About Abolishing the State
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About Abolishing the State.
Nothing strikes the average man of the present day with more exasperating force than the proposition to " abolish the State." He grows red in the face, and is at his wits' end to know what to do or what to say. The absurdity of the thing is what at first overwhelms him. He laughs ; for the idea is too funny. Then, as gradually it dawns on him that his tormentor is really in earnest, he passes into a somewhat more serious frame of mind. But he is puzzled still.
"What," he asks himself, "can this fellow mean? He must be somehow off his base. And yet he is no fool. In fact, he is far enough from being a fool. And yet — and yet — why doesn't he see how absurd and foolish the idea is? I am ashamed, almost, to argue the case with him, for in a sense it is like carrying coals to Newcastle. Ho can't have overlooked arguments that must instantly suggest themselves to the dullest school-boy. There's something wrong! There's something wrong! I can't understand it."
And this hereditary champion of the State's everlasting continuance shakes his head, and turns, without a doubt in his mind of the strength and justness of his cause, to bring his millennial, utopian, visionary, misguided friend back to the ways of truth and soberness.
He finds himself suddenly invested with a mission. He has on his hands a serious piece of business. He is, as it were, by divine providence charged with the cure of a lunatic.
We shall see how he gets on.
It is the glorious Fourth of July, 1886.
The two friends are on a pilgrimage to Concord. They have been to Sleepy Hollow, where Emerson, Thorean, and Hawthorne lie, and thence traveled back and seated themselves in a cool, shady spot by Walden Pond, well removed from where the noisy Prohibitionists are holding their "picnic " and preaching their crusade against intoxicating beverages.
"The worst State that ever existed was better than none," exclaims he of the-new-found mission, as he throws himself on the ground; "mankind were at least saved from cutting each other's throats."
" Probably that worst State monopolized the business," is the quiet retort. " In its hands throat-cutting, murder, became a legal pastime."
And from this start the discussion here following proceeded.
Shall we not name it a discussion between the State's Missionary and his imaginary "Lunatic"?
Let the sequel show in whose brain-cells lunacy was deepest rooted.
Lunatic —"I would like to ask you a question or two. You are by profession a Christian minister. Well, I am not. I am neither Christian nor minister. But I have made a somewhat careful study of that man of Nazareth whom you profess to worship, and I am greatly drawn by the commanding genius of the man. He was, indeed, a remarkable character; possibly you Christians are right in saying he was and is the most remarkable in history. But with you it is apparently a hearsay; the idea has drifted down to you from the early fathers, whose impressions of the man were undoubtedly very vivid. You take it secondhand, and grasping him, so to speak, as you would a handle, from the outside, you haven't the courage to enter in and sup with him face to face."
Missionary. — "Go on."
L. — "No more had I once; or I didn't think of it. The fact being, when I was, as I supposed, a Christian, this man Jesus was no man at all, but a sort of nondescript, mysterious, creature let dowu from somewhere in the sky, having no vital connecting link with us people of the earth, save that he would save our souls in another world if we believed in him, or damn them in another world if we didn't. He didn't come here to stay, but just for a sympathetic call as it were; being sent by his heavenly father on the special errand but for which all earth's children would have been consigned to endless misery. For this reason it didn't occur to me to study very much into his teachings as to the present life, — our earth-life. I read the New Testament, but it was for most part words, words,—all outside work. But there came a time when, though yet a mere lad, I stepped out of dogmatic religion and, for the first time, so to speak, got an introduction to Jesus Christ, and began to understand what he was driving at. Then I saw what blind guides all these Christians had really been to me, at any rate. So I said, you are no Christians. To be Christian yon must at least have some idea of the thought of the man whose name you adopt. I will show you what true Christianity is. But, as I reflected, it came to me that there was no reason for using another man's name to christen ideas and doctrines that were after all the common property of all mankind. Jesus invented nothing. He saw some things in advance of others, — very important to see, but belonging, not to him, but to human nature. In that mine of our common nature he had sought and found rich treasure, but, like the sunlight, it was treasure he could not, if disposed, set up any private claim to, for it was free gift to all seeking souls. So, why give it the appearance even of being his special private fortune, and regard him as the generous donor or giver of a life equally the property of all?
"No, it was not Christianity, then, I would embrace, but Humanity."
M. — " All this is very interesting; but Where's your question?"
L,— " i'm coming to it. This was preface, yon know. If I shouted my question ever so loud from the top of the Alleghany Mountains, you wouldn't hear me. I must bring you into hearing distance. ' He that hath ears to hear,' Jesus kept saying. I must in some way prepare your ears for hearing, or you would go off in wildest directions.
"You professed, I said, to be Christian. Now, what do you mean by that title? Are you Christian as I was, or as I now am not.'"
M. — "Rather an Irish way of putting it. But I suppose I understand yon. Both ways, in a sense. I am a Liberal Christian, and so, of course, do not lay great stress on the mere doctrinal or theological side. But I think Jesus had a divine mission, differing in sort from that of any other man ; but I reject wholly the idea of his dying a substitute for the sins of the world. Every man's character is and will be his passport here and into heaven. It was the mission of Christ to reach man on his spiritual side and develop the kingdom of God within him. This, I take it, is in some sort like the idea you have. I call it the Christian idea; you the human—shall I say? So far, then, do we understand each other?"
L. —" So far, possibly; but we shall see how much farther. Thus far is nothing particular, taking it alone. It is a starting point. I leave you your theological Mas of the divine, etc. It signifies nothing. I take Jesus simply as a man; what more he may have been you can speculate on to your heart's content. As a man he preached certain ideas in regard to human nature. You say you accept him as authority; you will not go back on his word. I think he struck the right vein and found good human ore, — specimens of everlasting life, so to speak. We can all do the same, if we will; richer and better ore may appear. At all events, we shall not hesitate to use this fine gold of humanity for all available purposes. I only go back and connect Jesus with it because you are committed to- it, if you find he was; and that will save a perhaps needless dispute. And yet I would you could sec and appreciate the truth for its own sake. And then Jesus Christ has been much maligned by the Church and his professed followers. He cuts a sorry figure in history as they display him. He is not here to defend himself. Let us take his part, while we at the same moment save the good cause."
To be continued.
About Abolishing the State.
Our missionary, who had set himself to the task of easting out all the devils he imagined the brain of his companion might entertain, was beginning to feel that in some way the " Lunatic " was putting him to his trumps as a Christian man and submissive follower of the Lord Jesus. What was the trouble, —with himself? He was feeling a bit strange, as if he was himself at sea. Certainly this fellow beside him had the air of a believer. Was it that be himself was the one who didn't believe ? No; of course not. Was he not a zealous Christian preacher? Did not hundreds of souls look up to him as teacher and guide? He must himself take the offensive and bring his man to terms. He must keep him to the subject in hand, — the abolition of the State. No matter what Christ taught. If Christ had anything to say on that topic, it was clearly in favor of the State. What else did he mean when he said: "Render unto Cresar the things that are Cresar's"? And when his words were uncertain, they should of course be interpreted in accord with reason and good sense! Shifting his position a little so as to confront "Lunatic" with a more determined air, he was about to say as much, and to ask for a clean-cut defence of the monstrous doctrine of No-Stateism. But "Lunatic" was before him.
L. — "You said the idea of Christ was to build up the kingdom of God within man."
M. — "Yes, certainly."
L. — "Then, as correlative statement, you would say that the kingdom of God was not outside of man."
M. — "Precisely. The true man is he who has arrived at that development where he is a law unto himself."
L.— "And so has abolished the State?"
M. — "For himself, certainly, in one sense. That is, he needs no coercion to persuade him to act right. He does so freely. But, as there are so many others who have not reached this voluntary government, who continually put our lives and property in peril, why, this man who needs not the outer law for himself is bound to support it and enforce it upon others. Hence the State! "
L. — "Then this outward kingdom you speak of, the same under Republican forms as under monarchical, is, after all, a temporary affair."
M. — "Yes, I grant you; and it will cease when all men of their own accord do what is right,— that is, when it is no longer needed. Bht—that is millennial; so far off that practically it is an abstraction, and it is folly to waste time over its consideration."
L. — "Then, as I understand it, you ride two horses, — outer and inner. Which do you ride most?"
M. — "To keep your figure up, I ride the outer only when it is necessary. But, all the same, this outer horse must be kept alive for emergencies. He can not, as you seem to think, be abolished."
L, — " Let me quote some familiar sentences: ' If thine eye be single, thy body shall be full of light.' 'Ye cannot serve two masters.' That is enough to remind yon where Jesus was to be found. Do you know that man was a most uncompromising radical ? "
M. — "I understand, of course, that he went to the root of things in his crusade against evil, his one aim being to purify the heart of man."
L. — " It is a charming story, if not a true one, about the angels singing, when he was born, peace on earth, good will to man,' or, as Kossuth translated it, 'to good-willing men.' At any rate, 'peace on earth.' Now, you are Christian. How much peace on earth do you Christians hunger and thirst for? What is the hjstory of your Christian Church? One of ' peace on earth' ? Look at your Christian nations today, all armed to the teeth. Ah me! what a lonely man and stranger would this same Jesus be walking the earth in these expiring days of the nineteenth century! AVhat would he say to you, do you suppose, you a citizen of the great modern Republic? Here, between Atlantic and Pacific oceans, could yon show him ' peace on earth "I"
M.— "We come nearer to it than any nation or people ever did before. We have no standing army to speak of."
L. — " You have all you need. You believe in armies. If you had a powerful neighbor just over the border, you would raise it without compunction to any size you deemed advisable."
M. — "We believe in self-defence."
L. — " So I do. But I noticed, when a boy, that the youth who wouldn't fight on principle was never molested. The boys who were the bullies and pitched into every chap right and left, respected him, saying: 'He's not our kind.' Of course, he gave them no cause or excuse. But he was gay and as full of sport as any."
M. — "That is, of course, the ideal State; but, when a people is not up to it, there is no use affecting it. Hamlet's advice, ' affect a virtue if yon have it not,' was not good for general use. I don't believe in hypocrisy."
M. — " Certainly not. You say ' No?' as though you thought I li I '
L. — "I don't think you do consciously; and yet, if you examine yourself thoroughly, do you not discover that your song of 'peace on earth' has very little weight with you when you think yon see fighting that needs to be done? Why not change the phrase a little and sing: ' No peace on earth until we are up to it' ? "
M. — "Oh, well, you know what I mean. I take the world as it is, and try in a practical way to make a choice of evils, at the same time holding up the ideal as the end to be accomplished."
L. — "Well, then, you believe with me in the abolition of the State?"
M. — "As an Ideal? Why, yes; as I said, when the State, or the government of force, is no longer a necessary evil, there being nobody who does not govern himself rightly and so molests none of his neighbors, then it falls of its own weight. Nobody wants it, nobody supports it: as you say, it is abolished."
L. — " You agree also that it is proper to do all in your power to bring that ideal down out of the clouds and make it a practical, every-day reality? "
M. — "Well—yes."
L. — " In what ways are you now doing this ? "
M. — "In the general way of trying to better the outward condition of men and of turning their hearts toward righteousness and the worship of God. As I keep saying, we can only abolish the State by outgrowing it. When we don't need it, that ends the matter. But let me say here that I am using the term in the limited sense you have given to it, — namely, the organization of force. But I conceive the State can mean as well the organized administration of all common or public affairs. And government docs not necessarily exclude the idea of freedom for all."
L. — " Now, let me tell you what I think. I do not think the idea millennial or impossible as you seem to do. I think the age of force is to pass away. I do not say immediately, in the twinkling of an eye. You and I will not see the dawn even of self-regulated liberty. The creation of the human race, its evolution into a free society where all acts are voluntary, or, to be more precise, where conduct is induced by right reason and full regard for the right of each and all to be free and prosperous, will be the result of how many thousand years of upward climbing who will say ? The times and seasons no man may predict. But this much we all may and should aim at doing: we may strive to be true to our ideal; to make our conduct square with it as nearly as possible. In the light of this ideal we judge
the world, the country in which we live, the people we every day meet, and ourselves continually. How much or how little we individually shall accomplish it is not necessary for us to pry into. There is where faith comes in, —a sort of swift, unconscious reasoning that assures us that no least word or deed is ever in vain. It all tells, though we can not j,ut a finger on the particular gain to the cause that has been secured. This we shall do not as a sacrifice; the yoke of Liberty compared with that of bondage is easy, the burden is light. No matter how happy the world with its kingdom without may appear, the devotee with the kingdom within shall be happier still, for he alone has found Peace."
M. — "Well, I am more interested than I supposed I could become in your side of the question,—if it is yours any more than mine. I foresee so many obstacles,—and as a practical matter — well, time will tell."
L. —"Time does nothing. It is what we do in time that will tell."
The train was coming, and the two friends went their way, to renew the subject off and on for the rest of their mortal lives. I may be able to contribute other reports. H.
- Sidney H. Morse, “About Abolishing the State,” Liberty 5, no. 1 (August 13, 1887): 6.
- Sidney H. Morse, “About Abolishing the State,” Liberty 5, no. 2 (August 27, 1887): 6.