"Reason devoted to politics fights for its own dethronement"

Gotta love me some Benjamin Tucker. Here he makes the same argument against participation in the political process that I made two years ago: Not that political participation is immoral, but that it is illogical when combined with other beliefs.

After laying it down as a principle that force is never justifiable (and, by the way, I cannot accept so absolute a denial of force as this, though I heartily agree that force is futile in almost all circumstances), he goes on as follows: "If it is not justifiable for the establishment and maintenance of government, neither is it justifiable for the overthrow or modification of government...The intellectual and moral process of regeneration is slower than force, but it is right; and when the work is thus done, it has the merit of having been done properly and thoroughly." So far, excellent. But mark the next sentence: "the ballot is the people's agency even for correcting its own evils, and it seems to me a social crime to refrain from its use for regenerative purposes until it is absolutely demonstrated that it is a failure as an instrument for freedom."

Now, what is the ballot? It is neither more nor less than a paper representative of the bayonet, the billy, and the bullet. It is a labor-saving device for ascertaining on which side force lies and bowing to the inevitable. The voice of the majority saves bloodshed, but it is no less the arbitrament of force than is the decree of the most absolute of despots backed by the most powerful of armies. Of course it may be claimed that the struggle to attain to the majority involves an incidental use of intellectual and moral processes; but these influences would exert themselves still more powerfully in other channels if there were no such thing as the ballot, and, when used as subsidiary to the ballot, they represent only a striving for the time when physical force can be substituted for them. Reason devoted to politics fights for its own dethronement. The moment the minority becomes the majority, it ceases to reason and persuade, and begins to command and enforce and punish. If this be true, - and I think that Mr. Pentecost will have difficulty in gainsaying it, - it follows that to use the ballot for the modification of government is to use force for the modification of government; which sequence makes it at once evident that Mr. Pentecost in his conclusion pronounces it a social crime to avoid that course which in his premise he declares unjustifiable.

It behooves Mr. Pentecost to examine this charge of inconsistency carefully, for his answer to it must deeply affect his career. If he finds that it is well-founded, the sincerity of his nature will oblige him to abandon all such political measures as the taxation of land values and the government ownership of banks and railroads and devote himself to Anarchism, which offers not only the goal that he seeks, but confines itself to those purely educational methods of reaching it with which he finds himself in sympathy.

Reason devoted to politics fights for its own dethronement. A phrase so well crafted I'd like to put it on a bumpersticker, if I were a bumpersticker kind of guy, which I'm not.

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"If it is not justifiable

"If it is not justifiable for the establishment and maintenance of government, neither is it justifiable for the overthrow or modification of government.."

So if force is not justifiable in perpetrating armed robbery then obviously it's not justifiable in stopping an armed robbery.

Pfft.

Next...

JTK, I have not read enough

JTK,

I have not read enough of Tucker to fully understand his political theory, but two possible explanations for that phrase come to mind. Either by "force", both Tucker and his interlocuter Pentecost mean something like the modern libertarian conception of "the initiation of force", or, more likely, as is indicated by Tucker's parenthetical comment, Tucker believes that the use of force (even defensive force) is sometimes justified but in most cases futile. As a philosophical anarchist, I do not advocate violent overthrow of the government, not because I believe the government to be justified, nor because I believe violent overthrow would be unjustified, but because I believe violent overthrow would be futile, and would ultimately hurt the cause of liberty.

Micha, I always enjoy your

Micha, I always enjoy your writing regardless of whether I agree with you. That being said, I have a question, if you would indulge me.

Lets imagine that Tucker's opinion was that force in the cause of defense is futile. If the previous statement was true; would you agree that resistance - in the face of insurmountable odds - is indeed futile if the only positive gain would be temporary liberty measured in days or less?

"Either by "force", both

"Either by "force", both Tucker and his interlocuter Pentecost mean something like the modern libertarian conception of "the initiation of force..."

In which case there is nothing intrinsically wrong "the bayonet, the billy, and the bullet" which can all be used in self-defense.

As Spooner correctly pointed out it is perfectly morally justifiable to cast a vote in self-defense. To advocate voting in self defense, to campaign for it, is no less morally justifiable and it is not fighting for the dethronement of reason.

"or, more likely, as is indicated by Tucker's parenthetical comment, Tucker believes that the use of force (even defensive force) is sometimes justified but in most cases futile."

To take futile action is also not to "fight for the dethronement of reason". You might as well say reading comic books fights for the dethronement of liberty since it does nothing to effectively curtail state power.

No, the entire thrust of this piece is wrong. Spooner is right.

small world

in an odd coincidence, when I was seeing a therapist a few years ago, it turned out she was Benjamin Tucker's granddaughter.