Freedom or Protection? Which?
|Vol. 01||September 20, 1895 — pdf.||No. 01|
FREEDOM, OR PROTECTION? WHICH?
What do we want? Briefly, Justice. And what does Justice mean? Surely, that everyone should have, in the game of life, what we instinctively grant in all ordinary "games"—a fair show. In other words, what we really want is equality of opportunity for all.
It seems to me that this is the ideal for which all just-minded men and women are dimly groping; that the true complaint of all who find themselves outside the circle of monopoly is that they do not have a fair chance in life; and that, if this should, or could, be granted, social discontent would immediately cease.
This was what the Socialists of the earlier portion of this century incessantly proclaimed. They declared that the workers, being divorced from the means of production, were at the mercy of monopoly, and they insisted that this unnatural divorce should be once and for ever put an end to. Even Lassalle, the idol of the now authoritarian school of Social Democrats, defined his aim as being to give to every man and woman an economic standing-ground, from which to work out his or her development.
We have departed from this simple and truly individualistic basis. Children of untold ages of tyrannical oppression, and slavish subserviency, we have endeavored to shape inherited institutions to a philosophy never dreamed of in the period that gave those institutions birth. Our whole legal system is based upon the ancient Roman jurisprudence; it dates from an age that knew and cared nothing about general human rights, and accepted slavery as part of an inevitable order. How can you twist such laws to fit our modern ethics? It is impossible to get satisfactory results by pouring the wine of new thought into skins rotten with the putridity of centuries.
Philosophically considered the whole labor agitation swirls around the question, "Freedom or Protection—which?" The terms are used, of course, in their widest sense. Observe the prompt certainty with which inherited tendencies assert themselves.
For centuries the masses have been governed; therefore the masses are eagerly anxious to be governed still. Now the art of governing is simply to pluck the goose alive, while fondling and professing to protect it. Not only must it be kept from inconvenient squawking, but it must be made to cackle with delight during the cheerful operation. Much depends, of course, upon the operator's tact and skill, but, as the art is an old one and is highly paid, it has been naturally brought to great perfection. Hence it comes about that the workers, when offered their choice of Freedom or Protection, in ninety-nine cases out of a hundred insist that the "Authorities" shall supply them with the latter.
What matters it whether the plucking is done by the hands of the king, of the priest, or of the deputy professing to act on the majority's behalf? The process and the results are always identically the same. As the powers and functions of the governors increase those of the governed correspondingly decline; as the directors multiply the directed must sweat more profusely to support them. Consider only that the cost of government in Europe for the year 1865 was $1,950,000,000, and for 1889 was over $4,000,000,000. And Europe is steadily growing democratic! Yet myself was assaulted upon a public platform by an enthusiastic Socialist Labor Party organizer for at-tempting to speak in opposition to the new religion of "Adoration of the State." A few weeks afterwards the A. R. U. strike threw a side-light on the blessedness of Government monopolies.
Do you want to be protected? The State will be only too happy to lend you its assistance; for times are hard and there are thousands of deserving politicians who feel entirely competent to carry out the contract. It already protects you from hard labor by so tieing up the land of your country that the poor man cannot touch it. If you had free land you might be tempted to try your hands at cultivation, which is laborious and disagreeable. The money problem is confessedly a hard one. It solves this for you by establishing a currency dependent upon the price of gold and silver that can be extracted from the earth. This, obviously, gives the miners work, and, by stopping the circulation of commodities, saves you heaps of trouble. In a word, by forcing the monopolists to do the work of the country, it relieves the general public of an incalculable load of care. It is far better for the goose that it should have its pinions clipped; if it were once allowed to indulge in the luxury of flight there is no knowing what accidents might happen.
Freedom is a bore. It means that we ourselves should do our own thinking for ourselves; that we ourselves should do the producing, and have to handle all our product. It means a lot of labor and responsibility, which it were foolish to undertake so long as noble-hearted philanthropists stand ready to assume the job.
Long live the State! It has gloriously protected the helpless masses in the past, and it will see that they never fall into destitution in the future. Every preacher and politician in the country vouches for its reliability, and such highly remunerated instructors must necessarily know, you know.
It is a great institution, is the State, for securing equality of opportunity for all.