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Annihilators' Methods

( Originally Published Early 1900's )



For the regeneration of society. A closer examination of the remedies which the various destructive fraternities entitled to this common appellation propose for the inequality complained of, and how they would work in practice. Where will they get the men to help them to demolish thrones and break up present political organizations? They could put down the present tyranny only by establishing a greater. Failure of all previous attempts to establish communities. Our ballotbox and existing law are ample to maintain the strictest equality, to remedy all wrongs and redress all grievances. N another chapter I have sketched a general outline of those restless, reckless, and revolutionary spirits who may be classed under the general appellation of "annihilators." They propose to abolish private property and suppress the motives for its acquisition. Of the various types of these revolutionists the only kind that seem to have a clearly thought out and analyzed programme of reconstruction after the destruction, are the scientific socialists. The anarchists and nihilists, as a rule, have only vague ideas of the detailed course of action of humanity after the emperors and presidents and legislatures and police are abolished; they have boundless faith in luck after the universal disintegration; but they make no provision that the same things which they now hate shall not happen again. Therefore it seems to me that those two kinds, anarchists and nihilists, are to be regarded by sensible people only as pestilent disturbers, who deserve no respect because they have not even a plausible programme to offer. But socialists have a pretty well-arranged plan of reconstruction. The governmental socialist is an evolution from the early communist; but in the spirit of enforced equality, equal sharing of everything without regard to merit, — they are alike. Let us begin with the governmental socialist, and examine the programme he offers us. Those who hold his views, like the revolutionists, propose to abolish the heads of all governments, European kings, presidents, and governors of states, also the various houses of legislation. Then they propose to establish a system of compulsory equalization. In their own words they mean to have, " instead of the capitalistic and individualistic system of production and distribution, a system of governmental cooperation and governmental production and distribution. The whole people of a country in their collective capacity shall produce and distribute everything, like a great joint stock company, only more equitably." The new government is to control railroads, telegraph lines, and all kinds of industrial forces. In this scheme there will be no room for, or incentive to, individual enterprise. Every person is to work under no other stimulus than that the fruits of his labor are to be divided equally among the members of the community to which he may belong. These people, while making high-sounding statements regarding the happiness sure to result upon the adoption of their principles, are quite reticent as to the means for effecting the transformation, although it is to be the most radical change and on the largest scale that has ever been attempted. " Socialism," they say, " would abolish poverty by preventing it, by removing its causes. As poverty is the cause directly or indirectly of nearly all crime, therefore, by the abolition of poverty, crime would become almost unknown, and with crime would disappear all the 'leeches,' 'vampires,' and 'vermin' that fatten on its filth, - such as the entire legal fraternity, soldiers, police, judges, sheriffs, priests, preachers, and many others." Now, this is very well as a description of society in its metamorphosed condition, but how we are to get there is another matter. The socialists point to a development through the trusts, forgetting that between the largest aggregation of commercial trusts and the smallest attempt to give to every member of the community an equal share in the general profits, there is a great gulf to be jumped. Not one of the four leading species of annihilators gives any satisfactory explanation of this. They all seem to take it for granted that the only thing necessary will be to send around the cards of the new candidates for the committee on reorganization, and the latter will be elected unanimously. No allowance seems to be made for the possibility of any opposition to the new r6gime. It is thought to be so attractive in its nature that everybody must irresistibly embrace its doctrine the moment it is presented to them. Why the reformers, or rather the up setters, have a right to expect this sudden change in human nature is not stated. It is not considered necessary to state it. It is one of those things that are supposed to be self-evident. Yet when one begins to canvass the opinions of the community anywhere, he finds that this change, or rather transformation of mind, and this desire for another condition of society, have very few adherents. There is not one person in twenty, or perhaps in a much greater number, who would not set the individual down for a crank or a crazy person who began to talk on the subject of the impending revolution and the new state of society and politics, where nobody would desire to get the money he earned, but would be willing to have it put into a general fund to be divided equally at the times set apart for such division. It is safe to say that not one out of a thousand would listen for a moment to any such extraordinary arrangement for the disposal of the fruits of his or her labor. Where, then, are the converts to the new regime to come from? Can the annihilators manufacture them? When Marshal Ney sent to Napoleon for more men at Waterloo, the answer of the chief was, " Does he expect me to make them? " The annihilators seem to have some such expectation. They appear to think that some unseen power will make these men to order, fully imbued with the ideas of a new dispensation, and prepared to enforce it despotically upon society as it exists at present. That the change proposed is not adapted to the nature of mankind, as the latter has existed from time immemorial, will be readily understood if we go back a few thousand years to the patriarchal age when people lived in tribes. This was communism on a small scale, and if it had been consonant with human nature to adapt that mode of existence to a larger scale, then was the most appropriate time to begin the operation. But instead of this being the social purpose at the period in question, the tendency was all the other way. This may have been owing to the perversity of human nature, its general inability to discern what is for its best interests, and its natural proneness to evil; but it is a "condition, and not a theory, which confronts us," and in considering this question in all its bearings, we are obliged to take both human nature and society, as at present constituted and as it formerly existed, in the concrete, not the abstract. In other words, we are obliged to take it in the most practical sense in which any scheme of organization or reorganization must deal with it. We may people the world with imaginary beings, and work out Utopian theories for our own amusement and the entertainment of others who delight in that kind of theorizing; but in practical life such theories will prove of the most delusive character, and leave us eventually the sorry victims of our own folly and overheated imaginations. One of the most interesting features of the proposed new social state, in which everybody is to be supremely happy in the thought that he is working for the benefit and maintenance of everybody else, is the currency idea. This part of the programme outshines anything that has been suggested by either silverites or Populists. It is to be a new currency, of course, based upon the credit of the new state. The material has not yet been agreed upon, but it will be neither of the precious metals. These are tabooed, and the unit of value to start with will be a hundred minutes of labor for one dollar, or a cent a minute when the minutes are fewer than a dollar's worth, and there will be no means of measuring the quality or quantity of labor performed except by the conscience of the laborer. Nothing is to be taken note of except the time, and it is to be left to the good will and option of the individual himself whether he works or "loafs." As he will get as much for one as for the other, there can hardly be two opinions as to which any but a very few conscientious ones will choose. Here again the presumption is that all people will be conscientious philanthropists. This is presuming an entire change in the feelings and desires of the beings who are to be citizens of the New Utopia, and an utter absence of every incentive and motive which now prompts the individual to labor and lay up for the future. It is easy to see that such a condition of things, if possible, would stop all development, and a state of stagnation would be the inevitable result. Then for generations there would be perpetual war between the rising generation and that which would then be passing away after having introduced these felicitous changes in human economy. The transmission of the selfish ideas of the old Adam would be certain to come up from time to time in the younger offspring, thus perpetually disturbing the harmony of society. No power could suppress this evil tendency for many generations, as it is inherent in human nature itself and one of the mysteries hitherto beyond the reach of solution. With a finer development and the entire suppression of selfishness, the secret may be discovered and the problem solved by some philosopher of the future school of thought. But here again we are met with another difficulty, when we speak or think of development of thought. How can such a thing exist in the sphere of the annihilators' future? It would be entirely superfluous. "Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die," would be the motto of that social state. The only serious consideration would be to get sufficient work out of the members of the community to maintain the eating and drinking. The chief incentive to work, namely, profit, having been taken away, what kind of pressure would supply its place so as to keep the various communities up to the point of sustenance? It must be remembered that the " robber class" who, from the most selfish purposes, now deal in futures and thereby lay up stores against famine, would all be extinct. Thus far there has been no provision made to supply their place in the provisional work which they now perform by the law of natural selection. Suppose that on the brink of a crisis of this kind the communities should take a notion to go on a strike, being prompted by a spirit similar to that which of old seized the Israelites when Moses restricted them to a manna diet and they longed for the fleshpots of Egypt," -what method of discipline would be resorted to in such an emergency? It seems to me that people would be placed in such a quandary that they might be obliged to cast lots and resort to a tiding-over experiment in the way of cannibalism until the clouds of famine should roll by and the demoralizing influences of the food panic pass over. Then the selfish spirit of the forefathers would begin to rebel, and by and by get uppermost, involving the biggest insurrection that the world has ever seen. Now, I have taken one illustration from ancient history, that of the tribal organization, to show that the communistic idea was wanting in the seeds and attributes of permanency. The system evidently had not come to stay with those good people, and they did not transmit it to their modern posterity, who have embraced the selfish marriage of man and wife, together with their other backslidings. The family, as understood by the ancients, being simply a modification of the tribe, no longer exists in the civilized portions of the globe. It is still extant in China, and also, with various modifications, in other Eastern nations and among certain tribes of Africa; but wherever its existence lingers, one of its characteristics is that the people are poor and ignorant. It was tried, and in course of time rejected, by a few of the ancient nations who stood highest in the scale of what we understand by civilization; but it is significant that, as the idea died out after various experiments, people began to grow more humane, and what is designated " civilization," for want of a better term, developed among them. They began to improve in their habits, a higher standard of morality began to prevail, domestic comforts were improved, more evenhanded justice was dispensed, and provision against the emergencies of life became a subject of personal and individual concern, and conduced largely to a higher dispensation of happiness in the "selfish" family circle. Under this progressive state of evolution great discoveries have been made, for which there could be no inducement in a socialistic system. And the world, especially the republican portion of it, is making considerable progress toward the highest plane of happiness and prosperity ever dreamed of, except by annihilators. In quoting instances and illustrations of historical experiments in communism and socialism, there is one that should not be passed over in silence, as it is probably one of the most prominent of examples, and the only successful one. The community to which I refer was that formed on the day of Pentecost, of which the record is found in the New Testament, in the second chapter of the Acts of the Apostles. It seems to have been organized by the twelve apostles, on the occasion of a meeting in Jerusalem to promote the spread of the gospel. There was a large assemblage, composed of the representatives of various nations, many of them Jews, mostly dwellers in Jerusalem, then the metropolis of Palestine. According to the narrative written by St. Luke, the assemblage was touched by a miracle which caused the disciples to speak in the tongues of the foreigners. Some of the audience were astonished, and were curious to know the meaning of it, while others mocked and said, "These men are full of new wine." The Apostle Peter, however, sustained the theory of the miracle in a powerful sermon, and a large number of the people must have agreed with him, for he succeeded in organizing an association or church of three thousand members, the result of the initiation being the sale of everything that the person possessed, the proceeds to be put in a common fund, and the members of the community —" all who believed "- to have "all things in common." The narrative goes on to say that these people "sold their possessions and goods and parted them to all men as every man had need," and furthermore, that "the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved." Now, this community was established under what must be considered the most favorable auspices, and under divine protection and guidance; yet there is no account that I have seen or heard of concerning the prolongation of its existence beyond a short period. Where the church or community organized by the Apostle Peter and his eleven holy brethren of the same community did not succeed in transmitting that system to posterity, what chance is there for miserable, wicked creatures, who are constantly breathing fire and slaughter against capitalists, to establish a permanent organization of a communistic character that has any guaranty of becoming a popular success? To put the question thus clearly and plainly, is, I think, to answer it. There cannot possibly be any hope of such an experiment succeeding in a civilized community, and its success, if possible, would institute the worst system of slavery with which the world has ever been cursed. It could not be organized in the first instance, except by the strongest and most cruel kind of tyranny. It would relegate humanity to a state of the most selfish savagery. All the modern experiments, likewise, have failed, and most of them were of a mild and civilized character. Robert Owen, a Welshman who made a fortune in the cotton trade, spent about a quarter of a million dollars in eleven experiments in attempting to establish communism by rational methods, and through reason and education. One of these was New Harmony in Indiana. His son, Robert Dale Owen, who had been induced for a time to assist his father in these abortive attempts to transform human beings into the similitude of angels, gave up the business, became an ordinary member of civilized society, and put his very liberal education and bright intellect to useful purposes as an author and a magazine writer. He also had a short but honorable career in Congress, and died in 1877, deeply lamented by a large circle of friends and admirers. His father died in 1858, at the age of eighty-seven, after having spent fifty years and $300,000 in the unsuccessful effort to establish communism on a healthy and permanent basis. Robert Owen was a great philanthropist, highly respected in the highest circles in England, and a special favorite with the royal family there, despite his radicalism. He once lent William IV., Victoria's uncle and predecessor, $10,0000, and when the king handed him a promissory note for the amount, he threw it in the fire. When men of such high purposes and plenty of money to back them up fail to succeed in the experiments under consideration, what must be the fate of men whose theoretical morals, at least, are of the lowest type, and who have no money to put any enterprise under way —hardly enough even to print their inflammatory and traitorous platforms? These people talk about defending the laborer while they propose to rob the capitalist, apparently forgetting that capital is the fruit of labor, and is quite as necessary as labor in any plan of cooperation, large or small. Man in his present state of civilization is more helpless without capital than a wild monkey of the forest; and capital cannot be preserved and increased to the point of doing its greatest possible good and reaching its highest aims and purposes without the cooperation of its natural ally, labor. There should be no disruption or discord, therefore, where such vital interests are mutually indispensable to the health, happiness, and prosperity of the whole people. Neither the system of Owen, nor that of Fourier the Frenchman, seeks the destruction of any property, but rather the building up of it. The destructive idea is quite modern. The Fourier system was tried in this country on Brook Farm, at Roxbury near Boston, Massachusetts, from 1841 to 1846, and several of the most prominent literary personages of a little over half a century ago went through the mill of experience on this famous farm. Among them were Horace Greeley, George William Curtis, William Ellery Channing, George Ripley, Albert Brisbane, and Charles A. Dana. These men, with a few clever women (of whom Margaret Fuller was one), as might be expected from their high intelligence and honesty of purpose, soon demonstrated the futility of the experiment and gave it up. Brisbane was probably the only one who adhered tenaciously and publicly to the opinions and platform of Fourier after the farming experiment failed. He translated Fourier's works and wrote books and comments upon them until near the time of his death a few years ago. Fourier died in I837, leaving a host of disciples on both sides of the Atlantic, who are now nearly all dead. Brisbane was probably the last of the enthusiastic ones on this side. Those communities that have been organized on the ostensible foundation of religion have had fair material success during the lives of their leaders and organizers, but the gross immorality which has characterized most of them soon planted the seeds of their decay, and the successors of the original leaders were seldom able to continue the full authority bequeathed to them. This has been the result with the Oneida Community experiment at Oneida, New York, over which a man named John Noyes ruled with a rod of iron for many years. After his death the community collapsed. The Salt Lake experiment in Utah, organized by Joseph Smith and Brigham Young, has been handicapped by the strict execution of the laws passed by Congress against polygamy. Young was a man of extraordinary personal power, with great individuality and marvelous magnetic influence over his deluded followers. He found Utah a barren wilderness and left it a fertile garden. He built a temple larger than that of his polygamous prototype, Solomon, although the gold was hardly so abundant in the Utah structure as in the sacred edifice of Lebanon built by the wise king of Israel. At last the nation became disgusted with the whole system, and suppressive enactments were passed by Congress designating polygamy a crime. My strictures as to immorality do not apply to the Shakers, who have, perhaps, come nearer to success than any modern movement. Even they, however, lack vitality and are rapidly dying out. One of the great elements of disintegration in all of these efforts to organize a community on a permanent basis arises from the dissatisfaction inseparable from the idea of the fruits of one's labor being devoted to persons who put forth no effort to assist the community. This and the strong desire implanted in the human mind for hire and profit as the reward of labor appear to overcome all the broader intentions of elevating the standard of the whole community and of making the individual sacrifices necessary to accomplish the end. That self-preservation which is the first law of nature would thus seem of itself capable of frustrating every effort to establish a community where the earnings are to go into a common fund, and where the most industrious and frugal individual, as well as the genius, is to be depressed to the working level of the lowest human animal. The drones are the chief disintegrators of all these social schemes, but the tyranny of the "bosses," which always develops with the possession of power, is a potent factor of destruction by inciting rebellion. The worm will turn when trampled on. In conclusion, I would say that the privileges connected with the ballot-box make provision for equality and equity as near perfection as any theory that the annihilators can prescribe. With regard to the abuses of trusts and other corporations, the legislation already on the statute books, both national and in most of the different States, together with the provisions of the common law, are pretty nearly sufficient to deal with these matters so as to remedy and correct all abuses.



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