Laurance Labadie’s “Superstition and Ignorance versus Courage and Self-Reliance”

Superstition and Ignorance versus Courage and Self-Reliance

Every well informed person knows, today, that man has evolved from lower forms of animal life. With this evolution in my mind, we may imagine the progress he has made in ideas and social valuations. Primitive man worshipped the sun, which was natural because from it came both heat and light which are necessary to all forms of life. With the discovery of fire part of his worship was transferred to it. And if we skip many ages we may assume that by the time his creative faculties reached the state whereby he was able to intelligently use the forces of nature, to make tools and weapons, his ideas as to the primary source of human well-being changed greatly. Probably about this time his perception and thought led him to believe that, as he was himself instrumental in controlling his well-being and seeing that many things both benevolent and malevolent occurred without this intervention, all these phenomena were caused by an anthropomorphic god. The bible gives us evidence that this god had all the attributes of men, that is he was half demon and half benevolent and merciful. Naturally, men did all their power to propitiate this powerful being, and in their fear, but under the pretext of loving him, catered to and gifted those who claimed to have special ability to win his favors. These original medicine men worked hand in hand with the powerful who managed by their physical prowess and cunning to gain control, subjugate, and exploit those not so aggressively constituted. So, at this time, what we now understand as the church and State were so closely allied as to be almost indistinguishable. It is significant, at this point, to note that predatory instincts—robbery, murder, and afterward subjugation—were partially justifiable on the grounds of scarcity, there was not enough to go around. Observe also that the motive for such action was not hate or malice but self-preservation. This view is in direct contradiction to the teachings of the Church and State. The former says that all men are “born in sin” and must be washed, preferably “in the blood of the lamb” (whatever that means) in order to be “saved”. The latter claims to be the guardian of “law and order”. So much for the total depravity theory. However, even up to comparatively modern times has the belief persisted that the king was divinely appointed and his coronation a religious ritual. Democracy succeeding Monarchy, it is natural to expect that this change carried with it many of the superstitions and customs of the proceeding era.

How all thru this evaluation man has labored under superstitions which are in essence the same—the belief that something, whether it be a force, a personality, or mundane individuals, external to himself, was or is going to do something for him. This is the essence of both the god idea and, what is a transformation of the same thing, the political myth. It is the wish-thought of incompetency. It is the belief in Santa Claus. And so long as this preposterous belief exists in the minds of men they will have no self-respect, no independence, no liberty. It is this belief that makes men craven, slavish, and hypocritical. It is this belief that destroys human dignity and self-reliance and makes of man a supine prat-er to non-existent gods and a credulous believer in the wiles and promises of politicians [1][2]. It is this belief that makes him a mumbler, a fool, a dupe. Not until he realizes the importance of the maxims: God helps those who help themselves (never was the god idea so gracefully and tactfully ejected), or: If you want anything done, do it yourself—will he finally emerge from the disgraceful conditions which infest the world today [3][4]. 

  1. “Non-existent” mistakenly spelled as “non-existant.”
  2. There is a period between “gods” and “and” in the original document.
  3. “Helps” mistakenly spelled as plural.
  4. All em dashes are written as “—” in the original document.

Commentary – Eric Fleischmann

This entry for the Laurance Labadie Archival Project, which was first produced as a pamphlet with the above title in 1934 and then appeared (apparently as “Superstition and Ignorance. Courage and Self-reliance.”) in a 1935 edition of Man!: A Journal of the Anarchist Ideal and Movement, is already available through The Anarchist Library. However, I have chosen to reproduce it as it appears in the documents of the Joseph A. Labadie Collection of the University of Michigan Library (with noted corrections) in part because I didn’t realize it was among the few pieces by Labadie already available online but also because I wanted to address his work on religion. Unsurprisingly for, as I’ve previously described Labadie, “an amoralist in the vein of Stirner,” he espouses the common atheistic approach to organized religion of many anarchists. There are certainly many religious—particularly Christian—anarchists such as Leo Tolstoy, Dorothy Day, and Simone Weil. And as Gary Chartier writes in the foreword to Cam Rea’s God is an Anarchist,

In the Abrahamic traditions . . . it is clear, for instance, that belief in divine transcendence has undermined the idolization of political authority; that belief in individual access to God and to divine truth has strengthened belief in the capacity of ordinary people to make their own political decisions; and that Jesus’ praise of peace has inspired rejection of state-made wars and the search for a truly consensual society. Religion and authoritarianism may sometimes be allies, but the story is too mixed to make it reasonable to insist that they have to be.

However, the sentiment of ‘no gods no masters’ persists with many holding the same sentiment as Labadie that “so long as this preposterous belief exists in the minds of men they will have no self-respect, no independence, no liberty.”

A specific atheist-anarchist connection can be drawn between Labadie and Mikhail Bakunin. The former was arguably the last direct student of Benjamin Tucker and his brand of individualist anarchism. And in addition to holding that anarchism is inherently atheistic, it was Tucker who proclaimed “that coming history will yet place [Bakunin] in the very front ranks of the world’s great social saviours” and who was one of the very first to present “a faithful portrait of the founder of Nihilism” in the United States. It is therefore not without historical reasoning that I compare Labadie’s atheistic thought with that of Bakunin—and, in fact, there are many similarities in their thinking. In particular, Labadie posits a coevolutionary relationship between religion and statism where the “original medicine men worked hand in hand with the powerful who managed by their physical prowess and cunning to gain control, subjugate, and exploit those not so aggressively constituted. So, at this time, what we now understand as the church and State were so closely allied as to be almost indistinguishable.” In turn, Bakunin argues that “[f]or ten centuries Christianity, armed with the omnipotence of Church and State and opposed by no competition, was able to deprave, debase, and falsify the mind of Europe” and was used to justify the state by ‘divine right’ and to lead “away the masses in a search for divine treasures, while much more reserved, the governing class contents itself with dividing among all its members – very unequally, moreover and always giving most to him who possesses most – the miserable goods of earth and the plunder taken from the people, including their political and social liberty.” Ultimately then, “[t]here is not, there cannot be, a State without religion.” It is quite obvious then that despite the differences in the specifics of their historical accounts, both Labadie and Bakunin—linked by Tucker—posit a vision of religion—particularly Christianity—as a long-term scheme to subjugate the people under the state and its various associated institutions. Such a connection then is arguably one of the more obvious links between individualist anarchism in the U.S. and the original anarchism (at least in its formal, western embodiment) of Europe.

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