120 Years Past – Still Ring True Today

Guest Post by Niklas Stephenson

120 years ago Voltarine de Cleyre gave this speech in defense of Emma Goldman. Words that still ring very true, even today.
Please consider Anarchism in the philosophical sense and not sensationalist teenagers throwing Molotov cocktails.

“Understand me clearly. I believe that the term “constitutional right of free speech” is a meaningless phrase, for this reason: the constitution of the United States, and the Declaration of Independence, and particularly the latter, were, in their day, progressive expressions of progressive ideals. But they are, throughout, characterized y the metaphysical philosophy which dominated the thought of the last century. They speak of “inherent rights”, “inalienable rights”, “natural rights”, etc: They declare that men are equal because of a supposed, mysterious wetness, existing somehow apart from matter.

I do not say this to disparage those grand men who dared to put themselves against the authorities of the monarchy, and to conceive a better ideal of society, one which they certainly thought would secure equal rights to men; because I realize fully that no one can live very far in advance of the time-spirit, and I am positive in my own mind that, unless some cataclysm destroys the human race before the end of the twentieth century the experience of the next hundred years will explode many of our own theories. But the experience of this age has proven that metaphysical quantities do not exist apart from materials, and hence humanity can not be made equal by declarations on paper. Unless the material conditions for equality exist, it is worse than mockery to pronounce men equal. And unless there is equality (and by equality I mean equal chances for every one to make the most of himself) unless, I say, these equal chances exist, freedom, either of thought, speech, or action, is equally a mockery.

I once read that one million angels could dance at the same time on the point of a needle; possibly one million angels might be able to get a decent night’s lodging by virtue of their constitutional rights; one single tramp couldn’t. And whenever the tongues of the non-possessing class threaten the possessors, whenever the disinherited menace the privileged, that moment you will find that the constitution isn’t made for you”