A Letter of Protest
A Letter of Protest.
To the Editor of Liberty :
Without this being the age of "preternatural suspicion" we might well be led to suppose that you had been "hired by the enemy" to bring disgrace upon the cause of agnosticism and Anarchism by allowing such distortions of their principles as Tak Kak has presented to appear in the columns of Liberty with little or no comment from you. Can we wonder that the Church and the State are thought necessary to restrain us, if we recognize no rule of conduct save the satisfaction of our own immediate desires, if to submit ourselves to be ruled by the ideas of justice and right is to make slaves of ourselves? Is Tennyson's Philip Edgar not, as we had supposed, a base caricature of the representatives of our creed, but a true and worthy representative thereof, for he but carried into practice the ideas enunciated by Tak Kak in No. 84 in his "Egoism in Sexual Relations" (to which you not only offered no objection, but, I have been informed, failed to insert an extract from one of humanity's truest friends, Clifford, which effectually disposed of Tak Kak).
- Man only knows, the worse for him! for why
- Cannot he take his pastime like the flies?
- And if my pleasure breed another's pain.
- Well — is not that the course of Nature too,
- From the dun dawn of Being — her main law
- Whereby she grows in beauty — that her flies
- Must massacre each other? this poor Nature!
Are we Anarchists, whose proud boast has been that we are in the van of human progress, to discard all the truths which the latter half of the century has firmly established, to leave Spencer and Clifford and George Eliot and Morley, and fall back into the acceptance of the crude half-truths perceived by the men of the last century and transported by Stirner and others of his kind into this ? Men of the eighteenth century, forgive me; we are going to surpass you in crudity; we are going to decide each question as it comes up, — not as you would have decided it, in favor of what you considered the "greatest happiness of the greatest number," — no, we shall always decide in favor of our happiness; — our happiness, did I say? — there is no our, no one but me. I am the only one. All the rest of you are only puppets for me to use as best I can. Truth and justice and liberty are spooks, and all are ghost-ridden who believe in such things, and who would regulate their lives in accordance with such beliefs.
O Liberty, what are you being published for, for what is the Proudhon Library and the Spooner Library and all the other libraries, but to aid in the propagation of the belief in spooks ? You dare not in the face of your life and work openly champion Tak Kak, to whose views you in private say you give full adherence. In the face of your scathing denunciations of the "fire-bugs," the time-servers, the politicians, and the cork-screws, the advocate of the plumb-line dare not deny that there is a plumb-line.
Leaving you to your conscience, for I am sure that you have one, inherited from past generations of social beings, I have few words to say to your adherents in this controversy. Though I do not deny any man's right to write under another name than his own, still, in general, the cause of honesty and consistency is best served by having a writer responsible for all that he writes. I wish that I could bring before the readers of Liberty by means of the "deadly parallel column " the statements made by Tak Kak as Tak Kak, and those made by him under his own name. Your readers would be forced to conclude either that he is thoroughly dishonest, or that he is utterly silly, as it would be impossible for an honest, intelligent man to hold two such opposite sets of opinions at the same time.
It is a fact observed for a long time that not the founders, but the disciples, of a creed show up its absurdities in the most glaring way. The zeal which the disciples display in carrying out the master's ideas, thus bringing them to their logical conclusion, their endeavor to bring their lives into accord with them, will, if the creed contains absurdities, inevitably bring them to light. It would be highly amusing, were the subject not such a serious one, to see our poor little friend Yarros, the disciple, try to make the ideas of Tak and Tucker, the masters, accord with his mode of living and thinking. The ideas on egoism which you and Tak Kak profess to hold really form so small a part of you that you never feel compelled to bring them into consistency with your other views or with your way of living. But with Yarros it is different. He is young and enthusiastic, and must make these new Ideas conform to his old ones, or the old ones conform to them. Unfortunately, the latter is what he has chosen to do, and the first signs of his moral degradation have already appeared in his letter on " Sentimentalism at the Spooner Meeting," in which he states that the cause of our admiration for Lysauder Spooner is that " we entertain a hope to live and enjoy its blessings" [of the age of reason] which he worked to bring about. The inference is that, if we do not expect to live and enjoy it, there is no reason why we should honor Spooner. O egoism, carried to sublime heights! But where did Spooner's egoism come in? In, — as you quoted, — "obeying the voice at eve obeyed at prime," in subjection to "spooks." When Mr. Yarros becomes older and wiser, I think he will not be inclined to speak so disparagingly of the religious idea as he now is. The religious idea, as apart from the special dogma or church in which it was for the time being clothed, always represented man's highest ideal, and as such is worthy of our respect. In this sense, Anarchism is a religion to us, and there is nothing improper in speaking of it as such. We are not separated by a great gulf from our ancestors. They placed their ideals in the skies; we have simply removed them to the earth, where there is more chance of their being realized.
It is not in any light spirit, but with all the earnestness of which I am capable, that I would warn Mr. Yarros that he has entered upon a very dangerous downward path, and that the sooner he leaves it, the better and easier will it be. There may come a time, distant as it now seems, when it will be impossible for him to retrace his steps. He has but to keep repeating to himself such sentences as those on Lysander Spooner, to keep before his mind his own happiness as the goal always to be reached, in order that very soon his devotion to liberty shall seem a very ridiculous thing in his eyes.
Deplorable as is the spectacle afforded us by Mr. Yarros, it is as nothing compared with that which a true disciple of Tak Kak would present. Mr. Yarros, deny it as he may, has still some "spooks," such as liberty and equity, to which he is attached, but a true disciple would have none, aud those of Liberty's readers who would wish to meet him face to face need only go to George Eliot, who has well pictured him in Tito Melema, or still better go to .Diderot, who has drawn him in all his ghastly hideousness in "Rameau's Nephew."
Far removed as I am in ideas of what constitutes justice and truth from such men as Dr. McGlynn, Father Huntington, and William Morris, I feel myself much more closely bound to them by that common bond of human sympathy which connects all those who are working in a similar cause, — for, however much we may differ, they as well as I are seeking to discover what is right, — than I do to such wretches as Wordsworth Donisthorpe, whose ideas bear a hideous resemblance to my own, — a wretch who recognizes no right but might, and argues that men are as fit objects of prey as whitebait. And yet it is of such men, we are informed, according to the new doctrine, that Anarchy expects to make her converts. My friends, my friends, have you completely lost your heads" Cannot you see that without morality, without the recognition of others' rights, Anarchy, in any other than the vulgar sense, could not last a single day?
Gertrude B. Kelly.
[The same facts and considerations which influenced me not to renew my discussion upon this subject with John F. Kelly govern me here also. Therefore I shall not go into the merits of the question. Besides, it is needless to do so, for I conceive that the tone of Miss Kelly's article, when placed in contrast with the dignity and evident self-command which she has shown in almost everything else she has written, is sufficient indication of the weakness of her present position. Nevertheless she has made several incidental statements which call for explanation and correction. In the first place, as to the extract from Clifford. Some one's memory is at fault here, — either mine or another's. John F. Kelly sent me a letter containing a quotation from Clifford. I supposed it to be a private letter, as it related to the subject of Egoism, about which we were engaged in private correspondence. Nevertheless I asked him if he desired me to print the extract in Liberty. In his answer he expressed no preference about it, simply telling me to follow my own choice in the matter. As I had no desire to print it unless he wished it to appear, I did not print it. That is my recollection of the affair. Perhaps I am wrong. If so, I should like to be set right. In any case it borders on the ridiculous to accuse me of desiring to suppress anything of this sort after I have placed columns on columns of space in this paper at the disposal of the moralists in which to defend their ideas as they deem best. And they can have columns more if they want them, and print Clifford to their hearts' content. It is equally ridiculous to charge that I " dare not openly champion Tak Kak," though I do in private. In my comments on one of Mr. Kelly's articles I have stated my position in as unmistakable language as I could put together, and that which I declare in private does not differ from it. I do not think that Tak Kak would shrink from the submission of all that he has written, over whatever signature, to the "deadly parallel column"; nevertheless I do not know to what Miss Kelly refers. So far as I know, Tak Kak has published nothing over his own name. Where Miss Kelly finds her warrant for the patronizing tone in which she discusses Mr. Yarros is not made plain. Both she and Mr. Yarros are persons of exceptionally keen intellect; both are unusually well-read and well-informed. Is it possible that her confident assumption of superiority is founded solely upon the fact that she is Mr. Yarros's elder — by one year? So much for incidentals. As for the main question, I am content to leave it—for today at any rate—in the minds of Liberty's readers as it stands. On the other hand, if any of the disputants have anything further to offer, I shall be equally content to listen. — Editor Liberty.]
- Gertrude B. Kelly, “A Letter of Protest,” Liberty 5, no. 1 (August 13, 1887): 7.