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Authority and Freedom in Their Ages-Old and World-Wide Struggle.

By Max Nettlau.

Many of us who know and feel the beauty of the anarchist ideal, are struck and at times disheartened when they see what a small place anarchism seems to hold in modern life and thought. It is indeed strange to see the disproportion of the numbers of those whom our always strenuous propaganda reaches directly and the many hundreds of million[s] on this globe who are under the sway of immensely developed means of determined, mostly forcible propaganda, by press, pulpit, politics and every other kind of publicity, in the interest of capitalists, militarists, priests, Bolsheviks, social democrats or of simple emptyheadedness, the loads to be filled by organized réclame for the fashion of the hour in hats or neckties or the latest religion or conception of the mysteries of life. From the huge North American world, worshipping business and success, success and business, to the immense Russian world, apparently struck dumb in admiration before the benefits which a benevolent Marxist dictatorship heaps upon it, to the distorted and distracted mentalities of the many European countries of which, a few neutral nooks and corners excepted, not one has recovered a mental equilibrium since 1914 and all abandon themselves to authoritarian regimes, cloaked or cynically unbared like Mussolini’s,—everywhere authority appears paramount. And what [is] more, the socialist and labour parties, swelled into dozens of millions of nominal adherents by now, are part and parcel of these orgies of authority: not only the bolshevist usurpators come from their ranks, but the men at the head of the largest European countries, the Briand, Macdonald and Snowden, Hermann Müller and Hilferding, and the men who represent the deepest abysses of reaction, the Mussolini and the Pilsudski.

Does this, then, means that modern mankind has finally taken sides for authority and the modern proletariate for authoritarian socialism in whatever form, suave or crude, it is crammed down its through, and that there is no hope left for freedom and its most thorough and complete exponent, anarchism?

By no means this is the case, in my full conviction. Only the quickened pace of evolution, leading first to the period of sterile convulsions, in [the] midst of which—who knows at which stage of it?—we linger, before a salutary revolution sweeps away the dross and gives space and light to the many healthy elements disposed to build up a free society, only this convulsionary crisis made so many masks fall of[f], so many scales fall from eyes, and we see things very much clearer than before and this is a good advantage in any case, and can and ought to be made a much greater one, if we examine these new aspects with attention and drawn the right consequences from it and act upon this new insight. But to explain my meaning and put forward my hypothesis, I must go back into the past and try to get at the roots of certain matters. In the still young intellectual life of applied freedom, that is anarchism, little, if anything, is as yet finally settled and in a real living organism this could not well be otherwise; from apparent stability the road leads to decay and death.

However authority may primarily derivate from experience and protection and their imparting for the benefit of the weak, however freedom to the weak, say, to a newborn child, may under some circumstances mean abandonment and ruin, [2] and how salutary the delicate fusion of both may be in some cases like the mother’s care for the helpless infant and an intelligent teacher’s co-operation with his ignorant pupil, yet is could not be expected that delicacy, adequate equitable solutions should be found and made to prevail in this respect in the innumerable relations between men which their life, rising from primitivity into always more complicated forms constantly made and unmade and formed again.