Waldo R. (Waldo Ralph) Browne.

Man or the state? A group of essays by famous writers online

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Tfiurloiu E. Coon
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presented to the


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A Group of Essays by Famous Writers



"What is it to be born free and not to
live free? What is the value of any pol-
itical freedom but as a means to moral
freedom? Is it a freedom to be slaves, or
a freedom to be free, of which we boast?"







Introduction vii

I. P. Kropotkin: The State, Its Historic Roi,k 1

II. Henry Thomas Buckle: Inquiry Into the

Influence Exerciseo by Government . . 4>4t

III. Ralph Waldo Emerson: Politics .... 57

IV, Henry David Thoreau: On the Duty of

Civil Disobedience 70

V. Herbert Spencer: The Right to Ignore the

State 90

VI. Leo Tolstoy: Appeal to Social Reformers . 100

VII. Oscar Wilde: The Soul of Man Under

Socialism 118


" The great events of the day occupy my thoughts much at
present. The old illusory France has collapsed; and as soon
as the new, real Prussia does the same, we shall be with one
bound in a new age. How ideas will then come tumbling about
our ears ! And it is high time they did. Up till now we
have been living on nothing but the crumbs from the revolu-
tionary table of last century, a food out of which all nutri-
ment has long been chewed. The old terms require to have
a new meaning infused into them. Liberty, equality, and
fraternity are no longer the things they were in the days of
the late-lamented guillotine. That is what the politicians
will not understand; and therefore I hate them. They want
only their own special revolutions — revolutions in exter-
nals, in politics, etc. But all this is mere trifling. What is
all-important is the revolution of the spirit of man."

Thus in 1870 wrote Ibsen, greatest in his day of the rare
originative geniuses who " carry in their brains the ovarian
eggs of the next generation's or century's civilization." And
now at last, after nearly fifty years, the fulfilment of that
prophecy is at hand. Not Prussia merely, but the most of
monarchist Europe has collapsed. The old ideas are tum-
bling about our ears at a rate which possibly Ibsen himself
did not foresee. Even that hoariest and most impregnable
of them all, the idea of the absolute State, though propped
and buttressed during the past five years as never before in
history, is everywhere visibly tottering — where it has not
already tumbled. A new age is indeed upon us !

Probably no proof of failure less complete and terrible
than the recent cataclysm could have shaken man's mystic
devotion to the State. However it has oppressed, impov-


erished, impeded him, he has for the most part always re-
garded it as an inevitable and indispensable part of the di-
vine machinery, as remote from his control as gravitation or
the weather. All through the centuries he has blindly ac-
ceded to its insatiable demands, blindly conformed to its
endless inhibitions, blindly sacrificed himself and his posses-
sions to its alleged interests. Fed so long on this monot-
onous diet of subserviency, the State came quite naturally
to imagine that there existed no law of God or man to which
it was not superior — of which fatal delusion the conse-
quences are today writ large in blood and fire across half
the world.

The great underlying principle of English law, according
to Dickens, is to make business for itself. The great under-
lying principle of the State, it might be said with equal truth,
is to make power for itself. As Renan pointed out, " it
knows but one thing — how to organize egotism." So pre-
occupied with this task has it been that it long ago forgot,
if indeed it ever knew, that such a thing as the human soul
exists. But now at last, aroused to rebellion by almost in-
tolerable afflictions, the human soul begins to assert its su-
premacy. Of tliat duel the ultimate issue is certain and
near at hand. The servant who has so long usurped the
master's place must return below stairs; the instrument must
finally yield to its creator.

But for all its crimes against humanity, the time is not
yet when we can abolish the State entirely, as Ibsen urged,
and " make willingness and spiritual kinship the onlv essen-
tials in the case of a union." Eventually, unless moral
progress is an illusion, that ideal will be realized. Mankind,
however, has yet to serve a long and rigorous novitiate be-
fore it can be worthy of such a consummation. Philosophic
anarchism is a creed that postulates too much nobility, too
much self-restraint and self-abnegation, in common human
nature to be immediately practicable. For a few decades
(perhaps even a few generations) longer, Man must con-


tinue to bear as best he may witli those accusing symbols of
his moral imperfection, the policeman and the soldier.

If, then, the State cannot at once be dispensed with, the
alternative is reform, revision, melioration of the State idea.
Here we shall at least be sure of a multitude of counsellors,
each with his favorite State-theory or State-pattern to urge
for adoption. It would be well to dismiss at the start those
slightly anachronistic physicians who invariably prescribe
more centralization as a cure for the ailments of our over-
centralized State. Their ideal is pre-war Prussia, though
they will not often admit it. But of Prussia as a working
model of State-theory we might say, as Talleyrand said of
the English public school system, " It is the best we have
ever seen; and it is abominable." The earnest seeker for
light will turn with far more of hope and interest to storm-
swept Russia. Out of the Soviet experiment, and out of
the ideas of the Guild Socialists in England, is evolving what
may well prove to be the State-norm of the immediate future
— or something very like it.

But it should never be forgotten that the problem of the
State is essentially a spiritual one. Political forms and in-
stitutions, legal systems, legislative enactments, all the char-
ters and codes and statutes in Christendom, are valid and
stable only as they tend to assure freedom and justice to
individuals. Political freedom is of value only as it leads
to moral freedom, and there can be no public justice that
does not find its ultimate sanction in private conscience. The
State, if it is to endure at all, must devote itself henceforth
to the organization of altruism rather than egotism; it must
slough off completely its old predatory and repressive char-
acter, and embrace the ideals of brotherhood and association.
Above all, it must respect and preserve inviolate at whatever
cost the principle of individual freedom. Not freedom to
prey upon others, which was really the essence of the old
individualism, but freedom from being preyed upon. Not
the shadow of freedom, but its substance: not political free-


dom merely, but moral and economic freedom. If a govern-
ment cannot permanently exist half slave and half free, how
much less so can a human being!

More than this I shall not venture by way of prophecy.
My purpose has been simply to indicate the problem, to ac-
centuate the need of reform. Definite solutions I must leave
to abler intellects. My present appearance is in the lowly
capacity of Editor, and as such I fall back upon the pre-
cedent established or at least invoked by Carlyle: " Edi-
tors are not here, foremost of all, to say How. . . . An Edi-
tor's stipulated work is to apprise thee that it must be done.
The ' way to do it,' — is to try it, knowing that thou shalt
die if it be not done. There is the bare back, there is the
v.eb of cloth; thou shalt cut me a coat to cover the bare
back, thou whose trade it is. ' Impossible ? ' Hapless Frac-
tion, dost thou discern Fate there, half unveiling herself in
tlie gloom of the future, with her gibbet-cords, her steel-
wliips, and very authentic Tailor's Hell, waiting to see
whether it is ' possible ' ? Out with thy scissors, and cut that
clotli or thy own windpipe ! "

In considering the problem of the State the great thing,
as Ibsen has pointed out, is not to allow one's self to be
friglitened by the venerableness of the institution. For those
inclined to be thus frightened, as well as for a good many
otliers, I have thought that a useful purpose miglit be served
by bringing together a group of essays, written by some of
the foremost thinkers of our time, which at least make plain
that in neither its history nor its workings is the State a
sacrosanct affair; that it is by no means an incrrant or ir-
reproachable, even a reasonably efficient, social instrument;
that under some other collective administrative arrangement
humanity might achieve a far nobler and happier existence.
The autliors of these essays are of widely various, even di-
rcctlv antagonistic, social creeds; yet in the main points of
their indictment against the State they are at one.


A certain congruity of selection and arrangement will, I
hope, be apparent in the contents of this volume. Kropot-
kin's essay deals with the origin and historic evolution of
the State. The chapter from Buckle, one of the greatest
of philosophic historians, records the State's notable failure
as a legislative agent. The three following papers consti-
tute the challenge of the higher Individualism, as embodied
in Emerson's serene and optimistic generalities, looking to-
ward a society perfected from within; in Thoreau's keen
eloquence, asserting the supremacy of personal Conscience
over all other autliority; in Herbert Spencer's clear-cut logic
arguing tlie right of freedom from external control as an inevi-
table corollary to his " first principle " of social ethics —
that " Every man has freedom to do all that he wills, pro-
vided he infringes not the equal freedom of any other man."
In the next essay Tolstoy pleads the case for Christian an-
archism, or social salvation through individual self-perfection
combined with passive resistance to the State. Finally, we
have Oscar Wilde's glowing and trenchant statement of the
manner of life that would be possible in a really free so-

If this little book did no more than make generally avail-
able, as it does, the first of these essays, I should feel that
its existence were sufficiently justified. Prince Kropotkin's
avowed position as an apostle of philosophic anarchism will
of course repel those numerous persons who, like crows, in-
variably take flight with much raucous cawing from the ver-
bal bugaboos which they are too timid or too stupid to in-
vestigate. But it need alarm no others. Despite his faith
in a society based upon " willingness and spiritual kinship "
rather than upon coercion, Kropotkin holds a secure place
among those of our time whose work has left a permanent
impress upon human thought. Every reader of his " Mu-
tual Aid " knows how deeply and widely he has explored
the origins of society, — upon what a vast range of data his
conclusions are based. The essay here reprinted is a pro-


duct of the same study, though of course restricted to a
narrower field, that went to the making of " Mutual Aid."

The reader may wonder, particularly in view of several
references in this Introduction, why Ibsen is not represented
in the main contents of the compilation. But my plan has
been to include only complete, or fairly complete, essays;
and unfortunately, Ibsen's appearances in what he calls
" my capacity as state-satirist " are in the way of brief and
scattered glimpses rather than in any sustained exposition.
Yet no one else, save possibly Thoreau, pierces so directly to
the heart of the matter, — as witness this final quotation:

" The State is the curse of the individual. With what is
the strength of Prussia as a State bought? With the merg-
ing of the individual in the political and geographical con-
cept. The waiter makes the best soldier. Now, turn to the
Jewish nation, the nobility of the human race. How has it
preserved itself — isolated, poetical — despite all the bar-
barity from without? Because it had no State to burden it.
Had the Jewish nation remained in Palestine, it would long
since have been ruined in the process of construction, like
all the other nations. . . . The State has its roots in Time:
it will liave its culmination in Time. Greater things than it
will fall; all religion will fall. Neither the conceptions of
morality nor those of art are eternal. To how much are we
really obliged to pin our faith? Who will vouch for it that
two and two do not make five up in Jupiter? "

Waldo R. Browne


(b. 1842)

In taking as subject for this lecture the State and the part it
has played in history I thought it would respond to a need
which is greatly felt at this moment. It is of consequence,
after having so often criticized the present State, to seek
the cause of its appearance, to investigate the part played
by it in the past, and to compare it with the institutions
which it superseded.

Let us first agree as to what we mean by the word State.

There is, as you know, the German school that likes to
confuse the State with Society. This confusion is to be
met with even among the best German thinkers and many
French ones, who cannot conceive of Society without State
concentration. Yet to reason thus is entirely to ignore the
progress made in the domain of history during the last thirty
years ; it is to ignore the fact that men have lived in societies
during thousands of years before having known the State;
it is to forget that for European nations the State is of re-
cent origin — that it hardly dates from the sixteenth cen-
tury; it is to fail to recognise that the most glorious epochs
in humanity were those in which liberties and local life were
not yet destroyed by the State, and when masses of men
lived in communes and free federations.

1 Published in 1898. The text used here is that of the edition
issued in two-penny tract form from the office of " Freedom," Lon-
don. It is evidently a translation from the French, poorly done
and wretchedly printed; for the present purpose it has undergone
careful and thorough revision. A few passages more particularly
propagandistic than historical in substance, amounting altogether
to perhaps one-seventh of the entire essay, are omitted here.



The State is but one of the forms taken by Society in the
course of history. How can one be confused with the other?

On the other hand, the State has also been confused with
Government. It seems to me, however, that State and Gov-
ernment represent two ideas of a different kind. The State
idea implies quite another idea to that of Government. It
not only includes the existence of a power placed above So-
ciety, but also a territorial concentration and a concentration
of many functions of the life of Society in the hands of a
few or even of all. It implies new relations among the mem-
bers of society.

This cliaracteristic distinction, which perhaps escapes no-
tice at first sight, appears clearly when the origin of the State
is studied.

Really to understand the State there is, in fact, but one
way: it is to study it in its historical development, and that
is what I am going to endeavor to do.

The Roman Empire was a State in the true sense of the
word. To the present day it is the ideal of students of law.

Its organs covered a vast domain with a close network.
Everything flowed towards Rome, economic life, military life,
judicial relations, riches, education, even religion. From Rome
came laws, magistrates, legions to defend their territory, gov-
ernors to rule the j)rovinces, gods. The whole life of tlie Em-
pire could be traced back to the Senate; later on to the Caesar,
the omnipotent and omniscient, the god of the Empire. Every
province and every district had its miniature Capitol, its
little share of Roman sovereignty to direct its whole life.
One law, the law imposed by Rome, governed the Empire;
and that Empire did not represent a confederation of citi-
zens. — it was onl}^ a flock of subjects.

Even at present, the students of law and the authoritarians
altogether admire the unity of that Empire, the spirit of
unity of those laws, the beauty (they say), the harmony of
that organisation.

But tlie internal decomposition furthered by barbarian
invasion, the death of local life, henceforth unable to resist


attacks from without, and the gangrene spreading from the
centre, pulled that Empire to pieces, and on its ruins was
established and developed a new civilisation, which is ours to-

And if, putting aside antique empires, we study the origin
and development of that young barbarian civilisation till
the time when it gave birth to our modern States, we shall
be able to grasp the essence of the State. We shall
do it better than we should have done if we had launched
ourselves into the study of the Roman Empire, of the empire
of Alexander, or else of despotic Eastern monarchies.

In taking these powerful barbarian destroyers of the Ro-
man Empire as a starting point, we can retrace the evolution
of all civilisation from its origin till it reaches the stage of
the State.


Most of the philosophers of the last century had conceived
very elementary notions about the origin of societies.

At the beginning, they said, men lived in small, isolated
families, and perpetual war among these families represented
the normal condition of existence. But one fine day, per-
ceiving the drawbacks of these endless struggles, they de-
cided to form a society. A " social contract " was agreed
upon among scattered families, who willingly submitted to
an autliority, which authority (need I tell you.^) became the
starting point and the initiative of all progress. Must I
add, as you have already been told in school, that our present
governments have ever since impersonated the noble role
of salt of the earth, the pacifiers and civilisers of humanity.^

This conception, which was born at a time when little was
known about the origin of man, prevailed in the last cen-
tury ; and we must say that in the hands of the Encyclopae-
dists and of Rousseau the idea of a " social contract " became
a powerful weapon with which to fight royalty and divine
right. Nevertheless, in spite of services it may have ren-
dered in the past, that theory must now be recognised as


The fact is that all animals, save some beasts and birds of
prey and a few species that are in course of extinction, live
in societies. In the struggle for existence it is the sociable
species that get the better of those that are not. In every
class of animals the former occupy the top of the ladder,
and there cannot be the least doubt that the first beings of
human aspect already lived in societies. Man did not cre-
ate society ; society is anterior to man.

We also know to-day — anthropology has clearly demon-
strated it — that the starting point of humanity was not the
family but the clan, the tribe. The paternal family such as
we have it, or such as it is depicted in Hebrew tradition,
appeared only very much later. Men lived tens of thousands
of years in the stage of clan or tribe, and during that first
stage — let us call it primitive or savage tribe, if you will
— man already developed a whole series of institutions,
habits, and customs, far anterior to the paternal family in-

In those tribes the separate family existed no more than
it exists among so many other sociable mammalia. Divi-
sions in the midst of the tribe itself were formed by genera-
tions; and since the earliest periods of tribal life limitations
were established to hinder marriage relations between dif-
ferent generations, while they were freely practiced between
members of the same generation. Traces of that period
are still extant in certain contemporary tribes, and we find
them again in the language, customs, and superstitions of
nations who were far more advanced in civilisation.

The whole tribe hunted and harvested in common, and
when they were satisfied they gave themselves up with pas-
sion to their dramatic dances. Nowadays we still find tribes
very near to this primitive phase, driven back to the out-
skirts of the large continents, or in Alpine regions, the least
accessible of our globe.

The accumulation of private property could not take place,
because each thing that had been the personal projierty of a
member of the tribe was destroyed or burned on the spot
where liis corpse was buried. This is done even now by


gipsies in England, and the funeral rites of the " civilised "
still bear its traces : the Chinese burn paper models of what
the dead possessed; and we lead the military chief's horse,
and carry his sword and decorations, as far as the grave.
The meaning of the institution is lost; only the form sur-

Far from professing contempt for human life, these primi-
tive individuals had a horror of blood and murder. Shed-
ding blood was considered a deed of such gravity that each
drop of blood shed — not only the blood of men, but also
that of certain animals — required that the aggressor should
lose an equal quantity of blood. In fact, a murder within
the tribe was a deed absolutely unknown ; it is so to this
day among the Ino'i'ts or Esquimaux — those survivors of
the Stone Age that inhabit the Arctic regions. But when
tribes of different origin, color, or tongue met during their
migrations, war was often the result. It is true that already
men had tried to mitigate the effect of these shocks. Even
thus early, as has been so well demonstrated by Maine,
Post, and Nys, the tribes agreed upon and respected cer-
tain rules and limitations of war, which contained the germs
of what was to become international law later on. For
example, a village was not to be attacked without warning to
the inhabitants ; and no one would have dared to kill on a path
trodden by women going to the well.

However, from that time forward one general law over-
ruled all others: "Your people have killed or wounded
one of ours, therefore we have the right to kill one of yours,
or to inflict an absolutely similar wound on one of yours "
— never mind which, as it is always the tribe that is re-
sponsible for every act of its members. The well-known
biblical verses, " Blood for blood, an eye for an eye, a tooth
for a tooth, a wound for a wound, a life for a life," — but
no more ! — thence derive their origin, as was so well re-
marked by Koenigswarter. It was their conception of jus-
tice; and we have not much reason to boast, as the principle
of " a life for a life " which prevails in our codes is but one
of its numerous survivals.

As you see, a whole series of institutions, and many others


which I must pass over in silence, — a whole code of tribal
morals, — was already elaborated during this primitive stage.
And habit, custom, tradition sufficed to maintain this kernel
of social customs in force; there was no authority to impose

Primitive individuals had, no doubt, temporary leaders.
The sorcerer and the rain-maker (the scientist of that epoch)
sought to profit by what they knew, or thought they knew,
about nature, to rule over their fellow men. Likewise, he
who could best remember proverbs and songs in which tra-
dition was embodied became powerful. And, since then, these
" educated " men have endeavored to secure their rulership
by transmitting their knowledge onlj" to the elect. All re-
ligions, and even all arts and crafts, have begun, as you know,
by " mysteries." Also, the brave, the bold, and the cunning
man became the temporary leader during conflicts with other
tribes or during migrations. But an alliance between the
" law bearer," the military chief, and the witch-doctor did
not exist, and tliere can be no more question of a State with
these tribes than there is in a society of bees or ants or
among our contemporaries the Patagonians or Esquimaux.

This stage, however, lasted thousands upon thousands of
years, and the barbarians who invaded the Roman Empire
had just passed through it, — in fact, they had hardly

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Online LibraryWaldo R. (Waldo Ralph) BrowneMan or the state? A group of essays by famous writers → online text (page 1 of 14)