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Imperial Might and Human Right (S579: 1900)

Editor Charles H. Smith's Note: A letter to the Editor of The Clarion responding to comments made by George Bernard Shaw. Printed on page 230 of the 21 July 1900 number. To link directly to this page, connect with: http://people.wku.edu/charles.smith/wallace/S579.htm

    It is to me very distressing to see Mr. Bernard Shaw exercise his great talents and his caustic wit in paradoxes and verbal quibbles calculated to make the enemy rejoice at the dissensions among Socialists; and at the apparent absence of agreement among them even on fundamental principles of politics and of ethics. Passing by Mr. Shaw's doctrine that we Socialists should uphold "robbery under arms" of any land or property which we think we could make a better use of than the present possessors--the doctrine that might is right for Socialists as for burglars--I will now only say a word or two on his statement that "independence and liberty produce not freedom, but slavery." Of course, Mr. Shaw can prove that he is right by taking only one meaning of the words, and that not the generally accepted meaning. Independence in the individual means that he is not the slave or the servant of another man, either directly or indirectly, as a serf, tenant, or wage-thrall. It does not mean that he must be absolutely self-suffering, without any help from his fellows either through friendship or co-operation, or social organisation. Yet it is only by adopting this last sense--a sense only justifiable etymologically--that Mr. Shaw's statement has a shadow of truth.

    And as regards communities or nations, independence has but one meaning--self-government as opposed to government by an outside power which has annexed, purchased, or conquered some smaller and weaker people. Whether such an enforced government is relatively good or bad, it is still slavery for the weaker people, and, like all slavery, is demoralising to both parties. With all my heart and soul I protest against and condemn the doctrine that we have any right to force our rule upon people who do not want it, under the pretence of better government. I maintain that force is never the better way, and that every people should be left to develop their own civilisation and their own government, aided by advice and example, but never by compulsion. No truth is, I believe, more certain than that stated (I think) by Mill, that the worst government of a people by themselves is better than the best government by foreign conquerors. To my mind, Socialism can only come about voluntarily. Compulsion, whether of individuals by the majority or of weak nations by stronger ones, is not only ethically wrong, but is antagonistic to all real progress towards the hoped-for Co-operative Commonwealth.

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