Walter Burley Griffin, The writings of Walter Burley Griffin, ed. Dustin Griffin (Cambridge University Press, 2008), pp. 364-73, sans annotations.
WHY POLITICS? (1923)
The term “Politics” as applied to ethical relations and duties of the State is obsolete, according to Webster. No wonder!
My theme is the unethical character of government as we are familiar with it and the consequent futility of politics for such beneficial ends as we here presumably have in mind.
The theories have been arrived at inductively.
Franz Oppenheimer’s work on The State, summarising the modern German historical researches into the origin and development of government, finally exploded all the theories, from Plato’s Republic to Rosseau’s Social Contract, that to secure such rights governments were instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, or that there ever were any such political rights as of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness according to Thomas Jefferson.
The remarkable feature of these studies of government in all races and all climes and through the successive stages from patriarchism to feudalism and industrialism is that the phenomena of origin by capture for loot and of the policies successively adopted to maintain the advantage of the captors have been always and are still everywhere essentially the same.
What it amounts to is the plunder of industrial effort by organised physical force, the thwarting of civilisation by barbarism.
In the beginning, industrialism and civilisation were represented by the agriculturalists, who alone made possible leisure, craftsmanship and private property.
However, from the nature of the farmers’ tasks, their individual isolation, the accumulation and portability of their produce, and the inoffensive nature of their tools, equipment and skill, their fixed habitats and their independence of discipline, they have never been a match for the close-knit, subservient, mobile, mounted bands of herders and hunters, the first authentic socialists, who eked out their precarious livelihood with the stolen savings of the peasants.
The earliest barbarians were in such small units that they could only pillage and destroy their prey, but, as the course of supply was thus cut off, the wisdom of cooperation on the part of the bandits led to division of territories between them, arrived at by force of arms, to insure subsistence to the producers, enough to keep them producing between forays.
The elaboration of this system between the local robber barons was feudalism, followed after the introduction of money by the more centralised governments for the same species of “protection” today, differing in degree but not in kind.
Example: Savage people of today, barbaric people of today.
The physical law that water does not rise above its source justifies a feeling at least that politics can hardly rise against plunder, or that governments can achieve peace!
Experience, testified by 5000 years of history, shows no example of such. None but one people has even lasted through that time, or survived even a quarter of that period beyond feudalism, and that race has been the least governed.
The Chinese have had dynasties of rules, so-called, but these rulers have been without government power to enforce their decrees, and the mass of agricultural industrialists has been great enough to remain relatively unmolested behind their defensive wall, though they have no worried much heretofore concerning the empty form of the figurehead government concession to Tartar or other nomad invaders.
Apparently the thing that has taken the place of government and politics in China has been industrial organisation, such little as there has been, and trade guilds and professional and local provincial societies, deriving their power, very real and very just, from the consensus of informed and qualified opinion, instead of from a “consent of the governed citizens.”
Examples: “Era of good feeling” following Jefferson, 1800-1850, U.S.A., under the axiom “that Govt. is best which governs least”.
It is only possible to have such an enlightened opinion within the bounds of educational homogeneity with special interests and objects in common, or a specific personnel or location within the acquaintanceship range of all associated.
We should admit “politics” on those lines, but those are the precise lines of all business and professional associations and of all groups, unorganised or organised, of companies and of individual workers, whether traders, manufacturers, farmers or whatsoever. They in fact comprise altogether “Society” as distinct from “the State.”
These voluntary groups in the aggregate conserve knowledge and advance science and build up civilisation without taxes or police or armies. Insofar as such groups are effective toward the development of civilisation, they flourish and lead, under the laws of competition, to the only tested type of cooperation employed by evolution in all nature apart from the interference of men.
Examples: 8 years in America after Revolution, without local, state, or federal government or parts; Castlecrag, its obstacles: Roads, Main Highway, Houses, Sewage Disposal, Trees, Waterfront. Rate Dispersion, Electric Service; Village; Philosophy vs. Science; Socialism the apotheosis of political power.
If such be a free society, subversive of the highest conceivable ends, what is there in government that can or does direct or control it to better ends? The politician! In practice, this class of human flotsam and jetsam is the one empowered to direct society to better ends than can its trained leaders.
This leader of the blind carrying all the coercive powers bequeathed by the buccaneers to the State is the same type, whether in Tutankhaman’s Egypt, Tudor England, Bourbon France, Socialist Australia, “Democratic” America, Fascist Italy, or Bolshevik Russia. He contrives to leadership by flattery, cajolery, bamboozlement, flapdoodle, or bare knuckles, poison, or castor oil. His qualifications are the emotions of envy, pride, pique, greed, hate, and cowardice, resentment, or righteous indignation, and the psychological complexes of the baffled and incompetent who vote. And we all are necessarily incompetent as well as impotent voters, because the issues that teach us are between compromising personalities and cleverly complicated insincerities.
Still we are prone to persist with an assumption that some good may come out of politics when we get a better type of men in politics. But we have often had honest men and successful business men and capable executives in office, but after 5000 years the type first mentioned has survived on the whole and must, I fear, continue to the end of politics. Granted that every candidate for office is actuated by highest ideals, he finds on gaining office, which is easy though sometimes expensive, that his ideals require sacrifice of part to save the rest, or, granting that all maintain ideals, the necessity of priority alone must justify compromise. Actually, however, all idealism is compromised ultimately out of the picture, or the idealist has retired to other fields, where at least it is within his individual powers to attain some clean-cut result by his own exertion.
This is not to say that idealism should succeed, but, unless ideals can have a test, advance is impossible. But ideals are individual, personal things, whereas politics is multiplicity of counsel in which there may be wisdom of the past but is no progress, or progressive experiments, or outlook toward the future.
The business of politics, moreover, is jobs, which mean power or emolument, to secure which all that the ins do must be wrong for the outs. Hence, whenever a government through fortuitous circumstances achieves a step ahead, it is doomed to be offset by a step backward when the political pendulum swings as it must forever swing.
Examples: No arrogance like that clothed with the brief authority of elected persons. Willoughby: Council, Peden vs. Federated Progress Assn.
Despite the perpetual political pendulum, however, there is a steady trend in one direction of all political power toward more taxes and expenditure and greater interference with industry. That is, power begets power, the first law of self.
That such increased power, as we have seen, cannot mean experiment or enterprise is borne out by the facts that no improvements in science or engineering have ever come out of the huge governmental undertakings, which in Australia, for instance, already over-shadow private enterprise.
With this proposition, the whole country cannot but lag farther and farther behind, until its development becomes generations behind places of less disproportionate fixation.
The universally recognised government stroke also sets the pace, for routine labour and bridges and buildings, for example, take months instead of weeks for construction until the whole people become afflicted with an inferiority complex which stifles the higher ambitions and discourages every conspicuous break or effort to break from the routine or official cast of mind.
The few apparent exceptions to this dictum, as noted by the late Dr Hugo Meyer, whose history of early Australia and Victoria will upset many current notions when it is published, are the transitional cases where men trained and practiced in private enterprises have been available to the public service.
The tendency to socialistic monopolisation of major industries is greatly accentuated in colonies like Australasia, where the real property owners and financiers are absentees and more concerned with the safeguarding of their investments by the taxing power of amenable political governments than with the general economy and development of the place, which would be of little tangible benefit to themselves relatively. The recent insolence of the prime minister to local business men is merely an index of their colonial status.
Example: Soviet Russia. Failure, volte-face. Propaganda; Pretence.
The owners of a country must control it on the whole, where property rights are the basis of the State, for ownership is the most effective power. Further, it would be the one just power, were the products of industry left to the producers, without the interference of politics, because property, except for political fiat, or more obvious forms of theft, is the evidence and outcome of individual creative labour.
When, however, the ownership of the property carries with it political, coercive powers, their initial essential character of conquest and pillage is realised, and justice as suggested to start with is entirely dissociated from the business and the State.
There is nothing startling or unfair in the ratios of ownership of property, which are pretty well constant in civilised state where private property is recognised. Where one percent controls fifty per cent or more of the wealth, as it does according to Spahr in 1891, and again according to King in 1915, in America, Germany, England, France, etc., it evidences the fact that our organisation has reached the effective state of one man directing fifty. With fewer bosses and more workers probably, though not necessarily, greater efficiency of production and higher standards of income and living will have been attained.
But why is it not enough, this control of capital, its management and increments without adding the unnecessary privilege of political manipulation to take back wages by taxation of every income and outgo of the non-property holder, to add to the interest and profit returns of the less scrupulous capitalists?
No government could long exist without general public approval, whether the government be absolute, monarchical, aristocratic, democratic, or communist.
Public opinion tolerates politics evidently because it believes in the political institutions but that opinion has not yet been educated to discriminate between the political promise of public welfare and actual performance of robbery under arms. The discrepancy exists because the politicians who promise are puppets of government-made taxing monopolies, who dictate the performance.
There are at least five sorts of these monopolies: indirect tax collection, credit control, patents, communication franchises, and land-occupancy rights.
The more socialistic the tendency, the more operations are put into the first category, whereas an individualistic tendency concentrates activity upon the last two, which most of us have to admit to be natural monopolies.
It is but the step of confiscation from the first category into State Socialism and the destruction of industry, whereas the last category is the grounds on which individual initiative, modern science, and industry have grown from feudalism.
Communism had been the mode of living of primitive peoples from time immemorial, but it never involved scientific industry. Socialism is an involved hypothesis of Industrial Communism, without historical or scientific data to constitute it a scientific theory. Upon individualism and the rights of access to natural resources and of ownership in the product of labour thereon, our industrial development has taken place.
If we approve of modern science and the satisfaction of unlimited new desires through invention and improvement of industry, then we might well be satisfied to conserve the tested basis of private ownership, or capitalism, and help society to shake off every proven case of political interference, even though we do not assume that all legislative or general administrative control must be abolished and anarchy substituted.
I am not sure that personally I have not a notion of a common subjective unconscious mind that may justify the liberating of society from sumptuary control of legislatures, or ignorant emotional politicians, but be that as it may, I can agree with those of other private notions on abolishing one after another the laws that have already proven inefficacious in fostering industrial betterment.
To begin with, everything that is undertaken by public bodies for general “public welfare” is socialistic and on an entirely unauthenticated hypothesis, in reality on a complex of resentment without adequate analysis or weighted quantitative evidence.
Here come national and state and municipal trading without exception inefficient, dependent upon tax support and subversive of progress: pensions, insurance, schools, post offices, railways, telegraphs, telephones, radio, health, fire control, water, electricity, and other services.
The evidence of the essential failure of all these undertakings is overwhelming and utterly convincing, once the political bugaboo of the alternative viciousness of non-political social institutions has been banished.
Possibly the service of the courts and even the police as public departments may also be found superfluous in favour of private or bar association enterprises, as already effected in many places, in the case of smaller jurisdictions most to the economy and efficacy of the law.
Within the first category of politically made monopolies, indirect taxation — import protection, export duties, excises, amusement licenses, etc. — amount wholly to arbitrary and vacillating policies containing the germs of war mania.
Thirdly, governmental interference with the business of finance has been productive of depression and panic and disturbances of trade as often certainly as it has allayed them, and its abolishment may, presumably, be a corollary to disentanglement from the multitudinous State undertakings just cited.
Patent rights as inventors are a technical issue and not of very great moment because short-lived, but the evidence of the experienced is at least as strong for abolition and continuance. The attempt to secure such patents on the one hand diverts thousands from useful work to mainly useless experiment at great loss to society, whereas the benefits of eventual monopolies generally accrue to investors rather than patentees and to those monopolies who sometimes acquire rights to suppress competitive devices and deprive society of the benefits of invention. Scientists render a more valuable service to society than inventors without the aid of such monopoly power, also physicians, and these are resolutely against special privileges.
Finally, there is the remaining question of access to the resources of the earth and occupancy of the land, whether in public ways or private sites, or mines, or wells.
Politics by hereditary instinct protects here the monopoly of the original brigand or pirate, the right of might. Because, however, politics as a science or concern of ethical principles is obsolete, a better term may have to be found to cover whatever arrangements society may need to rid itself of the old prior rights of possession. As any civilisation becomes stable, these rent rights must operate to divert the earnings of the service-contributing landlords, whose unrestricted proprietorship of the accessible places of work and of the natural resources for extraction is an arbitrary power against the naturally equilibrated powers of capital produced by labour.
Measures have often been promised for unearned increment absorption on transfers of land for land values taxation, but so far land bears as a whole only the same burden as other properties.
However, if those other taxes can be eliminated gradually for their injustice, the remaining burden could be put onto the land, fairly to fit the punishment to the crime. Such increased burden could not be passed back again to industry because by the law of supply and demand the demand decreasing and the supply remaining constant the price obtainable is reduced, but the benefit of the proceeds distributed would equalise the share of the public in the joint earnings of society.
Settled public opinion of the justice of equal share capital in the earth of all born thereon can gradually supply that confirmed expectation which by definition is “Equity,” the term suitable to the new science to replace the discredited “politics.”
Once the significance of this answer to our initial question is grasped, the mind will not be troubled as to how it is to be effected.
In every community Public Opinion is the final court of appeal. No policy can dodge its verdict — none ever has. The particular case upon which the principle is tried of no importance to us now, nor the machinery of the court. Our sole business is the enlightenment of the judge. All the tricks of the politician must be exposed and their promises discredited in advance, not after the performance is queered. By those in the know, politics has already been weighed in the balance and found wanting. Our job is to let the majority into the know, nor can we expect others to believe us unless we act on our conviction and resolutely abjure temporising with the institution.
Of course the best educational means is the object lesson. To a considerable degree this is afforded by the community within the community — the Enclave.
There are seven such communities now in existence, featuring equity so far as possible in them by distribution of the burdens of government not on taxation or confiscation of earnings but on rent of land at unimproved values. This rent is funded to defray all the direct taxation on the members of these communities. To the present these are: Fairhope, Ala.; Arden, Del.; Tahanto, Mass.; Free Acres, New Jersey; Halidon, Me.; Shakerton, Mass.; Sant Jordi, Andorran Republic.
THE MENACE OF GOVERNMENTS (1924)
To know what government is, we have only to know its origin and growth. With every race it has come about in one way only — by the imposition of the power of arms by a warlike minority on a peace-loving majority. And always with the object of making the industrious hand over to the predacious all but the means of keeping on with their labour.
Franz Oppenheimer, among others, has taken the pains to find this out from facts after we have been some thousands of years accepting mere theory and speculation as to the State and its functions. This has given rise to such false ideals as the “Republic of Plato,” of the “Social Contract” of Rousseau, of the “Just Powers” of Thomas Jefferson, of the “Of the People, for the People, by the People” of Lincoln, the “Right of the Majority,” “The Greatest Benefit of the largest numbers,” and similar shibboleths. These will now all have to be discarded in the Light of Science and the facts of history.
Welfare by government means, in the end, only Dictation by Politicians, who in turn are the agents of the actual privileged classes whom governments serve. Knowing politicians and officials and their habits, character, and means of place holding should be sufficient to forever preclude anything but grave suspicion as to any real human welfare from such a source or under such control.
John Stuart Mill says: “The free development of individuality is one of the leading essentials of well being … It is not only a coordinate element in all that is designated by the terms civilisation, instruction, education, culture, but is itself a necessary part and condition of all those things.”
Samuel Butler says: “I will live as a like living, not as other people would like me to live.”
Mr Bertrand Russell says: “The greatest possible amount of free development of individuals is, to my mind, the goal at which a social system ought to aim.”
Now every human spirit is actuated to some degree by social motives in three directions — 1. Economic; 2. Ethic; 3. Aesthetic. But for suppression from without, each one normally is born with a bent and capacity for specialising and excelling to the point of “genius” in one or more of these three directions, in which alone are the highest satisfactions of human life to be found.
On the other hand, no one of us could exist long without: 1) some usefulness or productivity; 2) some fairness, co-operation; and 3) some relaxation through the five senses in expression of ease or grace in form of expression. These are all the fundamental elements of life, and consequently, in “Society.”
The State, on the other hand, has no concern whatever for these fundamental elements of Society. In fact, it must of necessity, and through every avenue of its ramifications, oppose them in order to preserve its fundamental purpose, which is anti-social, anti-economic, anti-ethic, and anti-aesthetic.
Where would the state come in, for example, if economic forces were allowed natural scope? No, indeed, the economic efforts of its subjects must be curbed and cramped and twisted for “national” benefit, for the welfare, in fact, of a class or clique in each nationality or group.
Where, indeed, is there a State that could survive free play of ethical ideas or the practice of ethical relations between all men? These must, therefore, be, and are, of necessity opposed with all the forces of political propaganda, public education, and penal codes in the power of the government.
I would not say that the instrumentality of the State is consciously opposed to aesthetics. It would be giving too much credit, in the democratic state at any rate, to assume that the authorities so selected would know enough of this highest form of human endeavour to be conscious of its potency, scarcely even conscious of its existence. Even the Czarist Government of Russia overlooked this agency, and suffered the death penalty for its oversight. For though it oppressed the underlying population economically to the limits of its ability and bound its intellect wisely in chains of ignorance and prisons of ethical orthodoxy, it was insufficiently knowing to counter or circumvent a wonderful creative spirit in its people in the fields of art, most particularly, literature, which finally effectively turned the minds of the people against it.
Here is the great lesson for us with regard to propaganda of reform. Few men can or will listen to reason. Controversy will always divide them, and is, for that reason, the mainstay of the politicians and parties. Preaching is offensive to “amour proper,” and, consequently, penetrates but slightly. Only the subtleties, art, the sensual satisfaction in form or expression, is capable of getting under the protective armour of the average ego to affect his ideas or ideals. Make no mistake, the elimination of the pernicious power of the State to coerce and mould the people will come only through the ablest writers, story-tellers, playwrights, scenario makers, and picture designers!
Governments are all distinguished by one feature — the existence of a possessing and a dispossessed class with regard to the economic basis of existence — access to the earth. This classification is what supports the governments as they are, and it is idle to expect, therefore, that any of these governments will abandon its foundation on privileged interests. Changing the form, the representation, the personnel, have all been tried, and always failed to effect the fundamental change.
Now, however, that we have actual knowledge of the essential function of government as it is, that operates to stifle the development of the individual, and, consequently, the advance of society and mankind, it will only suffice to give that knowledge to the underlying population. I have tried to show, too, the only way, in the face of the difficulties of the situation, that a new idea may be implanted under the skin of the ego. Nevertheless, I will bluntly state it here, knowing well that only the minds that have already worked it out will accept it; the others will oppose it from psychological reasons or “amour proper.” Political movements are of no avail. ONLY PUBLIC OPINION COUNTS.
The powers of government should be eliminated except for one particular branch — that of economic administration — to the extent only of attaining equity among men as to the natural resources of the earth. Beyond that absolute freedom of the individual, and par consequent opportunity for natural growth of society.