Another Perplexed Philosopher

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Another Perplexed Philosopher.

A Reply to Herman Kuehn "On Rights."

I regret that our philosopher, Herman Kuehn , is so often wrong. He says we are endowed by Nature with a sense of "right", but not "rights." "Rights" rest upon compulsion, and he would do away with both. It would be convenient when doing away with a word that expresses a conception, to get rid of the conception also. Has a man a right to do unto other men what he knows, by Nature's instinct, is wrong? No, says Kuehn, he has no right to do either right or wrong, but like Squeer's school boys, he just "goes and does it"

The cat eats the mouse, but has no right to nor has the mouse a right to life. It is supposed that man has developed faculties that animals do not have, and that life is better because of them, and they include equality, love, justice, sense of the rights of others, the value of truth, logic, etc. Let us abolish all these and go to the cat for inspiration.

If Nature gave every man an "instinctive realization of right, why is it that not a wrong act can be named that has not been committed conscientiously, nor a right act that has not been refrained from conscientiously? I think Nature gives only a faculty to learn It does not furnish ethical knowledge nor a knowledge of music or algebra. The race began with no moral sense. A child does likewise. Experience only has disciplined the mind morally.

Speaking of puns, Mr. K. can excel Henry George. Cain pleads that he is not guilty of murder; that he "took" Abel's) right to life and is therefore guilty only of theft. Now, what we take we may possess. Cain could not possess Abel's life, as be had destroyed it. If we do not permit Mr. K. to use "Take" in the sense of "Destroy," then the whole Cain and Abel paragraph is useless, and the typesetter's time wasted.

If Bro. Kuehn is endowed with an instinctive realization of right, why did he, in a former "Tomorrow" write a letter to J. M. Patterson, imputing to him a doctrine of compulsion, without quoting one word from any declaration to which that gentleman has subscribed? If I charge that the Baptist creed denies the Atonement, shall I not be required to produce the creed in proof? Would it be "right"? Let Kuehn produce the National Platform of the party Mr. Patterson has joined, and show in what way compulsion is advocated. He must also show that compulsion is never justified. Resist not evil is a pretty theory, but does not fit at present. Only when all men have the "instinctive realization of right" and desire and ability to fulfil it, can compulsion be eliminated. I judge that only Christ, Tolstoy and Kuehn are now fitted for such a republic.

Different sentiments have governed the race at various periods. When the proper sentiment was: Let him take who has the power and let him keep who can, certain barons lived by "voluntarily" taking what the common people produced. Compulsion was also involved. Now extortion and profit are considered "right," and considerable compulsion used, yet less than formerly. It may be that a new sentiment: To the producer belongs the product, may become popular, and much progress made under it. while compulsion continues to diminish. Compulsion used to promote right and oppose wrong will be advocated for some time to come.

Mr. K. says: "Everything in the universal system is working in unison, even though it may not appear to be so." Let us now bear in what way compulsion and Kuehn are working in unison.

"No one ever yet resorted to the plea of natural rights who had not some authoritarian scheme to support." Explain the scheme of those deprived of land, and assert their natural right to it.

None of the absurd charges of unjust compulsion in the former letter to Mr. Patterson need be noticed until it is shown that Mr. P. advocates them, but other errors require attention. Mr. K says (brushing aside the thin veil of irony): "The Voluntarian will say that Science is evanescent, that today's science is simply the correction of the mistakes of the science of yesterday."

Name a science that is evanescent. If all Nature is in unison, all its laws (or processes) are unchangeable, as we all believe, then an exact knowledge of these laws (science) must be just as unchangeable. The powers of the wheel have been applied in many ways, yet the first wheel made did all that a wheel can do now—turn and1 carry a load. Real science can be added to, but not corrected; whatever needs correction is not science.

Mr. K. shows some contempt for "Social Science." Whatever is persistently revealed as cause and effect in society may be deemed; science, just as in mechanics; for instance, if people lack land and other means, there will be poverty, crime, suffering, etc. To supply what is lacking is remedial. When we discover the best method of possession, the science will be fairly complete. The method that will allow the most voluntary action of each individual, will be the best method. The real Voluntary School then is that which advocates voluntary action limited by Natural Necessity. This is the largest school and includes single taxers, social democrats, etc. Take an example: We may all pass along the street, but we cannot pass in two directions on the same side. Some voluntarian may voluntarily push his vehicle to the left and demolish some smaller vehicle, but if he can escape he need bear his own loss only, and this he calls Freedom at His Own Cost. In this age he is stopped and compelled to make good the other nerson's loss, and he then complains that he is compelled, coerced, etc. What can be done? Is not the law to pass to the right based upon Natural Necessity? And shall men violate it at will?

It is good, no doubt, to voluntarily combine or compete. The ice men are now working at this idea, and they all chdose to combine. The Chicago Tribune says that the uniform price charged proves a combination. If the people collectively wish to produce and distribute ice, as they do water, without paying interest and dividends, they should be encouraged to do so; but we should not prevent others doing the same. We do forbid them to compete as regards water supply. Why? Because competition in this field would mean tearing up the public streets by any one desiring to compete or combine. Should the streets be filled with pipes, and all owners choose to combine, then what becomes of competition, there being no more room for pipes for those wishing to compete (or combine)?

It is therefore proved, I think, that there is an essentially collective sphere, if not yet well defined, still sufficiently so to permit of a great deal more collective property than now exists.

No, Mr. Kuehn, the post office does not suit collectivism in all respects; nor is the refusal of mail privilege to certain people a necessary feature of a collective mail system. The city distributes water to the moral and immoral alike.

Your ironical objections to free use of credit as money are not the real objections. Let a voluntarian devise a unit of value entirely distinct from the collective unit now used, the dollar, and let the size, shape and color be so different that no one will be deceived into accepting the credit of an individual when he prefers a note based on the collective credit. After he does this and is then not permitted to issue his currency, it will be time to complain.

All your statements about the collectivity being infallible; that executives are the same as despots who both make and enforce laws, etc., are ancient, and have been refuted.

C. F. Hunt.


  • C. F. Hunt, “Another Perplexed Philosopher,” To-Morrow 2, no. 7 (July 1906): 60-61.