Drawing the Line Once Again: Paul Goodman's Anarchist Writings

Drawing the Line Once Again: Paul Goodman's Anarchist Writings

by Paul Goodman


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Goodman's literary executor Taylor Stoehr has gathered together nine core texts from his anarchist legacy to future generations-the "utopian essays and practical proposals" that inspired the dissident youth of the Sixties, influencing movement theory and practice so profoundly that they have become underlying assumptions of today's radicalism. Goodman's analyses of citizenship and civil disobedience, decentralism and the organized system show him Drawing the Line Once Again, mindful of the long anarchist tradition, and especially of the Jeffersonian democracy that resonated strongly in his own political thought. This is a deeply American book, a potent antidote to U.S. global imperialism and domestic anomie.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781604860573
Publisher: PM Press
Publication date: 06/21/2010
Pages: 122
Product dimensions: 5.90(w) x 8.90(h) x 0.40(d)

About the Author

Paul Goodman is the author of Decentralizing Power and the bestselling Growing Up Absurd. He set the agenda for the youth movement of the 1960s and lectured on subjects ranging from politics, education, and community planning to psychotherapy, religion, and literature.

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Drawing the Line Once Again

Paul Goodman's Anarchist Writings

By Paul Goodman, Taylor Stoehr

PM Press

Copyright © 2010 Sally Goodman
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-60486-273-7


The May Pamphlet

On Treason Against Natural Societies

We speak of Society, with a capital S, as "against the interests of Society," as though it were a unitary thing, more than the loose confederation of lesser societies which also admittedly exist. The unanimity of behavior in the industrial, economic, military, educational, and mass-entertained Society certainly justifies the usage. Some philosophers call Society "inorganic," meaning that many of the mores, e.g. traffic congestion, are too remote from biological functions and impede them. But in the classical sense of organism, namely that the least parts mutually cause each other, our Society is more organic than societies have ever been; every action, especially the absurd ones, can be shown to have social causes and to be a social necessity. Disease is no less organic than health.

Yet in some of the strongest meanings of social unity, Society is almost chaotic. One such chaos is the confusion of moral judgments in the most important personal issues. Thus, ought a girl to be a virgin at marriage? Is there a single standard for husband and wife? Is theft within the law permissible? Is patriotism ridiculous? It would be possible to collect millions of votes on either side of such questions. I have made a practice of asking various persons what would be their attitude to receiving an incestuous brother and sister as overnight guests, and on this issue got many diverse replies.

Of course the universal confusion and toleration in such matters is itself a sign of social unanimity: namely, that people have agreed to divorce (and disregard) intimate personal concerns and opinions from the public ritual that exerts social pressure. The resulting uniformity of dress, behavior, desire is at the same time intense and bloodless; there is no longer such a thing as earnest speech.

Now with regard to the legal penalty for crimes, like theft, bigamy, addiction, treason, and murder, no such confusion and toleration exists. Once the case is brought to court, there is little diversity of judgment and punishment. One is appalled at the wooden morality that one meets in courts. Yet obviously the lack of social pressure keeps many cases out of court, for there is no scandal; adultery, for example, is a crime that is never brought to court. Does not this put the criminal law in an extraordinary position, and reduce the work of juries — which ought to express the strength of social opinion — to the merely logical function of judging evidence, which a judge could do better?

But the discrepancy between the moral and legal judgment of crime is deeply revealing. On the one hand the people, distracted by their timetables and their commodities, are increasingly less disturbed by the passional temptations that lead to crime; these are condoned, sophisticatedly understood rather than felt, partially abreacted by press and movies; they do not seem diabolic; the easy toleration of the idea goes with trivializing the wish. But on the other hand, the brute existence of any society whatever always in fact depends on the personal behavior of each soul; and a coercive society depends on instinctual repression. Therefore the Law is inflexible and unsophisticated. It is as though Society knows the repressions that make its existence possible, but to the members of Society this knowledge has become unconscious. In this way is achieved the maximum of coercion by the easiest means. The separation of personal and political and of moral and legal is a sign that to be coerced has become second nature. Thus it is that people are "protected from the cradle to the grave"!

Many (I believe most) of the so-called crimes are really free acts whose repression causes our timidity; natural society has a far shorter list of crimes. But on the contrary, there is now an important class of acts that are really crimes and yet are judged indifferent or with approval by law and morals both. Acts which lead to unconcerned behavior are crimes. The separation of natural concern and institutional behavior is not only the sign of coercion, but is positively destructive of natural societies. Let me give an obvious example.

Describing a bombed area and a horror hospital in Germany, a sergeant writes: "In modern war there are crimes, not criminals. In modern society there is evil, but there is no devil. Murder has been mechanized and rendered impersonal. The foul deed of bloody hands belongs to a bygone era when man could commit his own sins ... Here, as in many cases, the guilt belonged to the machine. Somewhere in the apparatus of bureaucracy, memoranda, and clean efficient directives, a crime has been committed." These have become familiar observations: the lofty bombardier is not a killer, just as the capitalist trapped in the market does not willingly deal slow death, etc. The system and now the machine itself are guilty. Shall we bring into court the tri-motor airplane?

The most blessed thing in the world is to live by faith without imputation of guilt: having the Kingdom within. Lo, these persons have no imputation of guilt, and have they the Kingdom within? — riders, as Hawthorne said, of the Celestial Railway!

The crime that these persons — we all, in our degree — are committing happens to be the most heinous in jurisprudence: it is a crime worse than murder. It is Treason. Treason against our natural societies so far as they exist.

Not all commit Treason to our natural societies in the same degree; some are more the principals, some more the accomplices. But it is ridiculous to say that the crime cannot be imputed, or that any one commits it without intent and in ignorance. For every one knows moments in which he conforms against his nature, in which he suppresses his best spontaneous impulse, and cowardly takes leave of his heart. The steps which he takes to habituation and unconsciousness are crimes which entail every subsequent evil of enslavement and mass murder. The murder cannot be directly imputed, the sergeant is right; but the continuing treason must be imputed. (Why is he still a sergeant?)

Let us look a little at the horrible working out of this principle of imputation, which must nevertheless be declared just. We are bred into a society of mixed coercion and nature. The strongest natural influences — parental concern, childish imitation; adolescent desire to stand among one's brothers and be independent; an artisan's ability to produce something and a citizen's duty — all of these are unnaturally exerted to make us renounce and forget our natures. We conform to institutions that up to a certain point give great natural satisfactions, food, learning, and fellowship — then suddenly we find that terrible crimes are committed and we are somehow the agents. And some of us can even remember when it was that we compromised, were unwisely prudent, dismissed to another time a deeper satisfaction than convenient, and obeyed against our better judgment.

It is said the system is guilty, but the system is its members coerced into the system. It is also true that the system itself exercises the coercion.

Thus: a man works in a vast factory with an elaborate division of labor. He performs a repetitive operation in itself senseless. Naturally this work is irksome and he has many impulses to "go fishing," not to get up when the alarm clock rings, to find a more interesting job, to join with some other machinists in starting a small machine shop and try out certain ideas, to live in the country, etc. But against these impulses he meets in the factory itself and from his fellow workers (quite apart from home pressures) the following plausible arguments: that they must band together in that factory and as that factory, and in that industry and as that industry, to fight for "better working conditions," which mean more pay, shorter hours, fringe benefits; and the more militant organizers used even to demonstrate that by this means they could ultimately get control of all industry and smash the profit system.

None of this quite answers the original irk of the work itself; but good! A workman commits himself to this program. Now, however, since no one has native wit enough to decide for a vast factory and industry, and all industry, what to demand and when to demand it, and what means are effective, our man must look to others for direction concerning his own felt dissatisfaction. He fights for more pay when perhaps he does not primarily care about improving his standard of living but wants to accomplish something of his own between the cradle and the grave; he fights for seniority, when in fact he does not want the job, etc., etc. The issues of the fight are now determined by vast, distant forces; the union itself is a vast structure and it is tied to the whole existing Society. Next he finds that he is committed not to strike at all, but to help manufacture machines of war. The machines are then "guilty"!

True, the impulses of such a man are vague, romantic, and what is called adolescent; even if realizable they would not lead to full satisfaction. Nevertheless their essence is deep and natural. A program is a crime that does not meet the essence of the industrial irk, the unsatisfactory job, but shunts across it. The worker who does a job by coercion (e.g., to eat) is a traitor. When he is sidetracked into a good but irrelevant program, he is a traitor.

I have chosen a hard example that will rouse opposition. Let me choose a harder that will rouse even more.

A very young adolescent, as is usual enough, has sexual relations with his playfellows, partly satisfying their dreams of the girls, partly drawing on true homosexual desires that go back to earlier narcissism and mother-identifications of childhood. But because of what they have been taught in their parochial school, and the common words of insult whose meaning they now first grasp, all these boys are ashamed of their acts; their pleasures are suppressed and in their stead appear fist fights and violence. The youth grows up, soon marries. Now there is conscription for a far-off war, whose issues are dubious and certainly not part of his immediate awareness and reaction. But his natural desire to oppose the conscription is met by the strong attractiveness of getting away from the wife he is a little tired of, back to the free company of the boys in camp; away from the fatherly role of too great responsibility, back to the dependence on a paternal sergeant. The camp life, drawing always on a repressed but finally thinly disguised sexuality, cements the strongest bonds of fellowship amongst the soldiers. Yet any overt sexual satisfaction among them is out of the question. Instead the pairs of buddies pick up prostitutes together, copulate with them in the same room, and exchange boasts of prowess. Next this violent homosexuality, so near the surface but always repressed and thereby gathering tension, turns into a violent sadism against the enemy: it is all knives and guns and bayonets, and raining bombs on towns, and driving home one's lust in the guise of anger to fuck the Japs.

It is a hard thing to impute the crime of treason against natural society to these men who do not even consciously know what their impulse is. They know as boys; shall we blame boys? And even the adults, priests, and teachers who invidiously prevent the boys' antics do it out of unconscious envy and resentment. But they at least could know better, or why are they teachers?

It is horrifying, though not useless, to impute treason to the particular persons and to trace the institutional crimes, which are but symptoms and results, back to the incidents of coercion and resignation. The guilty ones turn out to be little children and dear parents, earnest radicals, teachers unconscious of their intent, and even ancestors who are dead. Thank God we do not need to think of punishments, for we know — following Socrates of old — that the punishment of injustice is to be what one is. The persons who separate themselves from nature have to live every minute of their lives without the power, joy, and freedom of nature. And we, who apparently suffer grave sanctions from such persons, betray on our faces that we are drawing on forces of nature.

But in fact the case is like the distinction in theology between the Old Law and the New. In the Old Law all are guilty, in the New they may easily be saved. We see that in fact everybody who still has life and energy is continually manifesting some natural force and is today facing an unnatural coercion. And now, in some apparently trivial issue that nevertheless is a key, he draws the line! The next step for him to take is not obscure or difficult, it presents itself at once; it is even forcibly presented by Society! Modern society does not let one be — it is too total — it forces one's hand.

May 1945

Reflections on Drawing the Line


A free society cannot be the substitution of a "new order" for the old order; it is the extension of spheres of free action until they make up most of the social life. (That such liberation is step by step does not mean that it can occur without revolutionary disruption, for in many spheres — e.g., war, economics, sexual education — any genuine liberation whatsoever involves a total change.)

In any present society, though much and even an increasing amount is coercive, nevertheless much is also free. If it were not so, it would be impossible for a conscientious libertarian to co-operate or live there at all; but in fact we are constantly drawing the line beyond which we refuse to co-operate. In creative work, in passion and sentiment, in spontaneous recreation, there are healthy spheres of nature and freedom: it is the spirit of these that we most often extrapolate to all acts of utopian free society, to making a living, to civil life and law. But indeed, even the most corrupt and coercive functions of the present society draw on good natural power — the pity of it — otherwise the society could not survive for one moment; for free natural power is the only source of existence. Thus, people are fed, though the means, the cost, and the productive relations are coercive; and the total war would be the end of us all were it not for the bravery and endurance of mankind.

Free action is to live in present society as though it were a natural society. This maxim has three consequences, three moments:

1 In the spheres which are in fact free and natural, we exercise personal excellence and give mutual aid.

2 In many spheres which seem to be uncoerced, we have nevertheless been trapped into unnatural ways by the coercion that has formed us; for example, we have become habituated to the American timetable and the standard of living, though these are unnatural and coercive through and through. Here the maxim demands that we first correct ourselves.

3 Finally, there are those natural acts or abstentions which clash openly with the coercive laws: these are the "crimes" which it is beholden on a free man to commit, as his reasonable desire demands and as the occasion arises. (See below, "A Touchstone ...")

The free spirit is rather millenarian than utopian. A man does not look forward to a future state of things which he tries to bring about by suspect means; but he draws now, so far as he can, on the natural force in him that is no different in kind from what it will be in a free society, except that there it will have more scope and be persistently reinforced by mutual aid and fraternal conflict. Merely by continuing to exist and act in nature and freedom, a free man wins the victory, establishes the society; it is not necessary for him to be the victor over any one. When he creates, he wins; when he corrects his prejudices and habits he wins; when he resists and suffers, he wins. I say it this way in order to tell honest persons not to despond when it seems that their earnest and honest work is without "influence." The free man does not seek to influence groups but to act in the natural groups essential to him — for most human action is the action of groups. Consider if a million persons, quite apart from any "political" intention, did only natural work and did the best they could. The system of exploitation would disperse like fog in a hot wind. But of what use is the action, born of resentment, that is bent on correcting abuses yet never does a stroke of nature?


Excerpted from Drawing the Line Once Again by Paul Goodman, Taylor Stoehr. Copyright © 2010 Sally Goodman. Excerpted by permission of PM Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents

Preface Taylor Stoehr 5

Sources of Texts 19

The May Pamphlet 21

Reflections on the Anarchist Principle 55

Freedom and Autonomy 57

Anarchism and Revolution 60

Some Prima Facie Objections to Decentralism 75

The Black Flag of Anarchism 89

The Limits of Local Liberty 98

Civil Disobedience 104

"Getting Into Power": The Ambiguities of Pacifist Politics 114

What People are Saying About This

Dave Dellinger

The important thing about Paul is that he raises the right questions. The fact that most of his answers are brilliant gives the reader an extra bonus. (Dave Dellinger, peace activist and founder, Liberation magazine )

Colin Ward

Paul Goodman brought a new invigorating stream into American anarchism, simply through his insistence that in all the problems of daily life we are faced with the possibility of choice between authoritarian and libertarian solutions . . . [This book's] sympathetic editing introduces Goodman's social criticism to a new generation. (Colin Ward, community planner)

George Woodcock

Paul Goodman has been one of the few integrated and hence liberated people of our age . . . He may well have been the only truly seminal libertarian thinker in our generation. (George Woodcock, historian of anarchism)

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