Two letters to Richard Heath

Élisée Reclus to Richard Heath,[1] 19 December 1893

My friend

You are familiar with the Indian legend. One day Buddha, brother to all living creatures, came upon a man-eating tiger and let himself be eaten.

I understand the point. But the Buddhists do not tell us whether, one day spotting a tiger pouncing upon a child intent on devouring it, he let it do so. In my view, on that day, Buddha killed the tiger.

This is the whole point. Is a man who loves his fellows perhaps entitled to the judgment to know when he will resort to violence in defence of his neighbour?  

Tolstoy says ‘Never’. He exclaims: ‘Let the tiger devour the child.’

Libertarians says: ‘There is no reason for me to delve into the arcana of your conscience. Do what you please.’ ‘If you do not believe in the defence of the weak by the strong who make the laws, it is for you to judge how you will defend the weak.’

I spoke to the elderly historian of the Anabaptists. Does he perhaps think that we can and should rely on the laws of meekness that the princes and prelates laid down for
the poor in body and spirit? Then again, is the situation not maybe the same?

As for myself, they will have to cut out my tongue before I will howl with the wolves when they go a-hunting.

Cordially, Élisée Reclus

Élisée Reclus to Richard Heath, 25 December 1893

My dear friend

 … As to the matter discussed between us, I have nothing more to say and our arguments do not shatter like lances against a shield. I shall confine myself to saying that any good person, imbued with love, should place his physical strength in the service of goodness, that self-defence and collective defence are legitimate and that the theory of resignation strikes me as anti-human.

Personally, however I may feel about this or that action or individual, I shall never add my voice to the hateful clamour of men who mobilise armies, police-forces, magistrates, clergy and laws to preserve their privileges.

Notwithstanding the horrors of social warfare, I stand with the Anabaptists, the Jacquerie, the defeated and the oppressed no matter what name they may go by, no matter the country they come from nor the times they lived in.

Imperturbable amidst the agitation of the age, I am obliged to carry on with my study of the truth, my quest for justice and my quiet propaganda on behalf of human solidarity.

Warmest wishes, Élisée Reclus

1, Richard Heath (1831-1912) was an English Christian socialist writer (and ex-pupil of Reclus)

From: Eliseo Reclus, Correspondencia (De 1850 a 1905), Buenos Aires : Ediciones Iman, 1943. Translated by: Paul Sharkey.