As will be developed later, the principle of violence finds widespread application all over the world, in America as elsewhere. But to illustrate what is meant by violence, I shall choose a modern instance, one among hundreds of familiar instances, one that most people, not having reflected on the matter, fail to evaluate in terms of violence.
The familiar instance is public housing. A citizen is compelled to give of the fruits of his labor to meet the housing “needs” of others. Freedom of choice as to what he does with his own capital and income (property) is denied him. Freedom of choice gives way to the dictation of an authority, a dictate backed by brute force—violence! Actually, in a strict sense, the only choice a citizen has in this instance is between obedience or death. This may sound extreme, but nonetheless it is true. Suppose, for example, that a person decides to exercise, absolutely, his freedom of choice concerning payment for a government housing project. Suppose that he decides not to pay his share of the cost because he believes that the building of houses is not a proper function of government. Suppose that he deducts this from his tax payments. What would happen?
Policemen with Guns
Since the government’s claim becomes the first lien on everything a citizen owns, a judgment for incomplete payment of taxes would finally be rendered against his property—his home, for instance. If the citizen still refused to pay his share of the government housing project—and if he refused to vacate his property that had been attached by government—policemen with guns would eventually appear to enforce the government order. Suppose that he still refused to acquiesce. Suppose that he met the use of physical force by using physical force in return, which would be his only remaining method of exercising freedom of choice and carrying out his initial intention. He would be shot! The justification for shooting him would be “for resisting an officer,” but the issue would remain the same. The citizen would have done nothing more than hold fast to his resolve not to support socialized housing, using the least violent means, step by step, to hold firmly by his convictions.
The reason that most of us do not think of government coercion as meaning obedience under penalty of death is because we almost always pay our part of the cost of government housing, electricity, and other similar projects before the shooting begins. Usually we acquiesce before the ultimate meaning of compulsion is realized. Thus we are unacquainted with its true implications.
Early American Experiment
The principle of violence found acceptance early in American history. The Pilgrim Fathers, after landing at Plymouth Rock, were in dire economic straits. Not unlike their progeny of our own times they thought they could not, during a period of stress and difficulty, rely on the actions of free men in production, distribution, or charity. Their interdependence, very plain and real to these forebears of ours, must, they reasoned, be attended to by some intervening authority. Men acting freely, the identical men who so clearly recognized their interdependence, could not, they thought, be trusted to act in their own interests! The answer: violence!
True, the Pilgrim Fathers did not call what they did by the ugly name of violence. But, as has been demonstrated, this is what aggressive force is. The Pilgrim Fathers applied aggressive, as distinguished from defensive force. They attempted to effect communalization by force. Every Pilgrim, regardless of how little or how much he produced, was required to deliver the fruits of his labor to a communal or community storehouse. He was permitted to withdraw the stores in accordance with “need,” not the individual Pilgrim’s idea of need but the law’s decree of his need. These Pilgrims put into effect, not by charity or the goodness of their hearts, a principle later stated by St. Simon, and still later held up as an ideal by Karl Marx: “. . . from each according to ability; to each according to need.” They socialized the fruits of their labor. There was a common ownership of the means of production—communalization by force. They were communists in the term’s purest form. They had chosen to live in accordance with the principle of violence.
There was a most persuasive reason why the Pilgrims finally gave up communism. They began to starve. Many died. Violence, as a method to effect social conduct, was forsworn. Each according to merit became the rule—that is, to each the fruits of his labor. And they prospered. These practitioners began the pattern for the American way: individual freedom, and personal responsibility for one’s own actions.
This turned out to be superior to other ways. According to the record, this way was so good that Twentieth Century Americans applied violence (unwisely, I believe) to keep others out of our country, while many foreign governments resorted to violence to keep their people at home. This American way had several distinctive tendencies, among them:
1. The doctrine of individual immunity against governmental power over peaceful actions. This immunity extended to the individual in respect to his property, in respect to his physical person, and in respect to his mind, or thought and expression
2. A government of laws and not of men.
3. The doctrine of local self-government.
4. The principle that governmental mandate and office are a public trust, to be exercised in strictest independence of all personal interests, prejudices, or passions, for the maintenance of individual liberty and the preservation of the public order, all to be done as related to the welfare of all individuals.
5. Avoidance of entanglements in the politics of European or other countries, and the corollary of this doctrine which advises resistance to the interference of Europe or Asia in the politics of the American continent.