulate the relations between the poor and the rich, the powerful and the weak.
These relations are the outcome of economic laws reclud the evolution of a social system based on inequality of conditions. Careers are open; and although the field is covered with corpses, although the conqueror stamps on the bodies of the vanquished, although by supply and demand, and the combinations and monopolies in which they result, the greater elixeo of society becomes enslaved to the few, let things along — for thus has decreed fair play.
It is by virtue of this beautiful system that a parvenuwithout speaking of relcus great lord who receives counties as his heritage, is able to conquer with ready money thousands of acres, expel those who cultivate his domain, and replace people and their dwellings with wild animals and rare wliseo.
An Anarchist on Anarchy
It is thus that a tradesman, more cunning or intelligent, or, perhaps, more favored by luck than his fellows, is enabled to become master of an army of workers, eilseo as often as not to starve them at his pleasure. In a word, commercial recclus, under the paternal aegis of the law, lets the great majority of merchants — the fact is attested numberless medical inquests — adulterate provisions and drink, sell pernicious substances as wholesome food, and kill by slow poisoning, without for one day neglecting their religious duties, their brothers in Jesus Christ.
Let people say what they will, slavery, which abolitionists strove so gallantly to extirpate in America, prevails in another form in every civilized country; for entire populations, placed recljs the alternatives of death by starvation and toils which they detest, are constrained to choose the latter.
And if we would deal frankly with the barbarous society to which we belong, we must acknowledge that murder, albeit disguised under a thousand insidious and scientific forms, still, as in the times of primitive savagery, terminates the majority of lives. The economist sees around them but one vast field of carnage, and with the coldness of the statistician they count the slain as on the evening after a recllus battle. Judge by these figures.
The mean mortality among the well-to-do is, at the utmost, one in sixty. Now the population of Europe being a third of a thousand millions, the average deaths, according to the rate of mortality among the fortunate, should not exceed five millions. They are three times five millions! What have we done with these ten million human beings killed before their time?
If it be true that we have duties, one towards the other, are we not responsible for the servitude, the cold, the hunger, the miseries of every sort, which doom the unfortunate to untimely deaths? Race elise Cains, what have we done with our brothers and sisters?
An Anarchist on Anarchy | The Anarchist Library
And what are the remedies proposed for the social ills which are consuming the very marrow in our bones? Can charity, as assert many good souls — who are answered in chorus by a crowd of egoists — can charity by any possibility deal with so vast an evil?
True, we know some devoted ones who seem to live only that they may do good. In England, above all, is this the case. Among childless women who are constrained to lavish their love on their kind are to be found many of those admirable beings whose lives are passed in consoling elieso afflicted, visiting the sick, and ministering the young. We cannot help being touched by the exquisite benevolence, the indefatigable solicitude shown by these ladies towards their unhappy fellow creatures; but, taken even in their entirety, what economic value can be attached to these well-meant efforts?
What sum represents the charities of a year in comparison with the gains which hucksters of money and hawkers of loans oftentimes make by the speculations of a single day? While Ladies Bountiful are giving a cup of tea to a pauper, or preparing a potion for the sick, a father or brother, by a hardly stroke on the Stock Exchange or a rreclus transaction in produce, may reduce to ruin thousands of British workers or Hindu coolies.
And how worthy of respect soever may be deeds of unobstentations charity, is it not the fact elkseo the bestowal of alms is generally a matter of personal caprice, and that their distribution is too often influenced rather by political and religious sympathies of the giver than by the moral worth of the recipient? Even were help always given to those who most need it, charity would be none the less tainted with the capital vice, that it infallibly constitutes relations of inequality between the benefited and the benefactor.
The latter rejoices in the consciousness of doing a good thing, as if they were not simply discharging a debt; and the former asks bread as a favor, when they should demand work as a right, or, if helpless, human solidarity. Thus are created and developed hideous mendacity with its lies, its tricks, and its base, heart-breaking hypocrisy. But charity breeds patronage and platitudes — miserable fruits of a wretched system, yet the best which a society of capitalists has to offer!
Hence we may say that, in letting those whom they govern — and the responsibility for whose fate they thereby accept — waste by want, sink under exposure, and deteriorate by vice, the leaders of modern society have committed moral bankruptcy. But where the masters have come short, free individuals may, perchance, succeed.
Élisée Reclus – Wikipedia
The failure of governments is no reason why we should be discouraged; on the contrary, it shows us the danger of entrusting to others the guardianship of our rights, and makes us all the more firmly resolved to take our own cause into our own care. We are not among those whom the practice of social hypocrisies, the long weariness of a crooked life, and the uncertainty of the future have reduced to necessity of asking ourselves — without daring to answer it — the sad question: We are striving to draw nearer to that ideal equality which, century after century, has hovered before subject peoples like a heavenly dream.
The little that each of us can do offers an ample recompense for the perils of the combat.
On these terms life is good, even a life of suffering and sacrifice — even though it may be cut short by premature death. The first condition of equality, without which any other progress is merest mockery — the object of all socialists without exception — is that every human being shall have bread.
To talk of duty, of renunciation, of ethernal virtues to the famishing, is nothing less than cowardice. Dives has no right to preach morality to the beggar at his gates.
In a family where love prevails things are not ordered in this way; on the contrary, the small and the ailing receive the fullest measure; yet it is evident that dearth may strengthen the hands of the violent and make the powerful monopolizers of bread. But are our modern societies really reduced to these straits?