Caprivi incautiously gave utterance to what everyone knows perfectly well, or at least feels vaguely if he does not recognize it, that is, that the existing order of life is as it is, not, as would be natural and right, because the people wish it to be so, but because it is so maintained by state violence, by the army with its bought under-officers and generals.
If the laborer has no land, if he cannot use the natural right of every man to derive subsistence for himself and his family out of the land, that is not because the people wish it to be so, but because a certain set of men, the land-owners, have appropriated the right of giving or refusing admittance to the land to the laborers. And this abnormal order of things is maintained by the army. If the immense wealth produced by the labor of the working classes is not regarded as the property of all, but as the property of a few exceptional persons; if labor is taxed by authority and the taxes spent by a few on what they think fit; if strikes on the part of laborers are repressed, while on the part of capitalists they are encouraged; if certain persons appropriate the right of choosing the form of the education, religious and secular, of children, and certain persons monopolize the right of making the laws all must obey, and so dispose of the lives and properties of other people – all this is not done because the people wish it and because it is what is natural and right, but because the government and ruling classes wish this to be so for their own benefit, and insist on its being so even by physical violence.
Everyone, if he does not recognize this now, will know that it is so at the first attempt at insubordination or at a revolution of the existing order.
Armies, then, are needed by governments and by the ruling classes above all to support the present order, which, far from being the result of the people's needs, is often in direct antagonism to them, and is only beneficial to the government and ruling classes.
To keep their subjects in oppression and to be able to enjoy the fruits of their labor the government must have armed forces.
But there is not only one government. There are other governments, exploiting their subjects by violence in the same way, and always ready to pounce down on any other government and carry off the fruits of the toil of its enslaved subjects. And so every government needs an army also to protect its booty from its neighbor brigands. Every government is thus involuntarily reduced to the necessity of emulating one another in the increase of their armies. This increase is contagious, as Montesquieu pointed out 150 years ago.
Every increase in the army of one state, with the aim of self-defense against its subjects, becomes a source of danger for neighboring states and calls for a similar increase in their armies.
The armed forces have reached their present number of millions not only through the menace of danger from neighboring states, but principally through the necessity of subduing every effort at revolt on the part of the subjects.
Both causes, mutually dependent, contribute to the same result at once; troops are required against internal forces and also to keep up a position with other states. One is the result of the other. The despotism of a government always increases with the strength of the army and its external successes, and the aggressiveness of a government increases with its internal despotism.
The rivalry of the European states in constantly increasing their forces has reduced them to the necessity of having recourse to universal military service, since by that means the greatest possible number of soldiers is obtained at the least possible expense. Germany first hit on this device. And directly one state adopted it the others were obliged to do the same. And by this means all citizens are under arms to support the iniquities practiced upon them; all citizens have become their own oppressors.
Universal military service was an inevitable logical necessity, to which we were bound to come. But it is also the last expression of the inconsistency inherent in the social conception of life, when violence is needed to maintain it. This inconsistency has become obvious in universal military service. In fact, the whole significance of the social conception of life consists in man's recognition of the barbarity of strife between individuals, and the transitoriness of personal life itself, and the transference of the aim of life to groups of persons. But with universal military service it comes to pass that men, after making every sacrifice to get rid of the cruelty of strife and the insecurity of existence, are called upon to face all the perils they had meant to avoid. And in addition to this the state, for whose sake individuals renounced their personal advantages, is exposed again to the same risks of insecurity and lack of permanence as the individual himself was in previous times.
Governments were to give men freedom from the cruelty of personal strife and security in the permanence of the state order of existence. But instead of doing that they expose the individuals to the same necessity of strife, substituting strife with individuals of other states for strife with neighbors. And the danger of destruction for the individual, and the state too, they leave just as it was.
Universal military service may be compared to the efforts of a man to prop up his falling house who so surrounds it and fills it with props and buttresses and planks and scaffolding that he manages to keep the house standing only by making it impossible to live in it.
In the same way universal military service destroys all the benefits of the social order of life which it is employed to maintain.
The advantages of social organization are security of property and labor and associated action for the improvement of existence – universal military service destroys all this.
The taxes raised from the people for war preparations absorb the greater part of the produce of labor which the army ought to defend.
The withdrawing of all men from the ordinary course of life destroys the possibility of labor itself. The danger of war, ever ready to break out, renders all reforms of social life vain and fruitless.
In former days if a man were told that if he did not acknowledge the authority of the state, he would be exposed to attack from enemies domestic and foreign, that he would have to resist them alone, and would be liable to be killed, and that therefore it would be to his advantage to put up with some hardships to secure himself from these calamities, he might well believe it, seeing that the sacrifices he made to the state were only partial and gave him the hope of a tranquil existence in a permanent state. But now, when the sacrifices have been increased tenfold and the promised advantages are disappearing, it would be a natural reflection that submission to authority is absolutely useless.
But the fatal significance of universal military service, as the manifestation of the contradiction inherent in the social conception of life, is not only apparent in that. The greatest manifestation of this contradiction consists in the fact that every citizen in being made a soldier becomes a prop of the government organization, and shares the responsibility of everything the government does, even though he may not admit its legitimacy.
Governments assert that armies are needed above all for external defense, but that is not true. They are needed principally against their subjects, and every man, under universal military service, becomes an accomplice in all the acts of violence of the government against the citizens without any choice of his own.
To convince oneself of this one need only remember what things are done in every state, in the name of order and the public welfare, of which the execution always falls to the army. All civil outbreaks for dynastic or other party reasons, all the executions that follow on such disturbances, all repression of insurrections, and military intervention to break up meetings and to suppress strikes, all forced extortion of taxes, all the iniquitous distributions of land, all the restrictions on labor – are either carried out directly by the military or by the police with the army at their back. Anyone who serves his time in the army shares the responsibility of all these things, about which he is, in some cases, dubious, while very often they are directly opposed to his conscience. People are unwilling to be turned out of the land they have cultivated for generations, or they are unwilling to disperse when the government authority orders them, or they are unwilling to pay the taxes required of them, or to recognize laws as binding on them when they have had no hand in making them, or to be deprived of their nationality – and I, in the fulfillment of my military duty, must go and shoot them for it. How can I help asking myself when I take part in such punishments, whether they are just, and whether I ought to assist in carrying them out?
Universal service is the extreme limit of violence necessary for the support of the whole state organization, and it is the extreme limit to which submission on the part of the subjects can go. It is the keystone of the whole edifice, and its fall will bring it all down.
The time has come when the ever-growing abuse of power by governments and their struggles with one another has led to their demanding such material and even moral sacrifices from their subjects that everyone is forced to reflect and ask himself, "Can I make these sacrifices? And for the sake of what am I making them? I am expected for the sake of the state to make these sacrifices, to renounce everything that can be precious to man – peace, family, security, and human dignity." What is this state, for whose sake such terrible sacrifices have to be made? And why is it so indispensably necessary? "The state," they tell us, "is indispensably needed, in the first place, because without it we should not be protected against the attacks of evil-disposed persons; and secondly, except for the state we should be savages and should have neither religion, culture, education, nor commerce, nor means of communication, nor other social institutions; and thirdly, without the state to defend us we should be liable to be conquered and enslaved by neighboring peoples."
"Except for the state," they say, "we should be exposed to the attacks of evil-disposed persons in our own country."
But who are these evil-disposed persons in our midst from whose attacks we are preserved by the state and its army? Even if, three or four centuries ago, when men prided themselves on their warlike prowess, when killing men was considered an heroic achievement, there were such persons; we know very well that there are no such persons now, that we do not nowadays carry or use firearms, but everyone professes humane principles and feels sympathy for his fellows, and wants nothing more than we all do – that is, to be left in peace to enjoy his existence undisturbed. So that nowadays there are no special malefactors from whom the state could defend us. If by these evil-disposed persons is meant the men who are punished as criminals, we know very well that they are not a different kind of being like wild beasts among sheep, but are men just like ourselves, and no more naturally inclined to crimes than those against whom they commit them. We know now that threats and punishments cannot diminish their number; that that can only be done by change of environment and moral influence. So that the justification of state violence on the ground of the protection it gives us from evil-disposed persons, even if it had some foundation three or four centuries ago, has none whatever now. At present one would rather say on the contrary that the action of the state with its cruel methods of punishment, behind the general moral standard of the age, such as prisons, galleys, gibbets, and guillotines, tends rather to brutalize the people than to civilize them, and consequently rather to increase than diminish the number of malefactors.
"Except for the state," they tell us, "we should not have any religion, education, culture, means of communication, and so on. Without the state men would not have been able to form the social institutions needed for doing anything." This argument too was well founded only some centuries ago.
If there was a time when people were so disunited, when they had so little means of communication and interchange of ideas, that they could not co-operate and agree together in any common action in commerce, economics, or education without the state as a center, this want of common action exists no longer. The great extension of means of communication and interchange of ideas has made men completely able to dispense with state aid in forming societies, associations, corporations, and congresses for scientific, economic, and political objects. Indeed government is more often an obstacle than an assistance in attaining these aims.
From the end of last century there has hardly been a single progressive movement of humanity which has not been retarded by the government. So it has been with abolition of corporal punishment, of trial by torture, and of slavery, as well as with the establishment of the liberty of the press and the right of public meeting. In our day governments not only fail to encourage, but directly hinder every movement by which people try to work out new forms of life for themselves. Every attempt at the solution of the problems of labor, land, politics, and religion meets with direct opposition on the part of government.
"Without governments nations would be enslaved by their neighbors." It is scarcely necessary to refute this last argument. It carries its refutation on the face of it. The government, they tell us, with its army, is necessary to defend us from neighboring states who might enslave us. But we know this is what all governments say of one another, and yet we know that all the European nations profess the same principles of liberty and fraternity, and therefore stand in no need of protection against one another. And if defense against barbarous nations is meant, one-thousandth part of the troops now under arms would be amply sufficient for that purpose. We see that it is really the very opposite of what we have been told. The power of the state, far from being a security against the attacks of our neighbors, exposes us, on the contrary, to much greater danger of such attacks. So that every man who is led, through his compulsory service in the army, to reflect on the value of the state for whose sake he is expected to be ready to sacrifice his peace, security, and life, cannot fail to perceive that there is no kind of justification in modern times for such a sacrifice.
And it is not only from the theoretical standpoint that every man must see that the sacrifices demanded by the state have no justification. Even looking at it practically, weighing, that is to say, all the burdens laid on him by the state, no man can fail to see that for him personally to comply with state demands and serve in the army, would, in the majority of cases, be more disadvantageous than to refuse to do so.
If the majority of men choose to submit rather than to refuse, it is not the result of sober balancing of advantages and disadvantages, but because they are induced by a kind of hypnotizing process practiced upon them. In submitting they simply yield to the suggestions given them as orders, without thought or effort of will. To resist would need independent thought and effort of which every man is not capable. Even apart from the moral significance of compliance or non-compliance, considering material advantage only, non-compliance will be more advantageous in general.
Whoever I may be, whether I belong to the well-to-do class of the oppressors, or the working class of the oppressed, in either case the disadvantages of non-compliance are less and its advantages greater than those of compliance. If I belong to the minority of oppressors the disadvantages of non-compliance will consist in my being brought to judgment for refusing to perform my duties to the state, and if I am lucky, being acquitted or, as is done in the case of the Mennonites in Russia, being set to work out my military service at some civil occupation for the state; while if I am unlucky, I may be condemned to exile or imprisonment for two or three years (I judge by the cases that have occurred in Russia), possibly to even longer imprisonment, or possibly to death, though the probability of that latter is very remote.
So much for the disadvantages of non-compliance. The disadvantages of compliance will be as follows: if I am lucky I shall not be sent to murder my fellow-creatures, and shall not be exposed to great danger of being maimed and killed, but shall only be enrolled into military slavery. I shall be dressed up like a clown, I shall be at the beck and call of every man of a higher grade than my own from corporal to field-marshal, shall be put through any bodily contortions at their pleasure, and after being kept from one to five years I shall have for ten years afterward to be in readiness to undertake all of it again at any minute. If I am unlucky I may, in addition, be sent to war, where I shall be forced to kill men of foreign nations who have done me no harm, where I may be maimed or killed, or sent to certain destruction as in the case of the garrison of Sevastopol, and other cases in every war, or what would be most terrible of all, I may be sent against my own compatriots and have to kill my own brothers for some dynastic or other state interests which have absolutely nothing to do with me. So much for the comparative disadvantages.
The comparative advantages of compliance and non-compliance are as follows:
For the man who submits, the advantages will be that, after exposing himself to all the humiliation and performing all the barbarities required of him, he may, if he escapes being killed, get a decoration of red or gold tinsel to stick on his clown's dress; he may, if he is very lucky, be put in command of hundreds of thousands of others as brutalized as himself; be called a field-marshal, and get a lot of money.
The advantages of the man who refuses to obey will consist in preserving his dignity as a man, gaining the approbation of good men, and above all knowing that he is doing the work of God, and so undoubtedly doing good to his fellow-men.
So much for the advantages and disadvantages of both lines of conduct for a man of the wealthy classes, an oppressor. For a man of the poor working class the advantages and disadvantages will be the same, but with a great increase of disadvantages. The disadvantages for the poor man who submits will be aggravated by the fact that he will by taking part in it, and, as it were, assenting to it strengthen the state of subjection in which he is held himself.
But no considerations as to how far the state is useful or beneficial to the men who help to support it by serving in the army, nor of the advantages or disadvantages for the individual of compliance or non-compliance with state demands, will decide the question of the continued existence or the abolition of government. This question will be finally decided beyond appeal by the religious consciousness or conscience of every man who is forced, whether he will or no, through universal conscription, to face the question whether the state is to continue to exist or not.
Christianity is Not a System of Rules, but a New Conception of Life, and therefore it was Not Obligatory and was Not Accepted in its True Significance by All, but only by a Few – Christianity is, Moreover, Prophetic of the Destruction of the Pagan Life, and therefore of Necessity of the Acceptance of the Christian Doctrines – Non-resistance of Evil by Force is One Aspect of the Christian Doctrine, which must Inevitably in Our Times be Accepted by Men – Two Methods of Deciding Every Quarrel – First Method is to Find a Universal Definition of Evil, which All Must Accept, and to Resist this Evil by Force – Second Method is the Christian One of Complete Non-resistance by Force – Though the Failure of the First Method was Recognized since the Early Days of Christianity, it was Still Proposed, and only as Mankind has Progressed it has Become More and More Evident that there Cannot be any Universal Definition of Evil – This is Recognized by All at the Present Day, and if Force is Still Used to Resist Evil, it is Not Because it is Now Regarded as Right, but Because People Don't Know How to Avoid It – The Difficulty of Avoiding It is the Result of the Subtle and Complex Character of the Government Use of Force – Force is Used in Four Ways: Intimidation, Bribery, Hypnotism, and Coercion by Force of Arms – State Violence Can Never be Suppressed by the Forcible Overthrow of the Government – Men are Led by the Sufferings of the Pagan Mode of Life to the Necessity of Accepting Christ's Teaching with its Doctrine of Non-resistance by Force – The Consciousness of its Truth which is Diffused Throughout Our Society, Will also Bring About its Acceptance – This Consciousness is in Complete Contradiction with Our Life – This is Specially Obvious in Compulsory Military Service, but Through Habit and the Application of the Four Methods of Violence by the State, Men do not See this Inconsistency of Christianity with Life of a Soldier – They do Not even See It, though the Authorities Themselves Show all the Immorality of a Soldier's Duties with Perfect Clearness – The Call to Military Service is the Supreme Test for Every Man, when the Choice is Offered Him, between Adopting the Christian Doctrine of Non-resistance, or Slavishly Submitting to the Existing State Organization – Men Usually Renounce All They Hold Sacred, and Submit to the Demands of Government, Seeming to See No Other Course Open to Them – For Men of the Pagan Conception of Life there is No Other Course Open, and Never Will Be, in Spite of the Growing Horrors of War – Society, Made Up of Such Men, Must Perish, and No Social Reorganization Can Save It – Pagan Life Has Reached Its Extreme Limit, and Will Annihilate Itself.
It is often said that if Christianity is a truth, it ought to have been accepted by everyone directly it appeared, and ought to have transformed men's lives for the better. But this is like saying that if the seed were ripe it ought at once to bring forth stalk, flower, and fruit.
The Christian religion is not a legal system which, being imposed by violence, may transform men's lives. Christianity is a new and higher conception of life. A new conception of life cannot be imposed on men; it can only be freely assimilated. And it can only be freely assimilated in two ways: one spiritual and internal, the other experimental and external.
Some people – a minority – by a kind of prophetic instinct divine the truth of the doctrine, surrender themselves to it and adopt it. Others – the majority – only through a long course of mistakes, experiments, and suffering are brought to recognize the truth of the doctrine and the necessity of adopting it.
And by this experimental external method the majority of Christian men have now been brought to this necessity of assimilating the doctrine. One sometimes wonders what necessitated the corruption of Christianity which is now the greatest obstacle to its acceptance in its true significance.
If Christianity had been presented to men in its true, uncorrupted form, it would not have been accepted by the majority, who would have been as untouched by it as the nations of Asia are now. The peoples who accepted it in its corrupt form were subjected to its slow but certain influence, and by a long course of errors and experiments and their resultant sufferings have now been brought to the necessity of assimulating it in its true significance.
The corruption of Christianity and its acceptance in its corrupt form by the majority of men was as necessary as it is that the seed should remain hidden for a certain time in the earth in order to germinate.
Christianity is at once a doctrine of truth and a prophecy. Eighteen centuries ago Christianity revealed to men the truth in which they ought to live, and at the same time foretold what human life would become if men would not live by it but continued to live by their previous principles, and what it would become if they accepted the Christian doctrine and carried it out in their lives.
Laying down in the Sermon on the Mount the principles by which to guide men's lives, Christ said: "Whosoever heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them, I will liken him unto a wise man, who built his house upon a rock; and the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell not, for it was founded upon a rock. And everyone that heareth these sayings, and doeth them not, shall be likened unto a foolish man, who built his house upon the sand; and the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell: and great was the fall of it" (Matt. vii. 24-27).
And now after eighteen centuries the prophecy has been fulfilled. Not having followed Christ's teaching generally and its application to social life in non-resistance to evil, men have been brought in spite of themselves to the inevitable destruction foretold by Christ for those who do not fulfill his teaching.
People often think the question of non-resistance to evil by force is a theoretical one, which can be neglected. Yet this question is presented by life itself to all men, and calls for some answer from every thinking man. Ever since Christianity has been outwardly professed, this question is for men in their social life like the question which presents itself to a traveler when the road on which he has been journeying divides into two branches. He must go on and he cannot say: I will not think about it, but will go on just as I did before. There was one road, now there are two, and he must make his choice.
In the same way since Christ's teaching has been known by men they cannot say: I will live as before and will not decide the question of resistance or non-resistance to evil by force. At every new struggle that arises one must inevitably decide; am I, or am I not, to resist by force what I regard as evil.
The question of resistance or non-resistance to evil arose when the first conflict between men took place, since every conflict is nothing else than resistance by force to what each of the combatants regards as evil. But before Christ, men did not see that resistance by force to what each regards as evil, simply because one thinks evil what the other thinks good, is only one of the methods of settling the dispute, and that there is another method, that of not resisting evil by force at all.
Before Christ's teaching, it seemed to men that the one only means of settling a dispute was by resistance to evil by force. And they acted accordingly, each of the combatants trying to convince himself and others that what each respectively regards as evil, is actually, absolutely evil.
And to do this from the earliest time men have devised definitions of evil and tried to make them binding on everyone. And such definitions of evil sometimes took the form of laws, supposed to have been received by supernatural means, sometimes of the commands of rulers or assemblies to whom infallibility was attributed. Men resorted to violence against others, and convinced themselves and others that they were directing their violence against evil recognized as such by all.
This means was employed from the earliest times, especially by those who had gained possession of authority, and for a long while its irrationality was not detected.
But the longer men lived in the world and the more complex their relations became, the more evident it was that to resist by force what each regarded as evil was irrational, that conflict was in no way lessened thereby, and that no human definitions can succeed in making what some regard as evil be accepted as such by others.
Already at the time Christianity arose, it was evident to a great number of people in the Roman Empire where it arose, that what was regarded as evil by Nero and Caligula could not be regarded as evil by others. Even at that time men had begun to understand that human laws, though given out for divine laws, were compiled by men, and cannot be infallible, whatever the external majesty with which they are invested, and that erring men are not rendered infallible by assembling together and calling themselves a senate or any other name. Even at that time this was felt and understood by many. And it was then that Christ preached his doctrine, which consisted not only of the prohibition of resistance to evil by force, but gave a new conception of life and a means of putting an end to conflict between all men, not by making it the duty of one section only of mankind to submit without conflict to what is prescribed to them by certain authorities, but by making it the duty of all – and consequently of those in authority – not to resort to force against anyone in any circumstances.
This doctrine was accepted at the time by only a very small number of disciples. The majority of men, especially all who were in power, even after the nominal acceptance of Christianity, continued to maintain for themselves the principle of resistance by force to what they regarded as evil. So it was under the Roman and Byzantine emperors, and so it continued to be later.
The insufficiency of the principle of the authoritative definition of evil and resistance to it by force, evident as it was in the early ages of Christianity, becomes still more obvious through the division of the Roman Empire into many states of equal authority, through their hostilities and the internal conflicts that broke out within them.