MORAL COERCION by Ricardo Mella. Translated by Paul Sharkey. eBook £1.50/€1.25 (see eBookshelf)

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Galician-born surveyor Ricardo Mella (1861-1925) is regarded by many as one of the major theorists of anarchism in Spain. His moderate tone and outlook set the keynote for fellow-anarchists in Galicia and Asturias as he oposed jacobinism, regionalism, political socialism and extremism of any hue. While many embraced Ferrer’s rationalist educational methods, Mella campaigned for “neutral” education. Himself an anarcho-collectivist by inclination, he was one of those who brought Spanish anarchism out of the ghetto and into the workplace. His wide reading, incisive mind and preparedness to tackle the big subjects without going for extremist position has left a lasting imprint on the libertarian movement in Spain. In this work he considers the question — Can society really cope without law and government? What is the nature of moral coercion? How does it manifest itself in human relationships? What is its role in a free and egalitarian society? and how modern capitalist society turns moral coercion on its head.

“Whenever we posit that in a free society founded upon equality of condition moral coercion will be enough to maintain the harmony and peace between men, we are stating something that cries out for clear and precise proof.

“Folk being used to the belief that everything that happens in the world happens by the efforts and grace of governments, and persuaded that they themselves count for nothing in the life of society, so much so that they think of themselves are mere cogs in the machinery of government, it is going to be hard to explain to them how human society might function with no compulsion other than that deployed naturally and mutually by the members of society. So, even though the impact of moral coercion may be a self-evident fact today, we need to show that the world dances to the tune of said mutually suggestive force and that it, on its own, is enough to ensure that human groups with sound foundations can develop and survive.

“Let us begin by setting out what we mean by moral coercion.

“What passes for group sentiments (an attempt to afford them a status and a supremacy that can be translated into fixed and constant laws), what is commonly termed the political mind, being , as far as we are concerned, something quite different from the moral coercion of which we speak, encapsulates the customs, sentiments or ideas universally acceptable at some given point in time. The only thing is that many people are of the mind that the group sentiment or public mind indirectly affects men by means of some social mechanism or is the necessary imposition of the will of the greater number upon the individual, tending to invest it with a certain degree of permanency and contradictory changelessness, whereas many of us hold that the real expression of group sentiments or the public mind boils down to a straightforward, unregulated interplay of personal and group influences between all of the component parts of society. Our view is, likewise, that such interplay is not confined to any single person nor does it operate through the good offices of some directing agency, but, instead, its powers of contagion and proliferation derive from the fact that it acts, willy-nilly, through everyone, man or woman, young or old, ignorant or erudite, drone or worker. There is no doubt but that the opinions and feelings of others weigh upon every single one of us, and it is equally true that every single one of us influences wider feelings and opinions. Such mutual influences will sometime be affirmations and at other times modifiers: thus, gradually or swiftly, individual or group feelings, the private mind, are elicited or modified. So what we mean by moral coercion is the influence, or, if preferred, the pressure brought to bear upon our thinking by the feelings of our neighbours, pressures which, as we have already said, have about them a mutuality and which in no wise dance to the tune of specific intentions but depend entirely upon the willing compliance that individuals extend to everything they deem fair and which they know is recognised as such by their fellow citizens….”