“The State, not being a person, can be carried to any tyrannic action without any remorse. There is none to blush for it. It imprisons without inquiry. It punishes without trial, either by jury or solitary judge. It converts and perverts an anti-slavery constitution into pro-slavery conduct. It does things daily without shame, which no individual in it could do without soul-stirring contrition. It involves a system which absolutely shuts out the best men from public life, and selects on the mediocre, such as are capable of being used as tools and instruments. It pretends to defend person and property, and is the first to invade them, and that also in a more brutal manner than it allows to any of its individual members.”

“Let the people recollect that it is themselves who have made and who sustain this dragon…”

Charles Lane wrote this on 28 January 1843 in defence of Bronson Alcott, who had been arrested for refusal to pay a town tax in Concord. Ironically, he had to correct a printing error from the original letter of 16 January in which the editor substituted the word revolutionary for voluntary in a key paragraph:

“All but the meanest souls would thereby be raised to dis-annex themselves from the false and tyrannous assumption, that the human will is to be subject to the brute force which the majority may set up. It is only tolerated by public opinion because the fact is not yet perceived that all the true purposes of the corporate state may as easily be carried out on the revolutionary principle, as all the true purposes of the collective church. Every one can see that the Church is wrong when it comes to men with the Bible in one hand and the sword in the other. And is it not equally diabolical for the State to do so? The name is of small importance. When Church and State are divorced by public opinion, they sill may carry on an adulterous intercourse.”

Lane was shrewd enough to make use the mistake. “In as much as the principle of universal charity is quite opposed to the principle of brute force, the proposed new basis for social action may be said to involve a revolution; that is to say, a something on the other side of the moral wheel. But nothing can be more clear, than that if the new plan is to be brought into the actual world, it must be only by kind, orderly, and moral means.”

As a voluntaryist, he knew force cannot be used to secure consent, and wanted to assure the readers that he was not advocating violence. In the original letter he went so far as to say that the real reason Alcott refused to pay the tax is less a debate over how the money is to be used and more about the antithesis between violence and love: “But it [i.e. his act of non-resistance to arrest] is founded on the moral instinct which forbids every moral being to be a party, either actively or permissively, to the destructive principles of power and might over peace and love.”

The state is force. The problem is not just that we create and sustain the dragon, we are the dragon. Not one that eats its tail, but steps on its own neck.

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