Peace and Liberty: The Only Dignified Social Order

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.

Herbert provides practical advice for the furtherance of the voluntary principle within society. He counsels to avoid the temptation to resort to protectionism; it creates an illusory feast with the result that “more vultures of every kind flock to the feast”. The protectionist measures stifle the development of productive skills within the populace. Instead, we should wish for the constant strife of market competition, “for in the fair open fight the good always tend to win over the bad”. Society itself is improved and renewed again and again by the constant struggle of the good to overcome the bad. And the happy result is that “under the influences of liberty and her twin-sister peace — for they are inseparably bound together, neither existing without the other — our character as a people [will] grow nobler”.

politicsKeep clear of both political parties, until one of them seriously, earnestly, with deep conviction, pledges itself to the cause of personal liberty. At present they are both of them opportunist, seeking power, rejecting fixed principles. It is true that we owe great debts to the Liberal party in the past, but at present it is deserting its own best traditions, ceasing to guide and inspire the people, fighting the downhill not the uphill battles, and intent on playing the great game. Some day, as we may hope, it may refind its better self and breathe again the spirit of true exalted leadership, and regardless of its own fortunes for the hours place itself, openly on the side of Mr. Spencer’s ‘ widest possible Liberty’.

But to-day both parties mean anything or nothing; they represent only too often mere scrambling, mere lust for power. It is true that one or other of the two parties may mean to you some of the things that you yourselves mean, but it will also mean a great many things that you do not mean. They both believe in subjecting some men to the will of other men, in using the State as the instrument of universal force, and you cannot rightly take your place in their ranks, or fight with them.

Carolsfeld - Die Schlacht von Iconium

Carolsfeld – Die Schlacht von Iconium

Have nothing to do with the scramble for power. Hold on your own course and stand ‘foursquare to all the winds’. Pick out your boldest and most resolute men, and fight every by-election. Don’t fight to win, but fight to teach and inspire. The more resolutely you stand on your own ground, the more men of both parties, who begin to see the worthlessness and the mischief of these party conflicts, and the growing danger of using force, will come to you and join your small army. Few as you are to-day, you are stronger than the huge ill-assorted crowds–representing many conflicting opinions–that stand opposed to you, for no one can measure the strength that a great and true cause, devotedly followed, gives to those who consistently serve it. Fight the battle of liberty at every point.

Give your best help to those who are resisting municipal trading, or resisting interference with home work, or resisting the placing of power in the hands of the medical or any other profession. You must not confer any form of authority or monopoly on any profession; you must not give to any of them the power to force their services upon us. Let every profession that will, organize itself and make rules for its own members; but we, the public, must remain free in every respect to take or to leave what they offer to us. The monopolies that they all so dearly love are fatal to their own efficiency, and to their own higher qualities, as well as full of danger to the public. We all lose our best perceptions, we all become intellectually hide-bound, we all begin to believe that the public exist for us, exist for our professional purposes, whenever we are protected by a monopoly.

In the same way, never hand over any question to be decided by those who are called experts. The knowledge of the experts is very useful and valuable, but wisdom and discernment and well balanced judgement are different things from knowledge, and they do not always keep company. Knowledge is great, some one has written, but prejudice is greater. The experts are excellent as advisers, but never as authoritative judges, allowed to stand between the public and the questions that affect its interest. The real service that the experts can perform for us is to place their knowledge in the clearest and simplest form before us all, and to explain their reasons for advising a certain course. There is no limit to the mistakes that the most learned men may make when they are allowed to deliver judgement behind closed doors, when they are not called upon to submit their reasons to open discussion, and to justify publicly the counsels that they offer.

laverrue / Foter / CC BY

Strive also to make this great Empire of ours an instrument of help and usefulness and friendliness for the whole world. It is a great world-trust placed in our hands, that we must interpret in no selfish and narrow, in no boastful and vainglorious spirit. Cast away all the tawdry and sordid dreams of an Empire stronger than all other nations; but let “it rest on the one true foundation of peace and friendship, and as far as lies with you of free intercourse between all nations — an Empire of equal generous rights, with no privileges reserved for any of us. So, and only so, shall this great Empire endure, saved from the fate that has so justly swept away all the other great Empires, that were founded on meaner and more selfish conceptions.

Have nothing to do with this pitiful, cowardly, un-English war against the aliens. Even if your interests should seem to suffer for awhile — which there is strong reason for believing would not be the case — we ask you to make this sacrifice for the sake of the liberty of all, even the poorest, and for the sake of the proud traditions of our race. Unswerving, disinterested devotion to the principle of universal liberty, and to those noble traditions that have always opened the gates of this country to the suffering and oppressed, will far, far outbalance any hurt that may for a time result from the presence with us of the suffering and oppressed. Plead always that there should be no unworthy exceptions; all such exceptions are bad in themselves, and have the bad habit of becoming the rule. The temper of timorous selfishness that would exclude any aliens, that would treat any natives as different from our own flesh and blood, is our real danger — the danger that threatens our true greatness. Indulge that temper in any one direction, and you will presently encourage it to become the evil genius of the nation.

Lastly, let us all work together, to soften and improve the relations of capital and labour. War between capital and labour is only too like the unreasonable and disastrous war between nations, or between parties in a nation.

All war is a crime, and, as all crimes are, a mischievous folly — in almost all cases a mere outburst of childishness. Everywhere we have to learn the wise art of pulling in friendly forbearing fashion with each other, and not against each other; everywhere we have to learn to abandon the useless wasteful brutal methods of war, and to enter the blessed and fruitful paths of peace. Is there any war of any kind, that might not have been avoided by better temper, more patience, and a stronger love of peace? Is there any war, excepting on very rare occasions the wars to repel invasion or the attacking of great human rights, that in the end has not brought disappointment and sorrow, and bitter fruits of its own, as much or even more to the nation that was successful, as to the nation that was unsuccessful?

And who profits from these great labour contests, and the stirring of hurtful passions, that goes with them? Friendship, friendly co-operation, the making of common cause for common ends, are the true ends to be aimed at between labour and capital; and each contest makes the good day of reconciliation more difficult, puts it further and further from us. We cannot choose in this great matter. There is only one way. We must be friends. Nothing less than honest heartfelt friendship will mend the old evils, and make the happier future.

As we asked, who profits by these contests? If you — the workers — win to-day, the capitalists organize themselves to-morrow more strongly than before; if the capitalists win, the workers in the same way strengthen their fighting forces. And so — just as between nations — runs for ever the vicious circle. And as with the nations, so our labour strife is not only lost and wasted, but it fatally injures both sides alike — both the conquerors and the conquered. Let us then love and honour peace, cling to her, open our hearts to her, make sacrifices for her, bear and forbear for her sake, place her great ends before everything else, and resolve that, as far as lies with us, her happy reign shall at last be established over the whole land.

Eirene – Goddess of Peace

Peace — always hand-in-hand with her great twin-sister liberty — not only represents the higher meaning of our moral life, but also like liberty represents the greatest material interest that the workers have; their industry and skill will never bear their full fruits as long as we cling to war, and the destructive methods of force. Capital and labour, like the rest of us, must obey the great moral law and tread in the path of peace and friendship. It is their duty, as it is the duty of all of us in the other relations of life — worthy of every effort, of all patience and sacrifice on our part. Only with peace can the true prosperity come. With peace and friendship, trade and enterprise would develop a much more vigorous life, and find for themselves many new directions.

Nothing limits enterprise so fatally, and with it the employment of the workers, as the dissensions and quarrels between capital and labour. With peace and friendship not only does more and more capital flow into trade and production; but new enterprises are confidently undertaken in every direction; and then, as the consequence, wages rise in the one true healthy manner — with the security that peace brings, capital bidding against capital, and the capitalist accepting lower profits. All insecurity, all disturbance of trade relations, must be paid for, and they are paid for by the worker; for insecurity and uncertainty mean that a higher rate of profit is necessary to tempt the investment of capital lying idle, and therefore necessarily results in lower wages.

Reorganize then your trade societies on a peace basis, or establish new unions on that basis. Preserve your independence; but do all in your power to enter into friendly alliances with capital. Remember that friendship is the triumph of good sense and wise temper; strife is the indulgence of the undisciplined, the childish part of our nature. Form associations in which both the workers and the capitalists would be represented; where they would meet and take common action, as friends, working together to make the conditions of labour better, more comfortable, more sanitary, and using every peace expedient to remove difficulties as they arise.

If times of depression come, and wages fall low, use the common fund to draft away some of the workers, find temporary employment for them on the farms and lands that you will acquire as your own, start workshops of your own, which in some cases might provide articles of home use and comfort for your members; and let your unemployed members in turn receive a grant to enable them to spend their unoccupied time usefully in study and education.

At present, an unoccupied workman wastes time and temper during a slack time. Like his own tools he rusts and deteriorates with them. Why should that be so? Have your own classes and day schools, and let the unoccupied men turn the time to golden use. But through it all, even if you strike, refuse as a matter of principle, as faithful followers of liberty in everything, to use any of the old, bad methods of force. If, after every effort, after attempting mediation and arbitration, you cannot agree about wages with the employers, and if you think it wise and right and necessary to do so, throw up your work; but if there are those who will take the wage that you are unwilling to take — let them do so, without let or hindrance. It is their right; and we must never deny or fight against a human right for the sake of what seems to be our interest of the moment. We say what ‘seems’ to be; for in the end you will gain far more by clinging faithfully to the methods of peace and respect for the rights of others than by allowing yourselves to use the force that always calls out force in reply, always brings its own far-reaching hurtful consequences, for the sake of the advantage or victory of the moment.

Once be tempted to use force, and force will become your master, your tyrant, tempting you again and again to seek its aid and to enter its service. No man employs force to-day without being easily persuaded to use it once more to-morrow, and then again the next day. There are in all that we do only two ways–the way of peace and co-operation, the way of force and strife. Can you hesitate between them? Do not good sense and right sense plead for the one and against the other? Set yourselves then to discover and practise every conciliatory method; wherever practicable, become shareowners and partners in the concerns where you labour, and make it your pride to join hands frankly with the employers, wiping out for ever the old, disastrous war feeling that has brought so much useless suffering and loss with it.

Remember, also, as another great and vital interest, to keep a free and open market in everything. Only so again can you get the fullest return of your labour. High wages are of little profit, when prices rule high, and production becomes a dull monopoly, benumbing the best energies of the producers. Under a monopoly we all grow stupid, unperceiving, apathetic, given up to routine. Leave all traders free to bring to your door the best articles that the world produces at the lowest cost. If they are better and cheaper than what you produce, they will be the truest incentive for greater exertions both on your part and on the capitalist’s part. It is only the coward’s policy to kneel down in the dust, and wail, and confess inferiority, as regards the producers of other nations. Take up the challenge bravely, from whatever quarter it comes; improve method and process and machinery — above all improve the relations between capital and labour; on that, more perhaps than on anything else, industrial victory depends.

china_wallBe willing to learn from all, of any country, who have anything useful to teach. Never be tempted to build Chinese walls for your protection, and to go indolently to sleep behind them. Your system of free trade is another great world-trust placed in your hands. You stand before all nations holding a bright and shining light, that if you are true to the great destiny of our country you will never allow to be dimmed or extinguished.

Mr. Cobden spoke the truth when he said that you would convert the other nations to your own brave way of competition; only he did not allow enough for all the reactionary influences, the narrow unenlightened so-called patriotism, the timidities of some traders and their desire to take their ease comfortably, and not to over-exert themselves, so long as they could compel the public to buy at their own price, and to accept their own standard of good workmanship, the warlike Emperors, the Chauvinists of all countries, the extravagant spendings with the resulting difficulties of getting blood from a stone, and the temptation of scraping revenue together in any mischievous fashion that offered itself, the party intrigues, the effort to discover something that would serve as an attractive policy, the unavowed purpose of some politicians, living for party, and keen for power, to bind a large part of the people by the worst of bonds to their side by means of a huge and corrupt money interest.

But the consequences of protection are fighting their battle everywhere on the side of free trade — as the consequences of folly and blindness always fight on the side of the better things; and if we remain faithful to our great trust will in their due time fulfil Mr. Cobden’s words. The high prices and dear living, the harassing interferences with trade, the rings and corners, the trickeries and corruption, that all tread so close on the heels of protection, the wild extravagance, the domineering insolent attitude of the State-made monopolists, the ever-growing power of the governments to go their own way, where they can gather vast sums of money so easily through their unseen tax collectors, the ever spreading Socialism — that is only protection made universal — all these things are preaching their eloquent lesson, and slowly preparing the way in other countries for free trade.

Sooner or later the world after years of bitter experience learns to unmask all the impostor systems that have traded on its hopes and passions and fears. The thin coating wears off, and the baser metal betrays itself underneath. So it will fare with the Protection, that asks you to be credulous enough to tie up your left hand in order that your right hand may work more profitably. It is true that in protected countries the wages of the workers may be pushed up higher than in the case of free trade countries, but life will remain harder and more difficult. Why? Because, as we have said, prices rule so high; corners and combinations flourish; trickery and corruption find their opportunity; more vultures of every kind flock to the feast; and with the feast of the vultures the burden of rates and taxes becomes intolerable. The whole thing hangs together.

Establish freedom and open competition in everything, and all forms of trade and enterprise, all relations of men to each other, tend to become healthy and vigorous, pure and clean. The better and more efficient forms — as they do throughout nature’s world — slowly displacing the inefficient forms. It must be so; for in the fair open fight the good always tend to win over the bad, if only you restrain all interferences of force. It is so with freedom everywhere and in all things. Freedom begets the conflict; the conflict begets the good and helpful qualities; and the good and helpful qualities win their own victory. They must do so; for they are in themselves stronger, more energetic, more efficient, than the forces — the trickeries, the corruptions, the timidities, the selfishness — to which they are opposed.

The same truth rules our good and bad habits. Only keep the field open and allow the fair fight, and the bad at last must yield to the good. Sooner or later, the time comes when the clearer sighted, the more rightly judging few denounce some evil habit that exists; gradually their influence and example act on others in ever-widening circles, until many men grow ashamed of what they have so long done, and the habit is abandoned. Such is the universal law of progress, which prevails in everything, so long as we allow the free open fight between all good and evil.

But in order that the good may prevail there must be life and vigour in the people, and this can only be where freedom exists. If freedom does not exist, if life and vigour have died, then protection — whatever its form — cannot prevent, it can only put off for a short time the inevitable ruin and disaster. Nations only continue to exist as long as they keep in themselves the great simple virtues. As we have seen again and again, they go to pieces, and yield their places to others when once the fatal corruption takes root in their character; corruption can only be fought by liberty with its strengthening, raising, purifying influences. Protection, that is artificial in its nature, protection that rests on force, always means, if long enough continued, failure and death in the end; for it prevents our developing the qualifies which can alone enable us to keep our place in a world that never stands still.

“We must place limits upon every form of compulsory taxation, until we are strong enough to destroy it finally and completely; and to transform it into a system of voluntary giving”

As Mr. Darwin pointed out so clearly those races of plants and animals which for a time were protected by mountains or desert or an arm of the sea, were doomed to fail when at last they came into competition with the unprotected forms. So is it with us men. If you wish to understand the deadly influences of protection, if you wish for a practical example, look carefully at all the distorted and perverted growths of trade enterprise that exist in some protected countries, the unwholesome combinations, the universal selfish scramble, the poisonous mixture of politics and trade influences, the use of the State power to watch over and favour great moneyed monopolies, the long endurance of the public that tolerates the vilest things at the hands of its politicians, and you will realize how deadly is every form of protection, that resting on force sends us to sleep, and how vital is the liberty that for ever fights the evil by opposing it to the good, that never sleeps, that is always stirring us into new forms of doing and resisting, and for ever tends to make the better take the place of the good. There is only one true form of protection, and that is universal liberty with its ceaseless striving and effort.

Strongly as we are opposed to the Protectionists, who whitewash their creed under the name of Tariff Reform, it is fair to remember one plea on their behalf. They have one true grievance. As long as the present extravagant spending goes on in its compulsory fashion they may fairly complain that the income-tax payers are likely to be unjustly treated. The remedy does not lie in extending our compulsory system of taking from the public but in limiting it, and presently transforming it into voluntary giving.

Under our compulsory system free trade will never be a safe possession. It is with us to-day; it will be lost to-morrow. If we were pushed again into a war, as we were pushed headlong into the Boer War, just because one statesman got into a temper, shut his eyes and put his head down, and another statesman looked sorrowfully on, like the gods of Olympus, smiling at the follies of the human race, we should at once hear the double cry ringing in our ears for conscription and protection — conscription to force us to fight with our conscience or against our conscience; protection to force us to pay for what we might look on as a crime and a folly.

You may be sure that free trade will sooner or later be swept away, unless we go boldly forward in its own spirit and in its own direction and destroy the compulsory character of taxation. There lies the stronghold of all war and strife and oppression of each other. As long as compulsory taxation lasts — in other words giving power to some men to use other men against their beliefs and their interests — liberty will be but a mocking phrase. Between liberty and compulsory taxation there is no possible reconciliation. It is a struggle of life and death between the two. That which is free and that which is bound can never long keep company. Sooner or later one of the two must prevail over the other.

If a war came, conservative ministers would see their great opportunity, and with rapture of heart would fasten round us the two chains that they dearly love, conscription and protection. Liberal ministers would sorrowfully shake their heads, wring their hands, utter a last pathetic tribute to liberty and free trade, and with handkerchiefs to their eyes would take the same course. If you mean to secure the great victory just gained for free trade you must go boldly and resolutely on in the same good path. Dangers lie strewn around you on every side. There is no security for what you have gained, but in pressing forward. There is one and only one way of permanently saving free trade, and that is to sweep away all the compulsory system in which we are entangled.

And now place before yourselves the picture of the nation that not simply out of self-interest but for rights’ sake and conscience sake took to its heart the great cause of true liberty, and was determined that all men and women should be left free to guide themselves and take charge of their own lives; that was determined to oppress and persecute and restrain the actions of no single person in order to serve any interest or any opinion or any class advantage; that flung out of its hands the bad instrument of force –using force only for its one clear, simple and rightful purpose of restraining all acts of force and fraud, committed by one citizen against another, of safeguarding the lives, the actions, the property of all, and thus making a fair open field for all honest effort.

Think, under the influences of liberty and her twin-sister peace — for they are inseparably bound together, neither existing without the other — how our character as a people would grow nobler and at the same time softer and more generous — think how the old useless enmities and jealousies and strivings would die out; how the unscrupulous politician would become a reformed character, hardly recognizing his old self in his new and better self; how men of all classes would learn to co-operate together for every kind of good and useful purpose; how, as the results of this free co-operation in innumerable ties of friendship and kindliness would spring up amongst us all of every class and condition, when we no longer sought to humble and crush each other, but invited all who were willing to work freely with us; how much truer and more real would be the campaign against the besetting vices and weakness of our nature, when we sought to change that nature, not simply to tie men’s hands and restrain external action, no longer setting up and establishing in all parts of life that poor weak motive–the fear of punishment—those clumsy useless penalties, evaded and laughed at by the cunning, that have never yet turned sinner into saint; how we should rediscover in ourselves the good vigorous stuff that lies hidden there, the power to plan, to dare and to do; how we should see in clearer light our duty towards other nations, and fulfill more faithfully our great world-trust; how we should cease to be a people divided into three or four quarrelsome unscrupulous factions – ready to sacrifice all the great things to the intense desire for power — and grow into a people really one in heart and mind, because we frankly recognized the right to differ, the right of each one to choose his own path because we respected and cherished the will, the intelligence, the free choice of others, as much as we respect and cherish these things in ourselves, and were resolved never to trample, for the sake of any plea, for any motive, on the higher parts of human nature, resolved that – come storm or sunshine – we would not falter in our allegiance to liberty and her sister peace, that we would do all, dare all and suffer all, if need be, for their sake, then at last the regeneration of society would begin, the real promised land, not the imaginary land of vain and mocking desires, would be in sight.

And now for the practical measures that we must set before ourselves:

  1. So far as force is concerned, we must use State force only to protect ourselves against those who would employ force or fraud ; using it to safeguard all public and private property, and to repel if a real necessity arises the foreign aggressor. We must employ force simply as the servant of liberty, and under the strongest conditions that liberty would impose upon it; we must refuse utterly and in everything to employ it so as to deprive the innocent and unaggressive citizen of his own will and self-guidance.
  2. We must place limits upon every form of compulsory taxation, until we are strong enough to destroy it finally and completely; and to transform it into a system of voluntary giving. Under that voluntary system alone can a nation live in peace and friendship and work together happily and profitably for common ends. in voluntary taxation we shall find the one true form of life-long education which will teach us to act together, creating innumerable kindly ties between us all which will call out all the truest and most generous qualities of our best citizens, doubling and trebling their energies, as they find themselves working for their own beliefs and ideas, and no longer used as the mere tools and creatures of others ; which will slowly bring under the influence of the better citizens the selfish and the indifferent, teaching them too to share in public move. ments, and common efforts; which will multiply those differences of method, those experiments made from new points of view–experiments, upon which all progress depends, and replacing the great clumsy universal systems which treat good and bad alike, which are mere developments of the official mind, and escape entirely from the control of those in whose interest they are supposed to exist; which will call into life again the proud feeling of self-help and independence which belongs to this nation of ours, and which the politician has done so much to weaken and destroy.

The great choice lies before you. No nation stands still. It must move in one direction or the other. Either the State must grow in power, imposing new burdens and compulsions, and the nation sink lower and lower into a helpless quarrelling crowd, or the individual must gain his own rightful freedom, become master of himself, creature of none, confident in himself and in his own qualities, confident in his power to plan and to do, and determined to end this old-world, profitless and worn-out system of restrictions and compulsions, which is not good or healthy even for the children. Once we realize the waste and the folly of striving against each other, once we feel in our hearts that the worst use to which we can turn human energies is gaining victories over each other, then we shall at last begin in true earnest to turn the wilderness into a garden, and to plant all the best and fairest of the flowers where now only the nettles and the briars grow.

We wish it to be understood that we who sign this paper are in agreement with its general spirit, reserving our own judgement on special points.

Auberon Herbert

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