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CHAPTER VIII: a word for anarchy 1 - Wordsworth Donisthorpe, Individualism: A System of Politics 
Individualism: A System of Politics (London: Macmillan and Co., 1889).
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a word for anarchy1
I suppose that most of us enjoy a whitebait dinner without pausing to reflect that scores of lives are sacrificed in order to provide US with a single dish. Yet have not these tiny animals an equal right to life with ourselves? What peculiar virtue does human. nature possess that the happiness and freedom of fellow-creatures should be ruthlessly sacrificed for the transient gratification of man? The usual answer to this question is an amused smile, or “Yes, it does seem odd, doesn't it I”: but when the converse question is asked in another direction, namely, Why on earth should the strong and the clever refrain from making themselves comfortable at the expense of the weak and dull? an outcry is at once raised about the equal rights of men. Why men? To theologians, no doubt, the phrase conveys a clear idea: but to an evolutionist who cannot admit the existence of any distinct line of demarcation between man and his ancestors, the puzzle is to find out when those equal rights arose. I can quite understand men drawing the line at men; it is natural; but what I cannot understand is how they deduce the doctrine from the principle of Eternal Justice. If the greatest happiness of the greatest number (whatever that may mean) is the true guiding principle of conduct, what have the whitebait done that their happiness should be left out of account? But perhaps it is argued that the pleasure derived by the gourmet from the dinner is greater than the total pleasures of life possible to such humbly organised sentient beings as whitebait. Then there is an end of the virtue in numbers.
To apply these reflections to the political questions of the day, we may cordially accept the maxim Vox populi, vox Dei, and yet deny that the voice of the people is necessarily the howl of the greatest number! If ten fools knock me down, tie my hands behind me, and otherwise work their will upon me, I bow to their superior force-brute force. I conform to their wishes rather than take the consequences of disobedience. But I claim no virtue in so doing. I have the choice of evils, and I take the less. Similarly, if the majority of persons in this or any other country can enforce their will upon the numerically fewer, by all means let them do so. I may have my doubts as to their ability, but I certainly do not for a moment dispute their right. I should as soon think of disputing the right of the wild cat to the bird he has caught. The very notion is absurd.
But if, on the other hand, the numerical majority cannot succeed in enforcing their will upon the minority, by what argument are the stronger, though they happen to be also the fewer, to be induced to forego the advantage of their superior strength for the benefit of others, who have nothing particular to recommend them except that they swarm like whitebait?
That the eff'ective majority (not necessarily the numerical majority) will have its own way, may be laid down as a truism. Thus the question of interest for us is not whether numbers have the right to rule, but whether the numerical majority is likely to become the effective majority as society evolves.
After which the further question must be met, whether, assuming that the tendency discernible throughout history is democratic, mankind is to be congratulated on the fact or not.
In a multitude of counsellors there is wisdom. Very likely; but it is on the principle of the survival of the fittest. Certainly it is not true of the result obtained by talking the opinion of the majority. If all the clowns in Europe had gathered together they would never have hit on the theory of gravitation as an explanation of the movements of the heavenly bodies. One man did what a million men could not do. Is then the science of sociology so much simpler than that of mechanics? Rather the reverse. Repetition of incredible nonsense can never make sense, though it sometimes produces conviction. Neither can the mere multiplication of folly convert it into wisdom.
Somebody says that the land of England would, if properly cultivated, support a hundred and forty millions of people. What of it ? Cui bono? One would suppose that the end and aim of the race was to consist of as many units as possible, irrespective of their quality. I feel disposed to describe this as the Daniel Lambert view of the salus populi. What would be thought of an individual man who set before himself as the goal of his ambition, the aim of his life, to attain to the greatest possible weight or size ? Possibly the land would support a thousand times that number of flies, if we all agreed to cut our throats; and what a gain that would be. And again I ask, Why Man? He is an ugly beast at best, taking the majority for a pattern (as in democratic duty bound), something, thought Carlyle, like a split carrot. And if he does happen to be distinguished from his fellow animals by his ability to lie and get drunk, what then ? Of course that or any other peculiarity Justifies him in appropriating to his own use the wealth of nature, if he can, but not otherwise. Meantime the particular species which has got hold of the land at piesent is similarly justified in sticking to it as long as possible. In the days to come when the land shall fall into the hands of the Daniel Lambert school, whose views of the salus populi is ever increasing numbers, we may yet see a hundred and forty millions of human beings swarming over the surface of the country; a veritable Age Saturniau — or shall we say saturnine? What a field for the district visitor and the missionary! What happy hunting grounds for the quack with his patent pills! Fortunately this golden age still lies in the dim and distant future.
How far does the will of the numerical majority represent the will of the people? Doubtless those who are ready to accept the ipse dixit of the Catholic Church in matters theological; those who are prepared to swallow the dicta of Mrs. Grundy on matters social; all such may logically bike as inspired the utterance of the myriad-mouthed. But trite as the observation is, it cannot be too often repeated, that throughout all t history, truth, liberty, and justice have been advocated by the few and opposed by the many. It is true, remarkable changes sometimes take place in the characters of men, and the same may hold good of societies and classes. If so, it is possible that the many, who poisoned Socrates, who crucified Jesus, who burnt Bruno, and who but recently betrayed Gordon, may suddenly be converted like King Hal into defenders of the true faith. Let us hope so.
After these prefatory remarks, I may now proclaim myself an uncompromising democrat; but by democracy I mean not the government of the many as opposed to that of the few, but the government of all.
If I have to choose between the government of the many and that of the few, I do not hesitate to choose the latter! I have too firm a faith in the selfishness of human nature to expect altruism from either; but I know that my own interests would be better attended to, or at any rate less impeded, by the selfish rule of culture than by the equally selfish rule of ignorance.
I confess to complete scepticism as to the overlauded virtue and intelligence of the self-styled proletariat. (By the way, if I or any one else had dubbed them with that contemptuous title what an uproar there would have been. I have no wish to quarrel with the term, if it is popular; and it certainly does connote a remarkable if not the most interesting attribute of the impecunious strata of society.) The question I ask myself, with the selfishness common to humanity, is this, Where do I come in? On the lists of the few I fear my name would not appear; therefore I am against the rule of the few. The many would not admit me among them because they are a well-defined class, having, as they suppose, interests diverse from the rest of the community, by reason of the peculiar nature and system of their work; therefore I am against the rule of the many. But in a government of all I may be able to make my voice heard and my will counted for something; therefore I am for the government of the people by the people—not some of the people, be they many or few, but all the people.
“What's everybody's business is nobody's business.” So it is said. If so, then the government of all by all would be tantamount in the end to the government of the country by nobody, which thing is anarchy. And not a bad thing either. In my opinion a people which should begin de novo with complete anarchy would not get far wrong. In reply to that it is usually urged that too much liberty is as bad as too little, if not worse. It involves the liberty of the wolf to devour the lamb, and the equal liberty of the lamb to devour the wolf; a mutual liberty to which somehow the lamb objects. But is this really a valid objection? I doubt it. “What happens in such cases ? Voluntary associations spring into existence for mutual protection against the brute force of powerful individuals. And if these prove beneficial to the people adopting them, they tend to become coextensive with the whole population. In other words, under a truly anarchic system, we should have exactly what we have now, a police system to which by hypothesis no one could effectively object. There would, however, be this difference; the unwilling would not be coerced into joining the association or helping to maintain the system. And why should they? A man who thinks himself strong enough to meet all probable risks and dangers from the violence of fellow men may justly consider himself hardly treated if he is compelled to maintain a force for the protection of those who are too weak or too quarrelsome to care to run that risk. Again, one who has all his property in a strong house surrounded with a moat and practically unassailable may reasonably object to have to contribute to the protection of the property of those whose treasures are lying about at the mercy of the ill-disposed. So, one who has no property to lose may rebel against being compelled to join an association for the mutual defence of property.”
The difference between Anarchy and the present system is just the difference between Voluntary Co-operation and Compulsory Co-operation, —between Individualism and Socialism. The history of civilisation is the story of the transition of society from a socialistic to an anarchic state. The prevalent notion of anarchy which precludes the combination of individuals for a common end is of course a ridiculous one. To suppose that under an anarchic system, a strong man would be allowed to cut up a weak one in the market-place while others looked on, is of course a caricature of the reégime. Voluntary association would practically effect what the State does now in all that is necessary, and therefore good; whereas it would not interfere, as the State does now, in matters which are better left to private management. The cardinal error of Socialism seems to be that combination is regarded as useless unless everybody can be brought into it. Trade unionism is good; but the black side of its history is that which describes the miserable bullying to which nonunionists have been subjected. Leave those who will not join out in the cold. If the bond of union is good, sooner or later most will be drawn in. But if bad, then no matter what amount of coercion is used, the cause will fail and the combination collapse.
It is a mistake to suppose that anarchy is lawless. Nothing of the kind; in fact lawlessness amongst intelligent persons is almost unthinkable. Where there is no ruling body, where there is no governmental authority, as in San Francisco within the memory of many of us, what happens ? Did the maranders and pests of society carry all before them? Not a bit ot it: those who had inherited the habits of a social and methodical mode of life, owing to its greater average economy, banded themselves together and straightway lynched those who were desirous of violating the principles of order and method which centuries of experience have shown to be conducive to the possible existence on a given area of a considerable population in a superior state of comfort. Of course the orderly were not going to submit to the disorderly without a struggle; and being the stronger party, though possibly composed of the weaker individuals, they voluntarily combined, and shoved the refractory element to the wall. This was anarchy.
We have now reached tins position: that I and those who think with me are democrats because we expect some good from democracy. And what is that good? Why nothing more nor less than our liberty. We support democracy because it leads straight to anarchy. For the greater the number of persons with a voice in the affairs of the nation, the more difficult will it become to carry coercive measures. Each one of us may be willing and anxious to coerce our neighbours in all manner of concerns, but We shall most surely find ourselves in a minority on some question of supreme importance to ourselves: and then we shall begin to realise how coercion loses its charm when we are ourselves among the coerced. Theie fore the larger the number of diverse interests represented in Parliament the nigher is the advent of true anarchy.
Anarchy! The word has a dreadful ring about it. Why, it is opposed to property: so it is urged. Not at all. The maxim of the anarchist is, “Let him take who hath the power: let him keep who can,' That is property is it not? ''But what is to prevent the strong from robbing the weak? Suppose the many, finding themselves poor, take it into their heads to expropriate the few, what then? ” Why not ? If it can be shown that the robbery of the rich can be effected, and effected with advantage to the poor, I cannot see for the life of me why it should not be done. It is contrary to morality? But unfortunately, high-falutin abstractions “butter no parsnips.” Besides I deny it. Morality is coextensive with self-interest. If anybody disputes that, he is wrong. It is rude and dogmatic of me to say so; but it is a short answer, and I am not going to discuss the first principles of ethics here. I repeat emphatically, if the poor and many can see their way to dispossessing the rich and few, and to reap advantage from the process, then they have a right and a duty to do it.
But now arise the two previous questions: Can they do it. ? And would it be to their advantage to do it if they could? To the first I answer without hesitation, No; if they could, they would have done it long ago; for I believe they are no better, take them all round, than myself, in spite of the glowing colours in which it pleases modern candidates for parliamentary honours to paint them. 1 was once told by an Oriental who knew nothing of the British workman but what he had read of him in political speeches, that when he first came to this country he expected to see the “masses ” winged and feathered.
But surely the many, if they will but organise and stand together, can overcome the tew? No; the man who cannot overcome the temptation to a glass of grog when his wife and children have to pay for it with their dinner, is not the man to refuse the gold of the rich to stab his fellow-worker in the back. They cannot do it; it is a physical impossibility. Or, not to put it too strongly, it is any odds against them. They may boil over in an incoherent way for a few short weeks or month:?, as indeed they have done once or twice in the world's history; but the ebullition is merely temporary, and what is more significant, there are always members of another class behind, making use of them for sinister purposes of their own.
But now supposing they could effect this object—supposing the many could dispossess the few-would it be a wise course to adopt, even for the poor themselves ? To this question I again reply, No, certainly not. It is useless for me to recapitulate here all the whole chain of reasoning which goes to show that if the spur to industry were once removed, industry would cease, and I should be one of the first to strike. The consequences would be that it would be necessary to take stock of our existing wealth, and see how long it would last at a universally comfortable scale of living. The total value of all the wealth of Great Britain at the present moment, including the value of the whole population at slave prices, is just about thirty thousand million pounds. That gives us something like a thousand pounds apiece, or forty pounds a year on the condition of working like niggers. Forty pounds a year on condition of good honest work! But would that work be done ? Who would do it ? Not I. Why should I work ten hours a day for my neighbour to fool away his time in the adjoining public? It would soon become passing clear, either that we must prepare for a short life and a merry one (say about two years' jollification), or else we must discover some method of inducing people to work. The best method that I could bethink myself of, if my opinion were asked, would be the system of private property. To every man the fruits of his labour. If this view were adopted, a state of things would arise exactly like what we have now, with this one point of unlikeness — that confidence would have been diminished, interest would be higher, credit harder, wages lower. The many cannot oust the. few; and if they could, they had best not.
this chapter was originally read before the fabian society, consisting chiefly of socialists, revolutionary anarchists, and other very advanced political thinkers. it was intended partly as an answer to those state socialists who attack individualism as necessarily ending in anarchy; partly as a reductio ad absordum of the teachings of those revolutionists who would break up existing institutions, in the belief that a better order could be erected on their ruins. i reprint it here (though in smaller type) without the slightest alteration, because I believe that it meets a difficulty which may already have occurred to readers of the foregoing chapters. the extreme doctrine here enunciated will be found duly qualified in the chapter which follows. should any critic open the book at this place, i have only to ask that he will read it in the light of this explanation.