To what extent, if any, is violence justifiable? To answer this question some standard of “justice” must be postulated. What are we to understand by the term justice? Are we to determine it in terms of the individual or in terms of society? To what extent do these starting points overlap? Does the individual, or rather should the individual, have rights and prerogatives over which society should have no jurisdiction? Or should all his acts be judged in the light of benefit to society? Should society have the right to coerce the individual for its advantage? If so, how far should this right extend? If happiness is to be the standard for judging the individual’s conduct, to what extent is the individual’s happiness antagonistic to social happiness? What is happiness? What relation should exist between the individual and society? Or between combinations in society? Is the standard “The greatest happiness to the greatest number” just? Does expediency furnish a basis for justice? How can what is expedient be determined? On whom are final judgments to be made? And by whom? Who is to rule, and how much?
One thing is certain. The happiness of society is dependent upon the happiness of members in society. So if we are to attack the problem intelligently, we shall have to investigate the nature of the individual, his happiness, and the conditions for his happiness. We learn from biology and thru everyday observation that no two individuals are alike . Each has his peculiar inclination and tastes; each is a distinct and unique personality. One suffers in proportion to the extent his inclinations and desires are frustrated; one is happy when functioning fully in a manner peculiar to his individuality. Growth and development necessitate freedom of action. Man is hampered by facts inevitable in the nature of things, facts over which he has no control, but he is also hampered by his ignorance, which he can remedy, and by other men with whom, however, he may come to an understanding and agreement to abide by some cod that may be mutually beneficial to all. Probably this first agreement will be paradoxical and factual. It will be: We will agree to disagree. The problem arises; also paradoxical in nature: How can we disagree agreeably? This is solved by the agreement to abide by the law of equal freedom which reads: Each man should have a right to do anything he pleases provided in doing so he does not invade the equal liberty of others. Or: Each should have the maximum of liberty compatible with like liberty for all others. Obviously such a law implies a distinction between liberty and invasion and because of it the expression “the liberty to invade” would be contradictory to the law itself. Equal liberty, while being the maximum amount of liberty compatible with itself, is also a limitation of liberty because it denies anyone any more than another . It is not liberty to act at the expense of another, unless the other should consent to bear the expense and in this case become a voluntary cooperator. The law of equal liberty is adopted as an expedient of the promotion of the greatest possible [good] for all individuals concerned .
On the loose use of the term society and the sophisms by which tyranny can be equally justified by such use. What is “society”? Does not the word imply voluntary organization? Can the determination of what is good for society be by any other than comparatively few individuals? Anarchism [is] the agreement between as many individuals as do agree in anything i.e. innumerable societies overlapping, excluding, or including each other.
- The punctuation in the original document is unclear. It looks like a comma or semicolon, but a period seems to make the most sense.
- “Anyone” misspelled as “any one.”
- The word following “possible” is missing. “Good” seems to make the most sense.
Commentary – Eric Fleischmann
This latest addition to the Laurance Labadie Archival Project was likely written in the early to mid 1930s and eventually archived in the Joseph A. Labadie Collection of the University of Michigan Library. I have previously described Labadie’s individualist anarchism as descendent from classical liberalism, and this heritage becomes quite obvious when he begins his article with questions like, “If happiness is to be the standard for judging the individual’s conduct, to what extent is the individual’s happiness antagonistic to social happiness? What is happiness?” and “Is the standard ‘The greatest happiness to the greatest number’ just?” These reflect a particularly Millian sensibility, with John Stuart Mill writing that “[t]he creed which accepts as the foundation of morals, Utility, or the Greatest-Happiness Principle, holds that actions are right in proportion as they tend to promote happiness, wrong as they tend to produce the reverse of happiness. By happiness is intended pleasure, and the absence of pain; by unhappiness, pain, and the privation of pleasure.”
Labadie even seems to follow such a utilitarian principle to the same conclusions that Mill does in his book On Liberty. In that essential piece of the classical liberal canon, Mill outlines how utilitarianism should not lead to the tyranny of the majority (and its happiness), but instead should be used to justify strong civil liberties—in particular because no one knows how to maximize their happiness better than themselves. His ultimate conclusion is, as he puts it, “The only freedom which deserves the name, is that of pursuing our own good in our own way, so long as we do not attempt to deprive others of theirs, or impede their efforts to obtain it.” This is very close to labadie’s “law of equal freedom which reads: Each man should have a right to do anything he pleases provided in doing so he does not invade the equal liberty of others. Or: Each should have the maximum of liberty compatible with like liberty for all others.” However, Labadie is not a utilitarian moralist but rather an amoralist in the vein of Max Stirner, and while his views are likely inspired by and match Mill’s in practice it is probably best to view them as the idea of the ‘Union of Egoists’ writ large. Such a Union is a non-institutional group made up of self-interested individuals for the benefit of each other. However, Stirner writes that “the party ceases to be a union at the same moment at which it makes certain principles binding” and, in such a scenario, must be dissolved.” The idea is essentially that people should do what they want with whom they want as long as they do not curtail the freedom of others. Applied to a society of any notable size—particularly when society, as Labadie argues, implies “voluntary organization”—this becomes the “the law of equal freedom.”