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IS LIBERTY A LOST BLESSING?

[1887]

It was one of the superstitions of the eighteenth century that liberty belonged to some primitive state of society, that there was some time when men lived in a "state of nature," and that, at that time, they lived in Arcadian virtue, liberty, and simplicity. The conception of the "noble savage" belonged to the same superstition. Rousseau traced all the inequalities in human society to the cultivation of wheat—that is, agriculture—and to the use of iron—that is, tools. He was at least far more philosophical than his followers of our day who talk about "land" and "machinery." When Rousseau went back up the stream of civilization till he had passed wheat and iron, he came to the hunting savages of the Stone Age. Hence he took his idealized American Indian, a creature as mythical as the hippogriff, as his notion of the unspoiled, because untutored, son of nature.

The "state of nature" and the "social compact" are exploded superstitions, or, rather, they have given way to a new set of superstitions—those of the nineteenth century. Rousseau's idea of liberty, however, is not dead. The eighteenth-century notions of liberty and equality have passed into the most cherished political faiths of the nineteenth century. That notion of liberty is the anarchistic notion. It is the conception according to which liberty means unrestrainedness, emancipation from law, lawlessness, and antagonism to law, as it goes on to become more radical and more logical. This is the popular and prevailing conception of