Selected Works of Voltairine de Cleyre
by Voltairine de Cleyre

Most of the book is essays and speeches, which are powerful incitements of the state, God, and capitalism. The rest consists of a section of poetry, which is bitter against God and which blames poverty and toil on a conspiracy of privileged capitalists, and a section of short stories and sketches, which are OK.

I agree with her condemnation of the state and her advocacy of the individual’s right to make his own choices in life. I sympathize with her condemnation of religion, especially in its organized, oppressive forms. The rest of the trouble in the world she blames on capitalists. Here she goes too far. She leaves nothing left to blame on nature itself. She does not see that the need to work and the cause of disease, a lot of human suffering, and much inequality is due to nature. Instead she blames it all on conspiracies among capitalists and religious leaders.

“Two thousand years ago a man whose soul revolted at punishment, cried out: “Judge not, that ye be not judged,” and yet men and women who have taken his name upon their lips as holy, have for those two thousand years gone on judging as if their belief in what he said was only lip-belief; and they do it to-day. And judges sit upon benches and send men to their death,—even judges who do not themselves believe in capital punishment; and prosecutors exhaust their eloquence and their tricks to get men convicted; and women and men bear witness against sinners; and then they all meet in church and pray. “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us! Do they mean anything at all by it?” (176)

“I do not accept that popular socialism which would make saints out of sinners only by filling their stomachs. I am no apologist for characterlessness, and no petitioner for universal moral weakness. I believe in the individual. I believe that the purpose of life (in so far as we can give it a purpose, and it has none save what we give it) is the assertion and the development of strong, self-centered personality. It is therefore that no religion which offers vicarious atonement for the misdoer, and no philosophy which rests on the cornerstone of irresponsibility, makes any appeal to me.” (178)

“Set the standard as high as you will; live to it as near as you can; and if you fail, try yourself, judge yourself, condemn yourself, if you choose. Teach and persuade your neighbor if you can; consider and compare his conduct if you please; speak your mind if you desire; but if he fails to reach your standard or his own, try him not, judge him not, condemn him not. He lies beyond your sphere; you cannot know the temptations nor the inward battle nor the weight of the circumstances upon him. You do not know how long he fought before he failed. Therefore you cannot be just. Let him alone.” (179)

“Any action which violates the life or liberty of any individual is an anti-social act, whether done by one person, by two, or by a whole nation. And the greatest crime that ever was perpetrated, a crime beside which all individual atrocities diminish to nothing, is War; and the greatest, the least excusable of murderers are those who order it and those who execute it. Nevertheless, this chiefest of murderers, the Government, its own hands red with the blood of hundreds of thousands, assumes to correct the individual offender, enacting miles of laws to define the varying degrees of his offense and punishment, and putting beautiful building stone to very hideous purposes for the sake of caging and tormenting him therein.” (184)

“What I say is, that the real non-resistants can believe in direct action only, never in political action. For the basis of all political action is coercion; even when the State does good things, it finally rests on a club, a gun, or a prison, for its power to carry them through.” (223)

Year Read: 2004


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