On Logic

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On Logic


Bibliographic Citation

Herman Kuehn, “On Logic,’” To-Morrow 2 no. 11 (December, 1906): 43-49.


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On Logic.

By Herman Kuehn.


Logic is thought to be an orderly process of reasoning whereby safe conclusions are deduced from agreed premises. Yet logic is never used in that way. Logic is the tool wherewith we justify judgments based on our sympathies and predilections. Having reached a conclusion we employ logic to bolster up our position. Rarely we revise or modify our prejudices after subjecting them to the test of logic. More frequently we adapt our logic to our judgments. Nothing is easier. All that is necessary is to reason back from our prejudgment to premises that satisfy us by conforming to our chosen position.

Mr. John Z. White, an eminent and able logician, in a recent interesting article in that worth-while periodical. The Mirror, published weekly at St. Louis, by William Marion Reedy (himself a logician of no mean attainments), discusses “The Dartmouth College Case,” and reduces to absurdity the decision rendered by Chief Justice Marshall of the United States Supreme Court. Upon this decision is said to rest the enormous and well-nigh invulnerable powers of such charter-holding corporations as railway companies.

Mr. White in reducing Marshall to absurdity, employs a modus of logic which commits himself to positions no less antagonistic to common sense than are contained in the judicial excogitation that a charter is a contract. He employs the logic of Blackstone, by approvingly quoting that great commentator to unhorse Marshall, and evidently does not see that the same Blackstonian deliverance which hangs heavy over Richard lowers o’er Richmond no less frowningly.

We may agree with White that there is an absurdity involved in the dictum that a charter is a contract. Indeed, Mr. White proves his case. But his method of proving it shows that instead of having reached his conclusion by logic, he argued back from his conclusion to premises that lack stability. In the body of his argument Mr. White informs us that he uses the syllogistic method. Conclusions so formed, with due regard to all the factors involved, are trustworthy provided the premises are secure. But both Mr. White’s major premise and his minor premise themselves require proof, and a syllogism so grounded can bring us only into confusion where clarity was promised.

Now let us quote Mr. White:

“Blackstone says truly that ‘the laws of nature are coeval with mankind and are binding everywhere and at all times,’ and that ‘all human enactments derive whatever force and vitality they may have from their conformity with those great originals,’ and that ‘any human laws made in contradiction of the laws of nature must eventually fail and become null and void.’ As a condition of nature, then, men live on the earth and produce things from its materials in order to continue to live.”

So far, good! But Mr. White, not content with safe moorings in Blackstone harbor, ventures upon a tempestuous White sea of speculation without the rudder of logic when he adds:

“Some, if able, will wantonly or carelessly injure others, and to prevent such trespass all the people (strictly the majority) within a given territory organize the police power.’’

Mr. White ventures no proof of this declaration, and does not deem it needful as he conceives it impossible, probably, that any one would dispute that assertion. Nevertheless it not only requires proof, but there is none possible, because the statement is not at all in accord with “the great originals” to which Blackstone refers. The police power was not organized because men, if able, injure their neighbors, but “some, if able, injure others” because, and only because of the compulsive principle which Mr. White euphemizes with the comforting name of the police power. The origin of the police power is not, as Mr. White believes, traceable to the inclination of men to injure their neighbors, but to support the “divine right” of kings.”

That men will do vile and unsocial and unneighborly things is the result of, and not a justification for the enactment of “human laws in contradiction to the laws of nature.” Nature wrote the law of gregariousness, of comradeship, in the hearts of men, and while “human laws made in contradiction to the laws of nature,” tend to blunt the operation of the natural law of morality (by which term I mean “mutual aid) they are not sufficiently forceful to entirely extirpate the inclination to companionship. If ever the “police power” were to grow sufficiently respected and respectable, human society would disappear from the planet. Our salvation from the “police power” rests upon the fact that after all men “think lightly of the laws,” and are not greatly in awe of “the arrogence of elected persons.”

“Yes, as a condition of nature,” to quote Mr. White, as above, “men live on the earth and produce things;” and the same nature that provided the earth and the fulness thereof, and put man upon it, gave to mankind the instinct of selfpreservation, and an intuitive recognition of the fact that companionship is the best, and in the long run, through its operations, the only means requisite for self-preservation. ‘‘To utilize the earth efficiently,” continues Mr. White, “it is necessary that parcels be exclusively occupied by individuals. To this end the whole people ordain a method of holding land.”

That is not the natural order at all. Before any whole people ever ordained a method for holding the land the land was occupied and efficiently used by individuals and communities. The nature-way to occupy and use land is to occupy and use it. The first ordinance ever made with respect to holding of the land had nothing whatever to do with the use or occupancy of land. All ordinances relating to the land have as their primal object the holding of land out of use.

But the governmentally-perverted mind (and I use this term in no objurgatory sense, for it would be marvelous if we escaped such perversion in our superstition-dominated environment) will argue that the occupier and user requires protection in his holding. The wisest men ever gathered together to ordain methods have never improved upon nature’s own way—upon “those great originals” ordained by nature. Nature gave man the instinct of “morality”’ which always and everywhere make men ready and willing to help one another in the absence of “human laws made in contradiction to the laws of nature.’’ Nor need we go back for demonstration of this to primitive races and primitive times. In our own country and in our own times pioneers do not injure one another, hut help one another, until the vitiating influence of government comes along with its “human laws made in contradiction to the laws of nature.”

Let us go further with Mr. White:

“Each man has the right to peacefully occupy and use ti e earth, and the only known way to maintain this right (security of person and propcty.) is by the exercise of the supreme force. This supreme force is sovereignty. Sovereignty is dominion; government is organized agency.”

A logical statement truly. But what about the premises? Ah, the premises! Each man has a right. What right? Whence derived? Of what need? The only jeopardy to one’s person and property arises from a belief in the doctrine of rights.

Nature gave man life, the earth, and the instinct of comradeship. Now fancy man coming to the great court of Nature with the plaint: “O, thou gracious giver of all, haven’t you forgotten something? Here you have given me life, but no right to life; the land and not title to it, and companionship, but no claim on it.” Nature would probably answer: “Don’t worry, my little man! For while I have given you all these necessary things and no rights to them’, be comforted in the assurance that having given no one any rights to interfere with your enjoyment of my gifts you have naught to fear—except fear.”

That each man has a right to use the earth is not a positive concept at all. The world’s profoundest philosopher, whoever he may be, cannot formulate a coherent statement of a positive concept of natural rights. What Mr. White really means—what every one really means who postulates natural rights—is that no one has the right to hinder another from occupying and using the land. If this were merely another way of stating the same proposition it would not be worth while discussing this phase of the matter further. But not only is there not an identity in these two concepts, but they are diametrically opposed in the effects of them. For, it it be true, as I contend, that no one has from nature the right to hinder another from the use of the earth, then it is impossible for majorities, under the claim of sovereignty to combine the aggregate of their “no rights” and thus secure the power to hinder men from freely employing their energies upon the elemental forces of nature.

But if, on the other hand, nature has indeed given each man a right to the use of the earth, the one having such a right has likewise the right to withhold “his” land from use. And it is the claim of the right to withhold land from use that is the cause of those phenomena in human conduct which gives warrant for the doctrine of “total depravity,” or to the assumption of so much of human depravity as Mr. White postulates in his conjecture that “some, if able, will injure others.”

Nevertheless, Mr. White is right in maintaining that “the supreme force is the only way” to maintain the “right to the earth.” And the greater the degree of enlightenment among men the more force will be required to maintain that absurdity, until—when man reaches a plane of enlightenment in which he will cast off superstitions—there will not be force enough available to compel his adhesion to the absurd notion that nature ever granted man the rights for which Mr. White contends.

Force is not incident to production. Force is an incident of invasion. There is no invader on the horizon under the nature-charter under which we hold the land secure against any claims of the right to deprive us of such use. The occupier and user needs protection against nothing except that very “supreme force” which the rights doctrinaires invoke for his protection.

Sovereignty is an artificial device whereby the cunning justify themselves in sharing in the fruits of toil without participating in the effort. It is only under contranatural conditions that the institution of landlordism (holding land out of use) finds sanction, and exploitation of man by man becomes impossible. Under voluntary association—the spontaneous operation of the natural law of comradeship—the distribution of effort and the results of effort would prevent injustice—which, if formidable enough to cause us concern, is always institutional—always having its bases in “these human enactments made in contradiction of the laws of nature.” And where there is no exploitation there would be no such phenomena as land values, and with the elimination of land values there would arise the necessity of the single tax philosophers revising their philosophy, and it’s ever so much easier to use logic to bolster up prejudgments than to shift ground from despotism toward liberty.

Blackstone pointed out the futility of laws made in contradiction to the laws of nature, but they are not futile so long as men acquiesce in them. And fool laws will have acquiescence until men become wiser. Since Mr. White approves of the quoted statement of Blackstone, perhaps he will some day oblige a waiting world by pointing out some law or ordinance of human manufacture, the purpose of which is to sustain the existing order, that does not run counter to the great originals established by nature.

Nature granted no rights. All rights are granted by sovereignty. And sovereignty is required to uphold the rights sovereignty grants. Therefore sovereignty is justified. Such is the logic of the governmentally-perverted mind.

I do not charge Mr. White with being classifiable with those shallow-pated people who confuse the word “right” as employed in the moral distinction of conduct conforming to comradeship as opposed to “wrong” to describe conduct transgressing comradeship, with the word “rights” as employed by him in describing a grant from Nature. Instead of there being a correlation between these two methods of using the word “right” the contrary is true. Human conduct, as influenced by the doctrine of natural rights (without which the “right” to hold land out of use has no sanction whatever) tends always to being immoral (contravening comradeship) and therefore wrong. While under the nature charter of security without reliance upon the superstition of natural rights the conduct of men tends normally toward morality (mutual aid) and is “right.”

I do not overlook the likelihood that it may be urged that in postulating the right to use the earth, the “right” to withhold it from use is not implied. But if nature ever granted a “right” to land the right is inconceivable unless it involves the right to hold land out of use. That untenable phrase “inalienable rights,” will have adherents, of course, as long as men are dominated by the “rights” superstition, but there is no more cogency to the expression than that of “good government” or “black whiteness,” all of them being of the same quality—an undertaking to make a descriptive adjective qualify a noun with which it has no vestige of coherence.

Rights cannot even be made inalienable by contract or convention, or by arbitrary “police power,” or despotism, although an infraction of the contract or custom may be punishable. In nature there can be no correspondence to the absurd postulate of inalienability of a right. If nature ever committed the blunder of granting the right to use land then nature surely gave the right to alienate it, and without the “right” to alienate there is no basis for the notion of natural rights at all, except as one may claim a basis for Santa Claus. The Santa Claus superstition, however, does little if any harm, while the superstition of natural rights is the very foundation stone of the sum of all villainy—landlordism. Without the belief that nature ordained natural rights landlordism would dissolve because of a lack of acquiescence in its preposterous claims; and if ever the institution of landlordism falls, as eventually it will, according to Blackstone, because it is not only contrary to the laws of nature, but is based upon an absurdity—the absurdity of natural rights—it will not become necessary to abolish it by legal enactment. It will collapse before the onmarch of enlightenment.

If there be indeed a “natural sovereignty,” made requisite and reasonable by the unnecessary and unreasonable assumption of “natural rights,” then there is. after all, much cogency in the doctrine of the “divine right of kings,” and royalists should be duly grateful to Mr. White for giving that dogma the implied sanction of his choicest brand of logic. For whether “supreme force” have as its agent a fat king holding an eighteen karat sceptre, or the “police power” under any other guise, it amounts to the King-thing just the same. Nature nowhere discloses any form of sovereignty. We read of the lion as “the king of beasts,” and of “queen bees,” but’ these are merely fanciful expressions surviving from the childhood of the race.

Whether Mr. White ever comes to admit it or not, the fact is that what he really means when he states that “each man has a right to use the earth,” is that no man has the right to interfere with his neighbor’s use of the earth.” Nor is the distinction merely verbal. The distinction is vital and fundamental. Under the first method of stating the proposition men will, if dominated by that absurdity, associate for the protection of their rights, and the consequence of such association is despotism via landlordism. Human association under the sane concept that nature gave no man the right to hinder his neighbor’s use of the earth, would be for mutual aid (morality) which would promptly take the form of repulsion of the invader, were it conceivable that such an anomaly could appear where governmental perversion found no lodgment. The latter association would be voluntary in character, and the compulsive principle eschewed.

And it is only under voluntary association that the instinct of comradeship, implanted in the hearts of men by Great Nature, that social tranquility is possible. Even under the domination of the compulsive principle the real progress of mankind results from a denial of. rather than an adherence to, the idea of sovereignty, and the achievement of humanity, when entirely unfettered by the perversions incident to authoritarianism, would take on phases which would seem nothing short of marvelous to the most optimistic of our social idealists. Sovereignty (a fancy name for compulsion) has never yet fulfilled its avowed promises, ‘while liberty (the condition under which voluntary associations would have their being) has never yet failed to fulfill its promises.

True, royalists and other governmentally-perverteed people, “point with pride” to meritorious achievements made under government. Analvsis will show that wdiatever mav be thus claimed (as meritorious) is only an incident and not at all in conformity with the governmental principle. All such achievements could have been (and indeed, when occasion has offered) either performed much better by voluntary cooperation, or if no better then at much lower cost to the producers of goods, who in the end must defray the cost of ell enterprises. Even war, an art in which governments have great experience, and in the pursuance of which the products of toil are lavished with boundless prodigality, can be better conducted by voluntary association, as was shown in the conflict between the American colonists and “good King George of sacred memory.”

It is claimed that governments are instituted among men for the purpose of establishing justice. But justice does not require to be established. Voluntary association would see to it that no injustices became institutionalized, and any injustices that have not the sanction of governmental institution and maintenance would be negligible qualities, if they found existence at all.

I am not willing to yield any credit to governmentalism even for its occasional indulgence in the “good work” of repealing laws, for no law is ever repealed by formal governmental action until and unless it have proved inane, incompetent or absurd, altho governmentalists may take some comfort from repeal, if they want to, as a last refuge of their claim for the beneficence of the compulsive principle. But more laws are repealed by nullification, which shows but little respect for the king, and is reprehensible in the eyes of all who regard “sovereignty” as a heaven-sent boon. It is a pity to find so excellent a gentleman as John Z. White devoting the powers that might well be employed on behalf of liberty, in support of the principles (if his primal absurdity deserves to be so dignified) upon which all despotism must depend at length for its acceptance.

He has made as good a case as any one could have done in support of the contention that nature blundered in granting rights which it requires human enactments to support and enforce.

On behalf of nature. I hereby enter a plea of “not guilty.” to Mr. White’s indictment, and move that it be referred back to him with leave to amend. And when he comes again it is lo be hoped when he undertakes to prove a proposition he employ premises that themselves do not require considerably more proof than his original contention.


Herman Kuehn, “On Logic,’” To-Morrow 2 no. 11 (December, 1906): 43-49.



Kuehn, Herman, 1853-1918, “On Logic,” The Libertarian Labyrinth, accessed September 17, 2019, http://library.libertarian-labyrinth.org/items/show/2557.