Book 8, Chapter 08 : Objection to this System from the Inflexibility of its Restrictions
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Book 8, Chapter 08
An objection that has often been urged against a system of equality, is, "that it is inconsistent with personal independence. Every man, according to this scheme, is a passive instrument in the hands of the community. He must eat and drink, and play and sleep, at the bidding of others. He has no habitation, no period at which he can retreat into himself, and not ask another's leave. He has nothing that he can call his own, not even his time or his person. Under the appearance of a perfect freedom from oppression and tyranny, he is in reality subjected to this most unlimited slavery."
To understand the force of this objection it is necessary that we should distinguish two sorts of independence, one of which may be denominated natural, and the other moral. Natural indepndence, a freedom from all constraint, except that of reasons and inducements presented to this understanding, is of the utmost importance to the welfare and improvement of mind. Moral independence, on the contrary, is always injurious. The dependence, which is essential, in this respect, to the wholsome temperament of society, includes in it articles, that are, no doubt, unpalatable, to a multitude of the present race of mandkind, but that owe their unpopularity only to weakness and vise. It includes a censure to be exercised by every individual over the actions of anthoer, a promptness to inquire into and to judge them. Why should we shrink from this? What could be more beneficial, than for each man to derive assistance for correcting and molding his conduct, from the perspicacity of his neighbors? The reason that this species of censure is at present exercised with illiberality, is, because it is exercised clandestinely, and because we submit to its operation with impatience and aversion. Moral independence is always injurious: for, as has abundantly appeared in the course of the present inquiry, there is no situation in which I can be placed, where it is not incumbent upon me to adopt a certain conduct in preference to all others, and, of consequence, where I shall not prove an ill member of society, if I act in any other than a particular manner. The attachment that is felt by the present race of mankind to independence in this respect, and the desire to act as they please, without being accountable to the principles of reason, are highly detrimental to the general welfare.
But, if we ought never to act independently of the principles of reason, and, in no instance, to shrink from the candid examination of another, it is nevertheless essential, that we should, at all times, be free, to cultivate the individuality, and follow the dictates, of our own judgment. If there be any thing in the idea of equality that infringes this principle, the objection ought probably to be conclusive. If the scheme be, as it has often been represented, a scheme of government, constraint and regulation, it is, no doubt, in direct hostility with the principles of this work.
But the truth is, that a system of equality requires no restrictions or superintendence. There is no need of common labor, meals or magazines. These are feeble and mistaken instruments, for restraining the conduct, without making conquest of the judgment. If you cannot bring over the hearts of the community to your party, expect no success from brute regulations. If you can, regulation is unnecessary. Such a system was well enough adapted to the military constitution of Sparta; but it is wholly unworthy of men enlifted in no cause but that of reason and justice. Beware of reducing men to the state of machines. Govern them through no medium but that of inclination and conviction.
Can there be a good reason for men's eating together, except where they are prompted to it by the impulse of their own minds? Ought I to come at a certain hour, from the museum where I am working, the retreat in which I meditate, or the observatory where I remark the phenomena of nature, to a certain hall appropriated to the office of eating; instead of eating, as reason bids me, at the time and place most suited to my avocations? Why have common magazines? For the purpose of carrying our provision to a certain distance, that we may afterwards bring them back again? Or is this precaution really necessary, after all that has been said, to guard us against the knavery and covetousness of our associates?
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