Front Page Titles (by Subject) XII.—: By J. H. LEVY. - Taxation and Anarchism: A Discussion between the Hon. Auberon Herbert and J.H. Levy
Return to Title Page for Taxation and Anarchism: A Discussion between the Hon. Auberon Herbert and J.H. Levy
The Online Library of Liberty
A project of Liberty Fund, Inc.
Search this Title:
XII.—: 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).
About Liberty Fund:
Liberty Fund, Inc. is a private, educational foundation established to encourage the study of the ideal of a society of free and responsible individuals.
The text is in the public domain.
Fair use statement:
This material is put online to further the educational goals of Liberty Fund, Inc. Unless otherwise stated in the Copyright Information section above, this material may be used freely for educational and academic purposes. It may not be used in any way for profit.
By J. H. LEVY.
Many years have passed since my friend closed his part in this discussion with the expression of the characteristic hope that would add what comment I chose—that, as he commenced the discussion, I should end it. If he had done nothing more, in the interval, to carry on this polemic, I should have contented myself with a formal conclusion, in deference to his wish. But his Herbert Spencer lecture, “The Voluntaryist Creed,” delivered in the Sheldonian Theatre, at Oxford, on June 7th, 1906, and the “Plea for Voluntaryism” published in the same volume with this, in 1908, may be regarded as his last political will and testament; and I know that he would have liked me to finish this controversy with some notice of them.
In making this final brief examination of my deceased friend’s concluding apologia, I cannot allow myself to be influenced in even the slightest degree by his singular charm of character. No grace of style or manner, no amiability of sentiment or dulcet form of words, no respect or love for persons or even for principles, ought to reconcile us to evasion of the logical outcome on any question. The more important, the more sacred, that question is, the more emphatic becomes our duty in this respect. Our loyalty to reasoned truth must take precedence over all else, or we are landed in a chaos of mere word-spinning, the seductions of phrase and personal allurement. Few people realize how truth and all that depends on it are sacrificed in this way, even by those who are popularly regarded as stern champions of intellectual probity. Viscount Morley says of Cardinal Newman that he “made siren style do duty for exact, penetrating, and coherent thought.” This is true; but was Lord Morley entitled to throw this stone? In the same book, he argues most flimsily against Professor Bury’s endeavour to rescue history from the artists in words, and speaks of Machiavelli’s “excess of severity in logic.”*
Before proceeding to the criticism of “the Voluntaryist Creed” and Voluntaryism, let me first say that I count it to my deceased friend for righteousness that he ended by adopting this ugly term as the name of his political faith; for this was a tacit recognition of the fact that he was not, in any plenary sense, an Individualist, and did not want to be regarded as an Anarchist. How, then, must “the Voluntaryist Creed” be classified? It is clearly not Socialistic; but not much more can be definitely said of its position. It perpetually wobbles between Anarchism and some point in that misty Anarchoid region which lies between Individualism and Anarchism. Sometimes it concedes almost the Individualistic minimum of government; at other times, it is Anarchistic, even to the point of Tolstoyan passivity. Mr. Herbert tells us that, as he read and thought over what Herbert Spencer taught, “a new window”* was opened to his mind. And then he describes what happened to him on looking out of that window. “I lost my faith in the Great Machine”—his name for government. “I saw that thinking and acting for others had always hindered, not helped, the real progress; that all forms of compulsion deadened the living forces in a nation; that every evil violently stamped out still persisted, almost always in a worse form.”
If this were true, the Russian seer would be right. The restraint of the murderer, the thief, the violator of women, the torturer of the lower animals, the brigand, the pirate, the incendiary, the external foe, would be the adding of one evil to another. “The Great Machine,” however limited in action, however reformed, could only be productive of harm. This is how “the Voluntaryist Creed” commences. How does it end? “Our great purpose is to get rid of force, to banish it wholly from our dealing with each other, to give it notice to quit from this changed world of ours”; and then comes a “but.” “But as long as some men—like Bill Sykes and all his tribe—are willing to make use of it for their own ends, or to make use of fraud, which is only force in disguise, wearing a mask, and evading our consent, just as force with violence openly disregards it—so long must we use force to restrain force.” (p. 55).
Re-enter “the Great Machine,” upon the denunciation and banishment of which Mr. Herbert had wasted so much eloquence. “I have not been preaching any form of Anarchy,” he says, “which seems to me—even in its most peaceful and reasonable forms—quite apart from the detestable bomb—merely one more creed of force.” And then he adds a parenthesis which shows this statement to be inexact, and excuses himself from “to-day” taking this into consideration. Really, if this sort of thing can be done in argument, we had better all adjourn to Colney Hatch.
Mr. Herbert’s parenthetical adjournment was couched in the following form of words: “I am not referring here to such a form of Anarchy—passive resistance under all circumstances—as Tolstoy preached, into the consideration of which I cannot enter to-day.” It needs no great perspicacity to see why it was most convenient to adjourn the consideration of Tolstoyan Anarchism sine die.
“Now glance for a moment,” says Mr. Herbert (p. 55), “at the true character of Anarchy, and see why we must refuse to class it among the creeds of liberty, though many of the reasonable Anarchists are inspired, as I believe, by a real love of liberty. Under Anarchy, if there were 5,000,000 men and women in a country, there would be 5,000,000 little governments, each acting in its own case as council, witness, judge, and executioner. That would be simply a carnival, a pandemonium of force.” Not necessarily. All would depend on the character of the five millions. A time will come in the moral progress of mankind when Anarchy will not only not be “a pandemonium of force,” but when it will be coincident with Individualism, and Individualism under the best conditions. As human beings improve in character, the amount of government needed in order to maximize freedom will become less and less, till at last it will reach the vanishing point. At that point we shall all be Anarchists, or at least will be living without government.
But what is to happen, under “Voluntaryism,” to Mr. Herbert’s five millions of irreconcilables? Are they, when the hat is sent round for their contributions, at once to co-operate in forming a central Government? In vain will the reader look for any support for this preposterous assumption.
With human beings as they are now, Anarchy would be, not merely, as Mr. Herbert says, “hardly an improvement even upon our power-loving, force-using (!) governments”; it would be far worse. The characteristics which have brought about our present abuse of government would be let loose, not abolished, or even lessened. The mistake of the philosophical Anarchist is not in the nature of his creed, which is truly one of liberty, but in the premature application of it. This is a common mistake with the more idealistic class of reformers. Their very impatience of evil—an amiable trait—betrays them.
Mr. Herbert rightly says we must use force to restrain force. But, according to “the Voluntaryist Creed,” we must not use force to obtain the force to restrain force. Government is to exist; it is to act coercively; but it is not coercively to obtain the means of coercion. Why? “As long as compulsory taxation lasts . . . liberty will be but a mocking phrase. Between liberty and compulsory taxation there is no possible reconciliation.” (p. 103). This is quite true in the absolute sense of liberty. Taxation, in itself, necessarily involves some deprivation of freedom. But if the words “compulsory taxation” be taken out of each of these sentences and the word “government” be substituted for them, the sentences will be equally true. Taxation is inconsistent with absolute freedom because government is so. But as Mr. Herbert admitted that we must have government—that we must use force in the interests of maximum freedom—that the attainment of absolute freedom is at present impossible, his argument against taxation, that it is inconsistent with absolute freedom, is irrelevant, and with this the “Voluntaryist” house of cards falls to the ground.
[* ]Miscellanies, Fourth Series, pp. 161, 168, 227-9.
[* ]The Voluntaryist Creed, p. 6.