In today’s Wall Street Journal, the Notable & Quotable section has several paragraphs drawn from a terrific essay written in 1894 by British philosopher Auberon Herbert entitled “The Right and Wrong of Compulsion by the State.” Herbert’s thoughts are especially pertinent in a presidential election year when the efforts at retaining political power are remarkably mendacious and vile.
Auberon Herbert in “The Right and Wrong of Compulsion by the State” (1894):
We are fast getting rid of emperors and kings and dominant churches, as far as the mere outward form is concerned, but the soul of these men and these institutions is still living and breathing within us. We still want to exercise power, we still want to drive men our own way, and to possess the mind and body of our brothers as well as of our own selves. The only difference is that we do it in the name of a majority instead of in the name of divine right. . . .
In this case the possession of power would necessarily confer upon those who gained it such enormous privileges—if we are to speak of the miserable task of compulsion as privileges—the privileges of establishing and enforcing their own views in all matters, of treading out and suppressing the views to which they are opposed, of arranging and distributing all property, of regulating all occupations, that all those who still retained sufficient courage and energy to have views of their own would be condemned to live organized for ceaseless and bitter strife with each other.
In presence of unlimited power lodged in the hands of those who govern, in the absence of any universal acknowledgment of individual rights, the stakes for which men played would be so terribly great that they would shrink from no means to keep power out of the hands of their opponents. Not only would the scrupulous man become unscrupulous, and the pitiful man cruel, but the parties into which society divided itself would begin to perceive that to destroy or be destroyed was the one choice lying in front of them.