Individualism and Socialism (Rappaport)

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By Philip Rappaport.

The radical element is composed of three factions, or schools, or whatever we may call them, the anarchists, the single taxers and the socialists. In fact, there are only two, the individualists and the socialists, the single taxers claiming to be individualists: but because the single taxers have a theory of their own as to the means of reform, and because an individualist needs not necessarily to be a reformer, as really all the conservatives and reactionaries are, or claim to be, individualists, the best division for the purpose of discussion seems to be that into anarchists, single-taxers and socialists.

In two things all three, probably, agree. First, all of them see in the exploitation of the masses of the people by those who are in possession of the,wealth of the nation, in the appropriation of the fruits of the labor of the poor producers by the labor-employing rich, the source of our social ills; and, second, they aim at the emancipation of mankind from this condition and the creation of the highest possible state of individual liberty and welfare. There is, perhaps, no difference between them as to the ultimate end and aim. The difference is in the means whereby the desired end is to be reached, and, of course, the philosophy, the conception of social phenomena, from which the difference as to the means to be used springs.

We all want liberty. But it must become clear at once that there can be no absolute standard of liberty in human society. Absolute freedom, that is freedom from all and any restraints without regard to the effect of human action, could only be attained by the dissolution of human society, by the severance of all ties connecting individual with individual, and the elimination of all causes for strife and dispute. Society is an aggregation of individuals, acting toward each other according to certain rules, be they established by inclination, custom, agreement, or otherwise. Society, therefore, is an aggregation of individuals organized in some way. Without organization it would be no society. Organization implies government, unless, indeed, we imagine all individuals acting always on like impulses, and having like thoughts and wishes, so that divergence of opinions and disputes become impossible. Anarchism, the theory of no government, therefore, means dissolution of society. Is dissolution of society possible?

True, the anarchists (I have, of course, no reference whatever to the blood and thunder anarchists) say organization does not necessarily mean organization for governmental purposes, that what they want to abolish is authority, compulsion, and what they want to establish is voluntary association. But is there any practical meaning in these words? It seems to me they are nothing but high sounding phrases, catchwords, impossible of realization. They remind me of the socalled inalienable rights with which we were, according to the declaration of independence, endowed by our creator, but which never had any other existence but an imaginary one. How do we know that there is a creator who could endow us with anything? If we were endowed with certain rights, among which was liberty, how is it that there never was any quantity or quality of liberty which was anything else but the result of bloody class contests? Of what practical value is an endowment, if the thing with which one is endowed cannot be got without struggle and combat? These so-called inalienable rights and the demands of the anarchists are both of the same kind, they are mere metaphysical conceptions without a basis of facts either existing or possible of realization. Both are fallacies.

1 Voluntary association? Absence of authority? Indeed! And if any number of persons form a voluntary association and meet together for the purpose of deliberation, and two or three insist on speaking at the same time, not even such a meeting can be held unless someone is clothed with authority to determine the order of speakers. Authority there must be even if it rests in the majority.

What, if those, forming the involuntary association, are not all of the same mind? Oh, those who agree can start a new organization for themselves. Very well; but suppose there should also arise a point of difference in the new organization? Then they can do the same thing over again, and so on, ad infinitum, which would mean in the end dissolution of society and anarchism, not in the philosophic sense of no government, but in the popular sense of no order.

Yet, considering the matter from the standpoint of production, that wealth is the result of production, that greater wealth can be produced by division of labor and the use of machinery than by single handicraft, that production by machinery makes necessary a systematic combination of the labor of many, the dissolution of society, not to speak of other effects, would bring us back to the mode of production of former centuries, and would result in general poverty.

The trouble with the anarchists or radical individualists seems to be that they are unable to see matters in the light of history, to reason historically, to recognize the force of evolution. We socialists are not socialists for the sake of the socialistic order, or the socialistic state, but for the sake of individual freedom and welfare which we believe will be the result of a socialistic order of society, and we aim at the establishment of such an order of society, because, duly considering the development of the past, and analyzing the causes and effects existing in the present order of society, socialism must with necessity be the next step in the evolution of society. We are not parliamentarians for the sake of parliamentarism, we are aware of its faults and its shortcomings as much as the radical individualists are, but we find that it is the only practical weapon which can be employed in the present status of the present social system in the struggle for a new system.

There are no rights except such as are established by social order. Nature produces no rights, unless it is the right of the stronger. The cat eats the mouse, because it is the stronger of the two. If the mouse were stronger than the cat the mouse would eat the cat. There is no society, no government, no authority in nature.

Freedom is not a product of nature, but a product of human society, which is ever changing its forms, one form slowly passing into the other. Human society is a living organism, subject to evolution. Through thousands of years it has developed, new forms growing out of the old ones, but it never has happened and it never will happen, that a new form of society has been created by the imaginative power of man and established after the destruction of the old form with new means of warfare. The basis of the new form has always been created by the old form and the means of destruction were those which the old form offered. Every society conceals and develops within itself the germ of its destruction and prepares the soil for a new society.

This process of evolution is eternal, whatever meaning we can convey by that expression. We socialists cannot for a moment believe that socialism, as conceived by us, will be the last form which evolution will or can create; but it would be the height of absurdity to trouble ourselves about an order of society that will come after an order which does not yet exist, although it is bound to come.

There can be no freedom but within a given order of society, and no matter of what kind of government and authority it may be and how much or how little there may be of it, human society is impossible without government and authority of some sort and quantity, lest it will be the case of the cat and the mouse. And if it is the case of the cat and the mouse, we may be sure that the cat will establish its own government and authority and establish a social, order just like that prevailing in modern human society, simply because it is the stronger.

Nature produces no liberty. Nature produces human beings in large numbers with certain faculties and certain needs and puts them into certain natural surroundings. Here the work of nature ends and the work of man begins, but not that of individual man, but that of composite man, of man as an integral part of the whole aggregation of human beings. The individual man cannot separate himself from human society, he is part and parcel of it, and no human action, great or small, significant or insignificant, is possible outside and independent of the individual's relation to human society. No matter how much human will may appear as individual will, or action as individual action, it always is part of the social will and social action.

I remember that Max Nordau somewhere says something like this: "Form a parliament composed of only Goethes and Schillers and other men of such high caliber, and still the results will be quite mediocre." This is certainly true. It is true because the individual intelligence and the individual will are sunk into the composite or social intelligence and will.

If we analyze the so-called individualism now existing, we will find nothing but class government, and if we analyze the radical or philosophical individualism, or anarchism, it resolves itself into a metaphysical dream, a fata morgana.

The single-taxers are in a peculiar position. They are neither individualists, although they think they are, nor socialists; or rather they are a little of each. They recognize well enough that the unearned increment in land values is a social effect, but refuse to see it in the case of capital. They cannot or will not see that because land values are the effect of private ownership of land, the institution of private ownership makes land a species of capital. Because land is the product of nature they refuse to consider it capital, and their socialism does not go farther than common ownership of land. But even here they become confused and deny that their scheme is making land common property. They assert that they will not disturb the right of possession, that the land itself is to remain technically the property of its holder, only its unearned increment is to be taken, or as Henry George puts it, we take the kernel and leave to the owner the shell: a sort of private property which is no private property and a sort of common property which is no common property.

This condition is to be brought about by the single-tax, which, the single-taxer says, is no tax. Yet no one was ever more anxious to show that the single-tax is nothing but a tax than Henry George. He tests it by all the canons of taxation, and is very eager to prove it to be not more than a tax for the purpose of showing its conservative character.; merely a change in the form of taxation, that is all. It is so easy to reform the world.

But the world refuses to believe that freeing the capitalist from taxation will emancipate the masses of the people from the thralldom of capitalism, and neither the world of science nor the world of labor wants to have anything to do with a theory that ignores profit as an economic category, although it is a basis of capitalistic exploitation. Profit, according to Henry George, is wages, the wages of superintendence, even if they run into millions, the $100,000 salary of the president of a life insurance company is wages, the $50,000 fee of a corporation lawyer is wages and the one-dollar-a-day man receives wages. If he speaks of wages one can never know what he means. A theory which throws these different kinds of income into one category, and on this ground justifies interest, the income of dead matter, possible only because of profit, makes argument and understanding impossible and cannot rightly claim any scientific value. j

Fallacious theories find it very often necessary to juggle with words or, to speak more politely, to create a terminology of their own. The anarchist wants voluntary association, meaning an organization without government and authority, a contradiction in adjecto, an impossiblity. One needs only think of the complex system of postal service or railroad service to see immediately its utter impossibility. The singletaxer says his tax is no tax, and profit is not profit but wages. I want to see things called by their right names, so that I may know what they are, that is what names are for.

The conception of freedom depends on the state of possibilities. For the present we are unable to conceive liberty without order, order without organization, organization without authority. We can speak of these things but we cannot conceive them, we cannot think them out. We can speak of a God, but we cannot conceive the existence of one. The only order and organization in the future will be the one springing in course of evolution from the present. The thoughts and acts of man are part of that process. Therefore I am a socialist.

  • Philip Rappaport, “Individualism and Socialism,” To-Morrow 3, no. 2 (February 1907): 44-48.