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VIII.—: By J. H. LEVY. - Auberon Herbert, Taxation and Anarchism: A Discussion between the Hon. Auberon Herbert and J.H. Levy 
Taxation and Anarchism: A Discussion between the Hon. Auberon Herbert and J.H. Levy (London: The Personal Rights Association, 1912).
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By J. H. LEVY.
I can easily understand that Mr. Herbert is not thirsting—dialectically, of course—for my blood, and is not very anxious to convert me. Your “hot gospeller” must have a much more vivid conviction of the impregnability of his own position, and the untenability of all others, than I can find in the words of my friend and critic. Indeed, I have a strong suspicion that, while challenging my ability to maintain my own standpoint, he is really thinking with much dubitation and trepidation of his own. I do not suppose that he has plainly represented this to himself; but that the consciousness of it is gradually dawning on him, and that, when the evidence has fully risen above the horizon of his apprehension, he will, with his usual frankness, confess its power.
“It seems,” to him, “natural and healthy that we Individualists should split into various schools”—the implication being that he and I represent different schools of Individualism; but this is scarcely said when it is contended that the power of the Government to tax—i.e., to levy compulsory contributions for political purposes—which I approve and uphold, is “so opposed to the principle of Individualism that no human ingenuity can bring the two together in any satisfactory fashion”; and that the compulsory co-operation of the whole community against aggression—which is the very essence of government, and without which no government does or can exist—which I also uphold, means the exchanging of the Individualistic basis of society for that of Socialism. And this I understand to have been Mr. Herbert’s contention throughout. But, if this means anything, it is that the difference between us is not one between different phases of Individualism, but between Individualism and Socialism, and that, since 1870—when I began to speak in public on this subject—I have been talking Socialism while esteeming myself an Individualist. I, on the other hand, maintain that this appears so to Mr. Herbert only because he has unwittingly strayed on to Anarchistic ground. In either case, therefore, the line of demarcation between our views is not the thin one which divides Individualist from Individualist, but—if he is right—the deep and deepening gulf which divides Individualist from Socialist, or—if I am right—the gulf not so deep and constantly tending to abridgment, but still logically impassable, which separates Individualist from Anarchist.
Mr. Herbert thinks I am dissatisfied with my own formula. He is mistaken. I do not expect from that formula conditions which no such formula can possibly fulfil. I do not hope to find a major premiss, either in politics or in any other branch of knowledge, all the conclusions from which are necessarily true, apart from the truth of the minor premisses with which it is linked. Nothing is more productive of the common political infidelity which abjures all principle, and judges every question “on its merits,” than the notion that general principles have talismanic properties and can be applied in vacuo.
It seems to me that Mr. Herbert has wandered into the cloudland of metapolitics. His “philosophic basis for Individualism” is one to make the heart of the Socialist rejoice. The right of self-control is said to be implied in “the great natural fact of each person being born in possession of a separate mind and separate body.” I am unable, at the outset, to distinguish between the owner and that which is owned. What is “each person” apart from his “separate mind and separate body”? and why does the separate mind and body of the adult man imply one thing and the separate mind and body of the horse or child imply another? I certainly shall not accept such a “philosophic basis for Individualism,” because “no other deduction” of the same sort “is reasonable.” There is no deduction at all, but a gross and palpable petitio principii. The fact that an ethical principle is derived from a single “natural fact” is sufficient to discredit it with those who know what deduction means. We are here in the region of “high priori” mediævalism, not in that of modern scientific logic.
So much for the first plank of the philosophic basis. The second is no better. The restraint of aggression on “self-ownership” is said to be implied in the existence of the latter. It is nothing of the sort. It is quite possible to hold consistently that such aggression is wrong and that it is better to “resist not evil”; and this would be logically impossible if resistance to this aggression were implied in “self-ownership.” For a proposition is said to be implied in another when it is part of the assertion made by that other; and when two propositions are thus related, it is impossible consistently to assert the broader and deny the narrower.
But, a little further on, the invasion of the invader is justified on another ground. The aggressor, we are told—and aggression may range from the grossest outrage to the merest peccadillo—“has forfeited his own rights in attacking the rights of others.” This monstrous proposition, which is at the bottom of so much of the brutal penal legislation of the past and the present, is supposed to shine by its own light. Not a vestige of argument is put forward in support of it, and I venture to say none could be put forward. Mark what this forfeiture of rights means. A man without rights cannot be wronged; for a wrong is the infringement of a right. He may be totally deprived of his liberty, robbed, tortured, killed. And this conclusion is not a merely academic one. The notion that anything may be done to a malefactor which others think necessary to their interests, or as a relief to their feelings—that he has no rights which they are bound to respect—this abstract proposition still blossoms in the gallows and fructifies in the cat; just as similar propositions in the Middle Ages bore their fruit in the thumb-screw, the rack, the piled-up faggots around the stake, and the whole machinery of ecclesiastical and judicial torture.
I challenge Mr. Herbert to show that the invasive individual has forfeited one of his rights. What! Are human rights such a house of cards that they are demolished by the first touch of the invader? I deny that the aggressor forfeits one iota of his rights. No violence on his part or on that of others can destroy them. They stand immovable as a rock amid the winds of passion and the waves of crime. The gates of hell shall not prevail against them. Even on Mr. Herbert’s own theory, a man does not cease to have a separate body and a separate mind on becoming a criminal.
The justification of interference with the aggressor is not that he has forfeited his rights, or any of them, but that we have to face a situation in which we have to choose between some deprivation of his freedom or a greater deprivation of the freedom of others. Our action is based, not on any change in his moral or political status—not on any mythical forfeiture of rights—but on the necessity of restraining him if the maximum of “self-ownership” is to be attained. A violent man may be a lunatic, and therefore morally irresponsible; but we do not leave him unrestrained on this account. Our political action is, or ought to be, taken, not with the view of avenging assaults on “self-ownership” in the past, but with the object of minimizing such assaults in the future. Apart from the future interests of sentient beings, punishment has no justification.
Mr. Herbert “hopes that the distinction between the two cases of using force will be clearly seen.” I have great confidence that he will now see that this hope is based on fallacy. There is really one and the same justification for interference with the active aggressor and the man who merely stands by and allows aggression to go unchecked, without contributing his fair share to the means of resistance. That justification is the lessening of aggression; and there is no other. Let us suppose this justification absent and Mr. Herbert’s present. Let us suppose a class of cases in which some “persons have forfeited their own rights in attacking the rights of others,” but in which the use of force against them would have no effect in lessening these attacks or aggression generally. Would not the employment of force under such circumstances be worse than a mere waste of energy? Would it not be used in adding one evil to another? I am aware that there is a vindictiveness which lies deep down in our nature, and which is the product of ages of suffering from brutal invasion, which seeks satisfaction in the infliction of pain on the aggressor; but this is a feeling which all of us will do well to regard as the devil incarnate within us, and to do our best to exorcise. I cannot believe—I will not believe till he forces me to do so—that Mr. Herbert consciously bases his contention on the necessity of satisfying this unholy craving.
Mr. Herbert’s formula is that of Anarchism. He would abolish all government, properly so called, and put in its place a voluntary association for defence. My contention is that the result would be to lessen human freedom, not to increase it—to lessen it, that is, in comparison with what it might be if government were limited in accordance with the principle of Individualism. I have no love for government. Since first I thought out my Individualistic principles, I have always regarded it as an evil in itself—an evil with which I feel constrained to put up just so far, and so far only, as it enables me to avoid a greater evil of the same kind. In his concluding paragraph, Mr. Herbert recognizes the existence of this position with regard to our National Debt. It is astonishing to me that he cannot see that the same difficulty is created by all human aggression.
Here I would gladly conclude; but Mr. Herbert again repeats the reproach on the reiteration of which I very strongly animadverted in reply to his last letter. It really appears as if he had not read my reply to him. In the face of that reply, what can be more absurd than the statement that I leave “full power of taxing intact in A’s hands”—A who, ex hypothesi, wields the force majeure? It is acknowledged that I “would persuade A not to use such powers.” Will Mr. Herbert tell me how I could do more? He “had half expected” me “to have limited the tax to the purposes of preventing aggression.” Have I the power to do this? And, if not, does the sphere of moral obligation extend beyond the realm of the possible? I have laboured hard to induce my fellow-citizens to restrict government interference to the maintenance of the greatest practicable amount of freedom in human relations, and to restrict taxation to the provision of the means necessary to this end. To this doctrine, rational in theory—sober and just in practice—I shall remain faithful till death do us part, unless someone, with far weightier arguments than those advanced by Mr. Herbert, reveal to me some loftier height to which it is my duty to climb—some nobler ideal to which I owe my allegiance.
Let me now say a few words on my friend’s footnote. In the first place, I would like to draw attention to the utter sincerity and good humour with which he announces his change of opinion. But what does that change amount to? When we commenced this discussion, he would have continued “some form of compulsory taxation simply and exclusively for the payment of debt” until “we could rely for its extinction by voluntary effort.” Now, “if continued, it should only be continued for a few specified years.” But Mr. Herbert surrenders his principle whether the forced contribution is to last for only a few years or till replaced by voluntary contributions; and what is to happen at the end of these few years? Is the debt to be practically repudiated by the cessation of payment of interest? No; the interests of the debt-holders are to be secured “by the sale of some national property, the mortgaging of other national property, and a great national effort. . .” Mr. Herbert does not specify the property to be sold; but, from what I know of his opinions, I conclude that he had in mind the Crown Lands. But these lands bring in a rental which is part of the public revenue. To extinguish this revenue by the sale of the lands in order to extinguish a like payment for interest on the national debt would leave us no “forrader.” The rents received from the Crown Lands relieve ordinary taxation practically to the same amount as it would be relieved by selling those lands and cancelling debt with the proceeds. As for the proposal to mortgage property in order to cancel debt and the payment of interest, there is a delicious aroma about this which I would not like to dissipate by rude criticism. I have come across nothing equal to it since Micawber handed to Traddles his I O U, and exclaimed: “Thank God that debt’s paid.”
Need I say anything about the “effort”? What would be the price of Consols to-day, if it were announced that the continuance of interest would cease after a few years, and that the repayment of the sums borrowed would depend on voluntary effort? Practically, this would amount to repudiation; and my friend’s description of the way in which the loans were contracted lends itself to the same conclusion.