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By Herman Kuehn.
There are so many kindly, benevolent people who indulge the notion that their standards of philanthropy can be reached only through tyranny, that it is worth while occasionally to jolt them a little. In July To-Morrow Mr. C. F. Hunt ventures some criticisms to which I advert, not in the hope of convincing Mr. Hunt of his errors, but because there may be, here or there, some readers of To-Morrow who may be spared falling into the absurdities to which Mr. Hunt commits himself.
I declare that whatsoever liberty cannot accomplish authority cannot achieve. All human experience shows this to be true. All human experience shows that nothing has ever been attained for human progression by coercion. Nowhere do the data of experience show a single instance to the contrary of my position. Pseudo-scientists have sought to establish a “science” of social relations based on the assumption that human nature is vile and that some mystic power has revealed to the “scientists” certain compulsive processes whereby human nature may become purified. The doctrine of Natural Rights—than which no greater absurdity was ever advanced by the most superstitious savage—is relied upon by the social members as a prime factor :n their so-called philosophy.
Now comes Mr. Hunt with his ‘‘scientific” non sequitur. and a naive air of conclusiveness. I stated that Nature had given the cat a mouse-eating instinct. This proves to Mr. Hunt and his large and interesting school that Nature THEREFORE gave the mouse a right to life. Nature is diverse in her manifestations. She gives the cat some instincts in common with man, and some quite different. Mr. Hunt will not have it so. He would say: “Kuehn shows that the mouse has no natural rifgt to life as against the cat, NOW THEREFORE Kuehn has not wit enough to understand that man nature is different in some respects from cat nature.” Thus do I stand convicted by a “Now Therefore.” Well, I can afford it. Indeed, I am used to it.
When I declare that I deem it just that a negro should be treated with equity the Now Therefore school of philosophy immediately convicts me of an ardent, uncontrollable desire for negro husbands for each of my daughters.
When I declare that the State is not the most efficacious schoolmaster, comes the Nowthereforian with his conclusive showing that I am in favor of ignorance.
When I declare that human association is best conserved by reliance upon the natural instinct of human gregariousness, and that authority always hinders and never furthers right relationships among men, comes the authoritarian philosopher with his: “Now, therefore, Kuehn does not think it best for human beings to associate.”
When I show that Nature has bestowed no rights, and cite the case of the cat and the mouse as natural illustrations, Mr. Hunt comes along with his ‘“Now therefore, I have proved that Kuehn wants human society to be patterned after the cat nature.”
I charge that the political scheme we know as protectionism is fraught with the germs of robbery. Mr. Hunt cites me to the republican platform to convince me that the republican party has. never declared its intention to abet robbery.
I declare that the state socialist desires to secure a majority in order to coerce the minority. Mr. Hunt does not only charge me with maligning that party, but he proves it to his own satisfaction by demanding that I point out the clause in the socialist platform in which the design to coerce the minority is expressed. And having denied that the authoritarian bug is in the platform he turns about and asks me whether authority isn’t justified.
“Go back and tell your mamma that I never borrowed her old washtub, and it was a leaky old thing, and besides I returned it the day after I borrowed it.”
Mr. Hunt asks me two questions. One of them is the nature of the scheme of those deprived of land who resort to the doctrine of natural rights. The scheme is a tyrannical system of compulsive taxation.
And I am asked to adduce a science that has proved transitory. Well, how will astronomy do for a start? The ancient astrologers were as cock-sure of their “science” as Mr. Hunt is of his’n. And Copernicus evolved a new science, which must, in due course, give way to a still more cogent one.
Mr. Hunt avers that whatever is persistently revealed as cause and effect may be deemed a science. A very common mistake. Recurring phenomena do not constitute a science. Science consists of right conclusions deduced from recurring phenomena. But the “scientists” of the Hunt school deduce from recurring phenomena a scheme of social relationships which they dub “scientific” and which belies every social phenomena without a single exception. For never yet has authority achieved its avowed purposes, and never yet has liberty failed to fullfil its promises.
Human nature is inherently kindly, decent, generous, neighborly, brotherly. The manifestations we see to be contrary are all perversions wrought by the authoritarian principle. The “scientists” nevertheless are so well assured that human nature is vile that instead of looking to the withdrawal of hindrances they offer more obstructions to the free interplay of man’s natural instinct of gregariousness.
Mr. Hunt says that single taxers, state socialists and the like advocate voluntary action limited by natural necessity. This would be important, if true. They do not believe in voluntary action at all—except so much as the State cannot very well control. They are all of them obsessed by the absurdity that anything desirable to be encompassed by a social body cannot possibly be accomplished except by compelling the dissenters to join in the enterprise. The philosophers of the Hunt school have been challenged repeatedly to name a combination of circumstances that could ever arise in practicality, or that could even be conceived by the liveliest imagination, in which the success of any desirable social experiment depends upon compulsion. No one has yet appeared in the lists. It is impossible to conceive of such a condition. Any purpose to which a majority is committed can be carried out by that majority without requiring the help of an unwilling minority. One must be under the spell of the authoritarian delusion beyond awakening who is blind to this patent fact.
I do not like to think Mr. Hunt to be altogether devoid of a sense of humor. But what are we to think of a man who cites as a manifestation of the principle of voluntarism the voluntary combination of rapacious monopolists to control the prices of commodities? Can he not see that because of hindrances to free trade oppressive monopolies are rendered possible? Does he mean to say that Free Trade is in effect now? Does he mean to imply that the victims of monopoly actually volunteer to be fleeced?
Mr. Hunt’s bewilderment is probably due to the fact that he has no comprehension of Free Trade. Perhaps he shares the delusion of the Henry George school that free trade means abstention from customs tariffs. No, Free Trade means freedom to exchange products. Such freedom does not exist, and never can, so long as the medium whereby exchanges are affected is shackled in any way.
Mr. Hunt, lacking though he seems to be in a sense of humor, becomes positively funny when he undertakes to discuss Mutual Banking. He seems to think that mutual credit tokens are representatives of individual credits. Verily he has much to learn. But he is funnier still when he adverts to governmental money as representing the collective credit. Perhaps some day he will learn that the collect-credit is taken by government from the collectivity without any recompense, and then sold back to those who supplied the credit, at an enormous ransom that amounts to no less (in its various ramifications) than one half of the total product of the toilers of our country.
For the benefit of those who do not scorn enlightenment will say that the abolition of the ten per centum circulation tax embodied in the National Banking Act of 1862 will do more for the benefit of the people of America than all of the laws that could be enacted in the next thousand years, no matter how wise nor how benevolent the draughtsmen. And so Mr. Hunt, and others of his class, will find at length that if recourse be had to legislation at all, it must take the form of repeal. Nullification will suit me better. But that is merely a personal bias, perhaps.
Mr. Hunt may be right in asserting that there is a law in some localities whereby it becomes incumbent on drivers of vehicles to keep to the right. I think he is mistaken. But I know of communities that have no such silly laws, and yet people do normally. naturally and voluntarily all the decent things that neighborliness prompts. But since Mr. Hunt is committed to the doctrine that mankind is naturally vile, of course he may take what comfort he can from believing that laws are necessary to make people decent. My contention is that nothing but authoritarian hindrances ever keep men from being decent, for that is the natural state of all men with whom I have ever had dealings. I never knew a man vet to do a mean thing who was not urged thereunto by conditions made by some fool law. And I doubt whether any person in all the world ever did a mean thing under any other conditions.
But the funniest of Mr. Hunt’s performances is his undertaking to prove to me—a voluntarian collectivist—that “there is an essentially collective sphere.” Why, bless your heart dear brother, of course there is an essentially collectivist spirit, and nothing hinders its spontaneous and wholesome and practical and constant operation except the absurd nation that men arc to be held together in right relationship by force of arms, or by an agreement on paper, by lawyers’ parchments and the like. Laissez faire, and watch them cooperate!
And because I am for voluntary association of free men Mr. Hunt will probably be more than ever convinced that NOW THEREFORE I am not for co-operation.
Herman Kuehn, “Now Therefore,” To-Morrow 2, no. 8 (August, 1906): 22-25.