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The Cynosure

  Michael Bakunin
  William Godwin
  Emma Goldman
  Peter Kropotkin
  Errico Malatesta
  Pierre-Joseph Proudhon
  Elisée Reclus
  Max Stirner
  Murray Bookchin
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  Anarchist Poets
The text is taken from my copy of the fourth edition, 1842. This version of Political Justice, originally published in 1793, is based on the corrected third edition, published in 1798.



Decision by lot, its origin - founded in moral
imbecility - or cowardice. - Decision by ballot -
inculcates timidity - and hypocrisy. - Decision
by vote, its recommendations.

WHAT has been here said upon the subject of qualifications naturally leads to a few observations upon the three principal modes of determining public questions and elections, by sortition, ballot and vote.

The idea of sortition was first introduced by the dictates of superstition. It was supposed that, when human reason piously acknowledged its insufficiency, the Gods, pleased with so unfeigned a homage, interfered to guide the decision. This imagination is now exploded. Every man who pretends to philosophy will confess that, wherever sortition is introduced, the decision is exclusively guided by the laws of impulse and gravitation. - Strictly speaking, we know of no such thing as contingence. But, so far as relates to the exercise of apprehension and judgement on the particular question to be determined, all decision by lot is the decision of contingence. The operations of impulse and gravitation either proceed from a blind and unconscious principle; or, if they be the offspring of a superintending mind, it is mind executing general laws, not temporizing with every variation of human caprice.

All reference of public questions and elections to lot includes in it one of two evils, moral imbecility or cowardice. There is no situation in which we can be placed that has not its corresponding duties. There is no alternative that can be offered to our choice that does not include in it a better and a worse. The idea of sortition therefore i. springs either from an effeminacy that will not enquire, or a timidity that dares not pronounce its decision.

The path of virtue is simple and direct. The first attributes of a virtuous character are a mind awake, and a quick and observant eye. A man of right dispositions will enquire out the lessons of duty. The man, on the contrary, who is spoiled by stupidity or superstition will wait till these lessons are brought to him in a way that he cannot "resist. A superficial survey will perhaps lead him to class a multitude of human transactions among the things that are indifferent. But, if we be indefatigably benevolent, we shall, for the most part, find, even among things ordinarily so denominated, a reason for preference. He may well be concluded to have but a small share of moral principle who easily dispenses himself from seeking the occasion to exercise it. Add to which, they are not trifles, but matters of serious import that it has been customary to commit to the decision of lot.

But, supposing us to have a sentiment of preference, or a consciousness that to attain such a perception is our duty, if we afterwards desert it this is the most contemptible cowardice. Nothing can be more unworthy than a propensity to take refuge in indolence and neutrality, simply because we have not the courage to encounter the consequences of ingenuousness and sincerity.

Ballot is a mode of decision still more censurable than sortition. It is scarcely possible to conceive a political institution that includes a more direct and explicit patronage of vice. It has been said 'that ballot may ~n certain cases be necessary to enable a man of a feeble character to act with ease and independence, and to prevent bribery, corrupt influence and faction,. Hypocrisy is an ill remedy to apply to the cure of weakness. A feeble and irresolute character might before be accidental; ballot is a contrivance to render it permanent, and to scatter its seeds over a wider surface. The true remedy for a want of constancy and public spirit is to inspire firmness, not to inspire timidity. Sound and just conceptions, if communicated to the mind with perspicuity, may be expected to be a sufficient basis for virtue. To tell men that it is necessary they should form their decision by ballot is to tell them that it is necessary they should be ashamed of their integrity.

If sortition taught us to desert out duty, ballot teaches us to draw a veil of concealment over our performance of it. It points out to us a method of acting unobserved It incites us to make a mystery of our sentiments. If it did this in the most trivial article, it would not be easy to bring the mischief it would produce, within the limits of calculation. But it dictates this conduct in our most important concerns. It calls upon us to discharge our duty to the public with the most virtuous constancy; but at the same time directs us to hide our discharge of it. One of the most beneficial principles in the structure of the material universe will perhaps be found to be its tendency to prevent our withdrawing ourselves from the consequences of our own actions. A political institution that should attempt to counteract this principle would be the only true impiety. How can a man have the love of the public in his heart, without the dictates of that love flowing to his lips? When we direct men to act with secrecy, we direct them to act with frigidity. Virtue will always be an unusual spectacle among men, till they shall have learned to be at all times ready to avow their actions, and assign the reasons upon which they are founded.

If then sortition and ballot be institutions pregnant with vice, it follows that all social decisions should be made by open vote; that, wherever we have a function to discharge, we should reflect on the purpose for which it ought to be exercised; and that, whatever conduct we are persuaded to adopt, especially in matters of routine and established practice, be adopted in the face of the world.

To Book VII, Chapter 1
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