Source: Christian Nation
Source type: magazine
Document type: editorial
Document title: “Anarchism and Herbert Spencer”
Author(s): Coleman, James M.
Date of publication: 8 January 1902
Volume number: 36
Issue number: none
|Coleman, James M. “Anarchism and Herbert Spencer.” Christian Nation 8 Jan. 1902 v36: p. 2.|
|anarchism (public response); Herbert Spencer; anarchism (compared with Spencerian philosophy).|
|Mikhail Bakunin [variant spelling below]; Maximilien François de Robespierre; Herbert Spencer.|
|“By Prof. J. M. Coleman” (p. 2).|
Anarchism and Herbert Spencer
The discussion in regard to anarchism,
as it has appeared in its various forms of expression from the daily paper to
the President’s message, has passed through a somewhat hysterical stage. It
seems to take for granted that some new crisis has come in the world of thought
and action, and that public safety demands that drastic measures be taken for
the annihilation of the anarchists and of anarchism. Before it is decided to
cut him off from the earth it might be well to see who he is and where he is
to be found so that means may be used commensurate with the task, for it may
appear that a large number of people, many of them of considerable standing,
would be involved in the proposed destruction.
For many years Herbert Spencer was, perhaps, the most influential among the English philosophers. His teachings are the essential doctrines of anarchism, and all his followers are logical anarchists. To make this evident one need only compare the writings of an anarchist thinker, such as Bakounine, with those of the great English individualist.
It gives us a fair conception of the relation of the two systems if we compare their ideas of God, of government and of law. The anarchist argues that there is no God whose will controls the world of men and matter. Reversing Robespierre’s sentiment, “If God did not exist, it would be necessary to invent him,” Bakounine says: “If God existed it would be necessary to abolish him.” “If God is, then man is a slave; now, man can and must be free; then, God does not exist.” The anarchist holds that there is no will above that of the individual else man is a slave. Over against this, Herbert Spencer maintains that God is the unknowable, and between Spencer’s absentee God and none at all there is little choice.
In regard to the nature of law, the systems are in cordial agreement. Through men and matter there run certain universal, inevitable laws. They are the constitution of man and the universe. Unmodified by any controlling will, these laws are absolute and men have no alternative but to conform to them or perish. As both systems are materialistic, these universal laws are physical in kind. Immortal spirit there is none either above the earth or in it. Spencer argues that man’s law of progress is the “survival of the fittest,” and while the anarchist is more optimistic in regard to the nature of man, both agree that competition is the only natural law among men. Interference with the working of this law can result only in disaster. This leads us to consider the third point, the government. In making the state only a physical organism, Spencer denied that it had any mind, and, consequently, any will. As government is the expression of the will of the state, and as the state had no will, there is no place for government. He says that governments exist to-day as an incident of evil conditions, such as war and other like crimes against society, but as these pass away governments shall likewise cease to exist. “Be it or be it not true,” says Spencer, “that man is shapen in iniquity and conceived in sin, it is unquestionably true that government is begotten of aggression and by aggression.”
This expresses the faith of the anarchist. He is opposed to government because he claims that it produces disorder. There is no will above the will of the individual, so that any attempt to govern is the attempt of one individual or a number of them combined to impose their individual will on others. If Herbert Spencer is right in his position, so is the anarchist. It is worth remembering that we are dealing with a philosophy of social life, and not simply with a few criminals.