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Quotations about Liberty and Power

About this Quotation:

Auberon Herbert was one of the leading radical individualists in 19th century Britain. As a radical he was most concerned to rebut the charge that he advocated violence in any form. In this quote he asserts strongly that he “detests dynamite” in all its forms and in fact turns the criticism on its head by arguing that “dynamite” (i.e. force and violence) is rather “the essence of government” itself.

Other quotes about Parties & Elections:

31 January, 2005

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Auberon Herbert discusses the “essence of government” when the veneer of elections are stripped away (1894)

Read the full quote in context here.

Herbert argues in this essay written in 1894 that the true nature of government is the exercise of coercion and, once the veneer of elections and parliamentary oratory is stripped away, its purer essence is revealed:

We live in an age of active evolution, and the art of government is evolving like everything else round us. Dynamite is its latest and least comfortable development. It is a purer essence of government, more concentrated and intensified, than has ever yet been employed. It is government in a nutshell, government stripped, as some of us aver, of all its dearly beloved fictions, ballot boxes, political parties, House of Commons oratory, and all the rest of it. How, indeed, is it possible to govern more effectively, or in more abbreviated form, than to say: "Do this—or don’t do this—unless you desire that a pound of dynamite should be placed tomorrow evening in your ground-floor study." It is the perfection, the ne plus ultra, of government.

The full passage from which this quotation was taken can be be viewed below (front page quote in bold):

I hasten to reassure Mrs. Grundy as regards all her anxieties. I am happy to say, even at the cost of a dull article, that I am wholly orthodox on this question of villainous dynamite. I detest dynamite, my dear madam, for your own excellent reasons, because it is most treacherous, cruel—I should write scatterbrained, but some ingenuous person might accuse me of trifling with the English language—and altogether abominable; and I also detest it for other special reasons. I detest it, because I look upon it as a nineteenth-century development in the art of governing, and of that worthy art the world has had quite sufficient developments already. There is no occasion for adding one more experience to the long list. Perhaps I ought at once, for the benefit of some of my friends who are inclined a little incautiously to glorify this word "governing" without thinking of all that is contained in it, to translate the term, which is so often on our lips, into what I hold to be its true meaning: forcing your own will and pleasure, whatever they may be, if you happen to be the stronger, on other persons. Now, many worthy people are apt to look on dynamite as the archenemy of government; but remembering this definition, remembering that undeniably the great purpose of government is the compulsion of A by B and C to do what he does not want to do, it is plain that such a view fails to distinguish essence from accident, and to appreciate the most characteristic qualities that inhere in this new political agent. Dynamite is not opposed to government; it is, on the contrary, government in its most intensified and concentrated form. Whatever are the sins of everyday governmentalism, however brutal in their working some of the great force machines with which we love to administer each other may tend to be, however reckless we may be as regards each other’s rights in our effort to place the yoke of our own opinions upon the neck of others, dynamite "administers" with a far ruder, rougher hand than ever the worst of the continental bureaucracies…

We live in an age of active evolution, and the art of government is evolving like everything else round us. Dynamite is its latest and least comfortable development. It is a purer essence of government, more concentrated and intensified, than has ever yet been employed. It is government in a nutshell, government stripped, as some of us aver, of all its dearly beloved fictions, ballot boxes, political parties, House of Commons oratory, and all the rest of it. How, indeed, is it possible to govern more effectively, or in more abbreviated form, than to say: "Do this—or don’t do this—unless you desire that a pound of dynamite should be placed tomorrow evening in your ground-floor study." It is the perfection, the ne plus ultra, of government. Indeed, if we poor liberty folk, we voluntaryists, who are at such intellectual discount just at present, and at whom none is too mean to fling his stone-if we, who detest the root idea at the bottom of all governing—the compelling of people to do what they don’t want to do, the compelling of them to accept the views and become the tools of other persons—wished to find an object lesson to set before those governments of today which have not yet learned to doubt about their property in human material, where could we find anything more impressive than the dynamiter, with his tin canister and his supply of horseshoe nails? "Here is your own child. This is what your doctrine of deified force, this is what your contempt of human rights, this is what your property in men and women leads to."

[More works by Auberon Herbert (1838 – 1906)]