Nature is on the side of self-ownership, self-guidance. We see that each man and each woman is individually endowed by nature with a separate, complete, and perfect machinery for self-guidance—the mind to guide, the body to act under its guidance; and we hold, as a great natural fact as well as a great moral truth—probably from a human point of view the greatest of all facts and the greatest of all truths—that each man owns his own body and mind, and thus cannot rightfully own the body and mind of another man. We hold that what one man cannot morally do, a million of men cannot morally do, and government, representing many millions of men, cannot do. Governments are only machines, created by the individuals of a nation for their own convenience; they are only delegated bodies, delegated by the individuals, and therefore they cannot possibly have larger moral rights of using force, or, indeed, larger moral rights of any kind, than the individuals who delegated them. We may reasonably believe that an individual, as a self-owner, is morally justified in defending the rights he possesses in himself and in his own property—by force, if necessary, against force (and fraud), but he cannot be justified in using force for any other purpose whatsoever. He cannot morally use force to further his own interests, to further his own opinions, to further any cause, however excellent in itself, for in all these cases he would be stepping outside his own rights of self-ownership, and taking away from others some part of their rights of self-ownership. All such actions would imply that he was the owner of the bodies and minds of others, and this he cannot be, for all ownership of others is forever precluded by each person's right of self-ownership. It is impossible at one and the same time for men to be self-owners and owners of others. Self-ownership leaves no place for some men to own others or to be owned by them. If we are self-owners (and it is absurd, it is doing violence to reason, to suppose that we are not), neither an individual, nor a majority, nor a government can have rights of ownership in other men.
The best inspirations only readily come to those who live open to all influences, who are not narrowed and limited by that sense of slightly contemptuous superiority, which we all, however excellent we may be, are apt to feel when we are treating others as passive material under our hands. I doubt if you can ever impose your own will by means of force on others, without acquiring in yourself something of this superior scorn. But this scorn is fatal to the great inspirations, for they are only born in us when we are in truest personal sympathy with the upward movement, whatever it may be, when we ourselves are part of it, when we are thinking and feeling freely, and are surrounded by those thinking and feeling like ourselves, for in real free life we are forever giving and receiving, absorbing and radiating. There and there only do you get the true soilbed of progress.
Essays on Appearances Can Be Deceiving - Essay Depot
A few words to prevent a possible misunderstanding. I have not been preaching any form of anarchy, which seems to me—even in its most peaceful and reasonable forms, quite apart from the detestable bomb—merely one more creed of force. (I am not referring here to such a form of anarchy—passive resistance under all circumstances, as Tolstoy preaches—into the consideration of which I cannot enter today.) Anarchy is a creed, which, as I believe, we can never rightly class among the creeds of liberty. Only in condemning anarchy we shall do well to remember that, like socialism, it is the direct product, the true child of those systems of government that have taught men to believe that they may rightly found their relations to each other on the employment of force. Both the anarchist and the socialist find some measure of justification in the practice and teaching of all our modern governments, for if force is a right thing in itself, then it becomes merely a secondary question, on which we may all differ, as to the quantity and quality of it to be employed, the purposes for which we may use it, or in what hands the employment of it should be placed. There is, there can be, nothing sacred in the division of ourselves into majorities and minorities. You may think right to take only half a man's property from him by force; I may prefer to take the whole. You may think right to entrust the use of force to every three men out of five; I may prefer to entrust it, as the anarchist does, to each one of the five separately; or as some Russians and some Germans do, to the autocrat or half-autocrat, and his all-embracing bureaucracy. Who shall decide between us? There is no moral tribunal before which you can summon unlimited power, for it acknowledges, as we have seen, nothing higher than itself; if it did acknowledge any moral law above itself, its wings would be clipped, and its nature changed, and it would no longer be unlimited.