Administrative Nihilism

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A lecture bearing this title, bound up with "More Criticisms on Darwin," is supplied by the agency of The Radical Review. Classed thus as a factor in the "Liberal" propaganda, it seems to me a wolf in sheep's clothing. It advocates the education of the working classes by the State. What principles would it teach them? Ab unque leonem, viz.: "No man is any the worse off because another acquires wealth by trade, or by the exercise of a profession; on the contrary, he cannot have acquired his wealth except by benefiting others to the full extent of what they considered to be its value; and his wealth is no more than fairy gold if he does not go on benefiting others in the same way."<ref>T. H. Huxley, LL.D., F. R. 8., author of Lay Sermons, Man's Place in Nature, etc, and Editor of Science Primers.</ref>

This courtesy to the trades and professions is a version, not very original, of All that it had to be, and all is for the best in the best possible of worlds. Puffed from the lips of a bondholder, with the fragrant smoke of an Havana, such phrases subjectively embrace humanity in the pleasureable digestion of a good dinner. Their unfathomable shallowness baffles the critical sounding-line and hook. Yet they are from the pen of Thomas Huxley, teacher of the people. It is well to be content when we have the wherewith. It is well to be content that others should prosper, and a good social order is distinguished by the mutual advancement of prosperities. In so far as Mr. Huxley means to echo the episcopal litany, in putting away from us envy, hatred, malice, and all uncharitableness we surely have no issue to make with him. But the true animus of his proposition if quite different. Under the cloak of these amiable platitudes glides the admission that industrial society is actually so organized ii its trades and professions as to verify the precited ideal of relationship in harmony o interests. Not persons are in question, bu the political and social mechanism. Know ledge also is good when we know what to d with it; but when we are stifling in tenement houses, poisoned by adulteration, expropriated to make room for sheep, or geared to the wheels of a factory; when young me by the million are driven to tramping, an young women to whoring for a livelihood that does not seem exactly the opportunity for theoretic education by government wit "Science Primers." Existence rather precedes education. The Anglo-Saxon people has been disinherited of the soil, of the primary condition of an honest subsistence. Restore the soil to the people and the people to the soil; moralize chemistry and give adulterators a short rope; hold the breeders of pestilence responsible to the criminal law—then if you like you may educate. But education of the masses does not mean cramming children with little scraps of knowledge, such as we meet in common school books, and upon which I find no innovation in the only "Science Primer" I have looked into, that of astronomy. It means teaching them how to seek knowledge, what knowledge will help them to a livelihood, what means are instrumental, and how to use these. Mere books can be but hints to teachers. The Germans have hit the thing in their Gewerke-Schule, where practice goes hand in hand with theory. The old-fashioned imposition of knowledge by authority, goes along with revelation, standing armies, and indirect taxation to keep the people in bondage. Liberty needs thinkers, explorers, experimenters, analysts especially, who will not be content with dirt or poison at their grocer's shops.

Even a euphuistic word-painter, like Ruskin, opens an honest shop and gives the people cheap but pure teas instead of blue ruin and Prussian blue, he really gives them an equivalent for their pence; but Huxley and the "economists" would persuade them that they already receive a fair equivalent for whatever they (in their ignorance or folly) may buy. He has not a word to say of the protective union stores, of co-operative labor, and other social remedies, but finds all running smooth in the grooves of evolution. The ancestral ape would however disown his anthropoid posterity if he could see them in the slums of English cities. He would be ashamed of them, for they dishonor animality; they are moral and physical monstrosities, the fruits of that paternal Anglo-Norman government, whose mediation in behalf of their intelligence Huxley invokes.

"How long will you abuse our patience"? asks honest labor, with Cicero, of that notorious conspirator against common sense and justice, the Catiline, political economy, named according to the paradox—lucus a non lucendo. In becoming the mouthpiece of this school, the cynical apologist of iniquity, the scientist, is renegade to science. Before entertaining for a moment's courtesy the optimist propositions just stated, we should have to imitate Mr. Prentiss, of Mississippi, who when challenged to fight a political duel with a rowdy whose personal habits compared with those of economic optimism in scientific society, sent him a clean shirt to fight in. So we should have to give optimism the enormous advantage of supposing the tradesmen and professional gentlemen cited as rendering a satisfactory quid pro quo in our business transactions with them, as all of them honest and competent representatives of their respective crafts, knowledges, sciences, or doctrines. Shall we tax the reader's patience by a serious refutation of such "transparent fallacies"? It seems more to the purpose to ask how it happens that intellect of Huxley calibre can be their dupe, or under the pressure of what motives his character can bend to the advocacy of propositions in which arrogant privilege insults the reason of the subject peoples. I do not resent it when ignorant priests say—" What can't be cured must be endured, so lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, rather than destroy in abortive revolutions those of earth, which can never be yours." Blind leaders of the blind may be sincere; but when scientists like Huxley rehearse the litany of Dr. Pangloss optimism, as edited by the effete school of "political economy," I mistrust the plebeian sympathies paraded by men of large incomes, great dignities, and habitual consociation with the aristocracies of the purse and sword, as well as of the pen. In opposing administrative nihilism, the lecturer endorses a military establishment, army and navy as a national police—and this in the same breath with which he pays homage to peace. In pace para bellum. But armies mean wars just as surely as stomachs digestion, or tushes and claws the predatory instincts of carnivora. In social or collective as in animal organisms, structure implies function. As stomachs lacking extraneous pabulum for their function gnaw their own organism with acute distress; so armies, in the prolonged abstention from foreign service, have been wont to find, under government tutelage, an aliment for their activities at the expense of fellow citizens. Rome completed her career of conquest by that of her own liberties. And England? The coarser and cruder ideas of evolution by might makes right in the struggle for existence, tally well enough with the atrocities of history, to give countenance to the admission of war as a human or national necessity. Great Britain has inherited from Israel (who had no further use for living after its dispersion) the God of armies, and has worshipped him with exemplary piety. War, the rule of armed force, of muscular and dynamitic Christianity, is based upon financial accumulations. Money is its sinew. Such accumulations imply certain privileges, viz., banking, commercial monopolies, and those of the soil, protective tariffs, etc. They are allied with the prestige of rank and caste, and repose upon the prostrate intelligence of subject masses. Unless intoxicated by some fanaticism, as in time of the Crusades, the war of religion in Bohemia, etc., men must be driven by the terror of imminent and ignominious death, as I have witnessed in the war between the States, to yield obedience to governments commanding them to leave their families, their houses, and labors of production, to satisfy the pride of privileges which they do not share; shooting and being shot by their fellow laborers, without either personal interest, or sentiment at stake. The duel pleads at least a personal motive—love or pride, both of them natural. War degrades man into a butchering machine, more ignoble than the beast. Decorated like oxen for the sacrificial rites, soldiers

march under the influence of patriotism, and a Tennyson celebrates the hecatomb. Such is the discipline of obedience, by which privilege has, from time immemorial, maintained its ascendant. Not until it refuses to fight at command (a refusal which implies previous concert of action by the organization of the trades and laborers) can a people achieve its superior phase of destinies by the conquests of science and wealth—bloodless conquests, triumphs of intelligence, and mutual fidelity.

Of property, there is one natural basis, the soil; one natural title to this, personal and productive occupation. From the moment that any other is substituted, arbitrary laws must be devised to formulize the iniquity. When fraud and force combine in legislation, the spider's web, we wot of, is soon crossed and recrossed with a tangle of precedents, and litigation adds its bulwark to the fortress of privilege. In its citadel is ensconced that great social parasite, the legal profession.

Now for the medical: The distinction between medicine and surgery is important in sociology. As soon as pain, with inaptitude for movement, developed observation and pharmaceutic experiment, men who made holes in one another's skins, would try to patch'em. Wounds are as ancient as the duel, which is coeval with jealousy, which is the twin brother of Cupid; and it is in this limited sense that Venus wedded Mars, the God of Combat, but not yet of national battles. Among vig orous races, leading the open air life, wounds seldom entail disease. Traumatic diseases result chiefly from the confinement of the wounded in hospitals, poisoning them with opium and other narcotics, which deprave the reparative process, viz., President Garfield's case. Internal diseases are regarded by savages, and still by the ignorant and superstitious of our civilization, as the proper subjects of theology, the faith cure, and conjuring. The real art of medicine will have been many ages younger than surgery. Wars between nations, entailing the accumulation of the wounded, while advancing surgery have initiated medicine. Wars of conquest add to the endemic diseases of the camp and hospital, a ghastly procession of half-naked starvelings, rheumatic and scrofulous, resulting from the alienation of peoples from the soil, from their farms, from their gardens, from the care and ownership of useful beasts. Breaking up the natural groups of affection, of reciprocal benefits in the home sphere, the circuits of production with consumption and labor with pleasure, the enslavement of the conquered frets the organism, disorders its functions, and gradually undermines structure. The impure air and the defective food of landless masses, crowded into cities, forms the basic necessity for medicine. The rich here come in for their share of the evil by the plethoras of indolent excesses. Hence the second parasitic profession.

And when victim peoples are agonizing, raving, and bewailing their lot, instead of changing it, that id the priest's opportunity; then religion comes in to console renunciation with celestial illusions. Neither doctrinal convictions nor sentimental piety are the substantial pillars of the Church of England, but its convenient provisions for the younger sons of her landed aristocracy and gentry. This church is simply a fellow conspirator with the army in the race and class league for exploitation of the people, or in other words, of labor.

Neither the military nor clerical orders of privilege, but the financial alone, lords it in the United States. We may merely say, in passing, that West Point and Annapolis, traditional features of the old belligerent policy, are, like the bacillus of tubercle, not less virulent on account of their minuteness in comparison with our macrocosm.

When the personal enslavement of peoples, plunder, tribute, and the confiscation of the soil, were the known motives of wars, as in the conquest of Gaul by the Romans, of England by the Normans, etc., the exigencies of self-preservation might constitute and arm strong governments. But now that the conquering races and their descendant classes are already in possession of all objects of foreign cupidity, the laboring classes have not the same motives for fearing or resisting invasion as formerly. In the United States there is still an important collective property in soil, but this, so far from breeding strife between us and other nations, is made welcome to all emigrants on very easy terms, notwithstanding corruption and extortions by land officers.

The vanguard of humanity in Europe and America, preoccupied with the realizations by art of its discoveries in science, finds in the management of solar ray force under its three modes of vibration, the luminous, calorific, and electric, an absorbent substitution for the military spirit still dominant in less advanced regions. Commerce and industry are more attractive, and but for the sinister policy of privilege, using government as a tool for oppression, wars would be rare in modern civilization. We might safely, while declaring Free Trade, abolish our whole military establishment, leaving our frontiers to take care of themselves. War can never be more than a flurry unless sustained by financial accumulations. Hence the danger of indirect taxation, which permits and facilitates plethora in the treasury at the same time with government patronage, and an enormously increased cost of collection, including a naval and frontier police against smuggling; in fact, a real army and navy.

Direct taxation brings home the costs of war to the sensibility of purses, which is far more acute than that of skins. Peoples are not going to vote wars and shell out in advance for their armament. An armed police may indeed be an apanage of the judiciary, in each local district; but we dissent from Mr. Huxley's assertion (p. 81) that the maintainance of internal order "preventing the aggression of one man on another, implies the maintenance of an army and navy as much as of a body of police."

We have not the pretention of meddling with English politics, nor do we assume that in a territory so vast as our own, and so varied in its circumstances, there will no where and never be need to fight. We do not deny that occasionally, an army or navy may be usefully employed. We say, let regions that need recourse to armed force develop and organize it locally.

We shall have corn and cabbages enough yet awhile without exterminating the last Indian tribe and felling the last forest tree on our potential domain. Combativeness is not the element in our character that stands in need of general cultivation. If our liberties leave much to be desired, still what we have are worth preserving, and personal liberty is incompatible with a strong military organization. Ask the Germans. Peace invites spontaneous evolutions of force in productive directions. War imposes upon living wills an external authority in destructive directions. The order resulting from its conquests is an arch of triumph which spans the common grave of liberty, physical and moral, alike for conquering and conquered peoples.

M. E. Lazarus, M. D.

  • Marx Edgeworth Lazarus, “Administrative Nihilism,” The Radical Review 2, no. 13 (May 10, 1884): 4-6.