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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 72

The Anarchists' Gospel

The Anarchists' Gospel.

It was but its logical conclusions, the victim of Charlotte Corday's dagger ex-pressed, when he declared "that society was founded upon mutual agreement, and that if sufficient reason for determining that agreement existed it should be dissolved." "The bonds of society," said Marat, the comrade of Danton, and the most hatefully notorious of the butchers of the French Revolution, "are now dissolved, and the state of nature has come back in which each man has a right to take what he can, and the rich must make way for the poor." And Brissot but applied the principles of Rousseauism when he declared "La propriete exclusive est une vol dans la nature." The gospel of Jean Jacques has been correctly summarised as follows:— page 5
1.All men are born free, politically equal, and good, and in a nature remain so; consequently it is their natural right to be free and their duty to be good.
2.All men being equal by natural right, none can have any right to encroach another's equal right. Hence no man can appropriate any part of the common means of subsistence—that is to say, the land or anything which the land produces—without the unanimous consent of all other men. Under any other circumstances property is usurpation, or, in plain terms, robbery.
3.Political rights, therefore, are based upon contract—the so-called right of conquest is no right, and property which has been acquired by force may be taken away by force.

These were the texts of the rhetorical nonsense that inebriated and inflamed the minds of French proletariat in 1789 and urged them on to blood and anarchy. I need not go into any critical examination of these principles. Should my reader be curious to see how this stuff looks beneath the surgical knife of common sense, you cannot do better than read Jeremy Bentham's Specimens of a Criticism of the French Declaration of Rights'—that "sort of institute and digest of Anarchy," as Edmund Burke calls it. But much of this essence of Rousseauism is familiar to all. Not only is it the creed of the Anarchist, but largely the accepted doctrines of shallow thinkers, who are more attracted by the grandiloquence of a phrase than the force of an argument. Books but repeating these same notions set in a weary waste of words have, during the last decade or two, fallen upon us from the Press "thick as autumnal leaves that strow the brooks in Vallam-brosa," and half the ultra-socialistic literature of our day is but Rousseauism veiled by bombastic, windy phraseology—"Liberty," "Fraternity," "Equality." Magic words! What cart-loads of rhetorical confectionery have been made out of you. Well may Bentham exclaim: "Alas, how dependent are opinions upon sound. Who shall break the chains which bind them together? By what force shall the associations between words and ideas be dissolved—associations coeval with the cradle—associations to which every book and every conversation gives increased strength. The language of plain, strong sense is difficult to learn; the language of smooth nonsense is easy and familiar. The one requires a force of attention capable of stemming the tide of usage and example; the other requires nothing but to swim with it." I think I have succeeded in showing how first the early Greek view of the law of nature passed to Rome, and there, employed for practical purposes, impressed itself on Roman law and Roman thought. Again, in later years imported into France, it gathered strength and authority until the time of Rousseau, when its counterpart, the state of nature, yet but dimly contemplated, is brought out into vivid prominence and made man's perfect state even as her law is perfect. And accompanying this development since the time of Hobbes went on that of the social compact until Rousseau formulated his fantastic system by an alteration and continuation of both these theories. This legacy of visionary speculation he bequeathed to posterity, and to-day it is the gospel of the Anarchist and the avowed warrant for the use of the bomb and the dagger.