Source: Saturday Evening Post
Source type: magazine
Document type: editorial
Document title: “The Government We Live Under”
Date of publication: 19 October 1901
Volume number: 174
Issue number: 16
|“The Government We Live Under.” Saturday Evening Post 19 Oct. 1901 v174n16: p. 12.|
|anarchism (personal response); anarchism (criticism).|
The Government We Live Under
THERE is always a peril in isolating a body of people from the current and
movement of social opinion around them. Every small sect exists with injury
to its members through such isolation. It becomes a focus of whimsical and fantastic
ideas, which have no basis in reality. The same result is seen in small political
factions, gathered around some specialty of reform, whether this be the Single
Tax, or Socialism, or any other idea for which the people at large “have no
use.” Whatever the truth of the theory at stake, there is in the minds of its
advocates a lack of social perspective which works harm, and may end in making
Anarchism is but an extreme instance of this. At the outset it is nothing more than a conviction that the world has outlived and outgrown government, and would gain by abolishing it as a public and general authority, leaving every man, who thinks he needs to be governed, free to unite with others of the same mind, and to set up the kind they want, just as people do with churches. Sometimes the main conclusion is reached, as in the case of the Russian and the Italian anarchists, from experience of oppressive governments, which take much and give little in return. Sometimes it is reached from theorizing on the subject, starting from such maxims as “He governs best who governs least.” In either case the anarchist comes to fix his attention on the real and supposed wrongs of our governmental systems and methods until he can see nothing else. And the inference is easy to him that mankind are groaning under a weight of oppression, which they would be glad to have lifted from them.
The perspective is thus lost, and a single group of facts comes to fill up all the foreground of the mind. It is not seen that for the vast majority of mankind government does not exist as a restraint, but as an organ of society for public uses. Very few are they who ever feel the weight of the law’s hand, or enter a court of justice except as mere spectators. Law commands the obedience of most men through their whole lives, because they share in the public opinion which created it. It is “part of themselves, just a little projected.” Their only quarrel about it is not seeing it rigorously enforced. To abolish government would be to cramp the expression of their natures, and to abolish an agency by which their lives are broadened and their interests widened.
The anarchist equally misses seeing that the worst government, even that of the Czar, is beneficent in most of its activity, working for the peace of the community, for free communication between all parts of the country, for the education of the young, for the encouragement of industry, and for the maintenance of the national honor. In America we are very free in criticising our municipal governments as those in which the national spirit has found the least expression, and in which abuses most thrive. But those governments actually serve most of the great objects for which government exists. The peace is kept in New York, Chicago and Philadelphia, and life and person are safer than in cities of the Old World of the same size or larger. The health of the community is safeguarded with vigor and intelligence. The education of the rising generation is cared for with increasing efficiency. Vice is kept from making public and demoralizing displays, if it is not put down by law, as some people seem to think it might be. The family, the social reunion, the church, and other social units are properly protected. The government which achieves this is not a combination of bandits, whatever its faults and whatever the need for its reform.
The murderer of our President seems to have expected that his deed would usher in social chaos, especially as it occurred during a great struggle between Capital and Labor. It did not and could not do so because we all see the facts in a truer perspective than does the anarchist.