A Voluntary Political Government
by Charles Lane

The full title is: A Voluntary Political Government: Letters from Charles Lane compiled and with an introduction by Carl Watner.

Hard-core libertarian letters written in the 1840s by a member of the transcendental group, who was a tax resister, abolitionist, and friend of Thoreau and Emerson. Despite the contradictory title, the philosophy expresses is anarchist. And in spite of his personal dislike for business and money making, he appreciates that the market could provide services better than government, and without violence. The book contains many sharp, quotable lines. It deserves to be widely read.

Charles Lane was an Englishman who was visiting the USA in 1843 when he wrote these letters to William Lloyd Garrison's Liberator. Lane questioned the need for force on practical grounds and on Christian principles. He regarded the state as institutionalized violence, and he was opposed to violence. He was an abolitionist and a good friend of A. Bronson Alcott and Henry Thoreau (Alcott was Thoreau's chief companion at Walden). Lane was also a vegetarian (they believed in the sacredness of all sentient life—that beast, bird, fish, and insect had a right to control their individual lives p. 19) and a believer in Alcott's theory of education.

Carl Watner Qutotations

... the English speaking world developed its own libertarian tradition with a distinctive emphasis on individual self-ownership. (9)

The voluntaryist movement in England began as a group of dissenters calling for separation of school and state. (32)

The word voluntaryism never caught on in America. It died out in England after the demise of the education movement in the 1850s and was not revived until Auberon Herbert used it in the 1880s. Herbert's voluntarism was not pacifist. He was not opposed to all violence. He and the other voluntaryists of his times condoned the use of violence against criminals. (34)

Voluntary government is a contradiction in terms. (36)

Charles Lane Quotations

But it [Alcott's refusal to pay his tax] is founded on the moral instinct which forbids every moral being to be a party, either actively or permissively, to the destructive principles of power and might over peace and love. (48)

... the principle of charity is quite opposed to the principle of brute force (50)

It [the state] pretends to defend person and property, and is the first to invade them, ... (51)

There is no safety for person or property, while a government by force exists. (52)

[Liberals question whether punishment deters real crime. But they do not seem to question the power of the state to regulate business. RH]
The head of the decapitated murdered will not fit the shoulders of any murdered brother. (54)

And the fact is, that terror of punishment ceases to have any effect just when it is most needed, that is to say, when the passions are unduly excited. (54)

Men are not restrained from murder by the fear of external punishment, but by the internal governor. (54)

Revenge or retaliation is a principle which cannot prevent crime, but must rather increase it. Retaliation is itself a crime. (55)

Human life on earth originates in the family, from the bosom of love, through the tenderest sympathy, and the highest interior bliss. Can it really be needful to encounter the offspring from such a source with the direful weapons of present society? Is it necessary or salutary for me and my neighbors, for my children or their children, that we should uphold such a scheme of taxation, force, fraud, guile, treachery, imprisoning and fighting as the popular system of government presents? (64—65)

What pure mind could ever conceive of so immoral an act, so dark and foul a piece of education as sending a man to jail in order to raise funds for the moral education of children. The plan is as absurd as it is vile. (68—69)

If the neighborhood will not take care of itself, either on the ground of selfish regard, or on the superior principle of the common good, there must certainly be so great a defect of heart and head that such individuals ought not longer to be trusted with the management of their own affairs; and still less should they be permitted to a participation of authority over men. (73)

It [the representative system] is actually a defection from the principle of self-government, or conscience-government, or God-government in the human soul. (75)

The fact that national assistance is needed to accomplish any public work is proof absolute that capitalists think it will not give them so good a return for the outlay as other uses of their money. Why, then, should we be taxed, or exposed to taxation, when the first principles of these very political economists are against them? The argument is briefly this; if the work is desirable, it will as surely be done as any other voluntary association is formed. (77—78)

Lunatic Asylums, Schools, and all establishments of a moral nature should be left to moral control. (78)

The postage of letters and papers is made a national business, and a very great convenience, nay, luxury, it is. But there is no more necessity to take this occupation out of individual hands than that of transmitting large parcels, or the coaching of passengers. (78)

In fidelity and trustworthiness I believe also private speculators do, and ever would, eclipse the government, whose servants often purloin money letters; for persons have to earn and to maintain a reputation, about which governments existing by force are much less regardful. (79)

Why should not a ship be as free to bring her freight of goods to the wharf, and unload without molestation, as a tradesman is to enter any town, and open a store? Why raise revenue from the goods of one and not from the other? To which it will be replied, one is native and the other foreign. Which is a poor answer; for the buyer in both cases is a native citizen, and as a consumer, he, not the seller, pays the tax. It seems mightily absurd to subject men to hindering forms and rules who come to us with ship loads of wealth. (79)

The price one must pay for the most honorable participation in public affairs is to sink one's manhood into narrow dimensions of a three hundredth or a four hundredth part of a man. (83)

On the Constitution of Massachusetts:
I give no strained or unusual meaning to the word "voluntary" on this occasion. Either it means choice, or it means nothing at all. If it does not assert the free voluntariness of every individual who comes into "the body politic" it signifies nothing; or at least nothing which common sense can lay hold of. If the voluntariness is to be confined to those who have power, and they are to be at liberty to force every one into association, then I must esteem this word "voluntary" to be a solemn mockery; and the sooner it is erased, and the term "forced" is put in its stead, the sooner will the words of the Constitution harmonize with the idea of its framers, and be at one with the every day practice of its supporters. (83—84)

Property in the country is much safer than in towns. In the capitals, under the very eyes of government itself, robbery and even murder is more common than in the same amount of rural population; and no device of government, save that of its own annihilation, seems capable of mending the matter. At present, at all events, "safety and tranquility" are attainable on the old principle of inverse ratio, and are greatest when we are farthest from the seat of government. (88)

To protect humanity at the price of humanity is poor commerce. (94)

It behooves us therefore as christians, as philanthropists, aye, even as selfish beings of any sound discrimination to turn our backs upon this forceful and representative system. It is destructive of manhood, of individual largeness and integrity, of love and neighborly feeling. — Men cannot expand to their full size of intellectual or moral being so long as it continues. (96)

He implies approval of the use of force against criminals (100) by proposing towns set their criminals to work in the fields and shops instead of sending them to state prisons.
As to any hope for human advancement based on the present order of brute force, it is quite absurd. It has been tried in every conceivable shape, and has failed; and it must fail. (101)

Year Read: 1984, 1997


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