On Rights

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[Continued from "Our Rights?"]


On Rights.

By Herman Kuehn.

Let's go a bit further in our 'discussion of "Rights." When we gather a bucket of rain-water from the clouds we do not assert a right to the clouds. When we take fish from the water we do not proclaim' our right to the sea, the stream or the pond. But when we gather the fruits of the soil we straightway register a title to the land, requesting that "all men know by these presents" that we have a right to it.

Perhaps some analytical philosopher' will "write a book" one of these days to tell us why there is this difference between our views to the rights we acquire to land as compared to our attitude toward the water and the air. Perhaps there have been libraries already written on this topic. I know so little about philosophy and books. But perhaps my guess may be quite as cogent as the philosopher's homily. I guess that the principle of royalty is involved. The king does not claim any rights to the ocean, the clouds or the air—not directly, though by indirection he claims pretty much everything in and out o' sight.<ref>Write Editor To-Morrow for Cause and Cure.</ref> I guess that in the inmost instinct of man there is a recognition that "the divine right of kings" is a humbug; and an impulse to call the bluff as far as it is safe. If the king "grants" his subjects the "right" to a title to land on which a certain amount of labor has been expended, the subject accepts the grant without realizing that his acceptance of it has deadened one of the primal instincts of human nature. Having accepted the grant he is thereafter dominated by the belief that royalty and divinity are pretty much one thing.

As the king makes no grants of air and clouds and sea the subject does not expect to establish any rights to those elemental forces. So when he takes a fish from the ocean he does not set up a claim to any right to the ocean, nor does he demand recognition of his right to the fish. It's the fish he wants, regardless of any right to it. But the king's emissary comes along and wants a part of the catch for the royal table, say one fish out of each dozen for his majesty. Here a new concept is created. Where before he was satisfied with the catch and did not care a rap for any rights to it, he now conceives that after the king has asserted a "right" to a rake-off, the fisher has a "right" to the remainder. The thought of any "rights" in the premises was born of aggression; of the king's claim of some "rights" to a part of the product. And every idea of "rights" has at its base an admission of the "divine rights of the king." No matter how democratic may be the impulse of any man, if he be acquiescent to the belief in "rights" he is a royalist to that extent. The democracy inherent in such a man is overlaid by the superstition that "rights" must be natural because the king is a divine institution, and can do no wrong.

Our claims of the "right" to own the earth or any part of it are a denial of the instinct of human solidarity. Human beings, unaffected by the belief in royalty, would naturally associate. In such natural association no one would think of rights to his product, because there would be no one who would assert a right to divorce the producer from his product. But society based on the doctrine of the "divine right of the king" is no longer natural. An artificial concept has arisen that undermines naturalness.

And it is not alone the beneficiaries of the institutions which Royalty engenders who defend these institutions. The victims of royalty are, indeed, the most sturdy proponents of crown and sceptre and kingly power.<ref>Write Editor To-Morrow for Cause and Cure.</ref> The doctrine of rights having corrupted or deadened the primal instinct of man toward Liberty, it leaves its trail in the willingness of its victims to acquiesce in their spoliation, each animated by the hope that some day he, too, may acquire "rights."

The path of social evolution is from despotism toward Liberty. Each approach toward greater freedom of the individual is marked by the dethronement of a king, or the curtailment of kingly prerogatives. But there is no possibility of freedom so long as any vestige remains of acquiescence in Royalty of any kind. And wherever there is a claim of "rights" one need not look far to find that it is buttressed upon the institution of Royalty.

I find no fault with royalty or despotism. Doubtless the experience of the race has required all the oppression that it has encountered. And while we are nearer to Liberty than ever before—because* the King idea is weakening—I doubt not that what residue of Royalty still persists is necessary for still further experience.

But it may be timely for us to have our laugh at the dear, good, large-hearted people who see much evil at work in the universe, and who are interested in a thousand projects to overthrow the iniquity of which they complain. Yes, "it is to laugh" that these uncheerful reformers cannot understand that no scheme of social betterment can ever accomplish any useful purpose so long as the principle of Royalty is acknowledged. And I repeat that no concept of "rights" is thinkable that is not founded in royal grants.

We cannot have both Liberty and the King. Whether the king be Nero, or Demos, it is impossible to conserve social tranquillity and well "being by any denial of Liberty.

When we "enjoyed" royalty in all its candor we looked to the king always to keep us in proper restraint. Now that we have Royalty by indirection, we aim to keep each other virtuous and prosperous by making laws against our interests. All schools of reformers seem to be agreed that their particular brands of wisdom may be trusted to make just the right sort of compulsory enactments. Scarcely ever do we hear a voice raised for Liberty, and then we want to strangle it.

Jack London tells us that ten million "free and brave" Americans are in a state of semi-starvation. The inference he seems to draw is that these and others in similar if less sorry plight are deprived of their "rights" and that another class of human being is enjoying the "rights" of the despoiled. Not so. These victims are all suffering from a belief in "rights." When they, and others who have not yet felt the pinch so keenly, learn that "rights" are simply relics of the superstition that "the king can do no wrong" there will, be betterment;—not until then.

The king can do no right. The king idea, however administered, whether by a barbaric monarch in royal purple, or an "in for four years with privilege of four more" president, or an oligarchy of lend Lords or land Lords, is a pestilential myth that is bound to work havoc as long as it persists.

When a few of the people (five per centum would serve) understand that the producer of things needs no rights to the source of the raw material from which he produces things, but has all the protection he requires for the free enjoyment of his product when no one can claim a validated "right" to dispossess him of his product, then the "Rights" superstition will collapse. For with the downfall of the superstition that royal grants to land are deserving of any respect, the lend Lord (the mightiest vampire of all,) will be shorn of his power, and Labor will at length assume the dignity of enjoying its full product. There can never be dignity to Labor short of that consummation.<ref>Write Editor To-Morrow for Cause and Cure.</ref>

The Rights of land-owning, and the Rights conferred upon the controllers of our media of exchange are only a few of the "rights" which afflict us. But the lesser will vanish with the greater.

Nor will it require an armed revolution, or any majority show of power at the polls, to let the wind out of the swollen bag of humbug that makes the doctrine of Rights look so formidable. Any day a hearty laugh will bring the walls of that Jericho level with the plain.

What a laugh our posterity an hundred years hence will have at the expense of this boasted "civilization" of ours, with all its smug pretences of loving Liberty! Liberty conjoined to a belief in "rights." is truly an amusing absurdity, none the less ridiculous because of its tragedies. Truly it would seem that tragedy must precede the laughing stage.

There is a deeper side to this question than the economic. Call it the religious side, if you like. Yet, to my notion, it is even more important and more practical than the industrial phases of it. Perhaps TO-MORROW will grant me space for a discussion of that viewpoint in a future issue.