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Auberon Herbert warns that the use of force is like a wild and dangerous beast which can easily get out of our control (1906)

At the very end of his life the English individualist thinker Auberon Herbert (1838-1906) gave a powerful speech at the University of Oxford in which he denounced the use of violence in all its forms, especially its political forms:

The only true use of force is for the destruction, the annihilation of itself, to rid the world of its own mischief-making existence. Even when used defensively, it still remains an evil, only to be tolerated in order to get rid of the greater evil. It is the one thing in the world to be bound down with chains, to be treated as a slave, and only as a slave, that must always act under command of something better and higher than itself. Wherever and whenever we use it, we must surround it with the most stringent limits, looking on it, as we should look on a wild and dangerous beast, to which we deny all will and free movement of its own. It is one of the few things in our world to which liberty must be forever denied. Within those limits the force, that keeps a clear and open field for every effort and enterprise of human activity—that are in themselves untainted by force and fraud—such force is in our present world a necessary and useful servant, like the fire which burns in the fireplaces of our rooms and the ranges of our kitchens; force, which once it passes beyond that purely defensive office, becomes our worst, our most dangerous enemy, like the fire which escapes from our fireplaces and takes its own wild course. If then we are wise and clear-seeing, we shall keep the fire in the fireplace, and never allow it to pass away from our control.

Force, as I believe, with Mr. Spencer, must rest, not in the hands of the individual, but in the hands of a government—not to be, as at present, an instrument of subjecting the two men to the three men, not to be exalted into the supreme thing, lifted up above the will and conscience of the individual, judging all things in the light of its own interests, but strictly as the agent, the humble servant of universal liberty, with its simple duties plainly, definitely, distinctly marked out for it. Our great purpose is to get rid of force, to banish it wholly from our dealings with each other, to give it notice to quit from this changed world of ours; 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 we must use force to restrain force. That is the one and only one rightful employment of force—force in the defense of the plain simple rights of liberty, of the exercise of faculties, and therefore of the rights of property, public or private, in a word of all the rights of self-ownership; force used defensively against force used aggressively. The only true use of force is for the destruction, the annihilation of itself, to rid the world of its own mischief-making existence. Even when used defensively, it still remains an evil, only to be tolerated in order to get rid of the greater evil. It is the one thing in the world to be bound down with chains, to be treated as a slave, and only as a slave, that must always act under command of something better and higher than itself. Wherever and whenever we use it, we must surround it with the most stringent limits, looking on it, as we should look on a wild and dangerous beast, to which we deny all will and free movement of its own. It is one of the few things in our world to which liberty must be forever denied. Within those limits the force, that keeps a clear and open field for every effort and enterprise of human activity—that are in themselves untainted by force and fraud—such force is in our present world a necessary and useful servant, like the fire which burns in the fireplaces of our rooms and the ranges of our kitchens; force, which once it passes beyond that purely defensive office, becomes our worst, our most dangerous enemy, like the fire which escapes from our fireplaces and takes its own wild course. If then we are wise and clear-seeing, we shall keep the fire in the fireplace, and never allow it to pass away from our control.

About this Quotation:

In his Oxford speech of 1906 Auberon Herbert denounced the direction in which the democratic system was turning. It had become a “great political machine” in which professional politicians and “party men” attempted to buy voters' support with other peoples' money, and to use government to violate the property rights (and hence “enslave”) the “minority 2/5ths” for the benefit of the “majority "3/5ths”. This had produced a new kind of class conflict in Britain, a virtual “civil war” between organised parties. In addition, in order to make it possible for the government to tax and regulate everything it required another bureaucratic machine run by a “bureaucratic caste” which stifled initiative, innovation, and experimentation. The only way out of this impasse, Herbert thought, was a commitment by liberty loving men and women was to refuse to use force in their personal dealings with other and to withhold their votes from any political party which used force to achieve its electoral goals.

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