How an Individualist Sees Things
Document Item Type Metadata
How an Individualist Sees Things.
By Herman Kuehn.
Neither co-operation nor competition can have paramountcy. Both are necessary. They complete the norm. Predominance of either is abnormal. If either tendency were to dominate the other the disturbance of the norm would thwart symmetry —make for lopsidedness.
No great “reforms”—that is no palpable evidences of progressive evolution—were ever effected by a conscious endeavor to carry out a program in the direction of either cooperation or competition, as apart one from the other. For that matter no program ever became effective. The evidences of progressive evolution all .how that both principles were involved. For instance: The protestant divergence from the Roman Church was a refusal to co-operate, and the forces that have so refused to co-operate are constantly tending toward co-operation. The competitive principle had here to precede the possibility of the cooperative.
The establishment of the Republic of the United States of America was a clear refusal to co-operate longer with British monarchy.
The southern states, as a culmination of the discussion of the slavery question, refused longer to co-operate with the union of states. Slavery was abolished, not by the co-operative, but by the competitive principle carried to the extreme of war.
The scientific socialist of to-day refuses to co-operate in the existing social status. He urges his followers (scientific and otherwise) to join in the competitive scheme of voting—which is war conducted with blood-saving devices. And by this process of competition he hopes to escape further competition. His desire is (I refer especially to such men as A. M. Simons, Victor Berger, Eugene Debs and other large-hearted scientists) to establish a co-operative commonwealth that will not need to compete; that shall so adjust society as to make it impossible for others who might later desire to refuse to co-operate with Co-operation, to carry forward their purpose of remodeling the universe.
Of course there are no non-scientific socialists in the militant socialist ranks. They are all sure that science indicates that co-operation should be given the right of way, and every competitive train side-tracked. They claim this to be the natural order, and boast that one who gainsays their scientific conclusion is absurd.
So sure of their ground are they that they are perfectly willing to employ the competitive principle for the purpose of establishing its counterpart. And having established the counterpart they do not mean to subject themselves to having to fight the fight over again, and so they are going to make the co-operative the only principle. It is doubtless scientific enough, but it is because science has always been of that character—the cock-sureness of to-day’s science always to be wrecked upon the positiveness of to-morrow’s.
And if you will hear these scientific gentleman tell of their love of liberty, and their certainty that Liberty can exist only in a co-operative state, you would think that they had universal truth on their side. But they have not that. What they have, and what is equally convincing—to themselves—is unquestionable sincerity and an admirable enthusiasm. But sincerity proves nothing but itself. And enthusiasm proves nothing but itself. Truth is beyond both.
And it is not true that Liberty will ever come through compulsion. The scientific socialist will answer that compulsion will not be necessary under Socialism—that all men will be perfectly satisfied. That they will agree to- co-operate.
Very well, then, if it is so certain that all men will volunteer to co-operate why compel them to volunteer?
Ah! but wait! they tell us, and you will see that there will be under socialism so much prosperity that all mankind will be glad to be guided by the wisest and best. That, however, is not socialism, but Aristocracy. And at length, when all their science is exhausted, they come back to the democratic principle that the majority should rule. The only readjustment of the democratic program which they offer us at length, is that a majority of scientific socialists would govern us better—compel us more benignly—than democratic majorities.
The stream cannot rise higher than its source, and Liberty is not to be ushered into being by compulsion. Science of the socialistic kind teaches that if a thing is desirable from the standpoint of the majority it cannot be successfully brought into operation except by the assistance of the minority, and they mean, straightway to force the minority to volunteer to co-operate.
Now, in spite of science of the socialistic kind, this is not true. There was never yet, in all the world, a single instance of a desirable thing to be done that those who deemed it the wise and expedient thing could not go ahead and do without compelling a single human being to co-operate with them.
On the other hand if a large number of people want to undertake some public work, and put no compulsion upon others who do not deem this work desirable, the minority in such cases will be disposed to assume the attitude of who should say: “Well, my brothers and neighbors think it well to build the bridge at that point, and are willing to pay for it there; and though I think another place would be better, or the building of it at another time would be still better, yet, here I am among decent neighbors, and as long as they feel that way about it I’m WILLING to co-operate.
The scientist has evidently forgotten to take into account the Will to Co-operate, and if he has taken it into account he has no trust in it. Well, it was ever the way of science to disregard Trust in Human Nature—or other Nature. And that is the reason Science needs be so often remodeled and Nature goes on forever.
There is a Norm. The norm is Liberty. And in Liberty at length we shall find the utmost possibility of social tranquility.
Herman Kuehn, “How an Individual Sees Things,” To-Morrow 2, no. 9 (September, 1906): 39-41.