Cyclopædia of Political Science, Political Economy, and the Political History of the United States

Edited by: Lalor, John J.
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New York: Maynard, Merrill, and Co.
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Includes articles by Frédéric Bastiat, Gustave de Molinari, Henry George, J. B. Say, Francis A. Walker, and more.
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ANARCHY. According to the etymology of the word, anarchy would mean absence of all government, of all political authority; but in evil as well as in good, the mind may conceive an extreme limit which can scarcely be ever attained in reality. Therefore history does not present, perhaps, a single complete example of anarchy, in which each individual was found in full and entire independence of all external authority.


—Since sociableness is one of the essential characteristics of man, we find in every movement tending to disintegrate society, elements of one or more new associations; and from the moment that through one cause or another a government is overthrown, if it is not replaced by a new one, the citizens group themselves in fractions more or less numerous around an authority which springs up because of the situation. Instability of public power is the peculiar mark of anarchy, whether governments embracing the whole of the country but representing different ideas rapidly succeed one another, or whether the nation is divided into several fragments hostile to one another. This state of things may appear all at once and sometimes when it is least expected, but the causes of the evil are almost always of remote origin, and should be carefully distinguished from the accidents which determine the outbreak.


—The existence of a political society implies a common object, and as soon as the members of such a society have ceased to agree on the object or the means of attaining it, we may say that the germ or commencement of anarchy is present. Anarchy, then, exists long in the minds of men before it reveals itself in facts, and it may be referred to two principal causes: disagreement in beliefs or opinions and antagonism of interests.


—These two causes operate almost simultaneously; but even when it is the principal motive of the fomenters of anarchy, interest, if not altogether concealed, is generally relegated to an inferior place, for men when acting collectively make it a point to rise, at least in appearance, above the level of vulgar interests, for which they are willing to sacrifice so much individually, and to connect the cause for which they are struggling with some great principle in politics, morality, or religion.


—In republics, the ambition of citizens who wish to get possession of supreme power, and in monarchies the ambition of princes who can come to the throne only through change in the regular order of succession, have more than once been the apparent cause of anarchy; but if a close examination is made, it will be seen that these ambitious persons merely profited by the disagreements of people, or by an antagonism of interests, and that there was in the condition of the country a greater cause of anarchy, the effects of which were merely rendered more speedy and intense by the personal action of these ambitious men. It is the same, to a certain extent, with the weaknesses inherent in every political constitution; they do not become stumbling blocks until men cease to understand each other.


—Nevertheless there are some of these weaknesses which may be considered as a sure cause of anarchy, for the reason that, at a given moment, they are certain to lead to serious differences among the citizens of a state. Very large states contain in themselves the germs of anarchy, on account of the almost absolute impossibility of keeping so many diverse interests in harmony for any great length of time, and of establishing between the inhabitants of countries long strangers to one another the community of ideas necessary to preserve a sufficient force of cohesion between all the different parts of such an empire.


—In case anarchy arises from the abnormal territorial extension of a state, it is often the prelude to a social dissolution, but there are other cases in which it comes solely from a too rapid transformation of the conditions of existence of a political society. Then instead of coming peacefully, progress is made amid profound convulsions caused by the struggle between old and new ideas.


—No matter what the conditions of its appearance, anarchy is always a great evil. Not only does it decrease the security of person and property, if it does not annihilate them altogether, it also destroys confidence, dries up the sources of labor; and the misery it produces renders men the victims of evil passions and more accessible to the influences of faction; but the many sufferings it causes individuals and the trouble which it introduces into the economy of society, are generally of less significance than the disturbances which it produces in the moral order. Men are thus subjected to trials from which they rarely come forth with any advantage to themselves. In times of anarchy we witness some rare examples of political virtue, of civil courage and moral force, but at the same time a multitude of facts calculated to injure the public conscience. In the fever which seizes on all minds, notions of good and evil, of the just and the unjust, become obscured. Everything is judged and decided with the blindness and rage of passion. Lassitude and disgust are certain to follow this state of violence, and the necessity of calm, order and repose becomes so imperative that it almost always leads to revolutions fatal to public liberty. Happy the people whose liberties do not totally perish in these fatal crises, and who look for safety to a power intelligent enough to know how properly to limit the dictatorial authority with which general confidence has invested it.


—The means of preventing or putting an end to anarchy necessarily vary according to an infinity of circumstances, and it is the great art of the statesman to discern those best adapted to the time and to the character of the nation; but in many cases it is with anarchy as with acute diseases, where nature and time do more to cure the patient than the skill of the physician.


—May not anarchy which is a very great evil, become a very great good? Such is the question raised by a celebrated writer, M. Proudhon, and he did not hesitate to answer it in the affirmative. If we understand him aright, the an-archy of M. Proudhon is nothing but self-government carried to its extremist limits, and the last step in the progress of human reason. According to him, men will at last acknowledge that, instead of disputing and fighting over questions of which, in the majority of cases, they know nothing, and instead of seeking to enslave each other, they would do better to accept the law of labor frankly and join hands to triumph over the numerous obstacles which nature opposes to their well-being. In this new order of things nations would be nothing more than groups of producers bound together by close ties of common interest. Politics, as hitherto understood, would have no further raison d'être, and an-archy, that is to say, the disappearance of all political authority, would be the result of this transformation of human society in which all questions to be solved would have a purely economic character. Long ago J. B. Say advanced the opinion that the functions of the state should be reduced to the performance of police duties. If so reduced there would be but one step needed to reach the an-archy of M. Proudhon—suppression of the police power.


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