Friday, May 29, 2009

Clement M. Hammond on "Police Insurance"

Clement Milton Hammond was a significant contributor to Benjamin Tucker's Liberty that you have probably never heard of. It's not surprising if that's true. He contributed one serial novelette, Then and Now, under the pseudonym "Josephine d'Aujourdhui," and Tucker reprinted two other very brief items, a poem and a quotation, along with an obituary after his death. Hammond was a newspaper editor, with whom Tucker had worked, and an anarchist, but, as Tucker tells it in the obituary, he intended to spend the early years of his career becoming wealthy, so that he could later devote himself entirely to anarchism. It didn't, in the end, work out that way. Tucker reports that he died in poverty and broken health. He left a small number of signed articles, a mass of journalism, and a couple of co-authored books.

This is a case, however, where, as much as we might wish he had written more, we can be thankful for the one extended bit of anarchist writing that Hammond did do. Then and Now is an anarchist "utopian" novel, set in the late twenty-first century, where anarchism has become the standard political system. Josephine, an upper-class Bostonian from 1884 is introduced to the anarchist world of 2084-5 by Mr. Paul de Demain, who works his way, chapter by chapter, through a kind of old-school anarchist FAQ. The novel predates Bellamy's Looking Backward, and surpasses it in most ways. Indeed, along with Sidney H. Morse's Liberty and Wealth (which was also originally serialized in Liberty) and Ethics of the Homestead Strike, I think Hammond's novelette may be one of the best introductory texts we possess. All three are now available in Corvus Distribution pamphlets.

Here's an interesting sample, the chapter that deals with private defense organizations, here described as "police insurance:"


BOSTON, June 13, 2085.

My Dear Louise:

Insurance was the subject of a recent conversation between Mr. De Demain and myself, and he told me so many interesting things about it as carried on today that I will tell you briefly what he said.

“Your police system two hundred years ago,” said he, “was but a system of insurance, as were your fire departments, your standing armies, and your navies. Police protection is now furnished by private companies. You pay a certain per cent, on the valuation of your property, real and personal, and the company agrees to pay you for any loss to that property caused by the depredations of others. The company employs policemen, watchmen, and detectives, and there is no collusion between these and would-be criminals for reasons which you can appreciate. Few crimes are committed that are not detected sooner or later, the criminals being brought to justice.

“Suppose that you have in your house two thousand dollars’ worth of valuables. You insure these in some police protection company of good standing. If these valuables are stolen, the company pays you two thousand dollars, and it is for their interest to catch the thief.”

“I should think such a system as this would encourage fraud. What if I should hide or give away my two thousand dollars’ worth of valuables?”

“You may be sure that in ninety-nine cases out of a hundred you would be found out, and the penalty which a jury would be likely to inflict in such a case would be heavy, much heavier than for a theft.”

“The officers of these companies also give alarms of fire. They report every day to the office. Anything of a suspicious nature that is observed is carefully investigated by men specially detailed for that purpose. Thus crimes are not only punished, but in a great many cases prevented. A criminal today must be a very bold and a very shrewd man.”

“Under such a system of detective espionage I should think innocent persons would often be arrested and charged with having committed some crime or with criminal intentions.”

“Mistakes are sometimes made, but it is rarely. The utmost caution is used, and none but honest, competent men are employed. Policemen are not appointed today because a friend has a political ‘pull,’ and there is no State and no party to protect them if they do wrong or prove incompetent. I believe this was a most serious fault with your police systems two hundred years ago. It was the State, always the State, that was the root of all evil. You saw the branches and lopped them off occasionally, but beneath the ground, out of ordinary sight, were the roots that gave sustenance to the tree. The Anarchist dug down and found these roots, and pointed them out to the suffering people, but for years they shut their eyes and turned away. We have torn out the noisome plant, root and branch, and burnt it as an offering to Liberty. The ground is no longer cumbered with such a growth to suck its healthy substance and turn it into poison with which to contaminate the life-giving air.

“War having ceased with the State, no insurance against foreign invasion or internal disruption is needed, but I see no reason why private enterprise might not carry on a war with much less loss than a State would sustain. Friends as well as foes were always ready to rob a State in times of war as well as times of peace, and, as the opportunities for robbery were better in a time of war, the plunder was always greater.

“Just two hundred years ago, I am told by history, Boston was very much disturbed because the State interfered in its police system and took away the appointing power. On one hand, the cry was that the police commission was corrupt, and, on the other, that Boston knew better what she wanted than the State. Anarchy would have solved the problem, you see, to the entire satisfaction of nearly every individual. What matter was it whether those intangible, soulless things, the State and the city, were satisfied? What was satisfaction to them? It meant simply the satisfaction of a few scheming politicians and their hangers-on. That was all.”

I was very pleased to learn that the State had stepped in and tried to put an end to the terrible wickedness of Boston. I have long been shocked by the thought that Boston people could not see that their city was in a very bad way. I trust that there will be great improvement made now that the State is to control it.



JTG said...

A sad coincidence.

Bob Hodges said...


I respect all the work you have done (especially with archiving Liberty) a great deal, but this excerpt would make a terrible introductory piece for anarchism. I cannot imagine it convincing anyone.


Neverfox said...

Why is that, Bob?

Bob Hodges said...

It does not provide any sort of vision or specifics for private police beyond saying they will be much better than publicly funded police. It does not prove that superiority; it just claims that a private system will be free of cronyism and vaguely implies profit motive makes for better policing.

The notion of insurance company controlled policing will scare the hell out of anyone with anti-authoritarian leanings or average people who do not have good experiences with those ever-reluctant to pay out companies. The writer thinks this reluctance to pay out will lead to insurance companies running down most crooks. It might just as well lead them to frequently not paying out claims promptly or at all. This excerpt does nothing to assure readers that free-market companies will not be like the ones they know now or that their will be any checks on police power. Springing this article on a potential convert would do much more harm than good.


Shawn P. Wilbur said...

Well, I didn't post the police insurance chapter because it was the least controversial. I posted because my audience is generally most excited about the controversial stuff. But, honestly, I don't know a single text which presents anarchism in a way that doesn't involve taking some baffling transformation of apparently familiar institutions more or less on faith. Is this harder to swallow than communism, or law without state-sponsored courts, or any number of other things that you're going to encounter in the literature of anarchism? It probably depends on the reader.

Anyway, my enthusiasm is for "Then and Now" in its entirety, because of the relative completeness of its vision, if not (and clearly not) of its argument for that vision. Presenting a picture probably comes before defending the details. The comparison to Bellamy's "Looking Backward" is probably useful, too, since we know that quite a number of books of this sort have been convincing and influential.