On doing the right thing, and other essays

Only so can the far-reaching powers which lie in human nature, but which, like the talent, are so often wrapped in the napkin, hidden and unused, find their full scope and development; only so can our aims and ambitions be ennobled and purified; only so can the true respect for the individuality of others soften the strife of opinions, and the intolerant spirit in which we so often look upon all that is opposed to and different from ourselves. As we recognize and respect the individuality both of ourselves and others; as we realize that the bettering of the world depends upon our individual actions and perceptions; that this bettering can only be done by ourselves, acting together in free combination; that it depends upon the efforts of countless individuals, as the raindrops make the streams, and the streams make the rivers, that it cannot be done for us by proxy, cannot be relegated, in our present indolent fashion, to systems of machinery, or handed over to an army of autocratic officials to do for us; and as we realize that we shall have failed in our part, have lived almost in vain, if in some direction, in some department of thought or action, whatever it may be, we have not individually striven to make the better take the place of the good; life will become for all of us a better and nobler thing, with more definite aims, and greater incentives to useful action. The work that we do will react on ourselves; and we shall react on the work. Each victory gained, each new thing well done will make the men, the fighters for progress; and as the fighters are raised to a higher capacity, the progress made will advance with bolder, swifter strides, invading in turn every highway and byway of life. But this healthy reaction cannot be as long as we live under the depressing and dispiriting influence of the great machines, that take the work out of our hands, and encourage in us all a sense of personal uselessness. The appeal must be straight and direct to the individuals, to their own self-direction, their own self-sacrifice, to their own efforts in free unregulated combinations, their own willing gifts and services.

On Doing the Right Thing, and other essays: …

 Auberon Herbert, The Right and Wrong of Compulsion by the State and Other Essays (LF ed.) [1885]

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I will explain yet more fully what I mean. Under a system of the widest possible liberty, each man thinks and acts according to his own judgment and his own sense of right. He labors as he will, making such free bargains as he chooses respecting the price and all other conditions that affect his labor; he is idle or industrious, he spends or he lays by, he remains poor, or he becomes rich, he turns his faculties to wise and good account, or he wastes possessions, time and happiness in folly. He is, be it for good or evil, the owner and possessor of his own self, and he has to bear the responsibility of that ownership and possession to the full. On the one hand he is free from all restrictions placed on him by others (except the one great restriction that he, too, in all his doings shall respect the like liberty of all men), and on the other hand he is dependent in everything on himself and his own exertions. He must himself meet and overcome the difficulties of life. Just because he is a free man, he must carry his own burden, such as it is, and not seek to compel others to bear any part of it for him. The really free man will neither submit to restrictions placed on himself, nor desire to impose them on others.

On Doing the Right Thing and Other Essays: Albert J. …

And here, it may be, you will ask, “Is it wise or right for men to claim so full a liberty? Is it not better for men not wholly to own and possess themselves, but to live under conditions which may save them, at all events to some extent, from their own folly and wrongdoing?”

A teaching guide (discussion guide, lesson plan, teachers' guide ) for doing the right thing
Auberon Herbert, The Right and Wrong of Compulsion by the State and Other Essays (LF ed.) [1885]

Anarchism and Other Essays | The Anarchist Library

And here, perhaps, I ought to add a few words. While we lay the heaviest share of blame upon the political system that takes possession of us, and leaves little room for self-guidance, are we to lay no direct blame upon ourselves, for being content to take our place in the system, that few, I think, in calm moments of reflection, can fully justify to their own hearts? Let us be completely frank in this great matter. Is the system of giving away power over ourselves, or seeking to possess it over others, in itself right or wrong? If it is wrong, don't let us make excuses for acquiescing in it; don't let us sigh and feebly wring our hands, confessing the faults and dangers, but pleading that we see no other way before us. Where there is a bad way, there is also a good way, if men once resolutely set themselves to find it.

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As regards the labor question, recognizing to the full the right of any and all laborers peacefully to withhold their labor, if so they choose, at every hour of every day of every year, and even—should they so elect—to starve into submission—if they can—any number of their fellow-men by such withholding of their labor, free life yet urges them to seek their ends through peace instead of war, and to do away with the terrible waste and other evils that result from employing their savings as a war fund. Believing that it is most hurtful to the true interests of labor, as well as morally unjust, to attempt to prevent any fellow laborer from taking the place which another laborer has thought right to resign; believing that each man has the right to give or withhold his own labor, as he chooses, but not in any way to interfere with the bargain which some other man may make about himself, it urges upon all workmen: (1) Where they are discontented with their conditions of employment not to strike in a body (which means almost necessarily the compulsion of some of their own number, means acting upon the instincts of a crowd instead of acting as reasonable individuals, means the danger of acquiescing—when once a struggle is entered upon—in some form of violence and intimidation), but to assist in removing those, who individually wish to be removed, to other factories and workshops, thus peacefully draining away, where the terms of employment are unsatisfactory, the best and most adventurous hands, while as a matter of right and justice they offer no impediment of any kind to the taking on of new hands by the employer; (2) To trust in such cases far more than at present to friendly negotiation, and to the increasing power of publicity and free discussion for the improvement of the conditions under which they give their labor; (3) To make their unions instruments for amassing large corporate property, to turn them from fighting machines into organizations for constructive purposes, such as the establishing of courses of education during periods when trade is depressed, the investing of their savings fund in solid bricks and mortar, in homes, which might become the property of the individual members, in lodging houses, halls, reading and recreation rooms, farms in the country, which would be held collectively, in shares of existing productive enterprises, and, as opportunity arose, in trade enterprises conducted by themselves; (4) To cultivate far more friendly and intimate relations with employers; to place employers under no vexatious rules or restrictions, especially restrictions invented by a central body; to make their conduct of business as easy as possible; to get rid of factory laws, and in their place to cooperate with employers to promote far better sanitary conditions and other conditions affecting the comfort of those who labor than those existing at present; to encourage every system under which they would become partners in the concerns in which they work; and instead of placing themselves under any universal discipline of limited hours, to favor differences as regards time and manner of work at different factories or mines, so that each class of workers—the youngest and strongest, the oldest and least strong—may gradually find that which suits them best; (5) To abandon every attempt to enforce one fixed rate of payment throughout a trade, as necessarily driving out of employment old, young, and second-rate workers, and as certain to prolong the existence of great war organizations and great war funds on the part both of employers and workmen—each side wasting more and more of its resources in the effort to be stronger than its rival, and thus imitating on a small scale the disastrous example of Germany and France; and in the same way to abandon every attempt to restrict the number of those who enter their own trade, or to turn their trade into a monopoly.

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Throughout the whole nation, we must let every man and woman, instead of looking to their parties and parliaments and governments; feel the full strength of the inspiring inducement to do something in their own individual capacities and to join with others in doing something—the smallest or the greatest thing—better than it has yet been done, and so make their own contribution to the great fund of general good.