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BOOK REVIEW

The Right and Wrong of Compulsion by the State and Other Essays

What Permanent Good Has Ever Come From Force?

MAY 01, 1996 by JAMES L. PAYNE

The Right suffers from an awkward presentation of its vision. It declares itself for “liberty,” a word that for most people means “the power to do as one pleases.” So a great deal of effort is spent repudiating this meaning and asserting that liberty means “not under physical compulsion.” Couldn’t a more effective case against government be made if we set the term “liberty” to one side and declared that avoiding the use of force is our aim?

Auberon Herbert proves that it can. This late nineteenth-century English “voluntaryist” countered the emerging socialist movement by questioning its foundations in coercion. “In the long dark history of the world,” he asks, “what real, what permanent good has ever come from the force which men have never hesitated to use against each other?” He explains how the governmental approach breeds anger and conflict: “As long as we believe in force there can be no abiding peace or friendship among us all; a half-disguised civil war will forever smoker in our midst.” Coercive approaches typically hide problems, instead of solving them: “An evil suppressed by force is only driven out of sight under the surface—there to fester in safety and to take new and more dangerous forms.”

In his moving defense of the voluntary principle, Herbert exhibits a remarkable patience and humility—a model to those of us sometimes too short-tempered for our own good.

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May 1996

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