Liberty and Property: Two Sides of the Same Coin

This is part 3 of a multi-part reproduction of Auberon Herbert’s A Plea for Voluntaryism. Part 2 is here.

Herbert discusses the intimate link between liberty and property. You cannot love liberty and undermine property rights. He says, “property is … the crystallized form of free faculties.” Without liberty, the individual is reduced to a slave, a robot, an automaton, a mere cog in a machine. Happiness and flourishing are impossible under conditions of containment that deprive the individual of the full expression of his higher faculties. But it is property that preserves for the individual the fruits of this expression. Thus, without property, these expressions are fruitless; which is the same as to say the individual really has no freedom at all.

Delacroix – Liberty leading the people

Nothing can be well and rightly done, nothing can bear the true fruit, until you become deeply and devotedly in love with personal liberty, consecrating in your hearts the great and sacred principle of self-ownership and self-direction. That great principle must be our guiding star through the whole of this life’s pilgrimage.

Away from its guiding we shall only continue to wander, as of old, hopelessly in the wilderness. For its sake we must be ready to make any and every sacrifice. It is worth them all–many times worth them all. For its sake you must steadily refuse all the glittering gifts and bribes which many politicians of both parties eagerly press upon you, if you will but accept them as your leaders, and lend them the power which your numbers can give.

Enter into none of these corrupt and fatal compacts. All such leaders are but playing with you, fooling you for their own ends. In the pride and vanity of their hearts they wish to bind you to them, to make you dependent upon them. You are to fight their battles, and you will be paid in return much in the same manner as the old leaders paid their soldiers by giving them a conquered city to sack. Can any real good come to you by following that unworthy and mercenary path? When once you have become a mere pillaging horde, when once you have lost all guidance and control and purpose of your own, bound to your leaders, and dependent on them for the sake of the spoils that they fling to you, do you think that any of the greater and nobler things of life will still be possible to you?

“The healing virtue that belongs to all these great services … lies in the winning of these things for yourselves by your own exertions”

The great things are only possible for those who keep their hearts pure and exalted, and their hands clean, who are true to themselves, who follow and serve the fixed principles that are above us all, and are our only true guides, who never sell themselves into the hands of others. Your very leaders, who have cheated you, and used you, will despise you; and in your own hearts, if you dare honestly to search into them, you will despise yourselves. But your self-contempt will hardly help you. You will have lost the great qualities of your nature; the old corrupt contract, into which you have entered, will still bind you; you may in your wild discontent revolt against your leaders; but as in the legends of the evil controlling spirit, that both serves and enslaves, you will each be a fatal necessity to the other. You have linked your fortunes together, and it will be hard to dissolve the partnership.

Remember ever the old words–as true to-day as when they were first spoken–‘ What shall it profit a man if he gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?’ If you lose all respect for the rights of others, and with it your own self-respect, if you lose your own sense of right and fairness, if you lose your belief in liberty, and with it the sense of your own worth and true rank, if you lose your own will and self-guidance and control over your own lives and actions, what can all the buying and trafficking, what can all the gifts of politicians give you in return? Why let the true diamond be taken from you in exchange for the worthless bit of glass? Is not the ruling of your own selves worth a hundred times this mad attempt to rule over others? If your house were filled with silver and gold, would you be happy if your own self no more belonged to you?

0000-7136-4~CCCP-Russian-Propaganda-PostersHave you ever carefully thought out what life would be like under the schemes of the Socialist party, who offer us the final, the logical completion of all systems of force? Try to picture the huge overweighted groaning machine of government; the men who direct it vainly, miserably struggling with their impossible task of managing everything, driven for the sake of their universal system to extinguish all differences of thought and action, allowing no man to possess his own faculties, or to enjoy the fruit that he has won by their exercise, to call land or house or home his own; allowing no man to do a day’s work for another, or to sell and buy on his own account; denying to all men the ownership and possession of either body or mind; necessarily intolerant, as the Tsar’s government is intolerant, of every form of free thought and free enterprise, trembling at the very shadow of liberty, haunted by the perpetual terror that the old love of self-guidance and free action might some day again awake in the breast of men; obliged to exercise a discipline, like that which exists in the German army, from fear that the first beginning of revolt might prove the destruction of the huge trembling ill-balanced structure; with no sense of right — right a mere word that would be lost to their language — but only the ever present, ever urgent necessities of maintaining their unstable power, which was always out of equilibrium, always in danger, because opposed to the essential nature of men — that unconquerable nature, which has always broken and will always break, in its own time, these systems of bondage.

Picture also the horde of countless officials, who would form a bureaucratic, all-powerful army, vast as that which exists in Russia, and probably as corrupt — for the same reason — because only able to fulfil their task, if allowed to have supreme unquestioned power; always engaged in spying, restraining, and repressing, for ever monotonously repeating, as if they governed a nursery — ‘Don’t, you mustn’t.’ And then picture, imprisoned under the bureaucratic caste, a nation of dispirited cyphers — cyphers, who would be as peevish, discontented and quarrelsome as shut-up children, because shut off by an iron fence from all the stimulating influences of free life, and forbidden, as if it were a crime, to exercise their faculties according to their own interests and inclinations. Picture also the intense, the ludicrous pettiness that would run through the whole thing.

Preziosi – Cherry peddler

As a French writer (Leroy Beaulieu) wittily said — it would be a great State question, ever recurring to trouble the safety of the trembling quavering system, whether or not a wife should be allowed to mend the trousers of her husband. Who could exorcise and lay to rest that insoluble problem? For if the wife were once allowed to perform this bit of useful household duty, might not the whole wicked, unsocialistic trade of working for others, in return for their sixpences and shillings, come flowing back with irresistible force? Such is the small game that you are obliged to hunt, such are the minute pitiful necessities to which you are obliged to stoop, when once you construct these great State machineries, and take upon yourself, in your amazing and ignorant presumption, to interfere with the natural activities of human existence.

See also another truth. There are few greater injuries that can be inflicted on you than taking out of your hands the great services that supply your wants. Why? Because the healing virtue that belongs to all these great services — education, religion, the winning of land and houses, the securing greater comfort and refinement and amusement in your lives — lies in the winning of these things for yourselves by your own exertions, through your own skill, your own courage, your friendly co-operation one with another, your integrity in your common dealings, your unconquerable self-reliance and confidence in your own powers of doing. This winning, these efforts, are the great lessons in life-long education that lasts from childhood to the grave. And, when learnt, they are learnt not for yourselves alone, but for your children, and your children’s children. They are the steps and the only steps up to the higher levels. You can’t be carried to those higher levels on the shoulders of others.

Catena – Delivery of Keys to St. Peter

The politician is like those who boasted to have the keys of earth and heaven in their pocket. Vainest of vain pretences! The keys both of heaven and earth lie in your own pocket. It is only you — you, the free individuals — who can unlock the great door. All these great wants and services are the means by which we acquire the great qualities which spell victory. They are the means by which we become raised and changed in ourselves, and by which, as we are changed, we change and remake all the circumstances of our lives. Each victory so gained prepares the way for the next victory, and makes that next victory the easier, for we not only have the sense of success in our hearts, but we have begun to acquire the qualities on which it depends.

On the other hand, the more of his ready-made institutions the politician thrusts upon you, the weaker, the more incapable you become, just because the great qualities are not called out and exercised. Why should they be called out? There is no need for them. Their practiceground is taken away and they simply lie idle, rusting and, at last, ceasing to be. Tie up your right hand for three months and what happens? The muscles will have wasted, and your hand will have lost its cunning and its force. So it is with all mental and moral qualities. Given time enough, and a politician with his restless scheming brain and his clumsy hands would enfeeble and spoil a nation of the best and truest workers. He is powerless to help you. He can only stand in your way, and prevent your doing.

…-Wink-… / Foter / CC BY-NC-ND

Refuse then to put your faith in mere machinery, in party organizations, in Acts of Parliament, in great unwieldy systems — which treat good and bad, the careful and the careless, the striving and the indifferent, on the same plan, and which on account of their vast and cumbrous size, their complexity, their official central management, pass entirely out of your control. Refuse to be spoon-fed, drugged and dosed, by the politicians. They are not leading you towards the promised land, but further and further away from it.

If the world could be saved by the men of words and the machine-makers, it would have been saved long ago. Nothing is easier than to make machinery; you may have any quantity of it on order in a few months. Nothing is easier than to appoint any number of officials. Unluckily, the true fight is of another and much sterner kind and the victory comes of our own climbing of the hills, not by sitting in the plain, with folded hands, watching those others who profess to do our business for us.

“All is possible to you if you resolutely fling away from you the incitements to strife, the tamperings with liberty and individual property, and pile up the pence and the shillings”

Do you think it likely or reasonable, do you think it fits in with and agrees with your daily experience of this fighting, working world of ours, that you could take your chair in the politician’s shop, and order across his counter so much prosperity and progress and happiness, just as you might order cotton goods by the piece or wheat by the quarter? Be brave and clear-sighted and face the stern but wholesome truth that it is only you, you with your own hands, you with your unconquerable resolve, without any dependence on others, without any of these childish and mischievous party struggles — which are perhaps a little more exciting than cricket, or football, or even ‘bridge’ to some of us, but a good deal more profitless to the nation than digging holes in the earth and then filling them up again — without any use of force, without any oppression of each other, without any of these blind reckless attempts to humiliate and defeat those who hold different beliefs from ourselves, and who desire to follow different methods from those which we follow, without any division of the nation into two, three or more hostile camps — ever inspired with dread and hatred of each other — it is only you yourselves, fighting with the good, pure, honest weapons of persuasion and example of sympathy and friendly co-operation. It is only you, calling out in yourselves the great qualities, and flinging away all the meaner things, the strifes, the hates, the jealousies, the mere love of fighting and conquering. It is only you, treading in the blessed path of peace and freedom, who can bring about the true regeneration of society, and with it the true happiness of your own lives.

And through it all avoid that favourite, that much loved snare of the politician, by which he ever seeks to rivet his hold upon you; refuse to attack and weaken in any manner the full rights of property. You, who are workers, could not inflict on your own selves a more fatal injury. Property is the great and good inducement that will call out your efforts and energies for the remaking of the present form of society. Deprive property of its full value and attractiveness, and we shall all become stuff only fit to make the helpless incapable crowd that the Socialist so deeply admires, and hopes so easily to control.

603px-Tule_Lake_Relocation_Center,_Newell,_California._A_crew_of_evacuee-farmers_planting_potatoes_with_a_._._._-_NARA_-_538261But it is not only for the sake of the ‘magic of property’, its power to call out the qualities of industry and saving; it is above all because you cannot weaken the rights of property without diminishing, without injuring that first and greatest of all possessions — human liberty. It is for that supreme reason that we must resist every attempt of the politician to buy votes by generously giving away the property that does not belong to him. The control of his own property by the individual, and the liberty of the individual can never be separated from each other. They must stand, or fall, together. Property, when earned, is the product of faculties, and results from their free exercise; and, when inherited, represents the full right of a man, free from all imaginary and usurped control of others, to deal as he likes with his own. Destroy the rights of property, and you will also destroy both the material and the moral foundations of liberty. To all men and women, rich or poor, belong their own faculties, and as a consequence, equally belongs to them all that they can honestly gain in free and open competition, through the exercise of those faculties.

It is idle to talk of freedom and, whilst the word is on one’s lips, to attack property. He who attacks property, joins the camp of those who wish to keep some men in subjection to the will of others. You cannot break down any of the defences of liberty, you cannot weaken liberty at any one point, without weakening it at all points. Liberty means refusing to allow some men to use the State to compel other men to serve their interests or their opinions. And at whatever point we allow this servitude to exist, we weaken or destroy in men’s minds the sacredness of the principle, which must be — as regards all actions, all relations — our universal bond. But it is not only for the sake of liberty — though that is far the greater and higher reason — it is also for the sake of your own material progress. You, the workers, must resolutely reject all interference with, all mutilations of the rights of property.

For the moment the larger part of existing property belongs to the richer classes; but it will not be so, as soon as ever you, the workers, take out of the hands of the politicians, and into your own hands, the task of carving out your own fortunes. The working body of the people must no longer be content — not for a single day — to be the property-less class. In every city and town and village they must form their associations for the gaining of property. They must put their irresistible pence and shillings together, so that, step by step, effort upon effort, they may become the owners of land, of farms, of houses, of shops, of mills, and trading ships. They must take shares in the great well-managed trading companies and railways, until the time comes, as their capital increases, when they will be able to become the owners at first of small trading concerns, established by themselves, and then later of larger and more important concerns.

Chris_J / Foter / CC BY-NC-ND

They must — for all reasons, the best and the second best — become the owners of property. Without property no class can take its true place in the nation. They must devote much of their resolution and self-denial to the steady, persistent heaping together of the pence and shillings for this purpose. As they become possessed of property, they will see a definite goal lying before themselves — one good and useful ambition ever succeeding to another.

The old dreary hopelessness will disappear, they will gain in power and influence. The difference between classes will disappear. They will break the enfeebling and corrupting influence of the politicians. What influence would remain to the man of words if he could no longer offer gratis — in return for nothing but votes — the property of others, without any greater exertion on the part of the people than marking their voting papers in his favour? And with the acquiring of property, the workers will also acquire the qualities that the management of property brings with it, whilst they add a new interest, a new meaning to their lives.

We appeal to the many thousands of strong, capable, self-denying men that are to be found among us. Is the gaining of property only a dream? Is the thing so very difficult, so far out of your reach? Say that a million men and women begin to-morrow to subscribe one halfpenny a week–who would miss that magical halfpenny, which is to transform so many things? At the end of the year, you will have a fund of over £Ioo,ooo to start with – not, we think, a bad beginning for the great campaign.

Kikin Palace, St. Petersburg

Kikin Palace, St. Petersburg

In many cases, the property, such as land and houses, that you would so acquire, you would probably rent or redistribute on remunerative but easy terms to your own members. In the case of workers in towns, you would be able to allow those of your members who desired rest and change, to work for a time on your farms, and you would also be able to make a holiday ground and common meetingplace of some farm that belonged to you, and that could be easily reached by that true instrument of social progress for men and women, the bicycle.

Many will be the new forms of health and comfort and amusement that will become possible to you, when once you steadily determine to pile the pence and the shillings together for becoming owners of property; and when once you have put your hand to this good work, you must not relax your efforts until you have become, as you will become before many years have passed, the greatest of property holders in the nation. All is possible to you if you resolutely fling away from you the incitements to strife, the tamperings with liberty and individual property, and pile up the pence and the shillings for the acquiring of your own property.

Resist, therefore, all reckless, unthinking appeals made to you to deprive the great prize of any part of its attractions. If you surround property with State restrictions, interfere with free trade and any part of the open market, interfere with free contract, make compulsory arrangements for tenant and landowner, allow the present burdens of rate and tax to discourage ownership and penalize improvements, you will weaken the motives for acquiring property, and blunt the edge of the most powerful material instrument that exists for your own advancement. Only remember–as we have said–that great as is your material interest in safeguarding the rights of individual property, yet higher and greater are and ever will be the moral reasons that forbid our sanctioning any attack upon it, or our suffering State burdens and restrictions and impediments to grow round it.

True liberty — as we said — cannot exist apart from the full rights of property. For property is — so to speak — only the crystallized form of free faculties. They take the name of liberty in vain, they do not understand its nature, who would allow the State — or what goes by the name of the State, the worthy eighteen or twenty men who govern us — to play with property. Everything that is surrounded with State restrictions, everything that is State-mutilated, everything taxed and burdened, loses its best value, and can no longer call out our energies and efforts in their full force. Preserve, then, at its best and strongest the magic of property. Leave to it all its stimulating and transforming virtues. It is one of the great master keys that open the door to all that in a material sense you rightly and proudly wish to do and to be.

Continued in part 4.

Auberon Herbert -

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4 thoughts on “Liberty and Property: Two Sides of the Same Coin

  1. […] Continued in part 3. […]

  2. z1235 12/28/2012 at 10:20 Reply

    Herbert’s piece is a gold-mine — a gift that keeps on giving. Excellent find!

    • claytonkb 12/28/2012 at 10:43 Reply

      When I sat down to read it, I expected that I would slog through part of it then give up when I hit the archaic, English political in-game references. What happened instead is that I was locked into a spell-binding page-turner for 16,000 words straight – nothing but hard-hitting, timeless prose. I think it took me a couple hours to get through the whole thing… all in one sitting. I couldn’t stop.

      That’s when I realized it needed to be salvaged from Herbert’s godawful mega-paragraphs and Olympic-length run-on sentences… lol. I’ve edited it as lightly as possible but – particularly in the 2nd installment – I’ve even had to re-arrange a couple of the worst-offending run-on sentences. Unless he is a very swift reader, the modern reader will find some rough seas in the linked PDF.

      Herbert, in my mind, is the English Bastiat. His diction is timeless and noble. He doesn’t fuss about technicalities and the innumerable objections that are raised by the pedants. He tramples right over the melee and appeals directly and unabashedly to the reader’s heart and mind, as a fully awake human being, as a peer. Nevertheless, his arguments are not mushy-headed… he presents clear and logical arguments that get right to the root of the issues he is discussing.

      And, unlike many classical liberals – what I call the techno-liberals – he does not err in his aim… the target is always clearly in sight: the moral reformation of each individual who will listen; as an individual. And not only this, but he clearly sees the dangers of reducing the individual to an isolated island, as many of the hyper-individualist liberals do; instead, he holds a steady course and prescribes voluntary social cooperation as the only correct antidote to the evils of the present order, the imperial order. It is.

  3. […] This is the fourth and final part of a multi-part reproduction of Auberon Herbert’s A Plea for Voluntaryism. Part 1, Part 2, Part 3. […]

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