Right and Might
Right and Might.
That right is might few question; the axiom is admitted, though not very enthusiastically believed. With equal truth it might be said that few question the right of might. The majority submit to it like brutes to the lash; their feeble efforts to escape only furthering the purposes of their torturers. Among the few who do question, however, there is great controversy. This difference results mainly from the differing standpoints of view. Viewed from the standpoint of the entire universe, might is undoubtedly right. It is the only standard, the only law. Viewed from the standpoint of the lower evolution, it is the same; the stronger chemical force, the stronger vital force, gives law to the weaker. But, as intelligence develops, there comes in a doubt and a struggle; a feeling on the part of the weaker that it is wronged, on the part of the stronger that it is wronging. The germs of Conscience and Altruism appear. The struggle grows less between the sexes and between the procreators and the procreated. It is found that self-interest can be promoted by cooperation, and wolves hunt in packs and lions in bands and herbivores range in herds. The struggle grows less between the individuals of the species. Might is growing less right, and right more mighty. But this process seems to have its limits. There is now but little conflict among the carnivores; where found, it is mostly confined to the lower orders, - --fishs, reptiles, etc.; and there is still less between the vegetarian animals; but Between these two great divisions of the army of life there is ceaseless war. And, unavoidably it would seem, the Human wars with both.
And now comrs in the question of right as related to us. For there are different standards of right, individual and collective. Right is relative; and the construction and plan of the universe is so faulty that absolute right — that is, absolute harmony — is impossible. To slay and eat the cow is a very right thing in tigerish ethics, but a very wrong thing in bovine ethics. The right thing for us is that which is beneficial to us. If murder is beneficial, murder is right; if theft is beneficial, theft is right; if tyranny is beneficial, tyranny is right. Humanity has abundantly tried these experiments in aggression and found them all non-beneficial and therefore wrong. But sometimes, temporarily, in a narrow circle and to the limited view, wrong is, or appears to be, right, and here all moral confusion begins and perpetuates itself. Greater intelligence, broader knowledge, is the only remedy.
In viewing questions of human right, we need to take the human standpoint; we have no justification for viewing them from the standpoint of the mineral, the vegetable, or the non-human animal. Nature has forbidden it. Nature, in making Man Viceroy of her Three Kingdoms, gave him full power to work his pleasure with them, provided only that he did nothing contrary to his own interest. The ultimate outcome of all this can only be the complete destruction of all the principal animals, of all injurious vegetables, and the enslavement of the chemical forces of the earth. But any violation of the proviso brings a sure penalty.
To conquer by force, industry, and ingenuity, avoiding only self-harm, — this is man's relationship of right to the universe.
But between man and man Nature has sternly forbidden all aggression and compulsion, unless protective, and this because such aggression or compulsion is a backward flame that burns chiefly the hand that carries it. And this question of human right must be studied from the standpoint of the individual, Nature having made no collective reason to attend to the needs of all humanity, but only individual reasons to attend to the needs of individuals. And this is the true standpoint from which to study the needs of humanity. Those reformers who have endeavored to legislate for the individual from the standpoint of humanity have usually only succeeded by their Jack O' Lanterns in leading him into deeper swamps, from which he must extricate himself as best he may. But no reformer ever secured justice for any single man without benefiting all men for all time. The simple truth is grander than the most glorious error. But there is no real conflict here. From a philosophical elevation the needs of the individual and of the race are seen to be identical. Why, then, is it not as well to take humanity for a starting point as to take the individual? Because the only way to adequately understand the needs of the whole is to understand the needs of the parts.
Nature says: Let each man work out his own salvation, and prevent him not, for this is social Justice and Liberty. Anarchy has heard this voice and obeys it, and rings it forth like a bugle note to all the world, inviting every man to shake off his fetters and be free. Understanding his position, then, no consistent Anarchist #ill use compulsion, not even the compulsion of over-persuasion, except defensively; and even then with the clear perception that compulsion is always an evil, only justifiable as a counter-cheek to other evils, and that to carry it one jot beyond the stern requirements of necessity is to render it an aggression without excuse. The grand distinction between Christianity and Anarchy on this point is this: Christianity says, "carry neither sword nor shield"; Anarchy says, "carry your sword only for protection, and use it only when your shield will not avail." In brief, the position of Anarchy is that in the relations of man with man there is no right in might except where might is right, and that might is only right when used in defence of Liberty.
J. Wm. Lloyd.
[[Category:Articles from "Liberty" (1881-1907)