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Political Methods vs. Nonviolent Resistance

Francis Tandy

Francis Dashwood Tandy, Voluntary Socialism (Denver: Francis D. Tandy, 1896), pp. 191-201. These excerpts are taken from Chapter XIII, ‘Methods.” Francis Tandy was born in 1867, and lived at least until the second decade of the 20th Century. The purpose of his book was to provide “a brief but lucid outline” of individualist anarchism.

Political methods must be condemned without even these qualifications. The ballot is only a bullet in another form. An appeal to the majority is an appeal to brute force. It is assumed that, since all men are on the average equally able to carry a musket, the side which has the largest number of adherents would probably conquer in case of war. So, instead of actually fighting over questions, it is more economical to count noses and see which side would probably win. The political method is a form of revolution, and most of the arguments directed against the latter are valid when applied to the former. The result shown at the polls indicates a certain stage of mental development in the community. As that mental development is changed, the political manifestations of it change also. So we are brought back to the original starting point. If we wish to effect the abolition of the State through politics, we must first teach people how we can get along without it. When that is done, no political action will be necessary. The people will have outgrown the State and will no longer submit to its tyranny. It may still exist and pass laws, but people will no longer obey them, for its power over them will be broken. Political action can never be successful until it is unnecessary....

Any one who has had any experience in practical politics must know how hopeless it is to attempt to effect any reform—especially any reform in the direction of freedom—by that means. Platforms are adopted to get elected on, not to be carried out in legislation. The real position of a party depends, not upon the justness or unjustness of measures, but upon the probabilities of re-election. Scheming and “diplomacy” are the methods of the candidates for public office. Reasoning and honest conviction do not concern them in the least....

These facts give us a glimpse of the intricacies of politics. How can the reformer or business man who has to earn his living hope to cope with the professional politician while this is the case? The politician is in possession of the field. He is able to devote his whole time to studying the situation and to heading off any move to oust him. What can you do about it? You can give the matter a little attention after business hours and think you grasp the situation. You can vote once a year or so for a different set of thieves. If you are very enterprising you can go to the primaries and think you are spoiling the politician’s little game. What do you think the politician has been doing since last election? Instead of going to primaries you might as well go to—another place which politics more nearly resembles than anything on this earth. Perhaps better, for a spook devil would probably be an easier task-master than a politician in flesh and blood. You can do what you please, the politician is dealing from a stacked deck and has the best of the bunco game all the time.

At its very best, an election is merely an attempt to obtain the opinion of the majority upon a given subject, with the intention of making the minority submit to that opinion. This is in itself a radical wrong. The majority has no more right, under Equal Freedom, to compel the majority. When a man votes he submits to the whole business. By the act of casting his ballot, he shows that he wishes to coerce the other side, if he is in the majority. He has, consequently, no cause for complaint if he is coerced himself. He has submitted in advance to the tribunal, he must not protest if the verdict is given against him. If every individual is a sovereign, when he votes he abdicates. Since I deny the right of the majority to interfere in my affairs, it would be absurd for me to vote and thereby submit myself to the will of the majority....

Must we then sit still and let our enemies do as they please? By no means. Three alternatives offer themselves, active resistance, nonviolent resistance and non-resistance. The folly of the first has already been demonstrated. Non-resistance is just as bad. Unless we resist tyranny, we encourage it and become tyrants by tacitly consenting to it. But nonviolent resistance still remains. The most perfect nonviolent resistance has often been practiced by the Quakers. During the Civil War the Quakers all absolutely refused to serve in the army. In European countries they have resisted conscription in the same manner. What could be done about it? A few were imprisoned, but they stood firm, and finally, by nonviolent resistance, they have gained immunity from this particular form of tyranny....

To gain anything by political methods, it is first necessary to gain a majority of the votes cast, and even then you have to trust to the integrity of the men elected to office. But with nonviolent resistance this is unnecessary. A good strong minority is all that is needed. It has been shown that the attitude of the State is merely a crude expression of the general consensus of the opinion of its subjects. In determining this consensus, quality must be taken into consideration as well as quantity. The opinion of one determined and intelligent man may far outweigh that of twenty lukewarm followers of the opposition. “To apply this consideration to practical politics, it may be true that the majority in this country are favorable, say, to universal vaccination. It does not follow that a compulsory law embodies the will of the people; because the very man who is opposed to that law is at least ten times more anxious to gain his end than his adversaries are to gain theirs. He is ready to make far greater sacrifices to attain it. One man rather wishes for what he regards as a slight sanitary safeguard; the other is determined not to submit to a gross violation of his liberty. How differently the two are actuated! One man is willing to pay a farthing in the pound for a desirable object; the other is ready to risk property and perhaps life to defeat that object. In such cases as this it is sheer folly to pretend that counting heads is a fair indication of the forces behind.” (Donisthorpe, Law in a Free State. London: Macmillan, 1895, pp. 123-124.) A strong, determined and intelligent minority, employing methods of nonviolent resistance, would be able to carry all before it. For the same men, being in a numerical minority, would be powerless to elect a single man to office.

Another thing must be remembered. Nonviolent resistance can never pass a law. It can only nullify laws. Consequently, it can never be used as a means of coercion and is particularly adopted to the attainment of Anarchy. All other schools of reform propose to compel people to do something. For this they must resort to force, usually by passing laws. These laws depend upon political action for their inauguration and physical violence for their enforcement. Anarchists are the only reformers who do not advocate physical violence. Tyranny must ever depend upon the weapon of tyranny, but Freedom can be inaugurated only by means of Freedom.

The first thing that is necessary, to institute the changes outlined in this book, is to convince people of the benefit to be derived from them. This means simply a campaign of education. As converts are gradually gained, nonviolent resistance will grow stronger. At first it must be very slight, but still has its effect. Even the refusal to vote does more than is often supposed. In some States the number of persons who, from lethargy or from principle, refuse to vote is large enough to alarm the politicians. They actually talk at times of compulsory voting. This shows how much even such a small amount of nonviolent resistance is feared. As the cause gains converts and strength, this nonviolent resistance can assume a wider field. The more it is practiced greater attention will be drawn to underlying principles. Thus education and nonviolent resistance go hand in hand and help each other, step by step, towards the goal of human Freedom.